The Other in Chamula Tzotzil Cosmology and History: Reflections of a Kansan in Chiapas

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Essay Excerpt

This paper records a set of reflections about myself and other foreigners who, over the centuries, have come as uninvited strangers to the Tzotzil Mayan world. Early as Nahuatl-speaking merchants and warriors and Spanish soldiers, today as Mexican government officials, European tourists, North American Protestant missionaries, African-American and Guatemalan Indian co-workers on the coffee plantations, and gringo anthropologists - the non-Tzotzil-speaking Other has been a familiar sight to Chamula Tzotzils for centuries. What do they make of us? How do we fit into their social and supernatural landscape? How are we deconstructed, reconstructed, and classified? Are these processes of self-definition in relation to multiple Others ever closed, in the sense of establishing long-lasting classes of who is who? Or are these classes of the Other in relation to the Self ever recast, permeable and subject to reevaluation and negotiation?[2]

These questions are important to me for reasons that are closely related. They matter first of all because I am interested in reflecting on who I am in relation to the Chamula Tzotzil. They have contributed much to my own sense of personal and professional identity since I first went to Chiapas as a graduate student in the summer of 1965. I have not yet seriously examined the asymmetrical conditions of power, resources, and mobility that made my quest for knowledge of the Chamulas possible. These circumstances, particularly the class of being I was perceived to be, undoubtedly conditioned what they revealed of themselves and how they did so. This paper presents the opportunity to reflect on how our appraisal of each other functioned and evolved, and the ways in which it did not and, on several occasions, made all parties unhappy (444).

Gossen, G. H. "The Other in Chamula Tzotzil Cosmology and History: Reflections of a Kansan in Chiapas." Cultural Anthropology 8.4(1993): 443–475.

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