January 2014

The Mayordomo Project Aims to Train a New Generation


Sylvia Rodríguez


Mayordomos historically have been the keepers of tradition and knowledge about their stream source and their community. Through respect, diplomacy and a careful measure of authority, skilled mayordomos have kept acequias flowing and fields irrigated for generations.

The Mayordomo Project began in late 2008 as collaboration between the New Mexico Acequia Association and the UNM Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies. The purpose of the project is to affirm the important role of mayordomos in acequia irrigation, agricultural traditions and water-sharing customs. The project supports the continuation of this tradition by honoring existing mayordomos, documenting their practical local knowledge and developing ways to share this knowledge with people who want to learn the art and skill of mayordomía.


The methodology of the project is community-based participatory action research (PAR), whereby a community of interest defines a problem it faces and seeks to solve it through a collaborative group process of investigation and action. A team comprised of Kenny Salazar, Gilbert Sandoval, Sylvia Rodríguez, Juanita Revak, Quita Ortiz and Elise Trott has carried out the project. The work evolved through several stages, beginning with planning and design, followed by the recording and transcription of pláticas or interviews with mayordomos in a variety of communities, field trips to observe and record video of la limpia (ditch cleaning) and other acequia work, and review an analysis of the materials collected. Over 40 pláticas were conducted, a number of them by Estévan Arellano. A pilot internship was also carried out, whereby Gilbert Sandoval, mayordomo of the Sandoval ditch in Jémez for over 35 years, began to prepare his daughter, Juanita Revak, to become a mayordoma.


Two project goals include: the production of a 30-minute video about the mayordomo crisis and the urgent need to recruit new mayordomos; and a practical handbook or field guide that describes in detail the duties and responsibilities of a mayordomo. David Garcia narrated and composed an original theme song for the video, which is titled, The Art of Mayordomía. The video and handbook have now been compiled into a Mayordomo Tool Kit. The handbook is considered a living document that will be revised periodically, according to feedback provided by those who use and test its practical value.


The final and most critical phase of the Mayordomo Project will involve year-long (or more) internships, during which an experienced mayordomo guides and instructs a promising and committed recruit to take over the job on his or her acequia. For generations, people have learned how to be mayordomos by watching and doing. The Mayordomo Tool Kit is meant to supplement but not replace this all-important, face-to-face process. The NMAA is looking for teams of individuals willing to undertake internships. These internships will be supported and monitored by the NMAA in order to learn from them and continually improve the process.


Public policy is needed that fosters the development of mayordomía as an economically viable vocational choice or “green job” for young men and women in the 21st century. In order to survive and adapt to modern conditions, mayordomía de la acequia must ultimately become a socially valued, salaried job with benefits. It must be recognized as a vocation essential to acequia irrigation as a resilient social-ecological system and as a successful model for managing water as a commons.



Dr. Sylvia Rodríguez was raised in Taos. She is the author of Acequia: Water-sharing, Sanctity, and Place. A professor emerita of Anthropology at UNM, she has worked with NMAA on the Mayordomo Project since 2008. sylrodri@unm.edu






Mayordomía Educational Toolkit Available

The NMAA has produced an educational toolkit that includes:
The Art of Mayordomía 30-minute film
• Mayordomo Handbook & Field Guide—A practical guide to seasonal mayordomo duties
• Movie poster template (to announce a screening)
• Suggested questions


The $25 kit provides tools to engage acequia parciantes and community members in a conversation about the challenges facing acequias in continuing the mayordomo tradition. The materials are also appropriate for educators and researchers who want to explore issues of water, acequias, food, agriculture and community as part of their curriculum.


Host a film screening—The NMAA encourages communities to host screenings of The Art of Mayordomía, community dialogues and other cultural or educational events inspired by the toolkit.


For more information, contact Quita Ortiz at the NMAA: 505.995.9644 or quita@lasacequias.org




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1 thought on “The Mayordomo Project Aims to Train a New Generation”

  1. Hello, I wanted To know if I was eligible to become a mayodorma how much experience is needed were would I go to start this process. If you could get back at me much appreciated Thank You.

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