Tarascans - Religion and Expressive Culture



The Tarascans have developed their own distinctive form of Native Mesoamerican Catholicism, often described as a "folk" or "popular" version of Catholic doctrines and religious ritual. These practices include community-based devotion to saints and virgins, organized by the system of religious cargos and festivals, and a complex calendar of pilgrimages to local, regional, and national shrines. There is also a rich oral tradition that includes supplications and songs for the perpetuation of harvests, as well as stories centered on the figure of the Pingua or devil-patron. Local orators, tiósïrhi wantárhicha ("those who speak of God"; sing. tiósïrhi wantárhi ), officiate at burials, intercede during marriage negotiations (especially those involving elopement), and at wedding celebrations. They possibly represent continuity with the role of the petamuti, a pre-Hispanic religious orator responsible for preserving the collective memory of Tarascan cosmology. Specialization in magical ritual and curing with herbs and oral incantations is widespread and associated with certain towns such as Cherán in the Sierra Phurhépecha. The dual concept of soul and body is the source of many practices, for example, the matsïp'ini ("twisting" of body and soul) of a firstborn son is intended to make him resistant to the danger of espanto (the separation of body and soul) and to the harmful effects of the mal de ojo ("evil eye," the malicious interest of others who might endanger body-soul harmony). Tarascans typically believe in an afterlife and in a complex Catholic conception of heaven, including purgatory and limbo, as well as notions of bondage in life to the devil. They have specialists to aid the soul's struggle to leave the body during the agony of death and to accept its eternal destiny.

Tarascan singers and composers, pirericha, are recognized through out the Tarascan homeland. Many are regionally and nationally famous, their songs performed by numerous local groups and their recordings purchased and enjoyed throughout the Tarascan homeland and beyond. In the ceramic arts, the Tarascans have received international recognition in many categories, whether for the fantastic creations of Ocumicho, the giant green pineapples of Patamban, or the white ware of Tzintzuntzan.

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