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Of Wonders and Wise Men

Terry Rugeley
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    Of Wonders and Wise Men
    Book Description:

    In the tumultuous decades following Mexico's independence from Spain, religion provided a unifying force among the Mexican people, who otherwise varied greatly in ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Accordingly, religion and the popular cultures surrounding it form the lens through which Terry Rugeley focuses this cultural history of southeast Mexico from independence (1821) to the rise of the dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1876.

    Drawing on a wealth of previously unused archival material, Rugeley vividly reconstructs the folklore, beliefs, attitudes, and cultural practices of the Maya and Hispanic peoples of the Yucatán. In engagingly written chapters, he explores folklore and folk wisdom, urban piety, iconography, and anticlericalism. Interspersed among the chapters are detailed portraits of individual people, places, and institutions, that, with the archival evidence, offer a full and fascinating history of the outlooks, entertainments, and daily lives of the inhabitants of southeast Mexico in the nineteenth century. Rugeley also links this rich local history with larger events to show how macro changes in Mexico affected ordinary people.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79817-5
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note on Orthography
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction Strange Lights, Mysterious Crosses, and the Word of God Denied
    (pp. xiii-xxx)

    The year 1815 began much like any other in the Mexican port of Campeche. Fishermen hauled in their catches of bass and baby sharks, Maya peasants came from the countryside to sell corn and vegetables, soldiers trained in the plaza, the city’s cannon factory churned out its wares, servants brewed cups of chocolate for their masters. Little did the citizens of this tranquil town suspect that a miracle was about to visit them.

    It came, as scripture had prophesied, like a thief in the night. In January a servant was splitting wood in the Campeche home of a certain Arturo...

  6. Chapter 1 Geography, Misery, Agency, Remedy The Unwritten Almanac of Folk Knowledge
    (pp. 1-38)

    The maya peasants of the nineteenth century had a way of knowing the world that they handed down from parent to child in a kind of oral compendium, a hodgepodge of wisdoms, techniques, and tidbits that everyone should learn and repeat. Comparison to an encyclopedia would suggest greater order and structuring than really existed, and so perhaps a better metaphor would be the almanacs once popular among farmers, a book loosely built around the calendar but with all sorts of additional insertions, a book with no clear-cut beginning or end, no homogeneity of style, something best read at random. It...

  7. Chapter 2 Rural Curas and the Erosion of Mexican Conservatism The Life of Raymundo Pérez
    (pp. 39-64)

    Thirty miles southeast of Mérida, in the sleepy hamlet of Hoctún, stands a church that was once the domain of a certain R. Pérez: Padre Doctor Don Raymundo Pérez y González. In a province that commemorates such favorite sons as Andrés Quintana Roo and Felipe Carrillo Puerto, the name of Raymundo Pérez is now utterly forgotten. Perhaps he wanted it that way. While alive, Pérez always scorned public scrutiny and popular opinion. In his only portrait the doctor eludes us with a sly and inscrutable smile, as though taunting the inquiries of posterity.¹ But the portrait’s mere existence is revealing....

  8. Chapter 3 The Bourgeois Spiritual Path A History of Urban Piety
    (pp. 65-100)

    Affluent and erudite priests like Raymundo Pérez had no monopoly on piety. Urbanites, residents of the grand cities of Mérida and Campeche, and even the townsfolk of the smaller, interior communities such as Dzitás and Pustunich, had their own ways of staying in touch with the sacred, and it is to their story that we now turn.

    Yucatán’s tales of urban piety drew from a tradition of a public, ceremonial culture built on the medium of religion. The search for social self-definition through links with the church has a long history in Europe and elsewhere. From theMiddle Ages onward the...

  9. [Illustrations]
    (pp. 101-110)
  10. Chapter 4 Spiritual Power, Worldly Possession A History of Imágenes
    (pp. 111-142)

    If mysterious crosses were common in Campeche, then what happened in the countryside, where literacy and the influence of elite institutions were far weaker? Perhaps the most famous episode in Yucatán’s religious history was the cult of the Speaking Cross. After the momentum of the Caste War began to turn against them in the spring of 1848, rebel Maya retreated to the forests of Quintana Roo; there they adopted a type of military theocracy in which the generals transmitted their commands through the voice of a speaking cross. Originally it spoke to its people by means of a ventriloquist. In...

  11. Chapter 5 Official Cult and Peasant Protocol Rural Cofradías and the History of San Antonio Xocneceh
    (pp. 143-168)

    The emergence of independent Latin American nations involved social transformations that are still poorly understood in terms of rural and local culture. Initial attempts to come to grips with that culture tended to rely on categories: the closed Indian village, the hacienda, and so forth. While studies oriented toward these institutions have been rewarding, they often result in an excessively structural vision of impermeable historical entities that existed with little relation to other impermeables save for a fundamental distrust and opposition. Integral to these views has been the tendency to assign certain essential identities—peasant, nonpeasant, Christian, syncretic—after which...

  12. Chapter 6 A Culture of Conflict Anticlericalism, Parish Problems, and Alternative Beliefs
    (pp. 169-202)

    Some men hated priests. Even though they may have considered themselves Christians and believers, they nonetheless disdained the clerics who were the backbone of the church. This fact colored life in the rural towns, and it also had a great deal to do with the revolutions of the 1840s. Yucatán’s Caste War came into existence in part because local caudillos and Maya peasants agreed that they disliked priests, or at least the taxes priests charged. In spite of an established church with deep folkloric roots, then, the half century after independence included a culture of religious conflict as well as...

  13. Chapter 7 “Burning the Torch of Revolution” Religion, Nationalism, and the Loss of the Petén
    (pp. 203-232)

    In his prison cell in Mérida, Padre Amado Belizario Barreiro would remember the Petén. Now, in 1860, he was broken and impoverished, relieved of his religious duties. His thoughts wandered beyond the stone walls to a vast expanse of tropical forest—bananas, mangos, cahoon palms, towering mahoganies—and more particularly to the people of the picturesque villages nestled throughout that exotic land. They had destroyed him.

    But Barreiro had not suffered alone. Along with his health and reputation had perished a huge portion of the Yucatecan church. Owing to the scandals and controversies in which he had played a central...

  14. Conclusion The Motives for Miracle
    (pp. 233-240)

    The morning of January 3, 1996, began much like any other in the city of Izamal. Truckers roared in and out of town, bringing goods from Mérida. A few tourists made their way to this ancient town with its picturesque convent and courtyard. It had been an unseasonably cool winter, and old men warmed themselves with coffee in the restaurants. Little did the citizens of this tranquil scene suspect that a miracle was about to visit them.

    That morning a local woman named Lourdes Alcocer was washing clothes in the patio of her home when a silhouette appeared on the...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 241-302)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 303-310)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-328)
  18. Index
    (pp. 329-335)