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Volume 51 / Social Sciences


Middle America

JAMES HOWE, Professor of Anthropology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
PAUL SULLIVAN, Lecturer in Anthropology, Yale University

PUBLISHED WORK IN MESOAMERICAN ETHNOLOGY over the last several years has explored the full range of topics with which social and cultural anthropology concerns itself these days. Several topics stand out, however, as having attracted the attention of significantly greater numbers of Mesoamerican scholars. Foremost among those widely shared interests of both foreign and national researchers are the interrelated issues of ethnicity, religion, politics and the State. Some have written about the articulation of structures of authority and domination at local and regional levels, exploring how rural and indigenous peoples do or do not successfully maneuver or resist within webs of such multiple structures (items bi 90010294, bi 90010298, bi 90009218, bi 88000566, and bi 90009280); others have studied religious movements and self-conscious constructions of ethnic identity as two avenues for peoples' staging a more advantageous relation to the State and more successful struggles for local resource control (items bi 90010304, bi 90010309, bi 90010310, and bi 90010337); still others have described and analyzed local and regional economies with a view towards elucidating the dynamics and outcomes of State-level structures, politics, and struggles (items bi 90010308 and bi 90009180). Such works are but the latest contributions to a propitious, continuing convergence of approaches of foreign and local scholars, the former moving from traditional anthropological studies of indigenous cultures to examinations of their place within regional and national economies and polities, the latter exploring ever more frequently the relevance of culture, ethnicity, religion, language, etc. to their traditional concerns with political economy, national development, and social justice.

Studies of ritual are again strongly represented among the works published since the previous volume, Handbook 49 (items bi 90009181, bi 88000317, bi 90009189, bi 90009207, bi 90009209, bi 90009252, bi 90009254, bi 90009267, and bi 88000942). Foremost among these are Nutini's monograph on Todos Santos among the Tlaxcalans (item bi 88000942), the single most important study of this set of widely observed Mesoamerican rites, and Brandes' major study of Tarascan festivals (item bi 90009209). Mesoamerica continues to be a very fertile ground as well for studies of indigenous concepts of health and disease and curing practices (items bi 90009272, bi 90009293, bi 88003244, bi 88002732, and bi 90010313). Especially important is Merrill's masterful work on the Tarahumara concepts of the soul, health, disease, and death, in which Merrill also explores the methodologically fundamental issue of sources and consequences of variation in belief within a small community (item bi 90009293).

Scholars have for years now been studying the causes, patterns, and consequences of the movement of indigenous peoples across the Mesoamerican landscape, whether from village to city or from one region to another, whether on permanent or temporary bases, and almost always for reasons essentially economic. Mesoamerica will surely continue to be an ever more important arena for such study. Several works contained in this bibliography explore various aspects of such migration, including: changing rural occupational patterns (items bi 90009214 and bi 90010341); the nature of urban communities and associations composed of migrant Indians (item bi 90009292); and the local consequences for rural communities of temporary or permanent out-migration (items bi 90010299 and bi 90010303). Especially noteworthy is Good's monograph on a novel and important topic, the exceptionally successful indigenous development and marketing of an innovative craft (painted bark paper) and its attendant effects upon still seemingly traditional Nahuatl communities of Guerrero (item bi 90009242).

Finally, in keeping with the discipline's attention to alternative ethnographic genres and the augmenting of representations of indigenous voices in our books, several monographs published during 1989 attempt innovative styles of ethnographic reportage. Bernard (item bi 90009187) has midwifed and translated an ethnography by Jess Salinas Pedraza, a hu (Otomi) schoolteacher. Greenberg (item bi 90009243) has artfully and compellingly merged autobiography and extended historical analysis to elucidate the causes and patterns of extraordinary levels of violence in a Chatino community of Oaxaca. And Sullivan (item bi 90010312) has constructed an historical and ethnographic narrative of relations and dialogues between Mayas of central Quintana Roo and outsiders with whom they have dealt over the last 100 years.

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