Number 27

Editor’s note: This content is archival.

Nahua Newsletter

February 1999, Number 27

The Nahua Newsletter

A Publication of the Indiana University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Alan R. Sandstrom, Editor

With support from the Department of Anthropology

Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne

Contents

Nahua Newsletter News

Welcome to the Nahua Newsletter, the biannual publication that provides friendly
access to the world of scholars and students who are interested in the culture,
language, and history of Nahuatl-speaking and related peoples. The NN continues to
attract new readers with each issue – an Index of the growing importance of Nahua
studies in a number of disciplines. We have nearly 400 subscribers now residing in 15
different countries. The NN is a grass-roots publication that continues to be sent free
of charge to interested parties. We count among our readers the preeminent names in
Nahua and Mesoamerican scholarship and we have been publishing for nearly fourteen
years.

Loyal readers responded magnificently to the crisis in funding reported in the last
issue. Long-term subscribers know that we survive on donations and have no
institutional support to underwrite our printing and mailing costs. The call for
donations last November has filled our coffers as never before. NN readers could not
have been more generous. We now have enough funds to publish this and the next issue
with some left over. We are doing everything that we can to reduce costs of the NN
without reducing quality. There are no administrative or overhead costs whatsoever,
which means that all money goes to underwrite printing and mailing.

In this issue, you will find news items, book reviews, and an updated directory of
readers. The directory should serve as a convenient means of locating the current
addresses of others with similar expertise and interests. Please use the list to
contact colleagues and share your insights or seek cooperation. The more we stay in
touch with each other the greater the likelihood that there will be progress in our
efforts to increase understanding of Nahua culture and history. Keeping in touch avoids
duplication of effort and taps the knowledge and experience of others. Also, please
send information for the News Items section of the NN so that others may share in your
victories and cooperate in your research efforts. We are particularly interested in
having scholars from countries outside of the U.S. communicate about their current
research projects so that we can make our efforts truly international.

Please send information about your research, calls for cooperation, questions, or
donations to the NN to the following address:

Alan R. Sandstrom
Editor, Nahua Newsletter
Department of Anthropology
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
2101 Coliseum Blvd. East
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805  U.S.A.
 

NEWS ITEMS

1. Jesús Ruvalcaba Mercado of the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios
Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) and his colleagues in Mexico have
been very busy over the past several years conducting research and publishing the
results on one of the frontiers of Mesoamerican anthropology, the Huasteca and
surrounding regions. The latest edited volume to be published is Nuevos aportes al
conocimiento de la Huasteca, CIESAS, Ediciones de la Casa Chata, 1998; ISBN
968-496-339-4). The volume contains articles by investigators covering ethnohistory,
ethnography, gender relations, medical anthropology, ethnobotany, linguistics, and many
other topics. Most chapters are about either Nahuas or Huastecs, and there is an
excellent bibliography. Following is the statement from the back cover of the book:

“Nuevos aportes al conocimiento de la Huasteca está constituido por los
ensayos de casi una veintena de especialistas en diversos campos de las ciencias
sociales y naturales, que contribuyen a un mejor entendimiento de la región
conocida como la Huasteca y sus pueblos indios. Los neuvos datos sobre historia,
antropología, lingüística, biología, ingeniería,
religión, ganadería, etc., de esta porción de nuestro país,
ayudarán, sin duda, a comprender mejor o a reinterpretar las perspectivas que
existen sobre ella. “Esta selección de los materiales del VII Encuentro de
Investigadores de la Huasteca, se suma al esfuerzo que han hecho diversas instituciones
y personas a lo largo de varios años, para poner al alcance del público
información sobre la Huasteca. “Dada la situación por la que atraviesan
los pueblos indios de México, esperamos que estas investigaciones ayuden a
mejorar la relación entre éstos y la sociedad nacional; es lo que require
el país en su conjunto.”

2. Another volume compiled by Jesús Ruvalcaba Mercado and Juan Manuel
Pérez Zevallos entitled La Huasteca en los albores del tercer milenio: Textos,
temas y problemas, was published in 1997 by CIESAS (ISBN 968-496-327-0). The work is a
250-page bibliography of publications on or about the Huasteca and it is an invaluable
resource for all Mesoamericanists. Of particular note is an extensive essay on the
Huasteca in which much of what is known about the region is summarized. The following
is from the back cover of the book:

“La Huasteca es una región de gran belleza y abundantes recursos naturales,
cuyos límites tradicionales se han trazado entre el río Cazones y la
desembocadura del Pánuco, desde la línea costera hasta las estribaciones
de la Sierra Madre Oriental. Su diversidad ambiental, producto de las variaciones de
altitud, alberga a una sociedad multicultural, en donde no es inusual hablar dos o tres
lenguas diferentes. Nauas, teenek, hñähñu, pames, tepehuas y
totonacos están sometidos al control económico y político de los
mestizos, que los consideran su fuente de riquezas: desde Cortés y Nuño
de Guzmán, que los vendieron a las Antillas como esclavos, hasta las familias de
caciques actuales, quienes los contratan a cambio de salarios miserables para realizar
las tareas más pesadas del sector agropecuario o los mantienen como semisiervos
domésticos. “Las comunidades indígenas no han permanecido cruzadas de
brazos ni se han cobijado en la resistencia pasiva: su trayectoria de lucha, la
fortaleza de su organización comunitaria y su enorme acervo cultural les han
permitido sobrevivir y hacer aportaciones significativas a la formación de la
cultura mesoamericana y a la fortaleza de México como nación. Esta obra
resalta la participación huasteca, histórica y contemporánea,
dentro de la sociedad mayor; proporciona al lector una guía sobre los problemas
y la bibliografía en relación con la Huasteca que será de gran
utilidad no sólo a los interesados en ella sino como modelo de
orientación regional.”

3. Guy Stresser-Péan has published another masterwork of Mesoamerican
anthropology entitled Los Lienzos de Acaxochitlán (Hidalgo) y su importancia en
la historia del poblamiento de la Sierra Norte de Puebla y zonas vecinas, (Gobierno del
Estado de Hidalgo and Centre Francais d’Etude Mexicaines et Centroaméricaines,
1998; ISBN 968-6029-63-X). The work is published in Spanish and French, has a complete
bibliography, and is filled with informative maps and drawings, including three
separate fold-out maps. The book is a compendium of decades of ethnohistorical and
ethnographic work on the Sierra Norte de Puebla and surrounding areas that will stand
as the major source on the region for many years to come. This work is well worth the
time to examine and read even if the Sierra Norte de Puebla is not your area of
interest. The book serves as a model for this type of research and its excellence is
clearly based on the lifetime of effort that went into its creation. Los Lienzos de
Acaxochitlán stands as a monument to how far we have come in our understanding
of the historical and cultural landscape of Mesoamerica.

4. Félix Báez-Jorge has recently published a book that will be of
great interest to Mesoamericanists, and particularly those fascinated by the
devastating encounter between European and New World religious systems. The work is
entitled Entre los naguales y los santos: Religión popular y ejercicio clerical
en el México indígena (Universidad Veracruzana, 1998; ISBN
968-834-438-9). From the back cover:

“Este libro continúa la reflexión y la dirección
analítica que el autor desarrollara en dos obras anteriores: Los oficios de las
diosas… (1988) y La parentela de María (1994), en relación con el
estudio sobre la religión popular–dentro el ámbito del catolicismo-
practicada por los indios de México. “El presente estudio se centra en la
función que cumplen los santos como intermediarios dentro la religiosidad
indígena. Y, precisamente, una de las expresiones más amplias del
complejo proceso de sincretismo simbólico es la de las imágenes de los
santos nagualizados; es decir, la dinámica del ‘modo d vivir’ la religión
por parte de los indios que los ha llevado a conservar un sinnúmero de elementos
fundamentales de la cosmovisión nahua prehispánica, introducidos
subrepticiamente dentro de la concepción ortodoxa de la iglesia católica.
“Los efectos sociales, secuelas conflictivas y expresiones de resistencia ocasionados
por esta transformación de la práctica popular religiosa entre la
jerarquía eclesiástica y el pueblo indígena, son abordados de
manera analítica y sistemática por Félix Báez-Jorge en la
presente obra, aunando a ello una serie de planteamientos que estimularán, sin
duda alguna, posteriores propuestas y discusiones.”

5. The Bear and His Sons: Masculinity in Spanish and Mexican Folktales (University
of Texas Press, 1997; ISBN 0-292-78145-8, paper; ISBN 0-292-78114-X, cloth) by James
Taggart is another excellent book that should be read by all Mesoamericanists. Jim
Taggart is one of the founders of the Nahua Group who first proposed almost fourteen
years ago that the NN be published as means of increasing communication among scholars
and students. The ethnological comparison of The Bear and His Sons is a breakthrough in
our understanding of the cultural construction of gender. It is also a brilliant
example of how oral narratives can be analyzed to reveal deep-seated cultural
principles in particularly difficult-to-study areas such as gender values. The book
compares oral narrations among Nahuas in the Sierra Norte de Puebla with similar or
cognate stories told in contemporary Spain. The author is able to trace stories
recounted by contemporary Nahuas to their Spanish origins and to show how the Nahuas
have modified the tales to reflect better their own conceptions of masculinity. This
book represents a major step forward in cultural analysis and shows how the unique
historical position of the Nahuas can be used to further our understanding of cultural
similarities and differences.

From the back cover:

“All the world over, people tell stories to express their deepest feelings about
such things as what makes a ‘real’ man or woman; what true love, courage, or any other
virtue is; what the proper relationships are between people. Often groups of people
widely separated by space and time will tell the same basic story, but with differences
in the details that reveal much about a particular group’s worldview. “This book looks
at differences in the telling of several common Hispanic folktales. James Taggart
contrasts how two men–a Spaniard and an Aztec-speaking Mexican–tell such tales as
‘The Bear’s Son.’ He explores how their stories present different ways of being a man
in their respective cultures. “Taggart’s analysis contributes to a revision of Freud’s
theory of gender, which was heavily grounded in biological determinism. Taggart focuses
instead on how fathers reproduce different forms of masculinity in their sons. In
particular, he shows how fathers who care for their infant sons teach them a relational
masculinity based on a connected view of human relationships. Thus, The Bear and His
Sons will be important reading not only in anthropology and folklore, but also in the
growing field of men’s studies.”

6. Frances Berdan, California State University San Bernardino, has organized a
symposium on ethnicity in Mexico at this year’s 68th Anglo-American Conference of
Historians to be held from June 30th through July 2nd at the University of London. The
theme of the meeting is “Race and Ethnicity” and the title of the Mexican symposium is
“Ethnic Identity in Mexico: Precolumbian to Modern Times.” Three American
Mesoamericanists will make presentations during the symposium: Frances Berdan will
speak on “Concepts of Ethnicity and Class in Aztec-Period Mexico; John Chance, Arizona
State University, will present “Indigenous Ethnicity in Colonial Mexico; and Alan
Sandstrom, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, will speak on “Native
American Ethnic Identity in Contemporary Mexico: The Case of the Nahuas of Northern
Veracruz.”

7. Patricia Rieff Anawalt published an article entitled “Traders of the Ecuadorian
Littoral” in the November/December 1997 issue of Archaeology in which she notes that
“striking parallels in dress and artifacts suggest that strong economic ties existed
between Ecuador and West Mexico more than 1,500 years ago.”

Book Reviews

Hippocrates’ Latin American Legacy: Humoral Medicine in the New World. By George McClelland Foster. Langhorne, Penn.: Gordon and Breach, 1994. Pp. xvii+242. Theory and Practice in Medical Anthropology and International Health, Vol. 1. $40.00 (cloth). ISBN 2881246109 (cloth); ISBN 2881246117 (paper).

Hippocrates’ Latin American Legacy comprises 10 chapters plus a short introduction
and epilogue, an appendix, an extensive bibliography, and a useful Index. Chapter 1
states the general problem. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 deal with humoral theory in
Tzintzuntzan, Michoacán (its basic principles, disease causality, and therapy).
Chapters 5, 6, and 7 clarify issues concerning the ascription of humoral values, the
neutral value in humoral medical systems, and the validating role of humoral theory in
therapy. Chapters 8 and 9 deal with the diffusion of humoral medicine to many parts of
the world, and Chapter 10 discusses humoral elements in American popular medicine. I
have selected for discussion those issues that are potentially of the greatest interest
to Nahua scholars.

In Chapter 1, Foster discusses the three world variants of humoral medicine: the
Ayurvedic of India, the Chinese, and the Hippocratic-Galenic or Graeco-Persian-Arab
humoral traditions. The author’s clear presentation of the basic pattern of humoral
medicine in the Americas is commendable. Briefly, foods, remedies and many other
substances have a metaphoric quality–a humoral value of “Hot,” “Cold” or “Temperate”
that is distinct from their thermal temperature. Illnesses are explained “as due to hot
and cold insults (sometimes thermal, sometimes metaphoric) that upset the bodily
temperature equilibrium that is believed to spell health. A hot insult produces a hot
illness, while a cold insult produces a cold illness. Therapies… conform to what has
been known since the time of Hippocrates as the ‘principle of opposites': a Cold remedy
for a hot illness and a Hot remedy for a cold illness” (p. 3).

Foster capitalizes the first letter of words for humoral values (Hot, Cold,
Temperate) and uses lower-case initial letters for thermal temperature values (hot,
cold, temperate). All scholars should consider adopting this potential standardization
since it would eliminate a considerable amount of confusion that currently exists in
discussions of humoral medicine.

A second strength of this chapter is his overview of the diffusion of Greek humoral
medicine, which “under the Moslems,[diffused] eastward through Iran, Afghanistan,
Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and parts of Indonesia, and westward to Europe,
Latin America, and the Philippines” (p. 12). This diffusion of Greek humoral medicine
is followed up in detail in Chapters 8 and 9.

Chapters 2, 3, and 4 specifically discuss humoral theory in Tzintzuntzan. It is
evident that Foster is a very skilled field worker. For example, he observes that
metaphoric/humoral values in Tzintzuntzan apply only to material items and that, with
rare exceptions, humoral values do not change (p. 26). He is a keen observer and a very
careful listener, perhaps the most important attributes of an ethnographer.

Foster arrives at generalizations through induction; two are of particular interest.
First, “[I]n Tzintzuntzan thermal temperature is cited far more frequently as the
precipitating factor leading to illness than is the humoral value of food or drink.
With respect to therapy, the opposite is true: thermal temperatures of remedies are far
less important than are their humoral calidades” (p. 41). Second, “Turning to
etiologies, the most remarkable thing about illness causality concepts in Tzintzuntzan
is that almost all illness is attributed to natural causes, and not to supernatural or
magical sources. This characteristic, of course, marks humoral medical systems in
general, and it stands in striking contrast to the etiological beliefs found in
tropical South America, indigenous North America, Africa, paleoarctic Siberia, and
Oceania, where witchcraft, soul loss, object intrusion, possession, breach of taboo,
and the ghosts of ancestors are the most frequently named causes of illness…. [Unlike
these personalistic medical systems], in Tzintzuntzan, people (insofar as illness is
concerned) are far more concerned with their relationships to their natural environment
than to their neighbors” (pp. 69-70).

Chapters 4 and 7 are two of the most interesting chapters in this book; both deal
with the role of humoral theory in therapy. Contrary to what most anthropologists have
argued, Foster claims that humoral theory plays a relatively small role in therapy. He
began to consider this possibility after he became aware of anomalies in his
Tzintzuntzan ethnomedical data. For example, (1) there was widespread disagreement
among informants with respect to the humoral values of many common remedies, and
prescribed and proscribed foods, and (2) many common therapies failed to conform to the
principle of opposites prescription. Bilis, for example, is thought to be due to an
overflow of Hot bile from the liver into the stomach. Yet the ingredients most often
mentioned by informants as a remedy for bilis are predominantly Hot (pp. 135-36).

Foster believes that humoral theory validates rather than prescribes empirical
treatments (p. 131). Medicines are prescribed for well-known complaints with little or
no thought given to their humoral consistency (p. 137). They are prescribed because
there is the expectation, based on prior experience, that they will work (p. 138). Many
therapies are consistent with humoral theory; many are not. Evidently, people
uncritically accept humoral theory. They tend to remember or point out instances in
which humoral theory is validated but ignore or only become vaguely aware of instances
in which humoral theory is not supported.

After reading Foster’s account about the validating role of humoral theory in
therapy, I began to wonder about the role of other kinds of disease-causing theories in
contemporary Nahua communities. In many Nahua communities, witchcraft, soul loss,
object intrusion, possession, breach of taboo, and ancestral spirits are believed to be
causes of illness. What role do these kinds of personalistic theories of disease play
in the prescription of medicinal therapy? We need to know more about what goes on in
the minds of Nahua healers when they prescribe rituals and herbal medicines for
different kinds of illnesses.

Chapter 8 details Foster’s account of “how contemporary humoral medicine described
by anthropologists in Indian, mestizo, and ladino communities in the Americas (and in
the West Indies and the Philippines) [is] a simplified form of classical humoral theory
and practice, which was brought to the New World by Spaniards and Portuguese” (p. 149).
Chapter 9 argues that we should reject the view that humoral medicine in the Americas
is an indigenous cultural trait (e.g., of pre-Hispanic Aztec origin) that after 500
years “of European influences remains so vigorous that it is still a major source not
only of Indian but also of rural mestizo and urban popular medical practice” (p.
149).

Foster’s “Filtering Down” model is a very plausible account of how many elements of
an elite-scientific medical system were transmitted to urban and rural settings in the
New World. Foster makes extensive use of historical and comparative ethnographic data
to show how humoral medicine in the New World, taught “in medical schools until the
early 19th century… diffused to a popular level through the ministrations of
religious and medical personnel in hospitals and elsewhere, through pharmacies, and
through home care manuals” (p. 150).

I agree with Foster that the American Origin models developed by Audrey Butt Colson,
Alfredo López Austin, and Bernard Ortiz de Montellano are problematic. For
example, many “pre-hispanic” sources of medical information, even the very earliest
ones, are not “pure Indian” in content. There is reason to believe they have been
“contaminated” in varying degrees by European humoral theory and when humoral ideas are
encountered in Aztec texts, it is difficult to pinpoint their origin. The American
origins model can not account for the “remarkable homogeneity of humoral medicine in
all Latin America, in the Caribbean, and in the Philippines. The same equilibrium model
of health, the same Hot-Cold classificatory system, the same names of illnesses, the
same remedies and therapies are all found throughout this immense area” (p. 158). In
addition, if humoral beliefs and practices in Latin America are of indigenous (e.g.,
Aztec) rather than European origin, then it would be reasonable to expect that humoral
ideas would be stronger or at least as strong among contemporary indigenous groups as
among those of greater European ancestry. Available ethnographic accounts do not
support this expectation. In fact, humoral ideas appear to be weakest in the most
isolated Nahua communities (p. 164).

For more than fifty years, Foster has been thinking hard about the impact of Spain
on indigenous American cultures such as the Nahua. This has involved him in an
interesting debate with some of the most respected Nahua scholars including
López Austin and Ortiz de Montellano. Readers of the Nahua Newsletter should
take note of this book because there is a lot that is worthy of emulation and
admiration. It is cross-cultural in nature and deals with a topic that is of broad,
general interest. Humoral medicine is a medical system that has existed for well over
2,000 years, and is arguably the longest lived of all scientific paradigms. Foster’s
book is based upon a solid empirical foundation and is full of insightful and clear
analyses. This book embodies the very best in anthropology.

Brad R. Huber
College of Charleston
 

Tlacatecolotl y el diablo: La cosmovisión de los nahuas de Chicontepec. By Félix Báez-Jorge and Arturo Gómez Martínez. Xalapa: Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz, Secretaría de Educación y Cultura, 1998. Pp. 106. ISBN 970-670-033-1 (paper).

Este libro fue publicado en el mes de noviembre de 1998, en la ciudad de Xalapa,
Veracruz. Me parece que su lectura, tiene la qualidad, entre otras, de recordarnos la
importancia del quehacer etnográfico en la construcción de las
reflexiones que actualmente se tejen en torno a los pueblos indígenas, en el
marco de una realidad contemporánea que pareciera complejizarse más
día con día. A partir de un cuidadoso registro etnográfico,
cotejado con la información de las tempranas crónicas de evangelizadores,
así como con códices y otros textos, los autores han logrado reconstruir
parte de la visión del mundo de los nahuas de Chicontepec, una de las regiones
interétnicas con más alto índice de población
indígena en el estado de Veracruz.

De ahí que considero aportación relevante de este trabajo, el hecho de
que nos muestre una de las piezas fundamentales de las representaciones colectivas que
los nahuas han configurado durante el proceso colonial, mismas que se manifiestan hoy
en la dinámica de su articulación con la sociedad dominante. Su
cosmovisión se enmarca en una posición estructural que mantiene a los
nahuas, como al resto de los indigénas de México, en una condición
de subalternidad orquestada desde la colonia.

En este devenir, se señala en el texto, los nahuas se han movido en una
diferente dirección a la de la sociedad occidental, en la cual es el
racionalismo y no el pensamiento religioso, el que rige los comportamientos sociales.
Los autores apuntan que su interés se centra en el examen de las tendencias que
actúan en favor de la reproducción cultural, dentro de un esquema de
articulación con la sociedad dominante, que se caracteriza por la presencia de
dos vectores o tendencias opuestas: aquellas que implican una ruptura con los valores y
estructuras de origen para insertarse en la modernidad, y aquellas otras que se dirigen
hacia la reproducción cultural y enmarcan formas de identidad étnica y de
resistencia ideológica.

Al paracer, esta oposición, y la consequente adaptación a las esferas
atravesadas por el Estado y las relaciones mercantiles, no han evitado la constancia
escencial del universo metafísico de los nahuas. Su visión del mundo,
espresada tanto en las narraciones orales que los autores han recogido y transcrito en
este libro, como en la experiencia de la vida ritual, en cual se personifica y se rinde
culto a Tlacatecolotl, evidencian la vitalidad de un pensamiento religioso que forma
parte de lo que López Austin (1994) ha llamado “complejo religioso
mesoamericano.”

Los datos presentados muestran de manera elocuente que aún cuando no podamos
decir que las religiones indígenas de hoy son una reproducción fiel de
las religiones prehispánicas, el pensamiento de los nahuas ha conservado durante
un largo periodo determinados principios que sostienen su percepción del
universo y norman sus acciones hacia el mismo. Es evidente que la evangelización
y la destrucción de instituciones indígenas no fue suficiente para acabar
con una cosmovisión que se apoya en un cuerpo de creencias y formas de culto que
continúan como importante vehículo en los mecanismos internos de estos
pueblos. La cosmovisión de los nahuas de Chicontepec es un hecho
histórico de producción de pensamiento social inmerso en decursos de
larga duración, señalan los autores, hecho que ha dado lugar a un
tradición que se produjo entre la línea de la antigua tradición
religiosa y el cristianismo.

En el texto, los autores exponen, en primer término, los ámbitos del
universo do los nahuas, el cual aparece formado por tres planos (el celeste, el
terrestre y el inframundo) orientados hacia cuatro esquinas, los puntos cardinales.
Cada uno de estos planos tiene a su vez, subdivisiones, en las cuales habitan
diferentes divinidades atendiendo a los elementos de la naturaleza; en el cielo, por
ejemplo, se ubica Citlalpa, el sitio de las estrellas o citlalimeh, así como
Ehecapa, lugar de los vientos. En la penúltima capa celeste habitan los santos
católicos (totiotzitzih), el sol (Tonatih), la luna (Meeztli) y Tlacatacolotl,
el hombre búho.

Los autores detallan la idea del universo de los nahuas, que incluye la
conceptualización del movimiento de los astros, de los temidos estratos del
inframundo y el punto del equilibrio cósmico: Tlaltepactli, la superficie
terrestre, donde convergen el día y la noche, el frío y el calor, punto
intermedio entre el plano celeste y el inframundo. Tlaltepactli, representación
del equilibrio, es el principio que orienta los rituales de los nahuas. La
composición del entorno más inmediato es aprehendida a partir de la
unicación de sitios los sagrados en el interior del territorio étnico:
elevaciones, sitios arqueológicos, ríos, manantiales y encrucijadas. De
manera que el texto reúne interpretaciones tantos relativas a la
composición del cosmos en sus distintos planos, como a la distribución
sagrada del espacio regional, donde los nahuas renuevan y reelaboran un sistema de
pensamiento con profundas raíces en la tradición religiosa
mesoamericana.

Si bien el apartado referido a los ámbitos del universo y sus divinidades,
representa un importante aporte de este trabajo, el interés explícito del
texto está dirigido hacia la figura de Tlacatecolotl, personaje que los autores
interpretan como de carácter dual y los nahuas asocian con el Demonio; imaginado
al mismo tiempo como hombre y mujer, como joven y viejo, como curandero y brujo, y en
fin como bueno y malo. En tanto entidad maligna, dicen los autores, es considerado como
patrono de los mestizos.

En el libro se explica también cómo se ha reelaborado este personaje
en el contexto de las prácticas cotidianas, cuya lógica se expresa en la
cosmovisión que le asigna las tareas a Tlacatecolotl. Es especialmente en
ocasión de la celebración del carnaval o nahnahuatilli cuando se realizan
rituales dirigidos a la manutención del equilibrio en el orden terrestre y en la
vida comunitaria, o bien al agradecimiento por dones personales o favores recibidos.
Como señalara Evon Vogt, cuando la escencia de un mensaje ritual es un principio
irrevocable de la realidad, debe ser transmitido mediante la plegaria, el canto, la
danza. La celebración del carnaval recrea las categorías con que los
nahuas de Chicontepec perciben su entorno y reafirma los términos en que se debe
actuar, términos que casi siempre implican ofrendas a Tlacatecolotl y otras
deidades a cambio de favores y bienestar colectivo.

Tlacatecolotl está presente en las peticiones de lluvia y en plegarias
propiciatorias de la fertilidad agraria, pero también en ceremonias privadas de
curación o de hechicería y en fin, en cuestiones fundamentales de la vida
cotidiana. Los autores transcriben algunas de las plegarias que se dirigen a
Tlacatecolotl, las cuales fueron registradas en náhuatl, en distintas
localidades de la región y realizadas especialmente en rituales privados.
Ahí se le conmina a equilibrar su conducta, se le ruega bienestar y
protección ante los peligros y dificultades de la vida, se ofrendan alimentos,
bebidas, flores y velas. Con veneración no exhenta de temor, se le extienden
largas oraciones (p. 84):

Yeca namah ni tlacualli timitzmacah, / Hoy te entregamos este banquete

yeca timitz tlapopochuiliah, / y te sahumamos

yeca timitz tlatiliah se cantela, / y te encendemos una vela

yeca ica timitztlatenohnotzah. / y te invocamos.

Ay tlacatecolotzi namah cualli xiitzto / Ay hombrecito búho, que estés
bien

campa tinemi, campa timosehuia, / en todos tus caminos, en tu aposento,

tlan tlehtleya ax ticamati / si algo no te agrada

xitechmatilti pan temictli, / queremos que nos informes a través de
sueños,

achi cualli timatiseh, / es mejor que lo sepamos,

huan amo mopeca ticualantos, / para evitarte molestias,

amo mopeca timosisinihtos. / y no andarás por ahí furioso.

Si me surge alguna interrogante después de la lectura de este breve pero
intenso recorrido por la cosmovisión de los nahuas, ésta se refiere a
aquel problema que planteara Galinier en relación a los mitos
cosmogónicos. En muchos casos, dice el autor, las diferencias en el dominio del
saber antiguo son cada día más significativas de una a otra localidad, de
una a otra clase de edad, a veces conocimiento reservada de los shamanes o ancianos de
los pueblos o pequeñas localidades. Quiénes son hoy en día los
encargados de renovar este acervo en la sociedad nahua contemporánea. Aún
cuando en el libro se especifican los nombres de las localidades donde se recogieron
los mitos y se registraron los rituales, considero de interés contar con un poco
más de información acerca de los poseedores de este conocimiento ritual y
mitológico, cuyas reveladoras versiones no hacen sino sorprender ante su
familiaridad con algunas nociones prehispánicos del universo.

Para finalizar, quisiera señalar que me parace que este trabajo es una
contribución, que supongo los autores continuarán enriqueciendo, en el
estudio de las persistencias, divergencias y particularidades, de las visiones del
mundo indígena.

María Teresa Rodríguez
CIESAS-Golfo
 

Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums. By Jean Andrews. New ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. Pp. 274. $65.00 (cloth). ISBN 0-292-70467-4.

The Pepper Lady’s Pocket Pepper Primer. By Jean Andrews. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998. Pp. 190. $65.00 (paper). ISBN 0-292-70483-6.

It is irrefutable that corn, beans, and squash have played an important role in the
lives of people throughout Mesoamerica. Yet of no less significance to these people are
chile peppers (Capsicum spp.), which have left an indelible mark on the inhabitants of
this region. In her wonderful book, Peppers: The Domesticated Capsicums, Jean Andrews
provides us with a wealth of information regarding the origin, domestication, botany,
uses, and spread of chile peppers around the globe.

This book is divided into ten chapters with additional useful information and
illustrations compiled in a series of appendices, glossaries, and bibliography. Upon
opening the book one is treated to a series of 34 beautiful paintings of various chile
peppers produced by Jean Andrews. The first three chapters focus on the general history
of chile pepper use throughout the Americas and includes numerous accounts from early
European explorers relating their first encounters with these fiery fruits. I was very
impressed with the lengthy list of names compiled by the author of the words used for
chile peppers in 61 different countries/regions of the world. The diversity of names is
particularly interesting in light of the fact that chile peppers are native to the New
World. Yet, within approximately the first century of European contact in the Americas,
chiles had encircled the globe, arriving in some locales in advance of the first
explorers! While this historical account is by no means complete, it has sufficient
depth and breadth to serve as an entertaining and informative introduction to chile
peppers for any reader.

Chapters 4 through 7 are concerned with the botany and many agricultural aspects of
chile peppers. In addition to discussing the botanical origin of chiles, these chapters
serve as an important introduction to the characteristics used in assigning the
staggering variety of chile peppers to one of five recognized domesticated species. The
high profile of chile peppers in the botanical world has been a mixed blessing with
regard to the lexicon of Capsicum spp. While chiles have been so scrutinized by
botanists to the point of making them one of the most thoroughly studied groups of
plants, chile peppers taxonomy has suffered from numerous revisions, leaving in its
wake countless discarded and abandoned classification schemes. These efforts have
resulted in a great deal of confusion in the literature regarding chile pepper
nomenclature. Andrews’ effort to synthesize this body of knowledge regarding chile
pepper classification will be of great benefit to anyone beginning to sort out the
complexities it presents.

Chapter 8 is of special interest. The author presents a series of extra-culinary
applications of chile peppers from several different countries and cultures. Many of
the examples, especially those described under “Magic, Ritual, and Folklore Uses,” are
drawn from Mesoamerica and include the application of chiles for medicinal and other
purposes.

The final two chapters focus on specific chile cultivars. These are followed by
recipes incorporating several of these delectable varieties. As a sort of compendium to
this chapter, a second book by Andrews, The Pepper Lady’s Pocket Pepper Primer, offers
details regarding many more pepper varieties. While the second book does not offer the
same degree of rich detail and history about chile peppers, its many excellent chile
photos can help serve as an appealing starting point for the identification of pepper
cultivars.

Both books will be of great value to people interested in Mesoamerican culture or
cuisine. Since the use of chile peppers is so pervasive throughout this region, any
information one can garner regarding this food item will certainly add a deeper insight
into the past and present daily lives of these people.

Robert H. Cichewicz
Northeast Louisiana University
 

People of the Peyote: Huichol Indian History, Religion, and Survival. Edited by Stacy B. Schaefer and Peter T. Furst. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997. Pp. xiv+560. $29.95 (paper). ISBN 0-8263-1905-X.

In the early decades of this century a small group of researchers fanned out across
the North American continent to record the cultures of the native peoples. As an
elderly Haida lady recently informed a friend of mine, she wanted to have some myths
recorded before she died, but the anthropologists were simply not coming anymore. In
his serious, detailed, and respectful attention to recording the religious and
intellectual universe of the Huichol, Peter Furst, the senior editor of this work, is
one of the dwindling few still working in the great tradition of American anthropology.
The massive work under review – 520 pages of ethnography – is not only a monument to
the Huichol but also a memorial to his consultants of some three decades ago (see
Chapters 6, 13) and the illustrious ethnographer, Konrad Theodor Preuss, who preceded
him (see Chapter 4).

The editors have assembled a dozen American, Mexican, Japanese, French, and British
ethnographers to contribute seventeen chapters on Huichol religion, history, and
survival. The contributions are fashioned into a coherent unit by Furst’s brief
introductions to each chapter. The first chapter by the editors Stacy B. Schaefer and
Peter T. Furst presents ethnographic background information, including sections devoted
to social organization, religion, shamanism, and peyote.

The peyote cactus at the center of Huichol religious, ritual, and cultural symbolism
is not native to Huichol territory but is secured on annual pilgrimages to an area near
Real de Catorce, San Luís Potosí, 300 miles to the northeast. The richly
costumed pilgrims leave votive offerings and prayers at the sacred sites immortalized
in the primordial peyote hunt of the ancestral deities. In the second, chapter Peter
Furst develops the euhemerist theory that the highly complex Huichol peyote pilgrimage
to their sacred land of creation–the abode of the gods, ancestral shades, and unborn
children–is a mythological reenactment of the actual migration of their ancestors from
the original Huichol homeland. That the Huichol are inveterate travelers is attested to
by the ritual incorporation of Popocatépetl into their sacred geography.
Recently, I was informed on the Miawpukek Micmac reserve in southern Newfoundland, that
a group of Huichol had previously, in the spirit of pan-Indian ecumenism, even paid
them a visit.

In Chapter 3, Allen Franz delineates the nature of Huichol ethnohistory in terms of
five phases from 1530 to the present. The underlying question in Franz’s essay is why
the Huichol were able to survive and maintain themselves as a singularly distinctive
people, in contrast to the diminution and disappearance of their western Nahua
neighbors. The answer lies, according to Franz, partly in the fact that the Huichol
responded to colonial enslavement, overwork, tribute demands, and other provocations
with insurrections, raids, the destruction of missions, and open opposition to
religious conversion. Hence the colonial authorities never succeeded in congregating
the Huichol into new settlements (reducción), which resulted in so much
devastation and death by epidemic diseases for other indigenous groups.

In Chapter 5, Stacy Schaefer relates aspects of the ethnobotany, ritual consumption,
physiological effects, and societal functions of the peyote cactus. Schaefer ascribes
the remarkable properties of peyote and its potent adjuvant, Nicotiana rustica, to
their pharmacological action on the brain’s neurotransmitters, thereby mechanically
reducing the encounter with transcendental meaning to chemical messages. The Huichol
have incorporated the vivid, multi-colored images of these visionary experiences into
their yarn paintings. In a comparison of mescaline-induced hallucinatory images and
pre-Columbian ritual art, Alfonso Toro (1923:120) noted a similar correspondence
between hallucinogenic imagery and pages 29 32, and 36 of the Borgia Codex.

The Nahuatl trope for peyote was Tonantzin xochitl, the “Flower of Our Mother,” and
the Huichol verbal metaphor for peyote is the flower, which is depicted in their
weaving, embroidery, and other artworks. The trope of hallucinogenic plant-as-flower
was, to the chagrin of León Portilla, not missed by Gordon Wasson, who used it
to explicate pre-Conquest Nahuatl poetry (Wasson 1980:79-92; Ortiz de Montellano
1981:355-57).

In Chapter 7, Armando Casillas Romo, a medical doctor, describes the Huichol
symptomology, diagnosis, and treatment for sixty indigenous illnesses. Most prevalent
are communicable diseases (some 15) resulting from microbial infections and parasitic
infestations. This is followed by malnutritional disorders (eight), with the rest being
divided (four to six) among diseases of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary, and
integumentary systems.

In Chapter 8, Masaya Yasumoto describes the religious beliefs and behavior related
to Kiéri, a plant deity. Although Kiéri has been identified as being
Solandra spp., two other solanaceous genera, Datura and Brugmansia, are recognized by
the Huichol as being part of the Kiéri complex. Kiéri is described in
mythological accounts as the “Tree of the Wind.” Considerable confusion is introduced
into the discussion, since all Solandra spp. are woody climbers, not trees, as
described in the essay (pp. 245, 247) (Martinez 1966). Contrary to Yasumoto’s statement
(p. 256), it is the arboreal Brugmansia spp., a South American introduction, which bear
no fruit in Mexico, and Solandra spp., which bear fruiting bodies. There are several
botanically unidentified psychotropic plants in the region (Russell 1975:224n.; Bourke
1894:125), and if the “Tree of the Wind” is a real and not mythological tree, it
remains to be identified.

The Kiéri plant is closely connected with evil magic and primarily ingested
by sorcerers (Knab 1977:85). Kiéri ingestion plays a significant role in Susana
Eger Valadez’s engaging, insider account (Chapter 9) of the arduous, dangerous, and
lengthy initiation process present in a branch of Huichol shamanism intimately
connected with natural and immortal wolves. Eger Valadez’s account is free of the
negative and sinister overtones associated with Navaho “human wolves” and similar
phenomena (Morgan 1936; Barrett 1917). Of less merit and somewhat questionable is Eger
Valadez’s concluding discussion, in which she takes her theoretical cue from Terence
McKenna, billed as “the Timothy Leary of the 90’s,” and whose recent book True
Hallucinations was launched not with a book signing but with an all-night rave in San
Francisco.

Central to Huichol ritual and religious thought are deer, peyote, and maize, which
are linked together in a plethora of conceptual and ritual correspondences as being
identical, yet discrete entities. Commonly described as an irrational or “symbolic”
expression each, in fact, is an incarnation and manifestation of a deity and owner,
which may assume human, deer, peyote or maize forms. In Chapter 10, Denis Lemaistre
describes aspects of this Huichol trikaya or trinity and relates it to the Huichol
ritual deer hunt, which contains themes common to the sacred journey/hunt for peyote.
The exalted, sacred position of this animal, its reverential treatment, and the ritual
nature of the deer hunt from beginning to end (pp. 17, 314-321), like the bear-hunting
rituals of many northerly peoples, are the manifestations of a hunting existence.

In Chapter 11, Stacy Schaefer describes the relationships of Huichol community
temples with social organization, the annual ceremonial cycle, cosmology, and myth. The
quincunx pattern is replicated on a number of levels (i.e., layout of community
temples, rooftop plant offerings, etc.). Most noteworthy is Schaefer’s analysis of the
Huichol temple as a nexus for the seasons, sun, moon, and stars, which is must reading
for anyone interested in the ethnoastronomy of Native American architecture.

In Chapter 12, Marina Anglian Fernández describes the Huichol mortuary
ritual. In a new twist on a familiar theme, the spirit of the dead is recalled from the
lower world five days after the individual’s death. The nocturnal mortuary ritual,
then, is a final ceremonial communion and farewell of the family with the departed,
marked by the ritual erasure of memory of, and protection from, the deceased. The
Huichol understanding of this ritual is explicated in Ramón Medina Silva’s
narrative in the ensuing chapter (Chapter 13), which follows the rite’s memorial chant.
After death, a shaman-singer and his tutelary spirit accompanies the departed soul on
the long journey to the lower world (tree of life), where he captures the soul with a
feather scepter and returns it to the family hearth for the final ritual of the dead.
The soul then joins the Sun in its cosmic circuit over the earth and descent to the
land of the dead below the horizon. The theme of illicit sexual activity as a
“transgression” and “burden”is foregrounded in the shaman singer’s chant for the
departed. The chant’s symbolism of disembodied sexual organs, tree of life, and falling
fruit is a telling corrective to the debate surrounding the origin of analogous
symbolism in Telleriano Remensis and other codices (Graulich 1983).

Underpinning notions of the dead are the Huichol soul concepts, which are discussed
in follow-up Chapter 14 by Michel Perrin. Perrin brings to his essay a deeply
humanistic sensitivity which he displayed in his previous study of the Guajiro (The Way
of the Dead Indians, University of Texas Press, 1986). Perrin focuses his discussion on
the urukáme, a vital essence or life force of the elderly and shamans, which is
transformed at death into a rock crystal and enshrined in Huichol homes. Failure to
present offerings to urukáme crystals and the deities results in illness, a
cultural caveat that reinforces traditional mores by requiring additional consultations
with a shaman-curer and ritual expenditures.

In Chapter 16, Anthony Shelton emphasizes the practical and sacral importance of
maize to the Huichol, by detailing the crucial role of this cultigen in Huichol
mythology, religion, and ritual. He then relates this to the Instituto Nacional
Indigenista development programs in the Huichol region over the past thirty years. The
introduction of new maize varieties and other technological projects were not overly
successful, since planned changes were incongruous with existing cultural beliefs and,
in some cases, in direct conflict with them. Knowledge and directions were directed at
the people, rather than items chosen and decisions made by a committee representing the
community.

In Chapter 17, Salomón Nahmad Sittón reflects, in a lengthy and
somewhat repetitive discussion, upon the historical and contemporary relationships
between the Huichol and the dominant society. Huichol communities are under the
jurisdiction of various mestizo-controlled municipalities and three federal states,
which dilutes and fragments their political power as independent, self-governing
communities. The Huichol have been and continue to be subject to exploitation, land
theft, strident evangelization, and various forms of coercive acculturation. For
political and economic reasons, groups of Huichols have settled in coastal and urban
areas, away from their territory. Nahmad Sittón notes that these colonists seek
to maintain their beliefs, rituals, Huichol lifeways, and identity in a more energetic
form than those living in the Huichol homeland. In immersing themselves in the physical
and social environment of the dominant culture, they do not give up their core Huichol
beliefs and traditions–a thesis I found to hold true for the Mixe of Oaxaca.
Conversant in both the indigenous and the urban-industrial cultures, some are able to
switch codes, much like bilingual speakers.

In the concluding chapter, Furst and Schaefer expand on Nahmad’s theme of threats to
Huichol existence. Around Wirikúta, the Huichol place of origin the divine
succulent vital to Huichol survival–peyote–is being indiscriminately ripped out, and
in the towns along the peyote pilgrimage route skulk small groups of gringos, hoping to
join the Huichol peyoteros. The editors stress, however, that the greatest present
threat to their well-being is in the form of organophosphate pesticides which the
Huichol are exposed to in their drinking water and as workers in lowland tobacco
plantations.

This book will appeal most of all to readers familiar with Huichol ethnography,
whereas those new to the Huichol will find the material, due to its rich complexity, at
times difficult going. The style is clear and elegant with occasional lapses into
reverent and longwinded rhapsody. Since the editors have retained the essays as
self-contained units, there is, understandably, also some overlapping repetition of
material. People of the Peyote is well illustrated and the glossary and Index,
indispensable to a work of this kind, are thorough and well researched. Unfortunately,
references cited in the text are occasionally missing from the bibliography.

Mesoamericanists will find the book a valuable resource in their own research.
Huichol culture is singularly unique but it has much in common with other Middle
American cultures. The Huichol death goddess, Tukakáme, in her wearing of human
bones as jewelry thus forewarning the people of her approach (p. 360) is analogous to
the Papago cannibal ogre Ho’ok (Saxton 1978:288). The Huichol foot drum (p. 343) also
has a northern Utonahuan analogue (Johnson 1940). Tatei Turikita, the goddess of
fertility and children, who dwells in a house of flowers in which infants are born, is
reminiscent of the Aztec xochicaltzin, “house of flowers,” a metaphor for the
sweatbath, presided over by Tlazoltéotl-Teteoinnan (Benítez 1975:127;
Sahagún 1969:151). The urukáme bundle (pp. 404-406) and the Aztec sacred
bundle (tlaquimilolli) share these three features: (1) a precious stone incarnating the
“heart soul” of an important personage, (2) wrapped in cloth, with (3) a stick or arrow
attached to it (Torquemada 1729:78; Bancroft 1874:61-62,54n). Familiar to
Mesoamericanists is the Huichol’s linking of male/female deity pairs to the dry
season/wet season bipartition of the year.

Rather than a study of isolated cultural traits, what is required is a synoptic
overview of the main themes and variations present in the rich corpus of Huichol
ethnography. Such a work would allow for comparison with other Mesoamerican religious
systems and the elucidation of underlying structural similarities (cf. Shelton
1989:177-78).

References cited

Bancroft, Hubert H. 1874. Native Races of the Pacific States. Vol. 3. New York: D.
Appleton – Co. Barrett, S.A. 1917. “Pomo Bear Doctors.” University of California
Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology 12(11):443-65.

Benítez, Fernando. 1975. In the Magic Land of Peyote. New York: Warner Books.
Bourke, John G. 1894. “Popular Medicine, Customs and Superstitions of the Rio Grande.”
Journal of American Folklore 7:119-46.

Graulich, Michel. 1983. “Myths of Paradise Lost in Pre-Hispanic Central Mexico.”
Current Anthropology 24(5):575-88. Johnson, Jean Bassett. 1940. “The Piman Footdrum and
Fertility Rites.” El Mexico Antiguo 5:140-41.

Knab, Tim. 1977. “Notes Concerning Use of Solandra Among the Huichol.” Economic
Botany 31:80-86. Martínez, Maximino. 1966. “Las Solandras de México, con
una especie nueva.” Instituto de Biología, Anales (México) 37:87-106.
Morgan, William. 1936. “Human Wolves Among the Navaho.” Yale University Publications in
Anthropology No. 11. Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. 1981. “Entheogens: The Interaction
of Biology and Culture.” Reviews in Anthropology 8:339-63. Russell, Frank. 1975. The
Pima Indians. Re-edition with introduction, citation sources, and bibliography by
Bernard L. Fontana. Tucson: University of Arizona Press; originally published as part
of the 26th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1904 1905.

Sahagún, Bernardino de. 1969. “Book 6 – The Origins of the Gods.” In General
History of the Things of New Spain: Florentine Codex. Translated by Arthur J.O.
Anderson and Charles E. Dibble, Part 4. 2nd ed. Salt Lake City: University of Utah
Press. Saxton, Dean, and Lucille Saxton. 1978. Legends and Lore of the Papago and Pima
Indians. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Shelton, Anthony. 1988. “Preliminary Notes on Some Structural Parallels in the
Symbolic and Relational Classification of Nahuatl and Huichol Deities.” In Polytheistic
Systems. Edited by Glenys Davies, pp. 151-83. Cosmos, Vol. 5. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press. Toro, Alfonso. 1928. “Las plantas sagradas de los aztecas y su
influencia sobre el arte precortesiano.” Proceedings of the International Congress of
Americanists (New York) 23:101-21. Torquemada, Juan de. 1729. Primera, segunda, tercera
parte de los veinte i un libros rituales i monarquía indiana con el origen y
guerras, de los indios occidentales. Vol. 2. Madrid: N. Rodríguez Franco.

Frank J. Lipp
New York City
 

Women and Alcohol in a Highland Maya Town. By Christine Eber. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995. $40.00 (cloth); $18.95 (paper). ISBN 0-292-72089-0; ISBN 0-292-72090-4.

This monograph is based upon Christine Eber’s fieldwork in San Pedro Chenalho, a
Maya community in highland Chiapas, Mexico. Eber addresses two major research questions
in this work, namely, how is women’s relationship to alcohol changing in Chenalho and
How is the native population handling their own drinking problems and that of others?
In particular, these questions are examined in relation to religious-based definitions
of alcohol consumption, deviant drinking, and religious beliefs as supports for
achieving abstinence. Eber also addresses these issues in light of the relatively rapid
social change experienced not only by increasing external (Ladino) influences, but most
importantly, the increased influence of abstinence-promoting, non native religious
groups operating in the region.

This 302-page book is arranged in 12 chapters with appendices, notes, and
references. The first three chapters do an excellent job of describing and framing the
conditions under which the author explores her specific research questions. After a
“Frameworks and Methods” chapter, the author does a good job of describing both the
cultural history of the community in light of external influences and the impact such
influences have had on the types of alcoholic beverages consumed and the shifts in the
nature of consumption in Chapter 2. In Chapter 3, “Crazy February,” Eber utilizes her
arrival in the field during Carnival season to provide an overview of cultural views
regarding drinking, particularly during times of celebration

In the next three chapters, Eber provides elaborate data upon which she basis much
of her analysis. Chapter 4 outlines child-rearing practices and family relations within
the community, with particular attention to power relations and the mechanisms through
which they are exercised. She then provides in Chapter 5 a detailed description of the
religious feast of St. Peter focusing on the nature and symbolic meaning of alcohol
consumption. Chapter 6 deals with the definitions and responses of family members to
the consumption and over-consumption of alcohol by other family members.

Chapter 7 focuses upon the development of a processual framework on drinking by
attempting to locate definitions of deviant drinking and efforts to control such
drinking in wider cultural beliefs and practices. Chapter 8, “Shamans’ Cures for
Problem Drinking,” presents data and analysis dealing with the central role played by
the views of key local shamans in constructing and maintaining the larger cultural
beliefs regarding drinking.

Chapter 9 reintroduces the topic of cultural change brought by outside influences
and examines the resulting changes in the economic roles of some women, consequent
social redefinition of these women and their changing responses to deviant and abusive
drinking. Chapter 10, “Traditions, Religion and Drinking,” attempts a structural
comparison of traditional religious views of drinking and its control with more newly
arrived religious beliefs represented by Protestants and Catholic Action. The
increasing popularity of these two newer religious groups in the area, and the impact
of their alcohol-abstinence beliefs and prohibitionist sentiments upon the political
landscape are examined in Chapter 11. This treatment is followed by a brief concluding
final chapter.

My appraisal may be limited and unusual due to the fact that I am a sociologist, not
an anthropologist, and I have no prior knowledge of the field context nor the scholarly
research conducted in or near this ethnographic setting. However, as a sociologist I
have studied deviant drinking for over 25 years, which represents both the basis and
bias of my review.

Through the use of very rich observational and interview data, the author has done
an excellent job of detailing not only the significance of alcoholic beverages in
traditional religious practices and beliefs, but also the religious response to
contradictions brought to light by increased deviant drinking and its consequences. The
author also addresses the impact of social change on changing drinking patterns and the
community’s responses to these changes. While observations and analyses of these
changes are elaborate, they appear to me to lack theoretical grounding in the
sociological literature related to social change and alcohol consumption. Even a brief
comparison with religion’s role in the temperance/prohibition efforts in Western
society would have provided valuable theoretical understandings in this regard.

Eber explicitly takes a feminist orientation to her work that I feel is essential to
fully understand women’s experiences with deviant drinking and to grasp their less
formal yet equally important sources of power. She does a very commendable job of
addressing just how women approach and utilize these forms of power. This approach
highlights the question of potential bias particularly when the ethnographer explains
both her personal experiences (“In my marriage to a recovering alcoholic I have come to
understand problems alcoholics and their families face in this society” p. 3), and her
use of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) model of deviant drinking and its control for
comparison and analyses. Although the author appears familiar with a key debate in the
alcohol literature between what are often referred to as the “problem inflators” and
“deflators” or the “drys” and “wets,” she fails to identify clearly the AA model as
being firmly based within the problem inflation/dry perspective and acknowledge the
implications and possible biases therein.

Also of concern is her use of the alcohol-treatment literature, especially that of
AA to frame and guide her understandings of both deviant drinking and subsequent
efforts to control of such behavior. I see two major problems with the use of this
framework. First, a more relevant, appropriate and less-biased framework of analysis
would be the broader scholarly literature on definitions of deviant drinking,
influences/causes of such drinking, and responses to such drinking at the personal and
societal levels. The AA model represents only one of many models within this larger
literature. To limit analysis to this model/framework, given its bias in the wet/dry
debate, directs and limits the range of Eber’s findings. A primary example of this bias
relates to AA’s view that there cannot be such a condition as controlled drinking among
alcoholics(under which all deviant drinkers are assumed to have a biological basis for
such behaviors). According to AA, the only way to stop deviant drinking is to abstain
completely from consumption. While Eber does recognize that some of her subjects
formerly recognized as deviant drinkers seem to now engage in controlled drinking and
their religious beliefs appear to play a significant role in the nature and definition
of their control, she offers little analysis of this phenomenon.

Also crucial to the use of the AA model of drinking problems is the author’s
inability to evaluate critically this model theoretically or empirically. Most research
in the larger alcohol studies field recognize the AA model primarily as a social
movement whose tenets were not necessarily based upon scientific understandings of the
time nor have they been altered through the years as newer scientific understandings of
deviant drinking and its control have been recognized. In fact, AA represents a
self-help group which shuns professional expertise. For example, AA generally holds the
belief that only a (recovering) alcoholic can help other alcoholics control their
drinking. Indeed, a large body of scholarly work seriously questions many of AA’s
tenets regarding deviant drinking and its control.

Some scholars have suggested that AA more closely resembles a religious organization
complete with its own unique belief system than a treatment program built upon
scientific findings and understandings regarding deviant drinking. A recognition of
these religious aspects of AA and a comparative analysis with the role of religion in
controlling deviant drinking in the setting described by Eber would have been extremely
valuable.

Finally, although those who experience intervention through AA often become true
believers, some research suggests the populace is not nearly as willing to recognize
the drinker’s helplessness in controlling their drinking as the AA model argues. This
evidence draws into serious question the broad cultural acceptance of the AA model of
deviant drinking.

In all, the author’s use of the AA model of deviant drinking and its control appears
to have limited and biased her analysis. Had she been able to either broaden her
perspective on drinking problems or recognized the AA model as primarily a belief
system similar to and comparable to some religious institutions, Eber’s analysis would
have yielded more valuable insights at least for the literature on deviant drinking and
its control. As it is, this book still represents a valuable ethnography with
exceptionally elaborated data regarding women, drinking, and religion. And, although
the analysis may be limited because of the personal and theoretical bias of the author,
she should be recognized for acknowledging her potential bias and allowing readers to
judge its impact for themselves.

Michael R. Nusbaumer
Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne
 

Illustrations this issues

The illustrations in this issue were taken from Tlacatecolotl y el diablo: La
cosmovisión de los nahuas de Chicontepec. By Félix Báez-Jorge and
Arturo Gómez Martínez. Xalapa: Gobierno del Estado de Veracruz,
Secretaría de Educación y Cultura, 1998.

Directory update

The Nahua Newsletter directory of subscribers was last updated with issue No. 22
(supplement), November 1996. If there are errors, kindly bring them to the attention of the editor.

Editor’s note: For privacy reasons, Directory mailing lists are only provided on the print version. If you have any questions, please contact the editor.

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