Amuzgo - Religion and Cultural Expression

Religious Beliefs. The dominant religion is Catholicism, although Protestant groups are also active. Magical beliefs associated with supernatural elements constitute part of Amuzgo wisdom regarding daily activities; for example, the timing of economic and symbolic activities may depend on the phases of the moon. It is thought that children will die during an eclipse of the moon, adults during an eclipse of the sun. There is a strong belief in nahualism, the power of certain persons to cause others harm by utilizing their animal spirit, or nahual.

Religious Practictioners. Besides Catholic clergy and cargo holders, there are a number of other specialized religious practitoners who participate in rituals at church and in homes. Singers and prayer makers are needed for various rituals. There are also specialists in calendrical divination, who cure and prognosticate during public rituals. In large and small communities, mayordomos take the chief responsibility for staging religious fiestas. Catholic churches are generally served by a parish priest who travels constantly to perform religious rites. Among Protestant groups, pastors reside within the communities; they practice locally but there is also intercommunity exchange.

Ceremonies. Fiestas are held according to the Catholic ritual calendar: Carnival, Holy Week, Todos Santos (the Days of the Dead during and after the Catholic All Saints' Day), and festivals for the town's patron saints. Ceremonies associated with civic and school events are organized annually. With variations from pueblo to pueblo, almost every community has a mayordomía for some patron saint. An essential element of festivals and mayordomías are the dance performances, among which "Las Mascaritas," "Chilolos," "Macho Mula," "Tortuga," "Tigre," "Conquista," "Los Doce Pares de Francia," "Diablos," "Chareo," "Las Mojigatas," "Cebolleras," "Toritos," "Pan De Panela," "Tlaminques," "Malinches," "Moros y Cristianos," "Apaches y Gachupines," and "Pichiques" are most notable. These dances may be accompanied, for example, by a flute and a drum or by band music. "Chilena" music from the Costa Chica has also penetrated the Amuzgo region. There are propitiatory rituals for rain, performed on plots of land being cultivated; stone figurines are used and animal blood is offered.

Art and Technology. Basically, the Amuzgo make their own tools and utensils for the home. Their culture is reflected in the classificatory nature of the language used to describe the numerous instruments and utensils they make. Clay, as well as plants and wood have multiple functions; they are used to make houses, corrals, and tools. As regards handicrafts, there is much spinning and weaving, and huipiles (the dresses of indigenous women) are made on strap looms; formerly, this clothing was of cotton.

Medicine. Sickness and misfortune are generally believed to have been caused by some enemy using nahuales. In some aspects, nahualism is also linked to curing practices. Some of the misfortune or illnesses attributed to supernatural forces are espanto (sudden fright), mal de ojo (the evil eye), coraje (anger), attack by nahuales, and attack by a shade ( sombra ). Sorcerers have various diagnostic and therapeutic techniques such as ver la sangre (consulting the blood) and pulsear (taking the pulse) as well as techniques for curing, like limpiar (cleansing/ridding the patient of evil influences), enfriar (cooling off), and curar de espanto (curing fright). A large number of plants are used in curing.

Death and Afterlife. Beliefs regarding life after death are a combination of Catholic and traditional elements. Deceased who had been married are buried with their heads facing west, single people and children with their heads facing east. A light casket, which will allow for easy decomposition of the body into the earth, is preferred. A distinction is drawn between the soul and the shade: the soul leaves the body immediately after death; the shade leaves it after nine days. If, during the nine days—while the grave cross is prepared—the deceased is not satisfied with the offerings that have been made, his or her shade may refuse to leave and will not rest in peace. The spirits of the dead return for Todos Santos at the end of October.

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