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 Land Tenure at Monte Alban and Mitla Minimize

The land within the official boundaries of Monte Alban varies by tenure system and owner. From north to south the distribution is:


 Owner  Percentage of the archaeological zone
 Communal lands of Atzompa  23
Ejido lands of Atzompa  28
 Private property of the Bustamante family  1
 Communal lands of Mexicapam  8
 Ejido lands of Mexicapam  1
Comunal lands of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca  1
 Ejido lands of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca  5
 Federal land (as calculated by Agrarian Reform)  10
 Communal lands of San Juan Chapultepec  2
 Communal lands of Xoxocotlan  10
 Ejido lands of Xoxocotlan  5
 Private property in Xoxocotlan  5
 Ejido lands of Arrazola


(SEDESOL 1996; figures may not total 100 percent due to rounding)

In effect the official archaeological zone is divided among thirteen landowners representing the four tenure systems dicussed earlier. Communal lands account for 44 percent of the land within the archaeological zone's jurisdiction, followed closely by ejido land with 41 percent. Few people realize that ownership of the archaeological zone is scattered among so many entities and subject to so many interests.

Field discussions reinforce the significance of this complexity. Municipal authorities, ejido and communal lands officials, private property owners, and recent arrivals to the area surrounding the archaeological zone share a common perspective. To them the "archaeological zone" is the area defined by Alfonso Caso in 1928, as discussed earlier, and the remaining lands belong to others. Thus a common question is "why does INAH invade the lands of others", casting INAH in the same light as any other party which seeks to possess land to which it is not entitled. For example, there are boundary disputes between the ejido of Atzompa and the ejido of San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, and between communal lands of San Martin Mexicapam and private owners in Xoxocotlan. The respective land claims are quite ancient. For example, in discussing the ejido lands of Xoxocotlan and the legality of the official boundaries of Monte Alban, ejido members assert the right of possession, noting the original land grant to the community came from the king of Spain in the sixteenth century.

In fact, the only legal boundaries recognized by communities around Monte Alban are those defined by markers set at specific places by their ancestors (Figure 30).

According to Dennis "A named piece of land is a paraje.It may be a plain, a hill, a canyon, or some other indefinitely limited but generally recognized area" (Dennis 1987: 42). For members of the ejidos or communal lands systems in the communities around Monte Alban, or even for small private landowners or recent arrivals in the irregular settlements, the network of numbered markers INAH installed to identify the boundaries of the archaeological zone is an external imposition, as the only markers they recognize are those handed down from their ancestors.

In addition, as detailed in the chapter on land use, one of the key current issues is the change brought on by rapid, unplanned change, a result of the "irrationality of the nature of urban growth guided solely by real estate speculation, the absence of a metropolitan vision in urban public policies, and patron-client policies and practices with the consent of local officials" (Castañeda 1994: 174). Added to this in the immediate surroundings of Monte Alban is the illegal invasion of land by "paratroopers" (so-called because they tend to drop in overnight), creating new settlements. Murphy (1994: 210) estimates that such settlements account for 10 percent of urban land use in Oaxaca.

On the surface circumstances in Mitla appear simpler, as the Agrarian Department of the Rural Lands Registry reports there is only one form of land tenure in the archaeological zone. The archaeological zone, and the rest of urban Mitla, overlap the communal lands system (Figure 31) so ejidal and communal lands authorities make many of the distribution decisions. But long, relatively stable use patterns generate different perspectives on the part of those holding use rights. Most of the housing is treated as "private property", as each lot was provided to a single user. Across generations such public distributions are treated as the private patrimony of each family. For example, in subdividing inheritances families seek to maintain a pattern of "legality" in the form of private deeds sworn before a notary public. While this act honors the process it does not alter the fact that such land legally remains communal land, and is so recognized by the census or legal documents. Of the five clusters of monumental archaeological remains one is characterized as "the Ruins" and is the center of tourism and tourist-related services including INAH's office. Three are regarded as private property and the fifth is known locally as "Church property", as is the house where the priest lives and areas adjacent to the church building, while the area of the Crafts Market is known as "municipal property" (Figure 32).

Unfortunately none of this is very helpful from the standpoint of understanding tenure systems or developing legally defensible protection strategies, as local concepts have no validity in the larger administrative setting. For example "Ruins" is not a legal land tenure category, so in practice one does not know from that designation whether the land is communal, private, or some other category. The three clusters of monumental structures currently considered private property by Mitla residents are subject to the constraints of the Federal Law on Archaeological, Artistic, and Historic Monuments, meaning the nominal owners cannot do anything which damage the monuments' cultural, historical, or scientific value. Yet, by federal law this private property is in fact located on communal land and therefore may not be condemned or purchased by the federal government, even if it has the resources and wishes to do so. Similarly the Crafts Market sits not on municipal property but on communal land.

Of particular interest is the curious category of "Church property". In Mitla the Dominican order used its control over land to repress the indigenous population. After taking control of pre-Columbian temples and palaces it forced the local population to destroy some structures to make room and building materials for the church and other structures. The order built literally on top of earlier structures or converted them to homes, stables, or even dumps for trash and debris (Robles et al, 1986). This gave the Church an opportunity to manage certain areas in ways which made a profound impact on the population. While the Catholic Church lost the right to own land in the wake of the constitutional reforms of the 1850s, nearly 150 years later both local residents and some municipal and state documents still identify some lands as belonging to the Church (Parsons 1936, Archivo Parroquial). And the Church Committee fights any effort limiting the practice of collecting rents from "its" land in the center of the archaeological zone.

What exists in Mitla, then, is not the simple system the Rural Lands Survey suggests, but a complex land tenure system with overlapping issues and patterns of historical development. These complexities, the local context of private property, and changes in the community over the past thirty years make it almost impossible to understand the situation or to treat it on the basis of documentary materials, requiring instead time in the field to appreciate conceptual and methodological constraints. In turn it becomes almost impossible to explain to INAH personnel, much less outsiders, how the tenure system makes swift and decisive action in defense of the archaeological heritage highly unlikely.