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Performing the Community
Representation, Ritual and Reciprocity in the Totonac Highlands of Mexico
Economic liberalisation, modern mass media, and new religious and political movements have touched upon even the remotest areas in Mexico and the Northern Highlands of the state of Puebla are no exception. When this coincides with recent infrastructures such as roads and electricity and new income sources from cash crop production and urban migration, the nature of rural communities rapidly changes. This study shows how the people of the Totonac mountain village of Nanacatlán deal with their increasingly pluriform and differentiated local world. By performing stories, rituals, and exchanges they have countered centrifugal cultural and social forces. Rather than leading to the demise of the community, modernization and globalisation thus seem to have reinforced the sense of local belonging. How is this possible?
This anthropological analysis points at the simultaneous efforts of new and old cultural brokers - ritual specialists and healers as well as young migrants - who [re]create the community by linking the outside world to local customs. Their initiatives are taken up by women, crucial for community building through elaborate food exchanges, and men, whose involvement is central to public ritual life. Their combined efforts create a living community and link the village past to its rural- urban present and future, as a place of belonging in times of change.
Cora Govers is a senior staff member at the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). She co-edited The Anthropology of Ethnicity and The Politics of Ethnic Consciousness with Hans Vermeulen.