Ideal models and the reality: from Cofradia to Mayordomia in the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca, Mexico
Author(s)Starr, Jean Elizabeth Florence
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AbstractThe Civil-Religious hierarchy, or fiesta complex, which is found in indigenous communities in Mesoamerica and the Andean countries, has been central to anthropological studies in the area lavish expenditure of the religious cargo holders, the mayordomos, on fiesta celebrations, which has attracted most theories, as, ethnocentrically and materialistically, it is held to be both irrational and because, as the administrative complex of the villages, it is the pivot of village life. However, it is the lavish expenditure of the religious cargo holders, the mayordomos, on fiesta celebrations, which has attracted most theories, as, ethnocentrically and materialistically, it is held to be both irrational and uneconomic. However both views, I would argue, ignore the religious motivation of those who serve the saints. It is not uncommon for theorists to make backward projections into the colonial era in an attempt to account for the fiesta system as it exists now, and one model that has had some influence is the extractive one of Marvin Harris, which contends that, its ritual system having been proved to be almost wholly 16th century in origin, the complex was imposed by the Church in the early colonial era in order to draw off resources from the Indians - a role which has been sustained ever since. This neo - Marxist contention is both supremely materialistic and simplistic. However, it is the fact that this and other historical projections seemed to lack rigorous research and analysis, which led me to undertake a diachronic study of the colonial forerunners of the mayordomías, the cofradías, and the reason for their erection. I also wished to ascertain how far the civil-religious hierarchies of the colonial era resembled the ideal model of the modern complex; that is, a series of ranked civil and religious cargos held by all at the lowest level, and then undertaken alternatively, with heavy expenditure in time and economic resources, by those with sufficient economic means. Further to this, I wished to explore the transformation from colonial cofradía to modern mayordomía. Thus, the thesis divides into three parts, and, although anthropological in concept, is based principally upon historical research, and so is an ethno-historical study. The area chosen for this research was the Valles Centrales de Oaxaca, in the State and See of Oaxaca, which was a Dominican province from 1529 and whose doctrinas were not fully secularised until the 1760s. Unfortunately, the Dominican archive as such no longer exists, having been largely destroyed, although a part has been widely dispersed. In view of this, I have had recourse to the Dominican histories of the colonial era, which are based both upon their archives and the personal experiences of the authors, as well as the 16th century chronicles of the Franciscans - a rich source for descriptions of the earliest cofradías, their processions, and the reasons for their erection. These I have used in marshalling my arguments vis-á-vis the introduction of the cofradías, whilst detailed analysis of the role of the later cofradías and cargo holders has been based upon specific parochial archives in the Valleys. I shall introduce this thesis with a description of mayordomía in the Valleys today. I shall then discuss the civil, religious and social structures of the valley before and at the time of the Spanish Conquest in an attempt to isolate those aspects of fiesta celebrations, which are preCortesian in origin. This I shall base largely upon archaeological evidence. I shall then demonstrate that cofradía was a tool for attracting and maintaining religious converts by its several functions of ensuring a sumptuous cult, proselytising the faithful, and giving them succour. I shall isolate certain cofradías, which had the specific function of proselytisation, which I shall designate "cofradías proselitistas", and consider the austere and exemplary lives of those who introduced them. However, I shall also show that the Conquest and its aftermath was the occasion of much trauma for the indigenous peoples, in a way which was not always, perhaps, fully appreciated even by those who had their best interests at heart. Next I shall discuss the economic dilemma of the 16th century Church, which, lacking substantial tithes, could not increase the small ratio of priests to converts, nor properly train sufficient secular priests to secularise the parishes. I shall consider the post-Tridentine attempts to do this, and also to ensure that the seculars had reasonable stipends so that the scandal of their dependence upon their parishioners for sustenance, and their neglect of their duties for commercial concerns could be avoided. I shall also demonstrate that this economic crisis placed an economic burden upon the Indians, which Church legislation endeavoured to lessen, and that, whilst the existence of the cofradías increased the income of the priests through payments for Masses, and church furnishings, the Church enacted laws which limited excessive expenditure on these, as well as others preventing the erection of cofradías with illthought out statutes, and the exploitation of the people by unscrupulous priests. Thus, I am arguing that the Church was aware of the failings of those most in contact with the Indians, and, at least, endeavoured to mitigate them. Although much of this material is specific to Oaxaca, it is, of necessity, set in the wider context of the Church in New Spain. The second part of the thesis, based principally upon archival material from the Archivo General del Estado de Oaxaca, the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, and the Archivos Parroquiales de Zaachila, in the Valley of Zimatlán, and Etla, in the Valle of Etla, is concerned with the hierarchies at village level. In this I shall discuss the traumatic background against which the 17th and 18th inhabitants of the Valleys lived, particularly as a result of the pro-secularisation policies of the Church and suggest that the conflict between the Bishops of Oaxaca and the Dominicans was a major cause of the Zapotecs retaining much of their prehispanic religious costumbres (traditions) and beliefs. I shall then consider the roles of the various officers in both the civil and religious hierarchies in the Indian towns, and demonstrate that only members of the nobility were eligible for such cargos. I shall suggest the possibility that the cargo of mayordomo of a cofradía was sufficiently prestigious for some men merely to serve this. I shall also demonstrate, from the Zaachilan material, that there was apparently no hierarchy of saints to serve, and that the ideal model of an achievement ladder of alternatively served prestigious civil and religious cargos did not exist in the colonial era. Further to this, I shall consider other variables which negate the ideal model: specifically the existence of female "mayordomos" throughout the colonial period and the early post-Independence decades; mayordomos who served the same saint for two, and even as many as six or more consecutive years; and the intervention of the priest in cofradía affairs. An analysis of the Libros de Cofradía will show how the mayordomos managed or mismanaged the Bienes de Cofradía, whilst the Libros de Cordillera of the 18th century Bishops of Oaxaca will show how they attempted to influence and change every sphere of Zapotec life. The Libros de Cofradía are the official record of the mayordomos' stewardship of the cofradías, but the Libros de Cordillera of the 18th century and 19th Bishops of Oaxaca give some idea of the celebration of fiesta, and the strictures upon it. They and the Libros de Cofradía suggest that whilst the colonial mayordomos might have incurred high expenses in financing the unofficial activities integral to fiesta celebrations, which are pre-Hispanic survivals, the existence of a lavish cult in a secularised doctrina, such as Etla, resulted in their being drawn into heavy debts in their attempts to sustain this by their management of the Bienes de Cofradía. The books also demonstrate that the ecclesiastical and Liberal post-Independence strictures upon cofradía echoed those of the colonial Church. But it appears that the Liberal policies at the time of La Reforma, during the presidency of the Sierra Zapotec Benito Juárez, were responsible for the transformation of the role of the mayordomo from that of steward of a cofradía's wealth, to the arduous one of financial responsibility for the equally religious mayordomía celebrations. In the third and concluding part of the thesis, I shall speculate upon the evolving nature of fiesta celebrations in the Valleys of Oaxaca from the preCortesian era and argue that the mayordomos continued to celebrate them as a complex of syncretic religious activities and, under threat from the Bishops for so doing, determinedly included the prehispanic survivals they so abhorred in order to reinforce and uphold pueblo and Zapotec identity.
Starr, Jean Elizabeth Florence (1993) Ideal models and the reality: from Cofradia to Mayordomia in the Valles Centrales of Oaxaca, Mexico. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.