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Post Endho: Gary Moore Unravels the Mystery
Created by John Eipper on 02/20/19 3:34 AM

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Endho: Gary Moore Unravels the Mystery (John Eipper, USA, 02/20/19 3:34 am)

Gary Moore writes:

In the riddle I posed to WAIS on "Endhó," the name of Mexico's most poisonous lake, I asked where in the world this strange name had come from. "Endhó?" Not Spanish. Not even Aztec.

John E thought it might be an acronym, prompting John Heelan into airy veins with Qantas quips. But acronyms have nothing to do with this riddle's deep solution.

Brian Blodgett (Feb 18) found that a 2015 visitor to the lake reported a village there as also being named "Endhó." So was the lake named for the village? Unfortunately, a village with that name seems to be known to few besides the shocked visitor who made the report. The settlements surrounding the almost apocalyptically polluted Endhó Reservoir, in backlands two hours north of Mexico City, have other names. At any rate the mysterious word "endhó," crowning the "largest septic tank in the world," does not seem to derive from a village. So where? The riddle mushrooms--because the strange name is also strangely armored against Web searching. Unless...

To get beyond the realm of ordinary cyber-search, one can resort to what might be called keyword deconstruction, for a back door into Endhó's linguistic maze. The origins, in tune with the Stygian geography, can thus be found in the depths.

For centuries, the high but arid Valle del Mezquital, the lake's home area, has been viewed as a forlorn wasteland, home to a cryptic native people long ago conquered by the Aztecs, who called these people the Otomí, though they themselves, stubbornly surviving today, call themselves the Hñähñu (very roughly meaning "right-speakers"). The word "endhó" is theirs--though it has little to do with another obvious first guess, asking whether "endhó" might simply be a slurring of the name "Hñähñu." It's not. Instead, like Dante's Virgil, it leads ever deeper into lost time and space.

"Proverbial is the sterility of the great inhospitable and unproductive span of the Mezquital," grumbled a 1947 study, describing a land "inhabited by the Otomís, one of the native Mexican groups most known for misery and poverty." Ah, but there was hope. The same study promised that "such a situation is going to be remedied, in large part, by the construction." It meant the construction of a new dam and reservoir, underway in 1947, with nothing polluted in its purpose: "More than 100,000 indigenous people will be benefited by this work." The new reservoir was to store rainwater for irrigation and flood control. It might even attract tourists.

But that was in the administration of President Miguel Alemán (1947-1952). By the 1970s, Mexico's monumental builder was in the National Palace. President Luis Echeverria would not only create a distant tourist Oz (Cancún) from mangrove swamps, but sweepingly relieved Mexico City by digging "the world's largest sewer," officially known (in a growing pattern of discreet ambiguity) as the "deep drain" (el drenaje profundo)--which, incredibly far beneath the earth, ran its great tunnel 50 miles north to pour monumentally untreated city sewage into placidly waiting Endhó.

Result today: "There are no fish," though there are many more "cyanides, detergents, grease, oils, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, fecal material, and heavy metals."

Still, this explains only the eventual epic fate. What of the original prophetic name? That name was already in place on the reservoir as early as 1947, during construction. Yet no archive (at least in facile cyberspace) would seem to retain any glowing speeches by President Miguel Alemán explaining just why he had chosen this particular name, with its mystifying blend of distinctly un-Mexican-looking consonants--its signal digraph: en-DH-o? What in the world was this? Soon buried under posterity's avoidance of the monumental smell, any explanation given at the time of origin seems to have disappeared completely.

(And my apologies now for this word-tunnel being so long, a "deep drain" all its own).

The 1947 study did boast that the fine new reservoir might somehow help another nagging problem, that of local illiteracy, in a crusade "long since begun among the Otomi." In 1940, President Manuel Ávila Camacho, the last presidential warhorse from the old fires of Revolution, made his own bid for modernization, addressing the 2.2 million Mexicans who were "indígenas monolingues," people speaking only an ancient tongue unlike Spanish. The National Literacy Campaign began. By 1945, every literate adult Mexican was being exhorted to teach at least one illiterate adult.

The Otomís were one of five indigenous groups on the front lines, receiving stacks of 148-page teaching booklets, written in both Hñähñu and Spanish, with mixed results. The 1945 census showed that, still, 43 percent of Mexicans were illiterate. Not until 1949 did the Otomí receive an official alphabet, and not until 1950 a formally written vocabulary. When President Alemán, or some acolyte, named the new reservoir, that namer was reaching deeply into the world of ancient orality.

Meanwhile, interest in the crusade was waning. Among the Otomí, not only parents but the teachers themselves were protesting hotly against the new teaching program--because they wanted teaching exclusively in Spanish, not Otomí. They were interested in going forward into modernity, not back into the mists. The government closed down its Department of Indigenous Autonomy. In 1948 some said that two out of three Mexicans, still, could not read.

But the President could wield some symbols. A consolation prize was created in 1951, the Otomí Indigenous Patrimony. And there was the lake to name.

It was dedicated in 1952. Perhaps at that time the name, decoded at last in the passage just below, needed no explanation.

The decoding key is in the digraph. It can be interpreted in various ways, having gone through the wringer of Townsend phonetics in the literacy campaign. One can stop and consider that a "dh" digraph, if used in Spanish, can seem a bit redundant--because the letter "d" in Spanish already has a soft sound, much like phonetic "dh." Hence the name of the lake became armored against Web searches. Its antecedent, the original Otomí word, took the spelling in a different direction. In the late 1940s the lake's name had two alternative spellings. both aimed at the same pronunciation. "Endho" was the preferred, more official one.

But cyberspacee somehow grows more responsive if one searches the other spelling: "PRESA ENDO." True, one of the Internet's mapping sites spits this out, scolding that there is “No Presa Endo...” But other geo-sites accept the slight misspelling happily, and say that, yes, it is the name of the dark lake (as the 1940s also said). And then, if permutations like "endo" and "entho" are taken to Otomí dictionary sites, we begin approaching--but still do not quite yet reach--the central irony.

Because endo/endho/entho means "deep."

This might seem a logical, harmless term for a busy president to place on a new ethnic lake-symbol. However, its flowering into larger echoes appears in a single Web reference, tucked away in a rare Hñähñu literary work. That glimpse into the old oral catacombs comes from a native-speaking informant who is identified in the work only as Ausencia.

And Ausencia said, regarding a word she spelled as "entho":

"It is a word that is very Hñähñu, because it means "así no más" ["just like that"--JE]. In other words, she saw "deep" as being also an interjection, a burst of complex meaning not subject to easy translation--on the surface seeming to mean everything and nothing, but in its depths suggesting a sort of stoicism, a resignation merging the inevitable with the sublime.

If this seems a stretch, Ausencia went on to say that the word carried meanings, all at once, of "contented" and "blessed" ("complacido, bendecido"), in the sense of "that's just how things happen." Practically on Endhó's shore stand the ancient pyramids of Tula, to which the Otomí people fell heir, before the Aztecs came in turn. The glimpse from Ausencia seems almost to say that any eventuality, however dark, is blessed by its divine creation. And so take it as it comes.

As dark waters poured in, was this too just the way things had to be--in the same ancient cycles that now find Mezquital farmers with another kind of fame, as their maze of hand-dug irrigation canals taps into the lake's cooperative flow, in what is called the world's largest use of untreated sewage for irrigated fertilization?

As with many cultures--así es la vida, Che sará sará, C'est la vie--is this word, at least in part, a vast, irreducible shrug, spying in the dark mirror what is merely the other face of the divine?

Thus it is. Endhó.

JE comments:  Gary, you've turned a mega-sewer into epic poetry!  This is a masterful essay, and also a service to cyberspace.  No longer will the etymology of "endhó" resist web searches.

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