Published On: Tue, Jan 8th, 2019

Cabañuelas: the azcient weather forecast method still used by Mexican indigenous peoples

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For the Mexican farmers, it is a priority to take the reading of the “cabañuelas” since, that’s how they predict the dry months and the rains.


Have you heard about the cabañuelas? For the vast majority of people who live in big cities, this word may sound strange or does not mean much of anything; for those who live in the provinces, particularly in small cities, it is likely to be a known topic, but for those who live in rural areas it is undoubtedly an important part of their everyday life during the first month of the year.

Since ancient times, humanity has had the need to predict the weather. The observation of the sky has always been a starting point for many predictions, myths and fears. In the case of the cabañuelas, experience and tradition play a fundamental role since they are a meteorological prediction method used by the native Mexicans long before the Spanish arrived. It is  a set of traditional methods that aim to predict long-term weather.

The first reference to these predictions is very old; In ancient Babylon the “Feast of Luck” or “Zamuk” was celebrated in the ceremony of “Akitu of the Babylonian New Year” in which weather was predicted for each of the twelve months of the year.

To understand the method of the cabañuelas: 

  • Each day of January represents a month of the year.
  • January 1st represents January, January 2nd represents February; January 3rd is March, the 4th is April and so on.
  • As of January 13th, the count goes backwards: the 13th represents December, the 14th November, the 15th October, the 16th September, the 17th August and so on.
  • As of the 25th, each half-day is equivalent to a month. The first twelve hours (midnight to noon) of the month of January 25th is January; the second twelve hours (noon to midnight) will be February.
  • The first twelve hours of the 26th will be March, and the second twelve hours will be April. This goes on through the end of the month until the 30th.
  • On the 31st, each hour of the first twelve hours represents one of the twelve months and the second 12-hour period represents the months going backwards.
  • Midnight to 0100 hours is January, 0100 hours to 0200 hours is February, 0200 to 0300 is March… then noon to 1300 hours is December, 1300 hours to 1400 hours is again November, and so on until  2300 hours to 00 hours (midnight) being January.

It is recommended to write down your observations of weather, flora and fauna, during the month of January, in order to create your own predictions.

From a scientific point of view, cabañuelas are completely meaningless when it comes to obtaining precise predictions about the weather and since the appearance of scientific meteorology, the elaboration of forecasts based on cabañuelas have lost part of its popularity amongst people except in rural areas of Mexico where 90% of the indigenous population still use and believe on this method, according to information issued by the “Secretaría de Agricultura, Ganadería, Desarrollo Rural, Pesca y Alimentación” —SAGARPA—

Currently, meteorology considers this old art of weather prediction a pseudoscience. Although short-term prediction through popular knowledge and experience is perfectly feasible, this is not the case with long-term prediction. For traditional Mexican farmers  it is a priority to take the reading of the cabañuelas since it allows them to predict the dry and rainy months, in order to plant their crops in season, and the days of January are of vital importance to keep the account of every day.

January, the month of the cabañuelas…  an oral custom, passed from generation to generation since precolombian times, before the Spanish conquest,  is currently a lost art for some, but remembered and used by others… and an important part of our Mexican heritage.


The Yucatan Times



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