Re: revitalization movements

Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Sat, 20 Jan 1996 02:24:57 -0600

On Fri, 19 Jan 1996 thomas w kavanagh <tkavanag@INDIANA.EDU> said:

>My recent research I have been going the other way: back to Mooney's
>Ghost Dance, and uncovering the ways in which he manipulated and glossed
>over particular pieces of data. F'rinstance: when he got out to Oklahoma
>in Dec 1890, it was snowing so hard no one was dancing, so he spent a
>week or more with Wataanga learning the songs. Wataanga was the chief of
>the Agency police.
>Wait, what, ... the leader of a revitalization movement was a member of
>the colonial establishment?
>Yes, but I don't yet know what to make of it.

I used to think something similar was surprising, but it has finally come
around to make sense in my head.

During my 1958-1965 (on and off) fieldwork in a Tzotzil-speaking Chiapas
community, there was a power struggle going on between two groups of
leaders. One batch (call them "old-style principales") had come to
positions of power by completing a long sequence of cargos in the
traditional politico- religious hierarchy. (That was an organization
pretty similar to the general pattern described in Carrasco 1961.) The
contesting group of leaders ("new-style principales") acquired power by
recruiting support groups. Members of each support group were multiply
tied to the leader through a combination of ties: consanguineal, affinal,
and ritual kinship; living in the same neighborhood; working neighboring
plots in communally owned lands; interchanging labor in the fields or in
house-building; exchanges of loans in times of need; etc.

New-style principales held on to power through their actions as brokers
between Indians and the surrounding Ladino world. Although most adult
Indians in this community speak Spanish as a second language, the new-
style principales were comfortably fluent speakers of several levels of
Spanish. (They easily switched from rural Chiapas dialect to an
approximation of Mexico City standard speech, and several socioeconomic
dialects between those poles, according to context.)

These new-style leaders led delegations to the state capital and to Mexico
City; they served as intermediary spokesmen with government agencies and
their agents. They had major links with leading figures in Mexico's
dominant political party. Those I accompanied on their visits to out of
town agencies kept store-bought, Ladino clothes at convenient places
outside the town, changing into them on their way to Ladino cities.

In a sense, then, you could say that these new-style leaders were self-
selected, self-conscious agents of outside hegemonic powers. (Well, you
could; I wouldn't.) They looked like "members of the colonial
establishment", in Kavanagh's terms.

Now switch focus.

It was the new-style, not the traditional, principales who provided
major parts of the food distributed to the public on ceremonial occasions
such as the days of major fiestas. When they were inside town or out in
the fields, new-style principales wore the full local costume while just
about everybody else had changed to modifications of traditional dress.
(They were the last to wear the heavy, locally handmade, and highly
distinctive hats once characteristic of all men in the community, for
example.) The clothing they wore at public celebrations was not only
the old local costume, it consisted of particularly fine examples of the
best of that craft, handmade by their wives rather than purchased from
other weavers in the town.

Finally, it was the new-style principales, not the traditional ones, who
were most likely to recite old oral literature while among a group of men
waiting for something to happen at a fiesta. They also were the ones to
repeat such stories to boys in their company. In their tales, I often
heard echoes of Popol Vuj and some of the tales recorded by Sahagun --
both written in the 16th century.

Let's say that's enough to establish that these new-style principales
made a strong public show of traditional values as part of their way of
asserting non-traditional power. (I've stuck to the things that are
easiest to describe. Other activities that look much more like what
Wallace meant by "revitalization movements" deeply involved the new-
style principales, and were strongly opposed by the traditional ones.)

The question that had me scratching my head when I started putting the
facts together more or less as I've presented them here was this: "How
does it happen that it's the guys who have moved farthest down the path to
using Ladino sources of power are the ones who put on the most traditional
looking personas in their interactions in prominent public space within
the town?"

Posing the question that way immediately suggested its own answer.
Traditional leaders didn't have to "prove" their legitimacy within the
culture by the outward signs of propriety. They'd already been there,
done that. That's how they got through all the steps of the traditional
politico-religious hierarchy. The "arriviste" new-style guys, however,
did lots of things that were almost over the edge of acceptability. From
time to time, the less skillful among them either lost support from their
former followers *or were accused of witchcraft*. That's a serious
charge which, if publicly accepted, is regarded as reasonable grounds for
justifiable homicide. Even today, a guy whose behavior looks too
non-traditional gets killed as a brujo.

I'm arguing, for the moment at least, that the folks who come closest to
depending on their connections with the "colonial establishment" are the
very ones who have the greatest vested interest in showing how they are
the most traditionalist folks around.

Which may be an explanation for the fact that Ronald Reagan and Newt
Gingrich, two guys whose divorces were particularly nasty and whose
family relations just plain stink, got to their positions by claiming
to uphold "traditional family values". There they were/are, talking the
talk more than anybody precisely because they couldn't walk the walk.

mike salovesh, anthropology department <>
northern illinois university PEACE !