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Posted: 2011-02-14
2009   Carrying the Word: The Concheros Dance in Mexico City  by Susanna Rostas
Book Note:
Anyone who has visited the shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe at Tepeyac in Mexico City of the Cathedral of Mexico in the Zócalo will have witnessed the dance of the concheros. In this well written book, Rostas looks into the history and culture of the dancers and how their performance influences their spirituality, identity, and beliefs.

The book is divided into three large parts, with an introduction and an epilogue. The introduction explains how the authors approached the topic and gives an insight into the development of the arguments, while the epilogue looks at the practices of the concheros since the watershed year of 1992. In the first section Rostas provides the ethnographic background to the dance associations, the context in which each gains knowledge of the dance and its traditions, and looks at the twin ceremonies of the vigil before the performance and then the actual dance. The middle section looks more to the experience of the dancers than to the physical nature of the dance. The dance creates a psychological state for the dancer, linked with external elements, including the dress, banners, and the music. Individuals can express their own identity through these externals. Power is the focus of the last section, both the personal empowerment which the dance brings to the dancer along with the power developed by the organizations of dancers. Lastly, Rostas traces the historic elements for the dance from the time of first contact, through the colonial period, and up to the end of the twentieth century. The long trend has been one in which the dancer increasingly identify with the Mexica, and Rostas perceived an increasing Nahuatlization of the dance. While still political, the dance has increasingly become more spiritual.

This is a fascinating study which provides a deep understanding of this Mexican tradition. It has also become an important export, since conchero dance groups have now sprung up throughout the United States, drawing on the tradition in Mexico.
Publication Data:  Boulder, CO: University of Colorado Press, 2009. Pp. 368, 41 photos, Notes, Glossary, Bibliography, Index.
Posted: 2010-01-25
2009   The End of Time: The Maya Mystery of 2012  by Anthony Aveni
As we move toward December, 2012, many gallons of ink will be spilled and tons of paper used in discussing the implications of the nominal end of the Maya calendrical system. Prof. Anthony Aveni of Colgate University, easily the best known scholar of Mesoamerican archeoastronomy, in this slim book attempts to de-bunk those who would lead one to believe that cataclysmic events are afoot. The timing of the release of the book is clearly an attempt on the part of Aveni and the University Press of Colorado to get out in front of the controversy with a little light and much reason.  Click to view the entire review
Posted: 2007-08-01
2003   Popul Vuh  by Allen J. Christenson
In this edition, Allen Christenson has published a two volume set that includes both a free translation and literal translation. The first volume is a free translation with copious footnotes to explain the meaning of various words, concepts and practices. It also includes an overview of the history of the Popol Vuh and demonstrates the numerous poetic conventions used in this great narrative. The second volume is divided into two parts. The first is a two column format with a literal translation on the left and the original text transcribed into modern orthography on the right. Christenson has arranged this text according to its poetic structure with the lines that are parallel in form or concept joined together. The lines are numbered for easy reference. The second part of volume two presents the text in its original orthography and as a continuous text. The line numbers of the first part have been added to this text again for ease of reference. Christenson’s stated purpose for using the modern orthography in part one is to provide the contemporary K’iche’ who now use this orthography with greater access to the document.   Click to view the entire review
Mesoamerica - General
Posted: 2011-02-11
2009   Tiwanaku: Papers from the 2005 Mayer Center Symposium at the Denver Art Museum  Edited by Margaret Young-Sanchez
Book Note:
As noted in the title, this collection of eleven essays resulted from a symposium held at the Denver Art Museum . It is one of a series of titles from the museum on topics of interest to scholars of the ancient Americas. This particular work focuses on Tiwanaku, the Pre-Columbian city-state located to the south of Lake Titicaca, and the culture which spread from it. Moreover, most of the essays deal with cultural exchanges and interconnections with the Wari and Inca cultures. All too often over shadowed by the Inca, Tiwanaku remains and powerful influence in the South Andes even to this day.

Alexei Vranich explores the development of the center of Tiwanaku and its role as a ritual place. Georgia de Havenon studies the enduring power of the so-called “Gateway to the Sun,” the most distinctive structural – sculptural artifact of the site. Leonardo Benitez explores the relationship between Tiwanaku and the sun, both in its mythology as well as in calendrical systems. Following on this theme R. T. Zuidma also focuses on the relationship between iconography and the calendar. Christine Clados presents an essay looking at new interpretations of the Tiwanaku iconography. Issues of iconography also form the core of the essay by William J. Conklin as he looks at Tiwanaku art. Krzystof Makowski Hanula explores the relationship between rulership and religious ideology in prehistoric Tiwanaku. William Isbell and Patricia Knobloch propose that the iconography of Tiwanaku and surrounding regions be considered by the more general and encompassing term of Southern Andean Iconographic Series (SAIS). Patrick Ryan Williams explores the articistic environment of Tiwanaku and Wari borderlands. Susan E. Bergh looks at birds and camelids in some Wari tapestry tunics. Lastly, John Hoopes studies the architecture of creation as part of a cultural continuum from Tiwanaku to Machu Picchu.

This is an excellent collection of essays which goes far in expanding our knowledge of this lesser known civilization. The book is profusely illustrated and is a welcome addition to any library.
Publication Data:  Denver, CO: Denver Art Museum, 2009. Distributed by the University of Oklahoma Press. Pp. 264, illustrations, references. $45 paperbound.
Posted: 2007-09-13
2004   Mesoamerican Archaeology: Theory and Practice  by Julia A. Hendon and Rosemary A. Joyce
Mesoamerican Archaeology; Theory and Practice is one of the latest in a long line of books designed as texts for university undergraduate classes in Mesoamerican archaeology. It is the initial volume in Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology, a new series of textbooks on the archaeology of the world’s major regions. Series editors Lynn Meskell and Rosemary A. Joyce have established a high goal for the entire effort, and one by which the first book should be measured.   Click to view the entire review
Posted: 2012-04-17
2009   The Sun God and the Savior: The Christianization of the Nahua and the Totonac in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico  by Guy Stresser-Péan
Book Note
Guy Stresser-Péan has spent decades studying the rituals and beliefs of the inhabitants of the Sierra Norte of the State of Puebla in Mexico. The fruit of this long field research, complimented by extensive archival investigation, is this impressive study. The scope of his research is profound. He looks at the nearly five hundred year process of evangelization, beginning with the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century and continuing up to the present day. Stresser-Péan demonstrates that the religious belief system of the Nahua and Totonacs of the region are not fully native nor fully Christian, but rather a delicate syncretism between the two.
The first six chapters of the book focus on the arrival of the Spanish and the efforts at evangelization in the sixteenth century. He looks at the division of the region into parishes and the difficulties in dealing with what was essential a tri-lingual region (Nahuatl, Otomi, and Totonac). In two chapters he considers the impact of religious crises on the region, in the form of charismatic native leaders, called "man-gods" by other authors, and full scale rebellion, to name but two. The remaining fifteen chapters focus on the ethnographic present. Each considers a different facet of the culture, such as traditional festivals, dances from the pre-Hispanic and post-conquest eras, remnants of the use of the pre-Hispanic calendar, creations myths, and cosmology.
This is a truly monumental study. It encompasses a wide range of cultural attributes and spreads over five centuries. It is a superb example of the wealth of information which can be gathered as a result of long-term field study enhanced by archival research.  
Publication Data:  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado, 2009. Pp. 664, 14 color photos, 103 black and white photos, 105 line drawings, 10 maps, Bibliography, Index, DVD.
Posted: 2012-04-02
2009   Ok nemi totlahtōl. Vol. 1: Estado de Guerrero.  by Jonathan D. Amith
As is the case with many indigenous American languages, Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, has been in slow decline since the sixteenth century. Outside of certain areas of Mexico, students and scholars of Nahuatl have limited access to native-language linguistic production. For those interested in the colonial period there are a number of published sources such as the Sahagun's Florentine Codex and Psalmodia Christiana, John Bierhorst's editions of Chimalpahin's Codex Chimalpopoca and the collections of Nahuatl poetry appearing in Cantares mexicanos and Ballads of the Lords of New Spain, James Lockhart's Tlaxcalan Actas, Caterina Pizzigoni's Testaments of Toluca, and a several others. These publications provide a relatively extensive corpus of texts that can serve as the basis of both ethnographic and linguistic research. Texts in modern Nahuatl, however, are much more difficult to come by, because the literate tradition promoted by Catholic priests in the colonial period gradually disappeared. And audio recordings are even more uncommon. In recent years, both Jonathan Amith and John Sullivan have begun respective revitalization projects that help address this problem. It is important to point out, however, that the primary goal of these projects is not to provide material for academic research but rather to create or revive a literate and intellectual tradition perpetuated by native speakers of the language for their own purposes, including the production of knowledge in Nahuatl. Sullivan's project, a major dimension of which has been the production of a monolingual dictionary of Huastecan Nahuatl, attempts to create the tools and the context necessary to promote the use of Nahuatl in all the same contexts as any other modern language. Amith's revitalization efforts, on the other hand, while also producing a dictionary and a grammar, appear to be directed toward promoting literacy in order to reinforce more traditional uses of the language. Nevertheless, both projects are consciously aware of the way in which they also further academic research by non-native speakers of Nahuatl. The work under review here is a product of Amith's revitalization project and consists of a set of CDs containing oral narratives in Nahuatl from the state of Guerrero and an accompanying volume containing transcriptions of the narratives with an introduction in Spanish explaining the linguistic features of each variant of Nahuatl represented in the collection.   Click to view the entire review
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