Guide Made in Mexico: Tradition, Tourism, and Political Ferment in Oaxaca

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Posted by Georgia Wier on Feb 03, Francisco Bautista is a fourth generation weaver in his Zapotec family. Both his father and his mother still live and weave in Mexico. Their textile skills have been recognized by one outside group after another. The Aztecs, who ruled parts of Oaxaca beginning about , exacted large quantities of embroidered and plain fabric from the village.

The Spanish conquistadores wrested power over the region by Taking the shape of a blanket with an opening for the head, the serape sheds water marvelously when woven from wool. Zapotec weavers used them in trade locally as well as in other parts of Mexico and beyond throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

Tourists from other parts of Mexico began to visit Oaxaca regularly after World War II, and people from the United States and Europe joined them in sizeable numbers when air travel to the region became easier during the s. They dye their own wool, weave on treadle looms, and use tapestry techniques to create geometric and other designs. Francisco has featured the pre-Columbian carocol or snail design long used by Zapotec craftspeople. Even when Francisco uses a traditional design element, he exercises great creativity and knowledge as he arranges them and combines them with other design elements.

In his large natural colored rug, he alternates the caracol design with stepped diamonds and crosses, making the overall composition his own. He visited the Navajo Reservation and left with a feeling that Navajo design is much like Zapotec design. In fact, we learn from critical studies that, like Zapotec weavers, Navajo weavers have had many outside influences. Among those were early designs that came from Saltillo, Mexico around the turn of the 19th Century. Francisco explains that the rug in reds hanging on his wall behind his loom has both Zapotec and Navajo design elements.

The weft threads interlace the warp. Before he can begin to weave, Francisco hand dyes all of his weft yarns which have been handspun in Mexico. He generally uses natural plant or insect materials instead of commercially prepared dyes. Francisco finds many of the dye materials, like marigold flowers and onion skins, near his Oregon home.

He must order the indigo for his blues and purples and the cochineal for his reds and oranges. The people seemed familiar as types, even if many individuals were new to me, and although many must have been newcomers to the city. Working-class and rich mestizos both locals and visitors , impoverished Indians, and a variety of international tourists interacted in customary ways. Tourists are always there, in fact, because this metropolis of about half a million, situated at the confluence of three broad mountain valleys in southern Mexico, presents an attractive mix of colonial architecture and exotic ethnicity, as well as pleasant weather and affordable amenities.

That is, Indians from outside the capital have often camped along one edge of the square, the side with the government palace so that their camp blocked no businesses, and the generous overhang of that long building protected their sleeping pallets from the rain. During several of my visits, one or another group of campers was in residence, quietly protesting the allegedly false imprisonment of much of the male leadership of their rural village.

Something had gone wrong in their community that had resulted in violence followed by mass arrests, most likely an escalating agrarian dispute with a neighboring municipality. The wives and children of many of the imprisoned men, plus a few other relatives, now lived unhappily downtown, their misery in plain view of anyone who took a turn around the square.

But such encampments were stable, their residents keeping protests within bounds in the usual circumscribed physical space and in an established etiquette, and were tolerated by the authorities. This July, no such encampment was to be seen, and this absence was oddly disorienting.

Instead, dozens of middle-class protesters had tables dispersed among the informal sales booths on the square. These protesters directed their anger not only toward the authorities but also toward the tourists whose financial infusions into Oaxaca were blamed for propping up the repellent status quo. This created a peculiar mosaic throughout this central public area, whereby many Oaxacans explicitly welcomed outsiders as potential customers while a significant minority just as clearly and publicly did not. Most of the salespeople on the square represented families that make crafts for a living, crafts designed to please tourists for examples of these products, see figures 1 and 2.

Their goals are not in any grand political arena but are instead immediate and intimate—that is, to bring home enough money for dinner and shelter, and to do so day after day. These families and their activities present a fascinating composite story, with paths of interaction between locals and tourists evident not just in conversation and in money changing hands but also in the nature of the artifacts and festivals they create. These objects and events must please both makers and purchasers for tourism to be sustainable in both socioeconomic and psychological terms.

At the same time that most of these salespeople, like most of the citizens of the city of Oaxaca and environs, find being friendly to outsiders a natural product of enlightened self-interest, the protesters work at cross-purposes with that hospitable majority. They do work hard and, lately, with an effectiveness out of proportion with their numbers. Their banners and their spoken rhetoric make clear that they want tourists to go away, since much or most of the money generated by tourism supports a social order the protesters ardently wish to overturn.

It is not new for the square to offer a visual juxtaposition of many poor people looking pleasant doing their jobs earning money serving affluent visitors while other citizens assert that the local power structure is acting badly on a grand scale. But what I saw in illustrated a new development, that the explicitly unhappy part of the cultural collage had literally gotten out of the box, escaped from one defined rectangle on the square to a peppering of smaller locations, no longer as easy for tourists to skirt, ignore, or consider as piquant punctuation of quaint sights.

Oaxaca has long attracted authors because of its rich history—evinced especially in spectacular ruins—and its even richer present, notably the cornucopia of indigenous ethnic cultures bubbling into the views of both tourists and academics through festivals and crafts. The state is home to forms of most of the types of crafts produced in Mexico, but Oaxaca is known especially for handwoven rugs and hand-carved and hand-painted wooden figures called alebrijes.

Spirit Guide

The rugs and figures have inspired a few attractive, semischolarly coffee table books, aimed at folk art enthusiasts and collectors. All these books are direct products of the interaction of tourism and tradition in Oaxaca, and all feature the combination of information and celebration typical of good guidebooks. Figure 1. These two rugs contrast in general brightness, reflecting what Felipe believed were changes in customer taste between pastel rug and brighter rug. Figure 2.

Figure 3. The Danza de la Pluma, the most famous and spectacular of the dances making up the giant festival called the Guelaguetza, on this occasion performed on the square in Oaxaca city in support of a protest lasting several years advocating the release of numerous political prisoners from the village of Loxicha. Figure 4. The Loxicha protest encampment on the Oaxaca city square, late December Children painted the colorful banner seen here. In a parallel stream, there are many fine books on politics in Oaxaca. The present book is most closely allied to those.

The following two chapters widen the lens to the crafts and the central festival of Oaxaca, a state neither quite as far south nor as mountainous, and one with similar problems, which, however, are less susceptible to concise analysis. I close with what has to be a somber appraisal of recent events in Oaxaca, developments in which politics and tourism-supported ethnic arts have lost their long-term symbiosis and are very much at odds.

My former student and current friend Dolores Saenz checked my translations at various stages; I would have been much more clumsy without her cheerful and selfless aid. Stanton, Terry Zug, Dale Olsen, and Valerie Goertzen for reading late drafts of it; and to Craig Gill and the staff of the University Press of Mississippi for putting up with my highly idiosyncratic wishes once again. Above all, I thank the craftspeople, dancers, musicians, and merchants of Oaxaca, whose courtesy knows no bounds.

This page intentionally left blank Made in Mexico Figure 5. My trip to the highlands was partly a happy accident. I took photographs of the pillowcase as part of the research for this book. It was well crafted and reasonably priced, featured colors that drew in but did not jar the eye, bore a region-specific and striking pattern that later could evoke memories of the trip, and would pack easily—all characteristics of the perfect souvenir. It came home with me. Forty-five men, women, and children were slaughtered over a period of several hours.

The victims were sympathetic to—or at least not hostile to—the antigovernment Zapatistas. I could not escape the thought that the elegant traditional craftsmanship embodied in that object, the tourism that sponsored its creation, and the wanton violence of this atrocity might well all express the working of the same intertwined factors. Might something similar happen in Oaxaca?

Probably not, was my first reaction. After all, the relationship between Indian countryside and mestizo city seemed less strained in Oaxaca. But since both the exoticism of the attractions of ethnic tourism and the symptoms of long-term socioeconomic tensions were more extreme in Chiapas, the interaction of these forces was more starkly drawn there through the s. A look at the inevitable, uncomfortable intimacy between what draws outsiders to Indian Mexico and what shocks those same outsiders will serve to introduce the themes of this book.

Surrounding villages include some Ladino merchants and more Indians, and the countryside is completely Indian. This is true in much of Oaxaca as well. Highland Chiapas is stunningly beautiful. The elevation yields a temperate climate enticing to visitors, but the vistas and climate are not the primary attractions: rather, it is the Indians, whom outsiders perceive as embodying an ancient and intriguing way of life, in addition to being creators of handsome crafts reflecting that timeless way of life.

The characteristics that anthropologists and tourists find so fascinating resonate with a colonial and modern history unsurpassed in Mexico in terms of the ill-treatment of Indians, and consequently of friction between the few Ladinos in power and the many Indians forced to endure a parade of humiliations.

The colonial era here—as throughout Mexico— saw Indians decimated by imported diseases, further ground down by forced labor and taxes, and robbed of most of their arable land. Further, the meager economic benefits of the minimal reforms that have slipped past the obduracy of the rich have been more than offset by population growth: between and , the population of the state more than tripled, despite massive out-migration. Friction has bubbled into open conflict regularly here, notably in the rebellions of the s, an uprising in the s inspired by a religious vision, the so-called caste wars of the late s, unrest linked to bootlegging in the late s,1 and the Zapatista uprising that commenced in In earlier times, life in the highlands revolved around seasonal subsistence agriculture alternating with labor in the lowlands, a strategy that can no longer sustain booming populations.

Authority in the villages remains vested in a complex system that is both religious and civil. Men raise their standing in the community by assuming expensive religious obligations in what anthropologists call a cargo system. The system thus substitutes enhancements in prestige for economic betterment: it promotes financial leveling. Outlying villages like Chamula and Zinacantan fit classic definitions of peasant life: culture is inward looking and carefully circumscribed, social life is intense and largely egalitarian, and religion is critical in the social control of wealth.

Nevertheless, the sense of community in even these intensely conservative highland villages is clearly on the wane see Cancian , It is tempting to believe that this traditional culture came under siege only recently, but that assertion would not merely be false but would obscure a critical factor in the formation of the threatened culture. It is likely that the religion-centered skein of local identities and associated expressive culture—including crafts—has intensified over many centuries as a cumulative defensive reaction to threats to this culture.

Tourists constitute the third wave of outsiders to invade highland Chiapas during the twentieth century. When the second wave, anthropologists, arrived in substantial numbers in the s, they found that one of their first important tasks was to demonstrate that they were not yet another beachhead of evangelists. Evon Z. Perhaps the barriers that scholars had to penetrate before being permitted to study modern Maya religion had been exacerbated by missionary activity.

After all, when Protestants advocated abandoning the local religious festival system—an argument with immediate economic appeal, since festival support was so expensive—they were fomenting the overturning of all authority, since religious and civil authority were and always have been thoroughly intertwined. Although the Pan-American Highway arrived in and was paved in , sheer distance continued to impede the flow of travelers. Tourism would not boom until well into the s with the growth of air travel. There is a flavor of a pilgrimage here, which Graburn made more explicit.

But most tourists, whether carrying backpacks or Italian leather luggage, do incorporate into their visits some measure of a romantic quest to view an embodiment of an earlier, presumably better—and to them certainly more exotic—way of life. But to the Indians, the sheer affluence of these visitors is disturbing: the contrast between the standards of living of visitor and visited is incomprehensible and cannot but inspire envy and suspicion.

Not completely. For instance, tourists are prevented from delving too deeply into religion in the highlands by the frequent prohibition of photography, the rationing of entrance into churches, and the barrier of language; it is a rare tourist who can tune into prayers spoken in Tzotzil or any other modern Maya language. I will concentrate here on what we can learn about the maintenance of, and changes in, traditional life from how craft items are designed, made, and sold.

One Pillowcase as a Site of Negotiation between Tourism and Tradition Craftspersons who sell their creations may be allowed to express tradition in the best ways they know how, but must make things that fit or can shape the expectations of their customers. Thus the Indians who market hard-won skills and enduring symbols know that the arbiters of the effectiveness of their efforts are their customers. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation with a craftsperson that escapes this commercial shadow, and perhaps it is willful and unseemly to insist on chatting about aesthetics and techniques when the wolf is so near to many of their doors.

Craftspersons may have to bend a little or a lot , although their customers might prefer to believe that no such yielding takes place. The ideal craft object is arguably authentic, artfully balances the understandable and the palatably mysterious, and, of course, is visually attractive to both maker and customer. Although many tourists in highland Chiapas base their purchases on perceived authenticity, they generally lack detailed knowledge to inform their judgments. In fact, while both Indian craftspersons and tourists harbor complex notions about what is important in tradition, neither population can easily articulate those notions.

In this introductory case study, the witness at hand is a pillow cover, an untraditional object handwoven in traditional ways, one presenting a modern version of an ancient and sacred design, an object made with the tourist in mind. Should we consider its existence a symptom of another layer of colonization, in which the craftsperson must debase his or her work and values to earn a living? Or is it a natural and healthy outgrowth of tradition? This reading reveals a series of artistic decisions that stake out common ground between craftsperson and customer, decisions that are guided by an intermediary, the director of textiles for a cottage industry.

At the same time, we see departures from tradition that follow familiar paths within the process of folkloric intensification an umbrella term I will employ for the accruing of visual impact—through a fascinating variety of means—that generally takes place when craft tilts toward art. I analyze the following factors: 1 the fact that a sacred design decorates this pillow case, 2 the identity of the design, 3 the size of this version of the design, 4 the number and choice of colors used, 5 techniques of weaving, and 6 the process by which this item was designed and marketed.

Sacred Designs on an Ornamental Pillowcase Patterns such as the one on my pillowcase have as their primary home huipiles, elaborately handwoven blouses that bear a carefully ordered series of sacred designs. The huipiles themselves have become important as cultural symbols. But a pillowcase fits into the broad category of samplers, pieces of cloth on which weavers explore the effects of various combinations of patterns and of colors without devoting nearly as much time as is needed to finish a huipil.

Moreover, sacred patterns on samplers can escape the weight of tradition and the narrative logic that governs their use on huipiles. Samplers may end up as small tablecloths, panels of purses, and so on; a pillowcase is a plausible use for a sampler. In many versions of the design, her arms appear in several pairs, with the lower sets representing cornstalks. A more extended narrative appears in a brochure distributed by the government-sponsored store Casa de Artesanias.

Just as both the title and narrative implications of this pattern exist in slight variations, so does the pattern itself. When a pattern exists in many versions, the simpler versions of that pattern are the most sacred Morris, in conversation, May Intensification through selection thus helps turn an authentic craft that had been as much aimed at the soul as at the eyes into satisfactory art for outsiders. Morris places these design motifs in four categories: 1 diamonds representing earth and sky as a unity, 2 undulatory forms e. Last, since men have always dominated religion in Maya society, it is the male figure who reaches upward, who touches three vertical lines with each arm and with his head, and whose very body is composed of three vertical lines.

The Size of This Version of the Design The design as worked out on my pillowcase is significantly larger than is common, especially on huipiles. Its large embodiment here pleases customers because the resultant impression is bold, actually hovering nicely between being pictorial and receding into an overall texture. Craftspersons for whom time is money welcome larger designs because they are faster to execute.

Dreams partake of the supernatural and offer a sacred endorsement of what an outsider might call creativity. The guidance of dreams also helps the weaver to get around a potential practical difficulty: changing the size of a design by certain increments often entails adjustments in shape.

This is because weaving, unlike painting, must obey mathematical logic: the weaver can make an image taller or wider by the thickness of three or four or five threads, but not by three and a half or four and a half. If, for instance, a design in one realization is one-third as wide as it is tall, and its height is increased by the thickness of two threads, a faithful maintaining of proportion would require widening it by two-thirds of a thread.

The weaver must instead widen the pattern by one thread or not at all, either fattening the figure or narrowing it.


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The Number and Choice of Colors: Types of Intensification That there are just three colors on the panel of the pillowcase is unusual from a historical perspective but does fit into one of a trio of modern trends. The general practice until recently was for crafts such as huipiles to employ most or all readily available colors. At some point, the number of available colors exceeded the number that could reasonably be included on a given article, and self-conscious choice became a larger part of the process of selecting colors.

Some modern craftspersons stick to densities of information typical of earlier decades. These huipiles merit their daunting prices because of the high level of their craftsmanship, illustrating intensification through virtuosity. Other modern weavers make their patterns somewhat more dense and use more colors than employed in the past. This approach yields products that are real eye-catchers in many local boutiques but may seem garish back in Milwaukee.

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The third general option is instead to pare down visual complexity by employing fewer colors and patterns than was typical historically. Pillowcases like mine follow this model of carefully measured intensification through selection. It is important to note that each of these three avenues represents a historical rupture.

The unselfconscious perpetuation of age-old tradition that many tourists prefer to believe that they are witnessing and purchasing and that most salesmen claim is in force is not an available option.

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The picture is further complicated by the history of dyes used in the Chiapas highlands, a history with parallels elsewhere in Mexico. Craftspersons first used natural dyes. When synthetic dyes for wool and synthetically dyed ready-made cotton thread became available a few decades ago, natural dyes were rapidly abandoned. The new hues were brighter, more numerous, took less time to apply, and were more colorfast. The recent return to natural dyes and to synthetic colors that look like those produced by natural dyes resulted from outside intervention.

She arrived eager to take up traditional weaving employing organic dyes, which she was dismayed to find had fallen out of use. Past could bow out, moving on to activities I will describe later in the chapter conversation Today a new synthesis is under way, with natural and natural-looking dyes still dominating somewhat in practice and overwhelmingly in rhetoric—but with bright synthetic dyes used too, if sparingly.

My pillowcase is of purchased cotton thread more comfortable than homegrown wool in colorfast synthetic colors approximating colors available in natural dyes. White is the traditional background color for many types of highland weaving, and bright red a common accent, but the other color on my pillowcase, an extremely dark purple, has no historical precedent. Its effect is of an enlivened black.


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  • Of course, the broad impression of dark patterns bearing bright accents, all on a white field, is on target. The only surprise is that the traditional flat black is supplanted by an improved, vibrant version. I doubt that this bothered the weaver. The few colors work together beautifully, and the dark purple offers a complexity that makes up for the untraditional employment of so few separate colors. Women can set up their backstrap looms almost anywhere.

    Women can use such looms as they mind children or sit in the market. There are limits to the size of cloth that can be made on a backstrap loom; larger pieces must be woven on the nonportable pedal loom, on which the sequence of thread crossings is more complex. The visual result of employing these two weaving techniques is that the texture of the cloth in the panel and that of the broader field contrast subtly and pleasingly.

    The gendered division of labor that went into the creation of this pillowcase has parallels in textiles in Chiapas and parallels in tourist crafts throughout Mexico. Design and Marketing Kun Kun, the store where I bought the pillowcase, is a fair-minded paternalistic enterprise, which, though run by highly educated outsiders, is operated with the primary goal of improving the welfare of Indians. Such cottage industries try to operate in a manner that respects tradition, and Kun Kun awards adequate quite modest, but nonexploitative in local context living wages to employees.

    The director of textiles, Maddalena Forcella an Italian married to the store director, the Mexican anthropologist Luis Joel Morales , made many of the decisions I described in the previous sections about the pillowcase. In our discussions, she was not disposed to analyze her decisions as I have, but rather evinced an intuitive grasp of how to locate useful middle ground between her weavers and potential customers.

    I noticed that all the textiles in the store had a mixture of traditional and new colors roughly similar to those on my pillowcase but were always rendered in just one or two hues perhaps over a white background. I asked who had made the pillow cover that I had purchased. My sense was that all concerned in the manufacture and sale of this craft object were content with how things had been done, and that despite tremendous gulfs of various kinds between craftsperson and customer, this was a minimally stressful transaction in terms of aesthetics, identity, and money.

    But to what degree does this interaction represent others between Indian and tourist? The best boutiques, along with many of the top hotels and restaurants, line up on the crossbar of the t, especially on its eastward extension. The main street above the square the top of the t passes the largest churches near which stand the top textile cooperatives and the open-air craft market on the way to the main market. And wherever the tourist walks, he or she will be hounded by hawkers carrying woven crafts.

    Craftspersons need remuneration for their work, access to the sales site transportation, type, and location of shop , and prefer to work in a way that reinforces identity, allows some creativity, and maintains dignity. The abilities they bring to bear include craftsmanship in the sense of learned skills ; some combination of memory, research, and imagination; and ideally some modest capital, so they can take the time to make larger items or wait to be paid for finished crafts that are on consignment rather than accepting the pittances paid by most middlemen.

    Outlets share a critical element in their histories, the involvement of educated, altruistic intermediaries. Here Sna Jolobil again stands out. Walter F. Then he left it in the hands of a capable group of Indian women. Such outlets market authenticity by displaying artifacts in ways referencing museums. The Casa de Artesanias, for example, has a side room containing a dozen dioramas illustrating life in specific municipios, several displays including statues of Indian women at backstrap looms. Few huipiles for sale match those in the museum alcove, but an implicit endorsement takes place: organizers inclined to mount a knowledgeable exhibition could certainly sell authentic textiles.

    The entire wall space is devoted to a series of sets of huipiles labeled by municipio. These and piles of similar garments stacked below the educational display are all for sale at premium prices. One of the co-op managers works at her own backstrap loom just outside the entrance. Salespeople in such stores have been trained first by the seminal middlemen, then by each other not to be aggressive—as they are with one another in the market—but rather to wait patiently for customers to ask questions. Thus authentic-looking goods join museum-style exhibitions and outsider-style sales etiquette, an effective combination.

    Such craft outlets usually focus on the local central craft of textiles in its most complex and traditional form, the huipil. Last, I would note again that the basic folkloric process of intensification is at work here, not in a crowding of effects within given items but through the visual impact of stunning craftsmanship and the juxtaposition of so many different beautiful garments. Customers are discriminating but pursue the spirit rather than the letter of authenticity; tradition functions as an anchor for artistic play familiar to them from fashion in their home countries.

    Kun Kun, the source of my pillowcase, is such an outlet. The sampler textiles that constitute the second rung of offerings in the cooperatives here assume center stage and have been transformed as outlined in the discussion of my pillowcase. The attraction of these crafts is both aesthetic and historical—not in the sense of reproducing old things but rather in encompassing long-term change by juxtaposing ancient and modern motifs, such as on a T-shirt bearing a silk-screened illustration of a Maya god pictured largely as in the ancient codices happily astride a small motorcycle.

    Boutiques and Other Souvenir Stores These outlets, the most numerous type, range from elegant to shabby, with quality and price of wares highest near the town square. Most are run by Ladino businessmen whose main motivation is profit. They are not measurably more sympathetic to Indians than are local landowners. In most of these stores, the craftsperson faces the law of supply and demand, and since overpopulation dictates that the supply is always high, remuneration is reliably, humiliatingly low.

    In addition, the owners of boutiques and souvenir stores have no particular commitment to local goods. These are emphasized because tourists often prefer the local imprimatur on authenticity and also because buying local items entails modest transportation costs and no additional layers of middlemen. Nevertheless a basic willingness to sell things from elsewhere has led many stores to feature not only local textiles but also, for instance, handblown glass from Guadalajara or carved animals from Oaxaca.

    There are also stores selling only silver jewelry from Taxco or local amber jewelry. Although unalloyed authenticity is always a chimera, in these stores tradition is present much more in rhetoric than in fact. A few huipiles as historically accurate—and thus authentic in a literal sense—as those sold in Sna Jolobil hang beside endless arrays of cheaper ones decorated with varieties of flower patterns sometimes older local designs, but often not. In the same stores, we also see garments of nontraditional types, such as full-length one-piece dresses decorated with traditional patterns crowded nearly beyond recognition, intensified to the point of caricature.

    Nevertheless even minimally authentic-looking products can incorporate forms of the processes that shape items like my pillowcase. Use of color can be analyzed similarly. But at some point decorations get too crowded, the chains of connections between tradition and innovation grow weak, and an article becomes even cheaper in appearance and meaning than in price. Of course, boutiques do have important functions beyond the enrichment of Ladino businessmen. By the same token, craftspersons from elsewhere are happy to make sales far away from their own homes.

    And many of these crafts do express some sort of authenticity on the national rather than local level. Indians Dealing Directly with Tourists: Marketing Heritage and Subcomandante Marcos The Santo Domingo Market Many inexpensive crafts are sold by women sitting in rows that have coalesced into an enduring crafts market on the grounds around the Santo Domingo church and the old cloister itself now occupied by the most prestigious co-op, Sna Jolobil. The location is optimal, since tourist traffic is reliably heavy.

    The huipiles sold in the co-op look like those worn routinely a few generations ago, or in revival today, but the blouses sold outdoors are types that can be made quickly and sold cheaply. But while many items offered in the market are historically inauthentic, the open-air experience is more traditional in the routine hard-edged bargaining and in aspects of the ambience that intrigue some tourists and repulse others: crowds, noise, and dirt. While a few stands concentrate on specialized items e. Sometimes a purchase is the result of serendipity; the tourist has wandered among near-identical stands for just the right length of time to bring emotion and wallet into alignment and is ready to make a selection.

    Blouses sold here are generally of manufactured thread embroidered on cheap muslin. The type of cloth is traditional not in Chamula but in the lowlands, where men in the village used to do seasonal work. But the low quality matters less when foreign bargain hunters buy the blouses as souvenirs rather than to wear them regularly back home. A second category of goods sold here is sewn toys, little animals and dolls made with scraps of handwoven cloth salvaged from wornout clothing figure 10 ; Indian children play instead with cheap plastic toys.

    Half the dolls for sale in were a new model, the Subcomandante Marcos doll he is the leader of the antigovernment grassroots Zapatista movement , which achieved instant popularity with politically liberal tourists. A relatively modern huipil from Bochil, of a type formerly unusual in that village. Figure The ears show the pattern most common in many villages, the diamond. Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas, has become a household totem and highly salable image. Subcomandante Marcos dolls some on horseback are sold by dozens of Chamulan women who have sales stations at the Santo Domingo market.

    The Marcos doll is an apt partner for a similar, commonly sold female doll holding a baby thus a fertility symbol parallel to that of the corn. Collier mentions that Zapatista images also appeared for a while on condom wrappers , 4. I bought a Marcos baseball hat for a friend and enjoyed dining in a restaurant outfitted with Subcomandante napkin holders figure Marcos wanted to become a symbolic figure, and he succeeded.

    The last classification of goods sold in the Santo Domingo Market comprises miniatures of dolls, hats, pottery, and so on. Their persistence corners the tourist into an unpleasant choice, either to be rude to the very people he or she has come to see, or to yield to the sales pitch, thereby acknowledging the unpalatable truth that these particular Indians do not embody a comfortable and traditional way of life but rather are painfully poor.

    Moreover, making a purchase relieves the pressure only temporarily, as it inspires immediate assembly of a crowd of more hawkers also see Van Den Berghe , These small weavings are traditional in that they are made on backstrap looms using local wool though some bracelets have one end just tied to a toe and are woven from there, without a loom.

    Also, they generally feature the diamond pattern that represents the universe. This might be because this pattern can be shrunk to the smallest size however, Indian street vendors in Oaxaca weave diamonds less. It is bitterly ironic that while other craftspersons in Chiapas are making a living marketing symbols dear to them, signs of an ethnicity and tradition that they wish to maintain, these mothers and children must sell tiny items representing a way of life that, in many ways, they would dearly love to escape. Of course, tourists arriving in Chiapas after the Zapatista uprising began, in , must modify that rosy picture.

    The fear of stumbling into danger did inhibit tourism briefly, though the rebels took great care not to harm tourists—indeed, supportive international publicity became the best-realized goal of the rebellion. Tourists I encountered in considered the Zapatistas a romantic eccentricity of the state rather than a threat. Crafts illustrate this contradiction well: they are especially complex in manufacture and appearance and resonate with religious and local identities precisely because Indians reacted to centuries of political and economic repression by cultivating a vivid and inward-looking ethnicity.

    How craft objects such as my pillowcase are designed, made, and marketed in modern Chiapas illustrates—indeed, fuels—new trends in power relationships between Indians and outsiders in regard to the transformation of religion, in continuity and change in gender relationships, and in how the individual Indian tries to maintain family and village identity. Power The defense that ethnicity offered to the Indians of Chiapas against their ill-treatment by the Ladino oligarchy remained a practical and sustainable psychological bulwark until recently—it was a strategy that mattered to the Indians, but one that the Ladinos could ignore.

    This perpetuates centuries of exploitation: most of the tourist money goes to these Ladinos. But the tourists who observe Indians and buy crafts represent the world outside Chiapas, a world capable of being shocked by how the Indians are treated, and exerting pressure on the Mexican central government for reform. Each adult Indian represents a commodity valuable to the government, that is, a vote.

    Nearly every vote from nearly every Indian community ends up on the PRI section of the ballot. Municipio caciques— bilingual Indian intermediaries with considerable power—ensure that the receipt of even the least of government services means a village lined up behind the PRI. But some Indian towns are starting to require more for their votes. Most of the paternalistic help that textile cooperatives and cottage industries receive is from Mexicans who came from outside Chiapas and from foreigners.

    Although any relationship between Indian and outsider is weighted toward the outsider, these strands weaken the historical stranglehold of the local power structure. Through experience with altruistic middlemen, Indians learn business skills that qualify them to work elsewhere. The best intermediaries, like Morris and Past, gradually become dispensable and are happy to turn over well-constructed enterprises to the Indians. This directly affects only a few thousand craftspersons but gives hope to many more. It is important to remember that extensive, minimally exploitative interaction between any outsiders and the Maya is young, and that many of the new supportive relationships concern tourism, especially the production of crafts.

    Soon there may be more businesses controlled by Indians from bottom to top, from sheep-tending to profit distribution. Religion Protestant sects continue to make inroads throughout the Maya world, as throughout Latin America. Two problems plague syncretic Catholicism here. First, plenty of hard liquor posh must be imbibed during festivals, and many men continue their consumption socially. Alcoholism has been a horrible problem in the highlands see Eber In particular, an organization called Catholic Action advocates substituting soft drinks for posh in festivals and as routine libations; I saw as much Pepsi as posh in the church in Chamula.

    The second vulnerability of Mayan Catholicism is the cargo system. In several communities, notably Chamula, thousands of Protestants who exited the cargo system were expelled by these bands of thugs. They seek wage labor, but with mixed success. Most of the women and children pressing woven wristlets on tourists are Protestant refugees.

    In some villages, and in cooperatives such as Sna Jolobil and cottage industries like Kun Kun, traditional Maya Catholics, members of Catholic Action, and Protestants work side by side. They are all Indians, and they share a past, even if their futures diverge. The men considered themselves farmers, but Ladino landowners kept Indians from acquiring substantial tracts of arable land. For generations, the average Maya farmer cultivated one small plot of rocky soil in the highlands and another in the lowlands and might have found seasonal work on lowland coffee plantations.

    Today, lowland plots are fewer, many coffee plantations have become cattle ranches which need fewer workers , and desperate Guatemalan refugees have taken much of the work on the remaining plantations. Highland men may find other wage labor, particularly in construction, but overall their incomes are shrinking. Sometimes it pays enough that women cannot afford to weave for their husbands and children, instead buying cheap, used town clothes; I saw this especially in Chamula and among refugees from there.

    Underemployed men dislike these changes. They resent the very thought of fetching water or firewood. Several wives who have taken on a sort of secular cargo by becoming leaders in cooperatives have thereby earned savage beatings. But selling textiles has given women the new option of remaining single. Through commercial weaving, particular in the co-ops formed to serve the tourist market, women who would formerly not have had the self-confidence or opportunity to talk to women from other communities are working and socializing together Morris , Now a woman who makes such a huipil for sale or decorates an object such as a pillowcase, something that only an outsider would use, can honor the ancestors while she works but can conceive of living a life different from the life her patterns depict.

    Weaving for cash takes her beyond the nurturing of corn. The old roles could not be sustained in the economic present. Another model for revised gender roles might be how the sexes relate in the city, but that would constitute a more radical shift than the one caused by working in crafts. Pursuing another visible alternative, exemplified by the Zapatista forces, would be even more wrenching. The recasting of gender roles seen in craft villages in the highlands may be the minimum possible in these changing times.

    They do this in many ways, some of which resemble the processes by which crafts are intensified. First, intensification through virtuosity offers the easiest parallel, when individuals and groups self-consciously and energetically cultivate knowledge of tradition and expertise in crafts. The huipiles sold in Sna Jolobil that illustrate intensification through virtuosity are made by weavers who embody the behavioral form of this process.

    Second, people can create intensification through addition by wearing more ethnically specific garments than in generations past, by making a point of speaking Tzotzil or Tzeltal when using Spanish would be as easy, and so on. Payment for handmade textiles remains absurdly low but nevertheless buttresses fragile family finances. And though booming populations still require out-migration to prevent famine, income from crafts keeps some families and villages largely intact.

    The municipios where crafts help stabilize incomes and community, where hope for improved standards of living has thereby been rekindled—in other words, the municipios with something to lose—may be the ones least likely to support radical change. The crafts movement offers modest incomes and the prospect of gradual betterment. While the money earned is seldom substantial, it has the advantage of originating for the most part outside the country, independent of the vicissitudes of the Mexican economy.

    Conversely, the Zapatistas insist on dramatic and immediate change. The national government responded to the rebellion with its own rhetoric and with an effective strategy of double containment. The villagers welcome this money but consider it overdue and apt to evaporate when the immediate crisis subsides. The Zapatistas rub conservative Indians the wrong way by, for instance, elevating women into positions of command: having women assume responsibility in weaving collectives has been grating enough.

    Worst of all, the very flare-ups in publicity that inspire some cynical government expenditures drive away large numbers of tourists, thereby abruptly depressing the economy of the entire highlands. In such incidents, Indians who want food, land, and the chance to retain some measure of traditional identity are pitted against other Indians who have the same desires, but different ideas about how to attain those goals.

    Moreover, the modest income from crafts helps protect aspects of traditional life. The Zapatistas desire faster and more comprehensive improvements. Which combination of paths to sorely needed change will prove most valuable is impossible to predict. Some form of armed struggle will continue— after all, this too is part of local tradition.

    Repression and Resistance in Oaxaca - tyruvyvizo.cf

    At the same time, tourism and sales of crafts will continue to offer modest, steady support for gradual change in the highlands. In the coming chapters, I will examine how these factors play out in Oaxaca, a field that is larger and more complex in various ways. Crafts and Tourism in Oaxaca Indian hunter-gatherers lived in Oaxaca as early as twenty thousand years ago and added agriculture to their strategies for survival as early as BC.

    To hunt they had spears and bows and arrows; to cultivate they had digging sticks. Many other tools must have been part of daily life long before traces of them were left for archaeologists to find. At some point the Indians began making their everyday objects with techniques and results that reached beyond the purely utilitarian; they added creative panache to the building process and thus were making crafts artfully.


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    • Crafts in the History of Oaxaca through the Advent of Tourism The oldest surviving exemplars of the main southern Mexican craft categories are shards of pottery; a few ceramic figures that also bear depictions of cloth skirts, sandals, and jewelry. The need for furniture required carving wood. Burials with jewelry, favorite possessions, and food and drink constitute our first evidence of ritual. By about BC, villages grew from handfuls of dwellings to clusters of several hundred residents, and social classes began to emerge.

      For example, a village near the current site of the city of Oaxaca housed specialists who cut and polished magnetite into mirrors for trade Whipperman , And some of the early pottery illustrates differentiation between rather plain, functional pieces and finer, more decorated ones for the upper classes. A calendar rationalized the yearly cycle of events, and written script eventually came into being. This and a dozen smaller ritual and administrative centers flourished on defensible hilltops through about AD During the peak of population, roughly AD through , social differentiation was also relatively great.

      As one consequence, pottery became relatively elaborate Murphy and Stepick , Throughout Mexico, cities that had been vassals became independent states. In this Zapotec territory, the lack of focused power invited invasion by the nascent Mixtec people, gathered together by the warlord known in surviving codices as Tiger Claw. Mixtec nobles forced marriage with Zapotec heiresses. Although few Mixtec speakers remain in the central valleys today, both ruins and modern crafts display a fascinating mix of Zapotec and Mixtec artistic traditions.

      The Aztecs arrived in the valley of Mexico around and ruled it within a century. As part of a general expansion of their territory, they subjugated the city of Oaxaca during the s, establishing a garrison at the site of present-day Oaxaca by midcentury. Tribute paid by the Zapotecs took various forms depending on what a village had to offer. The conquistadores would be more successful. By the end of , the Catholic mass had been celebrated in the region of Oaxaca, and the Spanish were firmly in power throughout the state within months.

      He received rights to most of the good valley land and would himself grant encomiendas rights to land and the labor of the resident Indians to friends, relatives, and children. However, Spanish squatters repeatedly occupied the site of the old Aztec garrison and were eventually allowed to remain there. Their town, Antequera, became the city of Oaxaca. The Spanish commanded garrisons, large ranches, and anything resembling a cash economy, and they controlled many Indians on their haciendas. But they had little to do with the rest of the native population, which, while dramatically diminished by disease, still vastly outnumbered the colonizers.

      Much of the work of integration, reorganization, and assimilation devolved on missionaries—in Oaxaca, especially the Dominicans. They wanted to save both souls and bodies and took flexible and practical approaches to these linked tasks. They were able to teach dogma and ritual because they learned and employed Indian languages, even as the Indians acquired Spanish.

      Short Documentary Of Oaxaca

      As in many parts of the world colonized by Catholics, native religion soon mixed Christian and pagan elements; adopted European saints and ceremonies bore both overt and less-obvious native personalities and characteristics. The missionaries also both learned from and transformed local agriculture and crafts. Oaxacan tomatoes and peppers went to Europe, but the top export was the red dye called cochineal. The church fathers encouraged many villages to concentrate on one or another craft for purposes of commerce, often building on preexistent specializations.

      The dynamics among transplanted Spaniards evolved swiftly. The city lost its function as a pivotal southern trade station to Acapulco in the late sixteenth century. A promising silk industry in the mountainous Mixtec region of the state lasted only from about to about ; abused Indian workers soon rebelled and cut down the mulberry trees sustaining the silkworms.

      But silk weaving did not die out completely, and this abortive attempt to found one kind of weaving industry set a foundation for a broader effort using wool and cotton, one linked strongly to the ready availability of cochineal. There were over five hundred cotton or silk looms in the city of Oaxaca by , and Indians were forced to produce cochineal in an oppressive system similar in terms of economics to sharecropping in the southern United States Murphy and Stepick , Then the Wars of Independence squelched cochineal and other Mexican industries after , and most cochineal production shifted to Guatemala.

      But for most of the nineteenth century, Oaxaca shared in the turmoil that kept Mexico from emerging from poverty. The arrival of a railroad line in gave the local elite access to foreign goods, but there was less economic progress and change overall than in northern and central parts of Mexico Murphy and Stepick , Little violence disturbed Oaxaca during the Mexican revolution in the second and third decades of the twentieth century.

      That lack of disturbance was positive at the time but had an unfortunate aftereffect. The leaders of the country during those times acquired no special affection for the state for this reason peace meant nonparticipation in the revolution and other reasons as well Oaxacans made a few ineffectual attempts to break the state away from Mexico , leaving Oaxaca underfunded by the federal government. Oaxaca has been slow to recover from such times and from periodic economic crises, in part due to the lack of significant industrial activity.

      When the Pan-American Highway arrived in Oaxaca in , manufactured goods like plaid dresses, cheap shoes, and plastic or inexpensive porcelain kitchenware became more readily available to the general populace, though the industries producing such goods did not arrive along with the products. At that time, there was little reason to invest in this city, which, while located in a pleasant complex of valleys, was surrounded by mountains traversed only by endless curves of narrow roads. There was a potential advantage in this: being able to pay wages lower than the average for Mexico; per capita income in Oaxaca has long hovered at about a third of the national average Hulshof , But the advantage of lower pay was more than erased by the geographic disadvantage: transportation expenses would have eaten into profits too much.

      Indeed, there is still no significant industry in Oaxaca, and subsistence agriculture is simply not enough to support the populace Tourism fuels the economy now, though this factor mainly affects the central valleys, a few beach resorts, and cities along the highways.

      With most portable necessities owned by the working class now available as cheap manufactured imports, continuing to make many things by hand for local use became an unaffordable luxury.

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      But mass-produced goods arrived so recently that the physical and mental habits of personal craftsmanship never passed from living memory. And certain crafts were never displaced completely. These included items important for maintaining a sense of regional identity, such as handwoven clothes worn for ceremonial purposes though daily wear shifted to cheap imports , and articles occupying specialized niches, such as pots made in shapes and sizes not readily available in plastic or aluminum.

      At the same time, mass-produced imports could not always substitute for locally handmade products. For instance, weavers of serapes further north, in Tlaxcolo and Texcoco, gave up that craft in the s in favor of the improved wages available due to the burgeoning of industry there. Yes, cheap coats were available, but the convenient shape of the serape and the fact that serapes shed water effectively made them better for much outdoor work, and Oaxacans would make them for lower wages than were now acceptable in the north and central parts of the country.

      The same trains and trucks that conveyed manufactured goods to Oaxaca also began to deliver a trickle of tourists from more prosperous parts of Mexico. That trickle became a rivulet when air travel became feasible around , and steadily increased thereafter. In contrast to Chiapas, a majority of the tourists visiting Oaxaca remain Mexican nationals, though U. Tourists who fly in can buy souvenirs in the airport in booths freely juxtaposing both local and national crafts with generic souvenirs T-shirts, etc. Indeed, many tourists planning trips to Oaxaca come in July so that they can attend one of these massive shows.

      The factors that discouraged economic growth for so long dovetail with those that encourage and nourish ethnic tourism. The black pottery of San Bartolo Coyotepec offers the simplest illustration of this. Coyotepec had long been a center for the production of large, sturdy gray pottery containers for mescal or other liquids, these pots being ideal for portage by mules. Could the potters of Coyotepec survive as such?

      One woman found an answer. This was a more radical change than had resulted from her polishing pots before firing, because the gorgeous underfired black pots did not hold water. Adopting this technique thus explicitly traded historical function for the enhanced appearance that made these pots desirable souvenirs. Those customers also have ideological needs, perhaps vaguely felt and expressed, but still critical: they need to believe that crafts they buy illustrate considerable continuity in the lives of their makers.

      Coping with this issue entails artful compromises and allowances. Has black pottery experienced folkloric intensification in a manner similar to the pillowcase I discussed in the previous chapter? As a genre it has, though different pots exhibit different types of intensification and combinations of types. I will postpone classifying these until near the end of this chapter, but I will note here that most pieces of black pottery made today are much smaller than the ancestral gray pots—some are true miniatures—and that nearly every piece is more elaborate than those pretourism models.

      For instance, the black pot shown in figure 13 is a curved object whose shape is reinforced—indeed, intensified— by the decorative cutouts, themselves curved. Other common shapes include candleholders, pitchers, and vases that look as if they should be able to hold water and flowers but actually require plastic inserts to do so. Valente Nieto Real, incising and superimposing decorations on a newly shaped pot during a demonstration for tourists at the family factory and showroom in San Bartolo Coyotepec just a short bus ride south of the city of Oaxaca.