Zoque - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. The Catholic religion was systematically imposed, beginning in 1564, with the foundation of the convent of Tecpatán, Chiapas. Nevertheless, in the twentieth century, there is an evident religious split between the Catholics linked to the official church and people maintaining traditional ritual forms. In the 1930s groups of Seventh Day Adventists successfully penetrated the communities and now are practically the only Protestant denomination in Zoque municipios.

The Spanish Conquest did not result in the complete acceptance of Catholic beliefs. Traditional gods continued to be worshiped at sacred places. In caves and mountains, gods of nature—the sun, the moon, lightning, the serpent, the jaguar, Jantepusi (Mother of the Earth)—were venerated, as were gods who were apparently a synthesis of pre-Hispanic agricultural cults represented in various images sculpted in stone, clay, and wood. Such deities could appear in various forms, but were almost always associated with the moon and water. Mythical figures among present-day Zoque are Piowacwe ("little old woman" or "burning woman"), a female god of misfortune who lives in the bowels of the earth in the Chichonal volcano, and Nawayomo ("evil woman" or "water woman"), deceiver of men. Both have the capability of transforming themselves, and the latter appears in the form of a woman and a serpent with a dentate vagina.

Religious Practitioners. Native ritual practices aimed at propitiating the gods were performed clandestinely during the colonial period or were syncretized with Catholic institutions. Through cofradías and mayordomías, the role of wise elders as ritual specialists was perpetuated. Festivals for the saints, which were institutionalized in mayordomías, maintained the religious life of many communities. Religious fragmentation now has decreased the influence of elders as ritual leaders, making it possible for younger men to hold important posts in official Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist institutions.

Ceremonies. The Catholic ceremonial calendar was superimposed on the pre-Hispanic calendar, and the saints took the place of the ancient deities. This has resulted in a public religious system organized around festivals for the patron saints of communities or barrios. These ceremonies involve processions, the ritual exchange of saints with other communities, the distribution of images among ritual participants, and offerings in the form of dances, music, flowers, food, and drink. Pilgrimages and Carnival festivities expand the ritual repertoire, which also includes marriages, baptisms, communions, deaths, and ritual curing.

Arts. The production of textiles and ceramics is now practically nonexistent among the Zoque. Basketry is still produced, however, and masks and musical instruments (drums and flutes) are designed and made for ritual use. Dance and music are an integral part of ritual. Also, bilingualand indigenous-language publications have opened an expressive literary field to Zoque narrators and poets.

Medicine. Illness is seen as the result of transgression against the social order or the effect of sorcery. In both cases, the mediation of a curer is required, usually a man knowledgeable in the ancient ways, who by "pulsing"—reading the rhythm of the patient's blood—can determine the causes of illness. By means of various rituals, in which dreaming plays an important part, he will be able to restore the patient's kidnapped tonal. This practice is becoming increasingly infrequent, and the knowledge is dying out; recourse to community health centers has become more frequent. Medicinal plants continue to be used, however; men specialize in their collection. Women function as midwives, but only rarely do they engage in ritual mediation.

Death and Afterlife. Zoque believe that the soul separates from the body at the time of death. They do not see death as contaminating members of the family; therefore, when someone dies, relatives and people close to the family offer help and support. Wakes are held; coffee, bread, and, sometimes, alcohol are distributed to attending guests.

The Days of the Dead (Todos Santos) are celebrated on the first two days of November. These are joyful days with ritual exchanges of food and the preparation of altars in honor of the dead. In the graveyard, tombs are cleaned, and offerings of food and drink of the kind that the deceased enjoyed during his or her lifetime are made. Each family enjoys a ritual meal near the remains of their loved ones.


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