4945 - Being another.Ritual dances, pictographic expression and modernity among the Nahua

My presentation deals with some recent data obtained among the Nahua of the Sierra Norte de Puebla, Mexico. In the community of Tepetzintla, the dance of wewentiyo "our dear Grandfathers", is a mixture of dramatic performance and choreography: a group of “grandfather hunters” hunt a badger that stole the maize from humans and took it inside the mountain, leaving the former to starve. The group dances around a pole surrounded by a decorated canvas: a fully painted backdrop that portrays an assortment of animals, trees, people, airplanes and wizards. At the end of the dance, a rifleman, one of the hunters, shoots the badger rescuing the precious grain for the people. The canvas acts not only as a scenario for the ritual dance but also as an expressive tool, a contemporary codex that conveys a local interpretation on the world and its creatures with a clear holistic intention. The dance is about the ancestors, the founders of the town itself, but the characters wear masks resembling “mestizos”, or “white people” dressed as city bureaucrats. Why Nahuas present their own ancestry as foreigners? The answer I repeatedly got was that these dancers where their own “mestizos”. They are entities of great power and their origin or “purity” is of no consequence. My initial hypothesis is that local dances portray the image and actions of “other” entities than the dancers themselves and that dancing is basically an impersonation –a materialization- of the beings that inhabit the earth, the sky and the underworld. The presence of the canvas helps us support this idea with an iconographic substance. Ideally, this research will sum to the contemporary debate on indigenous ontology in Native America and the possibilities of shared ideas about the world, its inhabitants and the relations that regulate their dealings through ritual life.

Author: Questa, Alessandro (University of Virginia, Ud States of Am / USA)


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