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A Maya Community in the Highlands of Chiapas

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The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press Cambridge
pp. XXX-734, nn. ill. b/n, Cambridge - Massachusetts
data stampa: 1969
codice isbn: 6590

In the remote highlands of Chiapas, in southeastern Mexico, lies one of the most important Mayan Indian communities in Middle America. Zinacantan is a municipality of 8000 people who speak Tzotzil, a Mayan language, and live in a manner closely resembling that of their preconquest ancestors. Based on more than a decade of work, Evon Z. Vogt's book is the first full-length ethnographic study of Zinacantan culture.

In 1957 Professor Vogt initiated the Harvard Chiapas Project, a long-range field study of Tzotzil-speaking communities in the Chiapas highlands. The first fruit of his concentrated field work is this lively and comprehensive study of the Zinacantecos' way of life. He not only provides detailed ethnographic data on them, but also relates contemporary Zinacanteco patterns to those of the Ancient Maya of Mexico and Guatemala, and interprets trends of social and cultural change as these Indians for the first time become closely involved with the modern world. More than 200 photographs, drawings, maps, and tables enhance and augment the text.

"I feel a deep obligation," the author writes, "to provide an ethnographic account of this unique and fascinating way of life before its patterns become eroded and altered by the process of 'modernization' that is now underway in southern Mexico."

In introducing his work, he describes the geography of the Chiapas highlands, sketches the cultural history of the Tzotzil communities, and places Zinacantan within its historical framework. Focusing on three main areas, he first examines the Zinacanteco economic system and material culture: maize agriculture, tortilla-making, and housebuilding. He then describes the political system and social structure, highlighting the domestic group (the basic social unit), life cycle, and relationship systems-kinship and compadrazgo. Finally he analyzes the Zinacantecos' religious rituals and beliefs, a fusion of ancient myths and cosmological beliefs with Spanish and Mexican Catholicism. In conclusion, Professor Vogt examines some of Zinacantan's organizational principles, especially the replication of structural forms and ritual behaviors at various levels in its society, and the maintenance of cultural patterns in the face of the imposition of new cultural elements.


I / Geographic and Cultura1 Setting

1 / The Highlands of Chiapas 3

Physiographic Setting, 3. Geology and Soils, 4. Climate, 6. Flora and Fauna, 7. Highland-Lowland Contrast, 8.

2 / Tzotzil Prehistory and History

Maya Origins, 11. Highland Chiapas Prehistory, 12. The Spanish Conquest, 16. Highland Chiapas History, 17. Zinacanteco History, 25. Indian-Ladino Relations, 30.

II / Material Culture and Economics

3 / Subsistence Activities 35

Maize, 35. Beans, 64. Squash, 65. Other Cultivated Food Crops, 66. Hunting and Gathering, 66. Domesticated Animals, 67. The Zinacanteco Diet, 69.

4 / Houses

Types, 71. Construction, 72. Furnishings, 83. The House Compound, 88. Durability and Cost of Houses, 90.

5 / Clothing

Zinacanteco Costumes, 92. Clothing Manufacture, 101. Symbolic Significance, 107.

6 / Trading and Other Economie Activities

Markets and Stores, 109. Purchased Food, 113. Economie and Social Aspects of Trading, 118. Loans, 120. The Economic System, 122.

III / Social Structure

7 / Social Groupings

The Domestic Group, 127. The Sna, 140. Patronymics, 144. The Waterhole Group, 145. The Hamlet, 148. Patterns of Endogamy and Exogamy, 149.

8 / Settlement Patterns

Zinacantan Center, 157. Movement between Center and Hamlets, 160. The Contemporary Hamlets, 161. An Illustration: Paste?, 172.

9 / The Life Cycle

Birth, 180. Socialization, 182. Courtship and Marriage, 195. Death, 217.

10 / Relationship Systems

Kinship, 224. Compadrazgo, 230. The Junior-Senior Principle, 238.

11 / The Cargo System

The Religious Hierarchy, 247. The Cargo Positions, 250. The Waiting Lists, 259. Costs and Prestige, 262. Auxiliary Personnel, 264. Functions, 269. The Future, 271.

12 / The Political System 

The Civil Hierarchy, 272. Duties of Civil Officials, 277. Symbols of Authority, 283. Sources of Political Power, 284. Lines of Political Authority, 287. Decision-Making in Zinacantan, 290. Relations between Civil and Religious Hierarchies, 292.

IV / Religious Beliefs and Rituals

13 / Cosmology and Ancient Gods

Cosmology, 297. Ancient Gods, 298. The Ancestral Gods, 298. The Earth Lord, 302. VASHAKMEN, 303. Demons, 304. Relations with Generic Maya Deities, 305.

14 / Myths

Origins, 308. Supernaturals, 316. Sacred Objects, 326. Birds and Animals, 331. Transformations, 332. "Historical" Events, 343.

15 / Catholic Churches and Saints

Churches, 350. Saints, 352. When the Saints Come Marching In, 362. Talking Saints, 365. Catholic Sacred Personages, 366.

16 / Human Souls and Animal Spirits

The Inner Soul, 369. The Animal Spirit Companion, 371. Souls, Animal Spirits, and Social Control, 373. Souls, Animal Spirits, and the Natural Environment, 374.

17 / Sacred Places

The Mountains of Zinacantan, 378. Caves and Waterholes, 386. Cross Shrines, 387. Ceremonial Circuits, 390.

18 / Ritual Symbols

Flowers, 392. Incense, 394. Rum Liquor, 395. Music, 399. The Sacred Context for Rituals, 403.

19 / Witchcraft

"Giving Illness," 406. Witchcraft by Transformation, 410. "Sticking Pins in Meat," 411. Accusations and Assassinations, 412.

20 / Shamanistic Rituals

Recruitment of Shamans, 416. Organization, 418. Ritual Functions, 420. Curing Ceremonies, 421. Ritual Procedures in Curing Ceremonies, 425. Waterhole and Lineage Ceremonies, 446. Maize-Field Ceremonies, 455. New-House Ceremonies, 461. New Year, Midyear, and End-of-Year Ceremonies, 465. RainMaking Ceremonies, 473. Shamanism in the Social and Economic Systems, 474.

21 / Cargo Rituals I

The Annual Ceremonial Calendar, 477. A Major Three-Day Fiesta, 482. Change-of-Office Ceremonies, 504. The Ritual of Senor Esquipulas, 512.

22 / Cargo Rituals II

Christmas, New Year, and Epiphany, 520. The Fiesta of San Sebastian,536. Carnaval, Lent, and Holy Week, 551. The Fiesta of San Lorenzo, 559. The Fiesta of the Virgen del Rosario, 563.

V / Some Principles and Processes

23 / Replication

Structural Replication, 572. Conceptual Replication, 577.

24 / Encapsulation

Encapsulation in Contemporary Zinacantan, 582. Encapsulation in the Past, 586.

25 / Implications for Cultural Change 

Ancient Maya Patterns in Zinacantan, 588. Economics and Settlement Patterns, 589. Social Structure, 591. Religion and Ritual, 593. Cosmology, 599. Current Trends of Change, 605. Some Predictions for 1984, 610.


I / Harvard Chiapas Project Field Workers, 1957-1968

II / Tzotzil Phonemes 

III / Zinacanteco Names 

IV / Tzotzil Texts

V / Case Descriptions of Shamanistic Rituals 




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