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Ancient Zapotec Religion

Ancient Zapotec Religion: An Ethnohistorical and Archaeological Perspective

Michael Lind
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 416
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Zapotec Religion
    Book Description:

    Ancient Zapotec Religionis the first comprehensive study of Zapotec religion as it existed in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca on the eve of the Spanish Conquest. Author Michael Lind brings a new perspective, focusing not on underlying theological principles but on the material and spatial expressions of religious practice.Using sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish colonial documents and archaeological findings related to the time period leading up to the Spanish Conquest, he presents new information on deities, ancestor worship and sacred bundles, the Zapotec cosmos, the priesthood, religious ceremonies and rituals, the nature of temples, the distinctive features of the sacred and solar calendars, and the religious significance of the murals of Mitla-the most sacred and holy center. He also shows how Zapotec religion served to integrate Zapotec city-state structure throughout the valley of Oaxaca, neighboring mountain regions, and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.Ancient Zapotec Religionis the first in-depth and interdisciplinary book on the Zapotecs and their religious practices and will be of great interest to archaeologists, epigraphers, historians, and specialists in Native American, Latin American, and religious studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-374-7
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    This study is about Zapotec religion as it existed around the time of the Spanish Conquest. Our knowledge of ancient Zapotec religion, like ancient Mesoamerican religions in general, comes principally from Spanish colonial documents (Nicholson 1971:396–97). From an analysis of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century documents, the nature of ancient Zapotec religion will be described and interpreted. This description and interpretation includes an identification of Zapotec deities, the role of ancestor worship, the nature of the Zapotec cosmos, the composition of the Zapotec priesthood, the rituals and ceremonies performed, and the use of the Zapotec sacred and solar calendars in religious...

  7. 2 Zapotec Deities in Sixteenth-Century Documents
    (pp. 13-36)

    Our knowledge of Zapotec deities is derived principally from sixteenth- and seventeenth-century colonial documents prepared by Spanish priests and administrators. The identification of Zapotec deities is complex. Their names are written with highly variable spellings, making it difficult at times to know if one or two separate deities are being cited in different documents. Compounding this difficulty are dialectical differences in Zapotec from different areas. For example, the Zapotec word for “deity” ispitàoin the Valley of Oaxaca,betaoin the Sierra Juárez,natoin the Peñoles region, andliraain Sola de Vega. There are no illustrations of...

  8. 3 Zapotec Deities in Seventeenth-Century Documents
    (pp. 37-74)

    Seventeenth-century documents relating to Zapotec deities were mostly written by Spanish priests. The most important of these was Gonzalo de Balsalobre’s publication titledRelación auténtica de las idolatrías, supersticiones, vanas observaciones de los indios del obispado de Oaxaca(Authentic Report of the Idolatries, Superstitions, Vain Observances of the Indians of the Diocese of Oaxaca), based on his investigations of Zapotec idolatry in a mountain valley south of the Valley of Oaxaca. In addition, two late seventeenth-century documents pertaining to Zapotec deities and the Zapotec cosmos from the mountains north of the Valley of Oaxaca have been analyzed by José Alcina...

  9. 4 Zapotec Temple Priests
    (pp. 75-106)

    The information on a hierarchical Zapotec priesthood, as it might have existed in Prehispanic times, is very limited and comes principally from sixteenth-century sources—Córdova’sVocabularioand theRelaciones Geográficas—and Francisco Burgoa’s seventeenth-centuryDescripción Geográfica.¹ By and large, all the Prehispanic temples and the priestly hierarchy that staffed them, together with most of the statues of Prehispanic deities and ancestors, were destroyed in the first part of the sixteenth century and replaced with Catholic churches, statues of saints, and Spanish priests. Likewise, the Spaniards abolished certain Prehispanic ceremonial practices, such as human and animal sacrifices and autosacrificial bloodletting.


  10. 5 Zapotec Temples: Mitla
    (pp. 107-166)

    Fray Juan de Córdova defines the termyoho peheas “temple of the principal priest. Temple of the idols where the Pope or principal priest of the idols was … where many enter … because many go [there].”¹ Thomas C. Smith Stark (2002:143) translatesyohoas “house” and notes that Córdova states thatpehemeans “many enter.” This definition is consistent with theRelación de Miaguatlanand theRelación de Oçelotepeque, which refer to temples as “public houses” (Espíndola 1580:127; 138), indicating a place where the public goes or “many enter.”² However, this does not mean the sacred sanctuary where...

  11. 6 Zapotec Temples: Yagul
    (pp. 167-214)

    Yagul had an estimated population of over 6,300 persons (Kowalewski et al. 1989:321) and was the capital of a city-state (queche) located about 10 kilometers west of Mitla during the Late Postclassic. The civic-ceremonial center of the city was built atop a steep bluff that rises abruptly from the valley floor (figure 6.1). The residential sector of the community, composed mostly of commoner houses, is located on the lower slopes near the base of the bluff. This appears to follow the Postclassic Zapotec pattern of building temples and palaces in a lofty area somewhat separated and isolated from the community....

  12. 7 Colaní: Zapotec Community Priests and Their Rituals
    (pp. 215-234)

    During the sixteenth century, missionaries of the Dominican order established friaries and convents and built churches in order to convert Zapotecs in the Valley of Oaxaca and the surrounding areas from their pagan beliefs to Catholicism. The Dominicans eliminated the most obvious and visible aspects of Zapotec religion: temples, statues of deities and ancestors, temple ceremonies, and the Zapotec temple priests who conducted them. For this reason, the sixteenth-century documents refer to temple priests, but with the exception of Fray Juan de Córdova, the Zapotec community priests, who were not directly associated with the temples and lived with their families...

  13. 8 Zapotec Ritual Books and Sacred Calendars
    (pp. 235-290)

    In the late 1600s and early 1700s, Fray Ángel Maldonado, Bishop of Oaxaca—over objections from the Dominicans—wanted to create new parishes in the small mountainous valleys in the Sierra Juárez, north of the Valley of Oaxaca. Under a guarantee of immunity from prosecution for idolatries, he demanded that thecabildos, or indigenous town councils, of over one hundred communities deliver their communal confessions of pagan ritual activities to his representatives during a period beginning in September 1704 and ending in January 1705. “Among other writings, were 103 full or partial copies of the 260-day Zapotec ritual calendar” (Justeson...

  14. 9 The Mitla Murals
    (pp. 291-338)

    The remnants of Late Postclassic murals occur in palaces and in a cruciform tomb at Mitla. William Henry Holmes (1895:262) also reports traces of murals on doorjambs and pillars in the Hall of the Columns, and Alfonso Caso and Daniel Fernando Rubín de la Borbolla (2003:379) mention traces of murals on an interior wall of the south hall in the south plaza of the Church Group at Mitla. This indicates that murals probably decorated the interior walls, entryways, and lintels of most of the temples and palaces. Of these potential murals, only a few remains survive. These remnants will be...

  15. 10 Religion in Ancient Zapotec Society
    (pp. 339-352)

    Religion was an integral part of ancient Zapotec society. The pantheon of major Zapotec deities and the Zapotec cosmos, a hierarchical temple priesthood and community priests, rituals and ceremonies both within and outside temple contexts, nobles invoking deceased deified coqui as intermediaries with the deities, sacred bundles, and sacred and solar calendars were the principal components of Zapotec religion. The Zapotec cosmos structured the Zapotec view of the world that included the surface of the earth or the House of the Earth (yoo yeche layoorlaoyoo), divided into the four world quarters—east, north, west, south—and the center....

  16. References
    (pp. 353-368)
  17. Index
    (pp. 369-386)