Remembering Victoria

Remembering Victoria

JAMES M. TAGGART
Copyright Date: 2007
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/716865
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    Remembering Victoria
    Book Description:

    On October 15, 1983, a young mother of six was murdered while walking across her village of Huitzilan de Serdán, Mexico, with her infant son and one of her daughters. This woman, Victoria Bonilla, was among more than one hundred villagers who perished in violence that broke out soon after the Mexican army chopped down a cornfield that had been planted on an unused cattle pasture by forty Nahuat villagers.

    In this anthropological account, based on years of fieldwork in Huitzilan, James M. Taggart turns to Victoria's husband, Nacho Angel Hernández, to try to understand how a community based on respect and cooperation descended into horrific violence and fratricide. When the army chopped down the cornfield at Talcuaco, the war that broke out resulted in the complete breakdown of the social and moral order of the community.

    At its heart, this is a tragic love story, chronicling Nacho's feelings for Victoria spanning their courtship, marriage, family life, and her death. Nacho delivered histestimonioto the author in Nahuat, making it one of the few autobiographical love stories told in an Amerindian language, and a very rare account of love among the indigenous people of Mesoamerica. There is almost nothing in the literature on how a man develops and changes his feelings for his wife over his lifetime. This study contributes to the anthropology of emotion by focusing on how the Nahuat attempt to express love through language and ritual.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79472-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
    J. M. T.
  4. CHAPTER 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On October 15, 1983, Victoria picked up her infant son and walked with her daughter across Huitzilan to pay her mother a visit. The next day, villagers found her body lying in a pool of blood, with her son attempting to nurse from his dead mother’s breast. Victoria perished in the violence that broke out in 1977 when forty Nahuat men invaded and planted a cornfield on a cattle pasture known as Talcuaco. The word Talcuaco means in Nahuat “land above the community” and refers to a locality on the steep slopes above Huitzilan. It was a visible reminder that,...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Tragedy
    (pp. 11-35)

    Most of the events in Nacho’s story of the anger took place in Huitzilan, whose 2,273 Nahuat and 275 mestizos¹ arranged their houses in a narrow green valley in the interior of the northern sierra of Puebla. In 1968, the Nahuat and the mestizos had arranged their houses according to the contour of the land and without evidence of an urban plan, which one can find in other communities in the northern sierra of Puebla. Bernardo García Martínez found evidence in the colonial archives that the Nahuat of Huitzilan resisted the efforts of Church and civil authorities to resettle or...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Talcuaco
    (pp. 36-47)

    Nacho’s account of Victoria’s death mentions and alludes to a tangled history of human relationships and animosities reaching far back into Huitzilan’s past. To untangle this history, I shall start with Victoria herself, who was the lineal descendant of a non-Indian, or mestiza, woman, Juana Gutierrez, who settled in Huitzilan during the second half of the nineteenth century. Juana Gutierrez probably referred to herself as one of the people of reason, or “gente de razón,” the phrase that the mestizos of the community used for themselves when I arrived there in 1968.

    Juana Gutierrez had come to Huitzilan from the...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Fratricide
    (pp. 48-64)

    The rage, or cualayot, meant different things to people in Huitzilan depending on their position in the social structure and their particular histories with the Nahuat who had become members of the UCI. For Nacho and other Nahuat in his community, the rage, which erupted when the army chopped down the Talcuaco cornfield, turned into fratricide more than interethnic warfare. Some, like Nacho, found themselves in the crosshairs of the UCI, at least one of whom carried a powerful R-15 assault rifle, the civilian version of the M-16, developed for the war in Vietnam and manufactured by Colt arms company....

  8. CHAPTER 5 “Rabbit and Coyote”
    (pp. 65-72)

    Nacho selected the very popular folktale “Rabbit and Coyote”¹ as the story in his repertoire that best represents the behavior of the Nahuat in the UCI who killed Victoria and threatened to kill him. For Nacho, this story describes a world in which there are no love and respect. Like the Balinese cockfight described by Geertz,² it reveals what the Nahuat are like when they lose their culture. However, the story and Nacho’s exegesis also reveal how he was able to reconcile the near-complete breakdown in the social order and in respect with the code of conduct he had learned...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Human Goodness
    (pp. 73-82)

    The Nahuat word for human goodness is cualtacayot, which is a combination of “cual-li,” or “something good,” and “tacayot,” or “humanity.”¹ After Nacho had finished telling me his story, he decided to describe how the Nahuat could reach back into their culture and spread human goodness through their rituals to restore the respect, or icnoyot, that was lost during the violence that cost Victoria her life. He chose for his example the rituals of godparenthood that are part of baptism and marriage. Among the Nahuat of his community, it was common practice for the godparents of marriage to become the...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Nahueh
    (pp. 83-94)

    Nacho was twenty-four, single, and living with his widowed mother, his two older brothers, their wives, and their children in Calyecapan when I arrived in Huitzilan in 1968. The members of his large extended family lived in two wooden houses. In the larger of the two lived Nacho, his mother, his oldest brother, Miguel, Miguel’s wife, María Agustina Ayance, and their children. In the smaller lived Nicolás, his wife, María Gabriela Sánchez, and their children. Nacho would beckon me to enter his house, a cavernous and dark space with a cleanly swept earthen floor, an altar with images of saints,...

  11. CHAPTER 8 Love as Desire
    (pp. 95-103)

    In 1970, when Nacho was courting Victoria, he told his first Orpheus myth, in which a man loved his wife more than she loved him. The wife was a woman who wasted time with men (cihuat ahuilnemi), a euphemism for a woman who has sex with a lot of different men. In this story, Nacho split his images of women into the bad wife and the good sister (icniuh) who tried to persuade her brother to leave his wayward wife. The brother, however, loved his bad wife with such a strong desire that he looked for her in the land...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Wife as Sister
    (pp. 104-112)

    In 1978, Nacho told his second Orpheus myth in front of Victoria and his children, Epifania and Alfonso. This time he turned the wife into a sister. As noted in Chapter 8, the sister in the earlier Orpheus tale did a good turn for her brother by persuading him to leave his unfaithful wife and find another woman. Nacho’s transformation of the wife into a sister appears to be one way he combined love-as-desire with respect, and it appears to express how his courtship had led to a solid marriage.¹ In essence, Victoria had become a nahueh, the term Nacho...

  13. CHAPTER 10 Conclusions
    (pp. 113-118)

    Ruth Behar remarked that death “leaves us on the brink between silence and speech.”¹ Nacho chose speech, and his choice of words and the tone he conveyed when pronouncing those words made me think I could feel what he felt. He spoke from his memory, many years after the events he described had taken place. He seemed to relive when he courted Victoria in the church, when Victoria saved him from Wrath at the base of the bell tower, when Wrath and Dog’s son came to kill him a second time in the church, when he heard the news of...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 119-128)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 129-136)
  16. Index
    (pp. 137-144)