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Re: [SACC-L] Mexican witchcraft?

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  • Lloyd Miller
    Hi Ann, Sorry it s taken me so long to respond to this, and I ll include the listserv in case anyone else is interested in this topic. Stoning witches to
    Message 1 of 2 , Jun 2, 2003
      Hi Ann,

      Sorry it's taken me so long to respond to this, and I'll include the listserv in case anyone else is interested in this topic.

      Stoning "witches" to death happens from time to time in rural Mexico, especially in the Chiapas area reported in the article.  Practicing witchcraft is the usual reason people give, but it is probably more complicated and includes political factors also, as you suggest.

      Sometimes strangers—especially those who appear different—are the targets.  I remember one of my profs who worked in Oaxaca telling the anecdote that a man from Scotland—full red beard, kilts and all—set out to walk, village to village, from one coast to the other.  He stopped in a village to cool his heels in a local cantina.  Several men there invited him to have a drink with them.  The Scotsman, knowing not one word of Spanish and being a stern teetotaler (apparently he not only abstained but disapproved of the whole idea), declined the offer.  His disapproval was apparent, word got around, and (according to the story) the village women stoned him to death as he attempted to depart.  Perhaps this was apocryphal, but it made a good undergraduate classroom anecdote.

      I'll relate to you my one (somewhat) personal experience.   I was doing summer ethnographic fieldwork among the Otomi in Central Highland Mexico as a graduate student, and was funded by a grant, supervised by my major professor, that included supporting another researcher in a nearby village.  When it was time for my wife and me to leave in the fall, my prof wanted me to introduce the other researcher (a woman prof from another university) to my informants and generally to my village and field situation.  Our car was all packed and I was showing this woman around when she took me aside and tearfully asked if she could leave with us.  She said that her situation had become precarious in her village—woman working alone, wives becoming suspicious, gossip going around that she might be a witch—and that she feared for her life.  The thought of taking my place in another village, starting all over again, etc. was just too much for her and she wanted out.

      In 1989 I guided a Fulbright-sponsored group through Mexico for the summer and we visited Chamula, the subject village of your article, with a local Tzotzil-speaking guide.  Chamula is very closed, highly religious and ritualistic, culturally isolated and separate; the Chamulans keep it that way and remain apart from even other nearby villagers.  I can well imagine what the article described happening there.

      Anyway, there's my two centavos worth.


      "Popplestone, Ann" wrote:

      This item is on CNN's page,   Can somebody with more knowledge of rural Mexico tell me/us if this is really an example of witchcraft  beliefs, or political, or a combination?

      Mexican villagers stone 'witch' to death
      SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, Mexico (AP) --An angry crowd stoned to death an Indian man accused of practicing witchcraft in a southern Mexico town with a long tradition of religious violence.

      The man, Domingo Shilon Shilon, was also hacked with machetes Sunday by the crowd in San Juan Chamula, a majority Catholic township on the outskirts of the colonial city of San Cristobal, 460 miles (735 kms) southeast of Mexico City.

      Shilon, 50, was caught by the crowd in a neighborhood known as Rancho Narvaez, state police said. After killing him, the crowd partially burned his body.

      Shilon, like most of his alleged attackers, was a Tzotzil Indian, a branch of the Maya. The Chiapas state Justice Department said an investigation was continuing into the killing, but it is often difficult to prosecute such cases, given that witnesses are frequently unwilling to testify.

      Since the 1960s, San Juan Chamula has seen numerous killings and confrontations as "traditional" Catholics -- who mix pre-Hispanic Indian rites with Roman liturgy -- battle to expel evangelical Protestants.

      Witchcraft is often blamed for outbreaks of illness or the deaths of children in the impoverished Indian community, where many practice faith healing and some residents -- mainly men -- engage in so-called "white" magic.

      In 1996, residents of another San Juan Chamula neighborhood beat and then hanged a man suspected of causing ailments and misfortune through witchcraft.

      The villagers killed the man after they went to a cave he frequented and found bottles dressed in the local Indian garb, objects he allegedly used in casting spells on people.

      Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

      Picture (Metafile)

      Ann Popplestone

      CCC Metro TLC

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