In the early modern Spanish Caribbean, ritual practitioners of African descent were essential providers of health care for Caribbean people of all origins. Arriving from West and West Central Africa, Europe, and other Caribbean and New World locales, black healers were some of the most important shapers of practices related to the human body in the region. They openly performed bodily rituals of African, European, and Native American inspiration. Theirs is not a history uniquely defined by resistance or attempts at cultural survival, but rather by the creation of political and social capital through healing practices. Such a project was only possible through their exploration of and engagement with early modern Caribbean human and natural landscapes.
Pablo F. Gómez
Federico Navarrete Linares, Margarita Cossich Vielman, and Antonio Jaramillo Arango
The conquest of Mexico can be better understood if one leaves aside the myths of European superiority and acknowledge the key role played by the Indigenous conquistadors in the defeat of the Mexica and later the formation of the realm of New Spain. Dozens of Mesoamerican polities, large and small, joined the victorious Indo-Spanish armies, and hundreds of thousands of Mesoamerican women, warriors, and assistants, participated in the twenty years of “Mesoamerican wars” that started with the war against México-Tenochtitlan, 1519–1521, and continued all across what is now Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua until the 1540s. The victorious Indigenous conquistadors produced legal testimonies and historical accounts of their feats of war to obtain rewards and privileges, often granted by the Spanish crown. The most spectacular were the lienzos, visual histories of the conquest painted on large cloths. There are many of these Indigenous accounts, but the best known and perhaps the most influential one is the Lienzo de Tlaxcala. It is the most complete account of the Mesoamerican wars, produced by the most important ally of the Spaniards, and it is also the foremost example of the historical and ritual discourses produced by the Indigenous conquistadors, as the ultimate proof of their leading role in this process. This spectacular artwork easily assimilated European pictorial conventions to the much more complex Amerindian pictographic and ritual narrative genres. As such, it was the anchor for complex ritual performances that re-enacted the feats of those wars and also allowed for the constitution of the Amerindian “complex beings” of Malinche and Santiago, the keystones of Tlaxcalan cultural memory of the conquest. Its communicative success can be proved by the fact that the Tlaxcalan embassies that presented the Lienzo de Tlaxcala and other historical books and precious gifts obtained the privileges they sought and asserted the autonomy of Tlaxcala.
David Carey Jr.
Dating from the earliest times in Latin America, alcohol has played a crucial social, economic, political, and cultural role. Often reserved for politico-religious leaders, alcohol was a conduit through which power flowed in many pre-contact indigenous societies; indigenous drinkways (production, commerce, and consumption habits) were associated with communal ritual events and social prestige. Introduced to the Americas by Europeans, distillation profoundly altered the potency of alcoholic drinks for people who were accustomed to fermentation. Even as the social and cultural practices of alcohol consumption changed over time, alcohol continued to have political and economic implications in the colonial and national periods in Latin America. Fearing that inebriation bred disorder and recognizing that moonshining undercut their own revenues, colonial and national governments alike sought to regulate, if not control, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol. In nations as diverse as Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, and Guatemala, indigenous women came to play integral roles in the (oftentimes illicit) sale and production of alcohol. A cash nexus for moving labor and land and a crucial component of the economic system by which (often unscrupulous) labor brokers recruited workers, alcohol was a currency of local economies. As a commodity of local, national, and international significance, alcohol shaped the fate of nation-states. People’s class, ethnic, race, and gender identities all played into their access to alcohol. Although a person’s choice of libation could define their position, some of the more fascinating histories of alcohol are punctuated with women and men who used alcohol to disrupt social conventions. Through the consumption of alcohol, rituals and ceremonies created and reconstituted community both within and across ethnic groups. Imbibing could also divide people. Even while they sipped their cognacs and brandies, elites portrayed indigenous people, the poor, and other marginalized people getting drunk on moonshine to discount and denigrate them. Often associated with (particularly violent) crime, alcohol was seen as a vice by many and excoriated during temperance movements. Yet defendants across Latin America took advantage of judicial systems that considered alcohol a mitigating circumstance in many crimes. As 20th-century evangelical sects that preached abstinence as the route to wealth and marital bliss grew to unprecedented numbers, traditional healers and biomedical practitioners continued to tout alcohol’s medicinal value. In short, alcohol was a marker of social position and cultural identity, a crucial component in community and state building, and a commodity around which different cultural traditions, healing practices, and policing policies developed and evolved.
Gillian E. Newell
Every year, in the days just prior to Catholic Ash Wednesday, the indigenous Zoque peoples of northwestern Chiapas, Mexico, celebrate “carnival.” In doing so, they affirm their ethnic identity, take pride in a native vision of the cosmos, and retrace their real and fictive modern and ancient family lineages. Zoque carnival is an “encounter,” or meké in Zoque language, which entails more than the word at first glance would imply. Scholars, however, have analyzed carnivals, be they state-promoted or not, as inversions, nationalistic celebrations, or representations of local, regional, and national history. They often argue that carnivals exist primarily to represent, celebrate, or be a logical result of cultural diversity. Why are the native Zoque carnivals of northwestern Chiapas different? What are these Zoque carnivals? What do they represent to the Zoque people themselves and to non-Zoque people? Why are carnival studies from an “encountering” ethnographic standpoint interesting avenues to develop and pursue?