Chatino - History and Cultural Relations

What little is known of Chatino origins is rooted in linguistic and archaeological studies. Lexostatistical evidence suggests that Chatino diverged from the Zapotecan Family some time between 4000 B . C . and A . D . 200. Archeological evidence suggests that the Chatino broke politically and culturally from the Zapotecs of Monte Alban around the time of Christ. The Chatino enter the historical record in the Mixtec codices. During the reign of Eight-Deer Tiger Claw, (AD. 1011-1063), the Chatino rulers of Juquila appear to have formed an alliance with Eight-Deer, the Mixtec king who had extended his dominion from Tilantongo in the Mixteca Alta to the coastal kingdom of Tututepec. When the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado conquered Tututepec in 1522, the Chatino were still its tributary subjects. As they did everywhere, the conquistadors placed themselves at the apex of pre-Hispanic states by exploiting well-developed native institutions such as tribute, slavery, and indirect rule. Although the Conquest brought new masters, a new god, and heavier tribute, these were minor consequences compared with the decimation of the population by European diseases. The precontact population of Tututepec's empire may have been 250,000. By 1544, after two epidemics, its population had fallen to 7,000 tributaries, about 35,000 people, and continued to plummet for the next 100 years. The transformation of the economy went far beyond taking control of the aboriginal tribute system; it also involved the introduction of European mercantile capitalism, as a result of which land and labor became cash commodities. Moreover, trade policies effectively geared the economy of New Spain to the requirements of the mother country. In this planned economy, the Spanish and the Indians basically specialized in different types of production. The Spanish plantations along the Oaxacan coast initially produced native crops (cacao, maize, and cotton), but as the native population declined, causing chronic labor shortages, the Spanish turned to large-scale cattle ranching, which required much less labor. Although the Chatino continued to plant their subsistence crops in order to meet their tribute obligations, they took their place in this planned economy as producers of cochineal, an insect dyestuff that was second only to silver in value among New Spain's exports. Cochineal was obtained from the Chatino through repartimentos de comercio —a system of forced sales repaid with cochineal. Because alcaldes mayores, who administered Indian districts, were required to post substantial bonds, they typically formed a partnerships with rich Mexico City merchants, who not only posted the bond, but provided trade goods or cash to be distributed among the indigenous population. These commodities were forcibly sold on credit to Indians in the district at inflated prices. Because the Chatino needed money to pay their tribute, they had little choice but to accept such "sales" and cash advances. Although the Crown repeatedly tried to outlaw this practice, such prohibitions were routinely ignored, and repartimentos de comercio continued to finance the cochineal trade throughout the colonial period. After the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), the Spanish, who had dominated and financed the marketing of cochineal withdrew their capital, leaving the new republic in an economic shambles. The cochineal market was in the doldrums. Although some production continued, the introduction of cheap aniline dyes in the late 1850s drove down prices to new lows and soon destroyed the cochineal market. To solve Mexico's financial problems, church and native lands came under scrutiny. Between 1856 and 1859 the Liberal government passed legislation designed to confiscate the church's estates, the largest landholdings in Mexico. Because the laws were framed to include all corporate bodies, countless native villages lost their lands. In the district of Juquila, the initial expropriations were not immense. Nevertheless, Tataltepec, Tepenixtlahuaca, and Zenzontepec lost their best lands. These early abuses of the Liberal reform laws were minor compared to the damage done by their cynical application during the Porfiriato (i.e., the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, 1884-1911). After 1880 what had been a trickle of coffee growers became a torrent as the floodgates of the landgrab were opened. Whereas small coffee plantations of 25 hectares had been established in the 1870s, the new wave of land speculators carved plantations of up to 2,200 hectares out of the communal lands of Chatino communities. The Chatino reacted to these expropriations of their lands by launching an insurrection in 1896, "the War of the Pants," in which they tried to wipe out the literate mestizos (the new landowners and merchants), whom they identified as "wearing pants" rather than native dress. Although the War of the Pants was quickly and brutally suppressed by Federal troops, it was symptomatic of the tensions that eventually made the Revolution of 1910 inevitable. Although the Revolution is credited with bringing about sweeping reforms in land tenure and social structure, few of the tensions were resolved in the Chatino region. The promised land reform never took place. Between the mid-1930s and 1950, Chatino peasants were induced by offers of credit and higher prices to plant coffee on their communal lands. Planting coffee, however, led to de facto privatization of communal lands, engendering conflicts and blood feuds in many Chatino communities. During the 1980s, a strange new cash crop made its way into the Chatino region—marijuana—the advent of which promises to renew the bloody violence of the past.

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