Category Archives: Oaxaca

VIENEN GENTES EXTRAÑAS STRANGE FOLK ARE COMING

Comentarios sobre Kolao´ Kiá Dzä Jmii. Juega enmascarado de Gente Idioma (El Carnaval de la Chinantla Alta) por Eleuterio Xagaat García (presentado en

el INSTITUTO WELTE PARA ESTUDIOS OAXAQUEÑOS, A.C. 9 Feb 2018.

Vienen gentes extrañas… (6) y vienen a denunciar a las autoridades civiles y religiosas de las comunidades de Comaltepec, Yolox y Temextitlán. Este trabajo bilingüe chinanteco-español presenta descripciones de los ritos de Carnaval en tres comunidades de la Chinantla Alta del estado de Oaxaca, México, según la observación, la participación, el análisis y la fotografía del autor, Eleuterio Xaagat García, entre los años de 2006 al 2010.

Se ve la localización de las comunidades en este mapa, que por cierto es de gentes extrañas—el Instituto Lingüístico del Verano, pero en el mapa no se aprecia la geografía de la zona, casi en la cumbre de la Sierra Madre Oriental.

Presento aquí una perspectiva informada por mi posicionamiento como antropóloga, como extranjera, y como mujer, con comentarios que plantean mas preguntas que respuestas, en la espera de generar una conversación mas larga.

Como antropóloga, veo al Carnaval como un rito de rebelión en el cual los participantes cuestionan a las autoridades, y crean un espacio en el cual todas las normas se rompen (Gluckman 1962, 1963). Dos ejes principales de análisis de los ritos de rebelión, como el Carnaval desde la perspectiva antropológica, son las mismas polémicas de siempre—el materialismo marxista (con sus lentes que vean la desigualdad y el conflicto) y el funcionalismo (con su perspectiva de acomodación y adaptación, o bien la manutención del estado quo). Para poder decidir entre el materialismo y el funcionalismo, habría que analizar los efectos de la “rebelión.” ¿A cuál autoridad retan? ¿Permiten los ritos la consolidación de la identidad y la conservación del orden social (Gluckman 1963)? A caso la presentación de la identidad minimiza los conflictos a la vez que refuerza la identidad? O, como lo plantea Sheriff (1999) para Brasil, que el Carnaval en las barriadas pobres de la ciudad supera las divisiones de raza y de clase crea una identidad nacional. ¿Sería el caso aquí? ¿Cuáles son las desigualdades actuales en las comunidades—entre la gente con tierras, y sin tierras; los migrantes; los con más estudios, etc.? ¿Cómo se representan estas desigualdades—aparte del cobro de las cooperaciones—en las fiestas?

No me toca contestar estas preguntas, sin embargo, me parece que una respuesta fundada ayudaría a evaluar cuál de las dos perspectivas–la de la desigualdad y el conflicto o la de la identidad-adaptación–es más acertado. Tiendo a darle más peso al conflicto y la desigualdad en el análisis de la práctica de la cultura, pero reconozco que es complicado y dinámico y no poseo un conocimiento suficientemente profundo para poder llegar a una conclusión. De todos modos parece que las representaciones de Carnaval si tienen algo que ver con la identidad, con una resistencia quizá más étnica y regional que nacional. La rebelión contra la autoridad no llega a la puerta del Estado, pero quizá a las estructuras y poderes locales. Queda al autor, Eleuterio Xagaat García, contestar la pregunta, y no a mí: ¿El Carnaval refuerza o debilita la autoridad comunitaria?

Como extranjera, gente extraña, veo en las palabras (vienen gentes extrañas) una narrativa con fundamento histórico que puede remontar a las múltiples conquistas que han sufrido el pueblo chinanteco—desde la expansión mexicana y zapoteca en la sierra, a la conquista española, a la formación del estado-nación mexicana, a la extensión de la economía y cultura global, y finalmente, a la llegada más reciente de la gente extraña—los misioneros protestantes.

Cada una de estas conquistas, pero sobre todo la española, traía un holocausto demográfico. La historia de los nuevos asentamientos en las tierras bajas puede representar la recuperación demográfica que tardó unos siglos después de la conquista española (84). Pero todas las conquistas han traído muchos cambios: “han cambiado las cosas en Yolox” (66), como dice Vo.

En parte el análisis del autor es una narrativa sobre un pasado en el cual la cultura estaba intacta, un pasado donde se respetaban a los seres poderosos, a la vez que la narrativa conlleva una aceptación de la modernidad, es un lamento a no “perder nuestra cultura” como dice Vo (64), y un auguro de un presente y un futuro terrible, como cuenta  Bito: “verás cuando lleguen monstruos que cagan un humo negro como el de la leña del pinabete” (66) (En el Siglo XIX, el ferrocarril de Oaxaca causó la deforestación casi total de la Sierra Norte para alimentar sus motores de vapor). Según las voces que capta Eleuterio Xaagat, han cambiado las cosas, y no por bien, aunque “la modernidad” parece tener sus atractivos. Estas narrativas históricas de un pasado bueno y un presente malo localicen a Yolox, Comaltepec y Temextitlán dentro de una especificidad histórico local, nacional, mesoamericano, y global. La contradicción entre esta narrativa y lo atractivo del mundo actual es casi universal, pero, en la fiesta de Carnaval en Temextitlán, que tuve la gran oportunidad de observar en 2017, presencié la síntesis de lo viejo y lo nuevo—a la vez que acatan a las formas antiguas y con contenidos antiguos, también parecen celebrar y apropiar la tecnología, el consumo y otras prácticas nuevas. Como todo rito, el Carnaval en estas comunidades en la Chinantla Alta, lleva sus etapas fijas, pero sus contenidos son dinámicos—con diferentes representaciones en las diferentes comunidades, y a lo largo del tiempo. En vez de provocar una añoranza por los tiempos perdidos, me emociona presenciar la creación, la apropiación, el dinamismo de estas culturas. Se están cambiando, pero no se están desapareciendo.

Como mujer, pregunto sobre el papel de las mujeres en las fiestas o bien, en la conversación sobre estas prácticas. Algunas de ellas me comentaron que no iban a la fiesta para evitar a los borrachos y a los chismes, mientras que las jóvenes resienten que no les dejan salir a bailar (76). No es de sorprender que haya conflicto generacional, pero me quedé con la duda, que a lo mejor no le toca a Eleuterio a resolver, de ¿que piensan las mujeres sobre Carnaval?

En suma, como antropóloga, como extranjera y como mujer, espero que mis comentarios se toman en el mejor sentido. Dejo mas preguntas que respuestas, ya que no me toca contestarlas, pero, a modo de conclusión, observo que todo rito es una representación, es una obra de teatro dirigido por los actores participantes. El rito, y las representaciones, son comentarios sobre la vida experimentada por la gente, y sus comentarios señalan que la vida ha cambiado y sigue cambiando. Y es lo alentador, lo mero bueno.

El trabajo de Eleuterio es único, innovador y bonito en que

  • es un escrito desde la perspectiva desde adentro, de un participante pleno
  • representa a las experiencias con imágenes más ricas que las palabras, aunque
  • las palabras son increíblemente poéticas
  • y, finalmente, crea un espacio para la representación—ahora y a futuro—del idioma, de las prácticas, y es más, de la cosmovisión dinámica de estas comunidades.

Adiós, adiós el cerro de Oaxaca

Adiós, adiós la villa de Guerrero

Que se lleva mi sombrero

Para nunca más volver (215)

 

pero me late que sí volverá…

=====

STRANGE FOLK ARE COMING

Vienen gentes extrañas… (strange people are coming) (6), coming to denounce the political and religious leaders of the communities of Comaltepec, Yolox y Temextitlán. This bilingual Chinantec-Spanish book describes Carnaval in these communities in the Chinantla Alta in Oaxaca, Mexico with the observations, participation, analysis and photography of the author, Eleuterio Xaagat García, between 2006 and 2010. The Chinantla Alta (map) is located almost at the top of the Sierra Madre Oriental, but the map, drawn by some of the strange folk who came–the Summer Institute of Linguistics—does not do justice to the high mountainous terrain of the region.

My comments reflect my position as an anthropologist, a foreigner and as a woman, but they pose more questions than answers, in the hope that of generating a longer conversation.

As an anthropologist, I see Carnaval as a ritual of rebellion, in which participants question authority, and create a space in which norms are broken (Gluckman 1962, 1963). Two main analytical axes that anthropologists use to analyze practices like rituals of rebellion such as Carnaval, are Marxist materialism (using the categories of inequality and conflict) and functionalism (using categories such as adaptation and status quo). In order to decide which best explains a practice, we need information about the effects of this so-called rebellion. What authority do they challenge? Does the ritual lead to the consolidation of identity and maintenance of the social order (Gluckman 1963)? If so, the representation of ethnic identity may smooth over conflict and permit peace to reign. More specifically, as Sheriff (1999) poses for Brazil, does Carnaval minimize racial and class differences in the creation of a national identity? What are the inequalities in these communities—between landed and landless, migrants, educated, or what? How are inequalities represented in Carnaval—aside from collecting family donations for the fiesta costs? I cannot answer these questions, but it seems that a substantiated answer would help decide which perspective—inequality/conflict or identity/stability—is the best explanation of events. Although I tend to give first and most weight to explanations that analyze conflict and inequality in cultural practices, I recognize that things are complex and dynamic, and furthermore, that I don’t know enough to come to a conclusion. At any rate, the representations in the Carnaval fiestas have something to do with identity, maybe about a resistance that is more ethnic and regional than national. These rebellions against authority certainly do not threaten the state, but they may shake local power structures.

As a foreigner in Mexico, as strange folk, I see in these words a narrative with a historical base that could go back through the many conquests the Chinantec people have suffered: as far as Mexica and Zapotec expansions into the sierra, or the founding of the Mexican nation-state, or to economic and cultural globalization, or to the arrival of the most recent strange folk, protestant missionaries.

Each of these conquests, but most of all the Spanish, brought demographic holocaust. The history of recent Chinantec settlements on the northern slopes of the sierra may represent, not just the development of hydropower, but also demographic recovery (84). But all conquests bring change: “things have changed in Yolox” as Vo says (66).

In one way, Eleuterio Xaaga’s analysis is a narrative about a good past with an intact culture, when people respected the powers that be, at the same time that it accepts modernity—a call to “keep our culture” as Vo says (64), and a prediction of a terrible present and future, as Bito says “you’ll see monsters shitting black smoke from burning firewood” (66). (In the nineteenth century, almost the entire northern Sierra of Oaxaca was deforested to feed the steam engines of the national rail system than ran through Oaxaca). According to the voices that Eleuterio captures, things have indeed changed, and not for better, in spite of the lure of modernity. These historical narratives—between a good past and a bad future—are virtually universal, but they locate Yolox, Comaltepec and Temextitlán within their own historical specificity in the general context of local, national, regional and global conquests and change. I observed some of these contradictions in fiesta of Carnaval when I visited Temextitlán 2017, a synthesis between old and new, both hewing to ancient forms and contents, and celebrating technology, consumption and new practices. Like all ritual, Carnaval is made up of fixed stages but with changing content, with differing representations in each the three communities, and over time. Instead of making me long for lost time, I was honored at being able to witness the creation, the appropriation, the dynamics of these cultures. Things are changing in the Chinantla Alta, but they are not disappearing.

As a woman, I have to query the role of women in these fiestas or in the conversation about cultural practices. Some women commented to me that they didn’t go down to the fiesta because of all the drunks and gossip, while young women resent that they aren’t allowed to go to the dance (76). While I’m not surprised to see generational conflict, I wonder what women think about Carnaval?

As an anthropologist, foreigner and a woman, I hope that my comments are taken as the questions of an ignorant extraña. I leave more questions than answers, but, by way of a conclusion, note that all rituals are representations or performances directed by the participants. They comment on current, not past, life and experience. In these cases, the participants in the fiestas of Carnaval in the Chinantla Alta of Oaxaca represent their histories and their lives as a struggle that is about authority, language, past and a changing present.

This work is unique, innovative and beautiful in that is written from inside, by a full participant; in that it represents experiences with images that are more eloquent than a thousand words; with words that are so incredibly poetic. Finally, this work creates a space for the representation, now and in the future, of the incredibly complex Chinantec language, practice and cosmology.

Goodbye, goodbye from the hills of Oaxaca

Goodbye, goodbye to the town of Guerrero

Take my hat

And never come back (215)xaagat presentation IMG_8241

… but I bet they will.

FUENTES

Sheriff, Robin. 1999. “The Theft of Carnaval: National Spectacle and Racial Politics in Rio de Janiero” [https://culanth.org/articles/144-the-theft-of-carnaval-national-spectacle-and] (4feb18)

Gluckman, Max [http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Max_Gluckman] (4 feb2018).

Gluckman, Max. [1963] 2004. Order and rebellion in tribal Africa: Collected essays with an autobiographical introduction. Routledge. ISBN 0415329833

Gluckman, Max. 1962. Essays on the ritual of social relations. Manchester University Press.

Xaagat García, Eleuterio. 2016. Kolao´ Kiá Dzä Jmii. Juega enmascarado de Gente Idioma (El Carnaval de la Chinantla Alta). Oaxaca: México. Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas, La Voz de la Sierra Juárez, el H. Ayuntamiento Constitucional, Santiago Comaltepec. ISBN: 978-607-8498-10-9).

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HOW EDGY SHE IS: review of Judith Romero’s Othered Women LA ATINADA. Reseña de OTRAS MUJERES, exposición de Judith Romero, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo

Free dancing in the wind, Deyanira Aquino (of La Teca Restaurant, one of the top in Mexico) captures a beautiful woman, in a beautiful place, her home in the Isthmus.

Photographer Judith Romero doesn’t know how edgy her work and her spaces are. Her recent show, Othered Women / Otras Mujeres at the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO) shows how accurate is her finger on the pulse. Portraits of women from Oaxaca, Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Poland and elsewhere tell the stories of women who have chosen not to have children. The photos are technically exquisite and beautiful with that unique gaze of a desk, a kitchen, a woman with her words and story.

Opening to a standing room only crowd with short video that set the scene with the voices of women from all over–women who choose not to become mothers, followed by a conversation organized by The Rosario Castellanos Women’s Study Group–with forty years of work in women’s empowerment, leadership, and reproductive rights in Oaxaca. Speakers commented on their own lives and decisions, and ended with…be free. These words and women and this electric ending sparked questions and comments from the women in audience – asking about handling public space, about how even mothers are othered. These comments gave the audience a peek at the tangible need for a space to create a language for women’s lives and decisions—the need for a space to process, to make women´s life decisions visible.

Then, the images, technically expert and beautiful with Judith’s unique eye–of a desk, a kitchen, of a woman with her words, her story. I particularly loved the images of Lisa and Emilia, and, of course of Deyanira (above).

Romero doesn’t know how edgy her work is, but this show at the MACO is just a justly deserved recognition of her previous work, and her future promise. Her openings spill out of her Galería Resplandor with music, food and hair styling, among other things, into the Pañuelito plaza in Oaxaca.

Other events include Mirar adentro (curated by Iván Ruiz) with portraits, places and thoughts in movement from a group of wonderful artists.  La Fiesta, for example, presented works by a number of artists, including the internal gaze of Eleuterio Xagaat García’s in representations of Holy Week in Temexitlán in the Chinantla Alta. Other shows include Chilean artists, and Caballeras by Colette Urbajtel–this opening included hair styling with the food and music in the plaza, and finally the intimate and powerful work of Lucero González, founding feminist, Origen.

Keep an eye on this.

===

LA ATINADA. Reseña de OTRAS MUJERES, exposición de Judith Romero, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo.

Bailando, libre, en los vientos de su tierra natal, el Istmo, una bella mujer, Deyanira Aquino (La Teca Restaurant)

Fotógrafa Judith Romero no se da cuenta de lo que ella—con sus espacios y fotos—es. Su exposición reciente Otras Mujeres en el Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Oaxaca (MACO) muestra cuan atinada es su visión. Retratos de mujeres de Oaxaca, México, Chile, Argentina, Polonia y otros lugares nos cuentan de mujeres que han decido no tener hijos. Las fotos son técnicamente exquisitas y bellas con su visión única—un escritorio, una cocina, una mujer—cada una con sus palabras e historia.

No quedaban asientos en la inauguración, que empezó con un video con las voces de mujeres de todo el mundo—mujeres quienes decidieron no ser madres, y seguido por una conversación organizado por el Grupo de Estudios de la Mujer Rosario Castellanos (con 40 años de trabajo en pro del empoderamiento de la mujer, sus derechos, salud y liderazgo). Hablaban de sus propias vidas y decisiones, terminando con … ¡sea libre! Estas palabras y estas mujeres, con esta exhortación final, incitaron preguntas y comentarios del público sobre la otrareidad que sienten en los espacios públicos, como mujeres, como madres. Conmovió la tajante necesidad de un espacio para procesar, visualizar, y hablar sobre estos temas.

Luego, pasamos a los imágenes, tan expertas y bellas, con la perspectiva sensible y bella de Judith—de un escritorio, una cocina, una mujer—cada una sus palabras e historia. Me conmovieron especialmente las imágenes y palabras de Emilia y Lisa, y, por supuesto, de Deyanira (arriba).

Romero no sabe qué tan atinada es su visión, pero la exposición en el MACO reconoce su trabajo actual y anterior, y la promesa al futuro. En las inauguraciones de sus exposiciones en su Galería Resplandor—la música, la comida, hasta el estilista de cabello, fluyen y ocupen la plazuelita del Pañuelito.

Otros eventos incluyen Mirar adentro (Iván Ruiz, curador) con los retratos, lugares y pensamientos dinámicos de un grupo de fotógrafos nuevos y excelentes. La Fiesta presentó el trabajo de varios fotógrafos, incluyendo especialmente la vista desde adentro de Eleuterio Xagaat García de la fiesta de Carnaval en la Chinantla Alta. Otras exposiciones han presentado el trabajo de fotógrafos chilenos, de Caballeras de Colette Urbajtel, y finalmente, la obra íntima e importante de Lucero González, feminista de marca, Origen.

Ojo con esto.

 

Interview with Salomon Nahmad.

Life History Interview with Dr. Salomon Nahmad-Sitton, applied anthropologist who lived through, and created, and fought against, Mexico's indigenista policies.

Nahmad 2010_02655
Salomon Nahmad
Nahmad peyote
Huichol Peyote ceremony. Salomon Nahmad Sitton.

[https://www.academia.edu/9985295/Interview_with_Dr._Salomon_Nahmad]

Oaxaca, Historical Setting: Continuity and Diversity

Oaxaca, the Historical Setting—Continuity and Diversity

Oaxaca map

Martha Rees

Figure 1. Gabina making tortillas (San Agustin Yatareni)Gabina making tortillas yatareni

 

 

Table 1. Language and Maize Domestication

Table 1. Language and maize domestication. Compiled from Mangelsdorf, MacNeish and Galinat (1964) and Josserand, Winter & Hopkins (1984).

Topics:

Environmental Setting

First Settlers (10,000 BCE-1500BCE) 

Empire (1200 BCE-800CE)

City-States (800CE-1500CE)

Conquest and Colony (1521-1810) to Independence (1810-1910)

Revolution and Reform (1910-1940): Tierra y Libertad

Boom and Bust (1940-1990s)

Globalization (1990…)

Cochineal Production

Continuity and Change

Oaxaca is theoretically important because ecological, linguistic and economic diversity facilitate a regional comparative study, so dear to the anthropological heart. For over 10,000 years, people in the central valleys of Oaxaca have collected and produced crops, crafts and other products, as well as labor for regional, national, and international markets. This overview of the history of Oaxaca from the first human settlements shows how work and production have changed, not in a linear progression from ‘traditional’ use to ‘modern’ exchange production, but back-and-forth in numerous combinations. Oaxaca’s crafts, as well as its rich archaeological and historical record, contribute to Mexican national discourse, that, like international tourist discourses, use ‘tradition’ to characterize Oaxaca. Both discourses see ‘tradition’ as unchanging, indigenous, mystical and primitive. Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks, in his book Oaxaca Journal (2002), gives these misconceptions a layer of scientific legitimacy with his romantic vision and errors of fact: the mysterious ‘trance-like’ state of the tourist guide (p. 125), and their “primitive” lack of the wheel (p. 151), among others (Rees 2005). Anthropologists, including this author, can only avoid the tendency to exoticize and stereotype the ‘other’ by questioning our assumptions, including our perspective on the past. We romanticize the past by creating an imaginary of positive images; at the same time, we separate ourselves from that past by constructing differences between then and now. We create, transform, and reject ‘tradition.’ This chapter starts with a discussion of tradition and custom in order to analyze the historical record in terms of women’s production of use and exchange values. This analysis shows that in the history of Oaxaca, there are both continuities and change, and that tradition is a dynamic process.

People invoke tradition to refer to a practice or object that exists in the present in an unchanged, ‘authentic’ form that represents the past. Every practice and tradition undergoes constant interpretation and change. García Canclini (1995) criticizes the romantic tendency as conservative of the status quo and elitist, and notes that anthropology has tended to study ‘tradition.’ He goes on to point out that the tension between tradition and modernity is especially strong in Latin America, since many in Latin America see it as backwards and traditional. The search for the authentic primitive and traditional is a search for meaning at the same time that it is resistance against the hegemony of western cultural values. The very dichotomy between traditional and modern is a way of creating and emphasizing difference. García Canclini is talking about cultural production such as crafts, but his ideas are relevant to the study of tradition in general.

All traditions change. Imputing stasis to them is a political position than historical analysis. Take Thanksgiving, for example. The food, the justification or origin myth, the participants, the division of labor—all of these have changed dramatically since the first Thanksgiving. In the case of practices labeled ‘traditional’, the label may represent desire more than reality, a fantasy about the past and a way to characterize the ‘other’ as not us (e.g., not ‘modern’). Peoples or groups are not ‘traditional’—everyone today is modern, and those we call ‘traditional’ often behave more ‘modern’ than we do.

So-called “traditional” characteristics are dynamic and persistent. For example, community assemblies grant land to male household heads, who must cultivate it continuously as well as keep up with community obligations like cargo and tequio (p. 80), or risk having those rights taken away. Male children inherit rights as long as they, in turn, continue to meet their community service obligations. This system keeps people in line and encourages migrants’ return. Structured reciprocal exchange (guelaguetza, see p. 86ff) leaves everyone but the richest in debt to everyone else. Children inherit the guelaguetza debt of their parents, so this, also, encourages people to fulfill their obligations and encourages migrants to return home to fulfill their obligations. These ‘traditional’ community institutions support ‘modern’ practices such as migration, just as migration supports ‘traditional’ fiestas. Tradition (community, crafts, language, ethnicity, fiestas, and labor exchange) is not the opposite of, but part and parcel of “modernity” (e.g., wage labor, migration, and urbanization). Tradition is a symbol of community, but individuals, households and communities contest its practice, resulting in the formation and reformation of identity over time.

Customs are part of tradition; like tradition, they are dynamic, and respond to changes in external conditions, to style and to resources. Food and dress vary around the valleys, but there are important commonalities—and these are similar in both Spanish- and Zapotec-speaking communities. The same goes for food. The triumvirate of maize, beans, and squash has been the staple in Mesoamerica for over five thousand years. Foods like the tortilla, tejate (a delicious nutritious drink made of maize, cacao, the seed of the mamey fruit, flower of the chocolate vine, and sugar), tamales, salsa, and mole have not changed much, but many new foods—including instant coffee, cola drinks, bread, and potato chips—are found in the most remote stores. If food were an indicator of ethnicity, then everyone in the valleys is Zapotec, and everyone is global: eating the ubiquitous local version of the tortilla, the tlayuda, downed with a Coke. This extends to the city, where middle class urban folks claim that they ‘hardly ever eat tortillas,’ and eschew chile even though they eat toasted tlayudas with black beans every day. In rural areas, local food may be devalued as “poor people’s food”—for example the addition of garbanzo to tortilla, initially done to make maize go further, but incidentally providing a complementary source of protein, making the tlayuda with garbanzo, not only a tasty, but nutritious food. In 1997, Inés in Tilcajete told me “before when we were poorer, we stretched the maize by adding garbanzo.”

Squash flowers, chapulines (grasshoppers), and field greens (quelites) are much-appreciated seasonal delicacies. These play an important role in diet and in ecology, since all three are abundant in the summer. The summer is the period of highest nutritional stress, because households have eaten up or planted all that was left of last year’s harvest and the rains increase gastroenteritis (Kappel 1977). With little food, people eat quelites, greens that grow in the fields, excellent sources of protein, iron and vitamins A and C. Their harvest fills an important nutritional need during the summer months, as well as clears the fields for the squash and maize crops. Male squash flowers (revered from the southwestern US to Mexico) are another good source of vitamins and protein (Gijón 1996). Their harvest does not decrease the squash yield. Grasshoppers are small mobile packets of protein (think of them as land shrimp) that can seriously damage the maize crop. Their harvest in July alleviates nutritional stress at the same time that it rids the crop of pests. (Almost) everyone savors unique local chiles—the chile de agua and the Oaxaca pasilla, yellow mole, the guaje—concentrated packages of vitamins A and C. These food customs reflect local environment, history and economy.

History conditions how we look at women and their work. Anyone who visits the central valleys of Oaxaca, Mexico, or practically any place in Mexico, sees women working in the fields, making and selling tortillas (see Figure 1), tending goats, weaving straw mats, carrying out a world of activities. Aranda (1985) first reported data on this for Oaxaca, in a book of papers presented at the first national meeting of research on Mexican peasant women. Women in rural or urban Oaxaca engage in a multitude of productive activities. Subsistence and commercial crops are the most important, but crafts and other small production, wage labor (mainly domestic service, described by Howell 2000), petty commerce such as taco stands on the street corner, as well as migrant labor—all are important women’s activities (Murphy and Stepick 1991; Cook and Binford 1990). Women’s activities have changed over time, as is shown in this review of Oaxaca’s history. The thread that runs through this description of resources and history is use and exchange value.

Environmental Setting

Continue reading Oaxaca, Historical Setting: Continuity and Diversity