Iguana Medusa

On a morning in a Oaxacan market, photographer Graciela Iturbide made one of the most enduring images of Zapotec life”

This photo was taken in 1979, and the lady in it, who became somewhat of a local celebrity as her image was used extensively, has since died.

I have seen many women here carry many things on their head, but have to admit I haven’t seen any ‘iguana ladies’.

Iguanas are food to the coastal people. I was told the pregnant ones with eggs are especially delicious. One lady had her son bring one of the several out he had trapped the day before.

He put it down near me on the floor and I noticed it wasn’t tied up, though it looked awkward.

“It’s not tied?” I questioned.

“No, but it won’t go anywhere. See?”

Then I noticed it’s legs were brought up behind the back, with the long claws hooked together as it squirmed. It was a smaller –and pregnant– black iguana, and I also noticed how, positioned that way, it looked like a fat snake with that diamond-shaped head. I cringed. I thought back to the story of Adam and Eve, how the snake in the tree was banished to slither. So that’s what it must have looked like before it’s curse, I mused.

Curious, I asked, “How do you trap them?”

“They (the boys/men) take their dogs into the jungle. When the iguanas race up a tree, they throw rocks or use a sling shot to either make them fall or make them run down and out of the tree. The dogs then catch them without killing them.”

“The dogs are trained?”

“Yes. Have you ever eaten iguana?”

“No.”

“Oh! You’ll have to try it sometime. I’m sorry we haven’t yet served it to you.”

I smiled politely and offered, “Tastes like chicken?”

I’ll let you guess the answer.

(To read the complete Smithsonian article by Lynelle George, click here.)

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