Chatino - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Chatino religion is a blend of Catholicism and a system of pre-Hispanic beliefs, rituals, and cosmology. The Chatino cosmos is conceived of as an ecological system in which human beings, animals, spirits, ancestors, deities, and saints interact with one another to maintain the universe in equilibrium. The world, floating in the midst of a sea, is envisioned as being connected by "doors" to a series of layered heavens and underworlds. Through these doors, various spirits and deities pass between the layers of the cosmos. Such doors are entrances to "houses." As "house" and body are equated, the Chatino pantheon is mapped onto nature. Gods and spirits have houses on mountaintops, in caves, and in rivers. Thus, the mountaintop that is said to be the "house" of the rain god is also said to be the rain god.

Religious Practioners. Among the Chatino, native priests and curers are called ne' ho'o —literally, "person saints" (and therefore, holy people). They are consulted not only after a birth to determine a child's tona ("animal-spirit companion"), but also regarding marriages and to determine the cause of illnesses; they may be called in for any important undertaking.

Ceremonies. The Chatino perform both calendrical and noncalendrical ceremonies and rituals. The latter include rites of passage at birth, marriage, and death. The former, Catholic fiestas, are demarcated by periods of sexual abstinence, remnants of a pre-Columbian ritual calendar of 260 days that interlocked with a calendar of 18 months of 20 days, plus 5 "evil" days (Greenberg 1981, 114). Although the fiestas celebrated vary from community to community, most celebrate New Year, Santa Cruz, the Virgin de Rosario, and Todo Santos (All Saints' Day).

Arts. Music and dance are important elements of Chatino culture and are part of most ritual celebrations. Traditional music is played with flutes, drums, and rattles. Church and popular music is sung in Spanish and is accompanied by guitars, violins, and brass and woodwind instruments. The popular music of the region—the "Chilena"—is a form supposed to have originated with Chilean sailors visiting the coast of Oaxaca during the nineteenth century.

Medicine. The curandero or ne' ho'o, as part of his or her ritual, eats ho'o kwiya' (sacred mushrooms) that enable a curer to assume animal form and send his or her nagual or ho'o kwichi (animal companion spirit) to determine who may be bewitching a patient or what offense the latter may have given to one of the gods or saints. Aside from curanderos, the Chatino also consult other medical practioners, such as herbalists and midwives. Native practioners continue to have wide followings despite increasing access to medical services provided by the National Indian Institute's doctors and nurses.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are fairly elaborate affairs that reflect a person's age and marital status. The deceased is bathed. A wake is held, and the person is buried the next day. The burial is followed by a novena—nine days of prayers. A second novena is held a year later, when a permanent cross is erected. The dead are thought to take a path with nine stops or (steps) that leads to the underworld. They are said to live in a village that is much like their own and to return each year to this world to visit their homes and families during Todo Santos.

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: