Nahuat of the Sierra de Puebla - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Sierra Nahuat identify themselves as Christians, but their mythology expresses a mixture of Spanish Catholicism and pre-Hispanic beliefs (Taggart 1983). Myths depict a geocentric conception of the universe, according to which the masculine sun revolves around the feminine earth. Creation of the universe resulted from the interaction of masculine and feminine forces in a process on the same order as, or analogous to, human reproduction and agricultural production. Anthropomorphic supernaturalism mixes with Christian symbolism; the sun is Christ, and the moon is the Virgin Mary. Humans have animal companions, and some humans, considered to be lightning-bolt diviners, have animal companions that are serpents. Diviners support the moral order by punishing thieves, adulterers, and Spanish-speaking Mexicans bent on taking Sierra Nahuat land. Some Sierra Nahuat have abandoned Catholicism and joined Protestant sects. Missionaries representing many different Protestant denominations—particularly Methodists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals—have operated small churches in the northern Sierra de Puebla for many years. Mass conversions took place in the 1970s in communities like Huitzilan, where peasant insurgency also has been rife.


Religious Practitioners and Ceremonies. The efficacy of ritual is extremely important for the Sierra Nahuat who remain within the Catholic church. Their ceremonies mark major life stages and honor important saints. Individual sponsors ( mayordomos ) of saints support communitywide celebrations arranged according to a ceremonial calendar that is a fusion of pre-Hispanic and Catholic tradition. Ritual offices ( cargos ) are generally separate from civil ones, but elders, who have had many years of civil-religious ceremonial service, are the governing group in some smaller Sierra Nahuat communities.


Arts. The northern Sierra de Puebla is particularly well known for beautiful textiles. Women in villages near Teziutlán weave and embroider very colorful shawls with animal and flower designs that may derive from pre-Hispanic themes.


Medicine. Women are midwives, and men and women cure disease with herbal remedies and rituals designed to remove impurities sometimes introduced into the bodies of victims by means of witchcraft.

Death and Afterlife. Destiny after death depends on the sacraments and on moral conduct in life. Infants who die before being baptized cannot see God, and sinners become the slaves of the Devil, who appears as an animal (often a goat) and lives in the underworld (Mictān). The baptized who have committed few sins go to paradise (Tālocan), where milpas grow tall, and animals graze on rich pastures.


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