Archive for the Mesoamerica Category

Colloque “Montrer/oculter”, 3-4 mars, MQB (Paris)

Posted in General Anthro, Melanesia, Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff, Oceania, Uncategorized, Vanuatu on March 3, 2011 by salul


Les actions de modifications de la visibilité dans des contextes rituels.

Approches comparatives

Musée du Quai Branly

Jeudi 3 mars

9h45   Introduction

Anne-Christine Taylor (musée du quai Branly): Présentation

Session 1

10h00 Olivia Kindl (Colegio de San Luis): « Exhibition et camouflage d’offrandes dans un désert mexicain. Pratiques artistiques et rituelles sur les hauts plateaux de San Luis Potosí »

10h45 Johannes Neurath (Collège de France/LAS – Museo Nacional de Antropología): « Opening the earth-oven, closing the umbilicus: ceremonial pits and sacrificial stones among the Huichols »

11h30 Pause café

11h45 Pierre-Olivier Dittmar (EHESS/CRH): « Trois rituels de visibilité au Moyen Âge »

Discussion animée par Brigitte Derlon (EHESS/LAS)

Session 2

15h Perig Pitrou (musée du quai Branly – LAS): « Ce que l’on doit montrer, ce qu’il faut cacher. La ritualisation du pouvoir politique dans la Sierra Mixe (Mexique) »

15h45 Ethelia Ruiz Medrano (INAH – Santander Visiting Fellow, Harvard): « To Hide and to Show Power. The Case of the Codex of the Convent of Tlaquiltenango, Morelos »

16h30 pause

16h45 Guilhem Olivier (IIH-UNAM): « Occulter les dieux et révéler les rois : les paquets sacrés dans les rituels d’intronisation mexica »

Discussion animée par Giovanni Careri (EHESS)

Vendredi 4 mars

Session 3

9h45 Marcello Carastro (EHESS):  titre à préciser

10h30 Stéphan Dugast (IRD): « Quelle effigie pour les génies? Des devins aux masques chez les Bwaba du Burkina Faso »

11h15 Pause café

11h30 Margarita Valdovinos (U. Texas Austin): « L’occultation de la vie d’un mort-vivant. Pratiques funéraires chez les Cora du Nayarit »

12h15 Carlos Mondragón (Colegio de México): «Encompassment and revelation. Double skins and transformations in Oceania and Ancient Mexico»

Discussion animée par Philippe Descola (Collège de France – EHESS/ LAS)

Session 4

15h Patrick Perez (ENSAT Toulouse), « De la place de danse à la kiva. Dynamique du montrer/cacher chez les Hopi (Arizona) »

15h45 Dimitri Karadimas (CNRS/LAS): « Images de flûtes, sons des esprits dans le rituel de Yurupari (Amazonie du Nord-Ouest) »

16h30 pause

16h45 Morad Montazami (musée du Quai Branly – EHESS): « La procession comme performance ou l’art de sortir du musée »

Discussion animée par Michael Houseman (EPHE/ CEMAf)

Double feature: Shifting ontologies, et la transformation de l’être

Posted in General Anthro, Melanesia, Mesoamerica, Torres Islands, Vanuatu on February 19, 2011 by salul

Vendredi 4 Mars, Salle du cinéma, Musée du Quai Branly

The transformation of ‘being’ and its implications for rituals of concealment and revelation in Mesoamerica

dans le colloque

Montrer/Occulter. Les actions de modifications de la visibilité dans des contextes rituels. Approches comparatives

organisé par le groupe de recherche « Ontologie des images, figuration et relations rituelles » (Insituto de Investigación Historicas / UNAM – MQB)

et le Laboratoire d’Anthropologie Sociale (CNRS)



Shifting Ontologies in Melanesia and Mesoamerica.

Joint paper by C. Mondragon & Johannes Neurath

Magic Circle Seminar

Friday 11 March, 11AM Pier’s Vitebsky’s office

Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge


ABSTRACT for Shifting Ontologies:

This paper offers a comparative discussion about the ritual articulations between transformation and reciprocal exchange in two different culture regions – the Huichol of NW Mexico and the Torres Islands, Vanuatu. Our intention is to problematise the continuing notion that ritual practices are informed by stable, hence transcendental, ontological regimes. By contrast, we argue that ontologies do not stand in an isomorphic relationship to ‘culture’ and are best understood as the heterogeneous and dynamic products of creative action. We concentrate on two well-known ceremonial rituals from the so-called peripheries of Mesoamerica and Melanesia. In both cases we observe moments of uncertainty and shifts between contrasting, even irreconcilable, principles of existence and prescriptive value systems. Our field of comparison for both contexts is the tension between rituals acts of reciprocity (gifts) vs. transformation (‘free gifts’).

Representing the Pacific in Mexico: la Sala del Pacífico del Museo Nacional de las Culturas

Posted in Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff, Oceania on November 18, 2010 by salul

This post has been some time coming. But better late than never.

Map of linguistic diversity across the Pacific.

On Wednesday 6th October 2010, I and my fellow curator Oscar Aguirre Mandujano took part in the long-delayed opening of the new Hall of the Pacific (or Pacific Hall; Sala del Pacífico) at the Museo Nacional de las Culturas (MNC) in downtown Mexico City.

The hall in question consists of a permanent exhibit whose main purpose is to bring together key objects from the museum’s Asian, Oceanic and American collections in an attempt to represent the cultural diversity of the Pacific Rim and Islands for a local Spanish-speaking public.

Given that many of the objects in these collections – especially those belonging to First Nations (NW Pacific Coast) peoples, Javanese and Pacific Islands’ societies – were originally brought to the MNC under the supervision of Miguel Covarrubias (from the 1930s to the 1950s), the authorities at INAH asked us to try to incorporate Covarrubias’s vision of Pacific peoples and material culture within the overall concept of the Pacific Hall.

Mounting the exhibit

Hence, as curators we were confronted with the rapid design of a Pacific Hall which attempts to represent various things at once, not all of them mutually compatible or easily juxtaposed. (The entire project was designed, from scratch, in under six months, given that it was typically thrown together at the last minute by INAH; once again proving that their timeframes are rarely conducive to the proper execution of a major exhibition space such as this one…o tempora, o mores).

  • First, it is intended to be the principal museum space dedicated to the representation of the Pacific (understood in its widest sense, i.e., the Pacific Rim and Islands) in Mexico. The fact that it is housed at the MNC serves to remind the public that said museum is the single most important repository for the arts of Asia and the Pacific in Mexico.
  • Second, following the express, and not entirely coherent, desire of the current INAH authorities, it attempts to evoke the vision of the Pacific that Covarrubias developed during the 1930s and 1940s. This vision, as far as we have been able to discern, was inspired on at least three sources: first, a vague sort of cultural diffusionism regarding the purported ancestral and aesthetic unity of the cultures of the Pacific Rim and Islands; second, Covarrubias’s close study of early 2oth century Pacific collections at various prominent European and American institutions, most prominently the Field Museum in Chicago; and, third, his misplaced belief in the fact that the natural target of cultural and political interest for the Post-War United States was to be the Pacific, rather than Europe.
  • Third, it is also meant to offer a coherent vision of the cultural diversity of the myriad societies that inhabit the littoral (coastal) and insular geographies that make up the Pacific Rim and Islands.

Introductory panel, Sala del Pacifico.

This third theme brings the Pacific Hall in line with the MNC’s current interest in presenting itself as the primary museological space for the representation of global cultural diversity in Mexico.

Given that I regard this interest with a healthy dose of skepticism, it requires some explanation.

In sum, the MNC’s interest in cultural diversity arises from the bureaucratic introduction of this concept during the Fox presidency (2000-2006), and more recently of its continuity under the Calderón administration, into the mainstream educational and public outreach narratives of the Mexican government. This, especially in relation to federally funded programmes relating to the representation and revaluation of Indigenous peoples in Mexico.

Under these narratives, Mexico was officially declared a “multicultural” country, and it was therefore incumbent on its educational and cultural authorities to

MNC staff and INAH conservation specialist, with Aboriginal Australian art, during the selection process. Credit: C. Mondragon

demonstrate that they -and by extension all “we” Mexicans- are sensitive to the diversity of cultures around the world. That the concept of multiculturalism has been handled with a great deal of frivolity as a politically correct (but legally and morally non-binding) way of recognizing the existence and importance of the previously marginalised and discriminated Indigenous population of our country has been the object of much scholarly debate. But it was meant to be a fundamental part of the Pacific Hall’s contents and narrative, so we did not have much choice in the matter.

As the gentle reader will have surmised, I am none too impressed by the shallow, because unproblematic and self-complacent, interpretation of cultural diversity

Oscar Aguirre Mandujano, co-curator, during the final selection process for the Pacific Hall at the MNC. Credit: C. Mondragón

stemming from the official government rhetoric described above; nor by its reproduction in musea such as the MNC. Nevertheless, it is true that when I accepted the curatorial commission for the Pacific Hall I had to try to compromise between my skepticism and the unique opportunity to work from the inside, as it were, in order to produce a more ambitious, conceptually sophisticated and educational exhibit which just might bring a slightly more nuanced and open-ended notion of cultural diversity to the broader public.

Part of the strategy which Oscar and I decided to employ in order to generate useful themes for comparison across Pacific Rim and Islands’ cultures was the

Gomon (Kanak house post)

inclusion of two “subtexts”, which we inserted within various of the panels and labels of the exhibit in such a way as to invite the reading public to think on certain problems without compromising the overall thematic concerns of the INAH authorities.

The themes in question were, on one hand, the effect on local aesthetic values of regional production systems, namely, tubers for the Pacific Islands, rice for the Asian littoral, and maize for the Americas, and, on the other, the widespread presence of shamanistic rituals and beliefs across the Americas and parts of mainland Asia.

I believe that the introduction of texts relating to production systems worked fairly well and allows the public to realise that what they are observing are not simply the abstracted result of intangible creativity, but a set of objects which are intimately linked up with all sorts of other contexts and values, many of which are rooted in the local ecologies and basic productive activities of the peoples represented herein.

Yup'ik masks (Alaska).

As for the subtext on shamanism, Oscar managed to pull off some really nifty labels and a panel dedicated to orality, ritual and cosmology. Unfortunately, his main panel on shamanism is hidden away in the upper right-hand corner of the platform dedicated to Arctic societies.

But never mind. In the end, I do believe our job was well done, given the absurd limitations (temporal, conceptual and bureaucratic) under which we had to work, and I am happy to lay out some of the images, ideas and contradictions behind the Pacific Hall in this space. For what it’s worth.

Kwakwaka'wakw mask (First Nations, Canadian Pacific littoral)


Looking back on 1491 (the book)

Posted in General Anthro, Mesoamerica, Non-State Societies/Sociedades no-estatales on November 16, 2010 by salul

This can be read as a late reaction to 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann, a book that was originally published in 2005 (hc) and 2006 (pb) but which I have only just recently read.*

So this is not intended as a review so much as a brief set of thoughts regarding some of Mann’s principal themes, such as ecological history and anthropogenic landscapes. I am also interested in the different ways in which the book might be perceived by different audiences.

These issues function as markers of an important shift in anthropological approaches to the environment. As with most paradigm shifts, this one has been gradually taking shape, taking its inspiration from the interdisciplinary intersection between human geography, ecology, biology, archaeology and anthropology. It is not my intention to summarise Mann’s arguments here (some early reviews of the book which adequately sum up its main points can be found here and here).

This intersection can be traced back through a recent scholarly genealogy that coalesced around several common threads throughout the 1990s, and would include, among others, the (mostly collective) tomes by Crumley (1994), Soulé & Lease (1995), Krech (1999), Whitmore & Turner (2001), Gunderson and Holling (2002), Selin (2003), Balée & Erickson (2005), Walker & Salt (2006), and, more recently, the critical riposte to Jared Diamond by McAnany & Yoffee et al (2010).

The multistranded conversation and debates that have animated these and various other authors concentrates on viewing the environment as a dynamic, complex phenomenon that has consistently, and decisively, been influenced by human activity since at least 12,000 BP. Among other things,  these studies concentrate on the fact that the circumambient world is something far more complex than established (anthropological) approaches to the social construction, or representation, of space and place. Hence the inclusion of historical ecology as a key component of this analytical perspective.

Importantly, a great deal of interest within this ongoing discussion has concentrated on the so-called New World Tropics (or Neotropics). And that is where Mann’s synthesis of the anthropogenic history of continental American ecologies comes in.

My various reactions to Mann’s book can be synthesised thus:

On one hand, I found that it succeeds remarkably well in attempting to offer a useful overview of the state of historical ecology across the Amerindian world for a non-specialist readership. His tripartite thematic structure, emphasising Pre-Columbian demographics, social complexity and anthropogenic landscapes, hits the nail on the head. In this sense, I was pleased to discover that 1491 has been translated into Spanish and will soon be available to Iberoamerican readers. While many details of Mann’s presentation – and a few glaring omissions – can be argued over, the primary goal of turning mainstream (Anglo-American as much as Latin American) views of Amerindian history on its head is nicely resolved.

While many of Mann’s main points go over literature and materials with which I had previously had varying degrees of familiarity, I was especially interested in his descriptions of fire as a critical component of Pre-Columbian human transformations across the North American landscape. This is mostly because human-induced and controlled fire is a well rehearsed topic in relation to the historical (I mean LONG term historical) development of Meganesian ecologies, particularly in regard to the Aboriginal management of the extremely meagre environments of the Australian continent. However, the argument that fire also played a part in the human management of North American landscapes was not known to me, and is well addressed here.

Beyond specific materials and issues, reading 1491 prompted me to think about the different ways in which Pre-Columbian history has been popularised and assimilated in Anglo and Latin America. At one point in his narration, Mann is sensitive to these differences of perspective, which speaks to the attention with which he has observed and interacted with Latin American scholars and people throughout his travels and research.

More to the point, I find it interesting that while the book has mostly been received as an important tool for teaching future Anglo American students about the fascinating diversity and historical depth of the hundreds of Amerindian societies that inhabited the Americas before Columbus, I hope that once the Spanish edition finds its way to the broader Spanish-speaking public it will also help our various regional schools of archeological, anthropological and historical inquiry to begin to think beyond the usual nationalistic boundaries within which Indigenous American history has tended to be circumscribed. This is not just about extending current horizons beyond the rather stale navel-gazing that has characterised Mexican anthropological and archaeological research for the past few decades. It is also about motivating local scholars to think about the value of comparative analysis, especially when coupled with serious attempts at ecological history.

Speaking for myself, I have already been able to draw on the extremely rich bibliography that Mann offers in order to pursue useful comparisons across a number of topics which are familiar from Melanesian and Pacific contexts. These include:

  1. fire in the human management of landscapes,
  2. the relativisation of the otherwise unproductive dichotomy between nomadic (hence small scale and simple) and sedentary (large scale and complex) societies. Mann accomplishes this not only through an enticing description of the fluid nature of 15th century Algonkian communities, but also through his focus on the exchange systems that allowed the coastal inhabitants of Peru’s Norte Chico littoral (5,000 BP) to build up sophisticated urban structures on the basis of fishing and cotton production, that is to say, in the absence of the agricultural and political frameworks that have normally been seen as indispensable to the rise of early city-states, and,
  3. the extremely important discussion regarding the possibility that it was the recent (post-contact) introduction of steel axes that radically transformed shifting cultivation (“slash-and-burn” agriculture, arboriculture and horticulture), turning it into the predominant method of food production for tropical forest societies**

To sum up, I found Mann’s overview to be stimulating and meticulous, if a bit clunky at times, in terms of structure and narrative. Perhaps my only remaining comment is that, in preparing this post, I have found surprisingly few scholarly comments or reviews of 1491. Perhaps my institutional search engine is filtering stuff, perhaps I simply arrived late to the academic reactions to this book. But considering that it continues to appear in many a prominent bookstore, I would have expected it to have generated much more interest, even if we specialists could turn to it and say “well, yeah, I already knew that…sort of”. But hopefully this is just a result of my insufficient searching. Whatever the case may be, I am looking forward to further discussion and reaction of some of these themes as the book makes its way across continents, languages and readerships.

*The “lateness” of my comment is in respect of the book’s original publication date, and is mostly due to the fact that I normally avoid airport kiosk-type bestsellers like the plague, and when it originally hit the stands this book had every appearance of being just that. I was, however, pleasantly proven wrong in this case, as I recently realised when I took it with me as travel fodder.

**Cfr. Carneiro, R.L. (1979), “Tree Felling with the Stone Axe: An Experiment Carried Out Among the Yanomamö Indians of Southern Venezuela”, in L.E. Sponsel, ed., Indigenous Peoples and the Future of Amazonia: An Ecological Anthropology of an Endangered World. Tucson: University of Arizona Press,  46-52; Denevan, W.M. (1992), “Stone vs. Metal Axes: The Ambiguity of Shifting Cultivation in Prehistoric Amazonia”, Journal of the Steward Anthropological Society, 20: 153-165.

Calendarios mesoamericanos en el MNA

Posted in Mesoamerica, Museum-related stuff on November 16, 2010 by salul

El Calendario Mesoamericano en sus Inscripciones,

Códices, Monumentos y Estelas




  1. El calendario maya. Inscripciones y presagios
  2. Introducción a los sistemas calendáricos mesoamericanos
  3. El tiempo mítico, el tiempo histórico, el tiempo mágico
  4. El calendario en los códices de los valles centrales de México
  5. Instrumento de poder: el calendario y los monumentos


sábados de 10:00 a 13:00hrs
del 13 de noviembre al 11 de diciembre
Auditorio Fray Bernardino de Sahagún
Inscripciones: Deptartamento de Promoción Cultural, Museo Nacional de Antropología (México, DF)
Tel. 55536381 y 86 (horario de lunes a viernes de 9:00 a 19:00hrs)

Comparing ritual worlds: Sacrifice and reciprocity in Melanesia and Mesoamerica

Posted in Fieldwork (Melanesia), General Anthro, Mesoamerica on March 5, 2009 by salul

Here it is folks. For all of those who have been waiting to finally see some substance behind the grandiloquent hints at grand comparativism between both culture regions. Upcoming seminar talk for tomorrow (Thursday 5 March, Instituto de Investigaciones Históricas, UNAM):

Rituals of transformation and shifting ontologies:

Rethinking sacrifice and reciprocity in Mesoamerica and Melanesia

Carlos Mondragón (ColMex) & Johannes Neurath (INAH)


This paper offers a discussion about the plurality of ontological principles as manifested in key rituals of reciprocity and sacrifice in two different societies – namely, the Huichol of North West Mexico and the people of the Torres Islands in Maritime Melanesia. Our aim is to problematise the assumption that while ritual practices and regimes of value have been considered processual, fluid and diverse, they ultimately rely on stable value systems. Ontologies, by any other name. By analysing new ethnographic data regarding rituals of existential transformation – specifically, the vision quest of the Huichol and the tamate ceremony – in Mesoamerica and Melanesia, we arrive at the conclusion that the problem is not a diversity of ritual forms, but of principles of existence. Throughout the ritual sequence, the participants in these events generate contrasting, and indeed incompatible, models of sacrifice (asymmetrical exchange) and idealised reciprocity (symmetrical exchange) that point to the open-ended and creative potential of the ontologies on which ritual action is grounded. The principle aim of the paper is to compare how two societies that draw on seemingly coherent “wholes” (Mesoamerican cosmologies, Melanesian principles of exchange) actually deploy multiple templates for ritual action which make manifest the contradiction of taking “ontology” for granted.



The reception of Amerindian perspectivism in Mexico

Posted in General Anthro, Mesoamerica on December 27, 2008 by salul

Having covered some basic background information regarding the Mesoamerican regional tradition of scholarship, I want to come back now to how I have perceived the reception of EVC’s thinking and perspectivist reflections amongst Mexican colleagues. To this end one last bit of context is useful.

Two years ago I was kindly invited by my good friend and colleague, Johannes Neurath (Museo Nacional de Antropología, whose researchers are under the aegis of INAH) to attend a seminar series that he and Saúl Millán (Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, ENAH) had been co-organising on a relatively regular basis. The main purpose of this more or less monthly seminar was to bring together scholars and postgrad students of Mexican anthropology in order to discuss important readings in anthropology. As it happened, some of these readings began to extend beyond the usual boundaries of Mexican anthropology, to include German, British and Brasilian exemplars, both old and very recent. Thus, I was fortunate to have participated in the discussion of the work of Alfred Gell, Marilyn Strathern and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, the last of whose ambition to produce a generalised framework for the analysis of Amazonian – and only to a certain extent more generally Amerindian – cosmologies and shamanistic practices struck a chord with a few of the emerging scholars from INAH and ENAH.

As we discussed these issues within and beyond the seminar room, it became clear that Viveiros’s ideas had already begun to have an impact on Mesoamerican research for at least three or four years prior to our discussions. In particular, this was in evidence among researchers interested in the phenomenon of nagualismo. Anyone with even a passing notion of this phenomenon would find it natural that Viveiros’s perspectivism – which, grosso modo, applies to the exchange of (cosmological) perspectives within the context of human-animal relations – is a natural ally of the analyst interested in the human-animal relations and transformations arising from nahuales and tonalli. I confess, however, my almost total ignorance about the details of nagualismo, to the extent that it seemed no more than superficially obvious that it should constitute the natural sphere of “first contact” for the importation of perspectivist ideas to Middle America.

Happily, a few months ago I was fortunate to have hosted, for a few days, a bright young MA student from UCL (bonjour, ma chérie Miriam!) whose interests in nagualismo around the town of Cuetzalan, in the Northern sierra of Puebla – which has become a classic stomping ground for several decades of nagual-related ethnographic explorers – allowed me to think about and read a little bit further on this particular linkage of traditions and theoretical frames.

For the sake of clarity I reiterate that the conjunction that was made between EVC’s now famous JRAI paper on Amerindian perspectivism and nagual-related scholars in Mexico preceded both the above mentioned seminar and EVC’s recent visit to Mexico, and that this unfolding debate was therefore germane to the reception of perspectivism amongst Mesoamericanists. But another important point here is that these incipient comparativist exercises have not yet been vented into any relevant publications, and have therefore been maintained at a level of “interest” rather than specific impact in terms of local output.

So, where does that leave us, in terms of the most promising territory for cross-theoretical fertilisation between Amazonîa and Mesoamerica?

One answer was provided during discussions with Viveiros by Neurath, who suggested, on the basis of his current rethinking of ritual practices and ontology among the Huichol of the Western Mexican Pacific coast, that an admixture of gift exchange á la Melanesia (après Knut Rio and others) as well as Amerindian-style perspectivism with “Mesoamerican characteristics” is apparent in some key spheres of thought and action within Western Mexican Indigenous groups.

A second answer, and one that I find very stimulating because it provides the most sophisticated first attempt that I have yet come across to think through both ethnography and anthro theories, comes from my aforementioned friend, Miriam Lamrani, whose recent MA thesis at UCL is a serious effort at engaging with the nahual-related literature (mostly dependent on “hard core” Mesoamerican frames of reference, which she criticizes) and Amazonian perspectivism.

Without more ado, I think it appropriate to quote extensively from bits of her MA thesis (sic, with no editing on the style, which is not of the essence for the time being), specifically those that help to clarify the ways in which perspectivism may productively (but partially and cautiously) be brought into this picture.

Amazonian perspectivism can be narrowed down to the postulate that the “point of view creates the subject” and every subject experiences his own conception of nature (Viveiros de Castro 1998: 476). As a consequence, in Amazonian ontologies, the corporalities are multiples (multinaturalism) and the unity is spiritual (Viveiros de Castro 1998: 478; 2007). I advocate that such is the case of Mesoamerican cosmological conceptions of personhood. The difference with its Amazonian neighbor is that, in Mesoamerica, occurs a peculiar type of ontology, namely the non-human alter ego as a component of the personhood. Thus, as proposed by Holbraad and Willerslev, to prove the intellectual robustness of the perspectivist theory, I propose to ‘stretch’ it through a cross-cultural comparison with the Mesoamerican case (2007: 330).

Such as in Inner Asia (Pedersen 2001: 413) it is unambiguous that indigenous people in Mexico are animists. It has been demonstrated in the course of this essay that human and numerous non-human beings are endowed with spiritual powers in an inherent logic encircling the landscape and to some extent, animals. That means that not all non-humans are endowed with spirits, which allow one, as Pedersen points out, to break away from the Tylorian perspective endowing with souls all physical entities (2001: 414). However, Descola in his classification of animist theories classifies ‘Mesoamerican cultures’ in his analogical category on the assumption that, the multiplicity of external soul entities signifies a set of relations between cosmos and society (Descola 2005: 146, 2008: 9, 14). 

As we have seen so far, almost all humans have non-human counterparts and accordingly, some animals have human counterparts. As Pitarch explains, it is only one of the various components that created the person (1996a). Therefore I argue that by contrast to the ‘transcendent Asian inner perspectivism’ in Mesoamerican cultures, changes of perspective are not restricted to the nagual/shaman strictu sensu since the Mesoamerican individual has another standpoint on the world through his tonal (Holbraad & Willerslev 2007: 331). Accordingly, if the nagual resembles the Amerindian shaman as an ontological hybrid (Viveiros de Castro 2006: 146; 1996a: 90), the existence of the tonal changes slightly the rules of the ‘perspectivist game’ to paraphrase Holbraad and Willerslev (2007). 

…the interesting point of view for this theory lies in the concept of animal companion. Here it is not only human see themselves as human and animal see themselves as human. The human perceives himself/herself also as non-human through the animal companion. During the lifetime, the bond is unbreakable.


These animals act as alter egos, ethnographies underline that the animal soul totally identifies with the ‘I’ (Gossens 1975: 457). This association of human and non-human in the social realm parallels Pedersen ethnography (2001). However the domain of ‘change of perspective’ is not infinite.  (Lamrani, 2008: 55-58)

What I find particularly satisfying in Miriam’s work is that she is successfully (even if incipiently) offering us a neat demonstration not only of comparativist exercises across the Americas, but truly across continents, given the inclusion of key stuff from Inner Asian research. This, I believe, is the kind of work that, once matured, can point the way in fascinating new directions for Mesoamerican research, and for the potential to rework current ethnographic data – of which we have a surplus of published matter, but very little in the way of new thinking.

Naturally, there is much more that can be said regarding the reception of perspectivism in Mesoamerica, but aside from the engagement of locally-based colleagues such as Neurath, and the initial explorations in recent papers on ritual life by Alessandro Questa (doctoral student specialising on Nahua-speaking groups of the Central Plateau, or Altiplano Central, of Mexico), there is not much more that I have yet witnessed regarding specific comparativist exercises as a result of the irruption of EVC’s stuff into the terrain of Mesoamerican research.

I will end this post here, realising full well that I have provided only a tidbit in terms of the direction which some of the discussion and conversations that took place between Mesoamericanists and EVC. For the time being, perhaps the most enduring picture that I retain from EVC’s lecture at the Instituto de Investigaciones Antropologicas (UNAM), was of Alfredo Lopez Austin, one of our local giants of Middle American research, listening attentively to Viveiros, that other giant of Amazonian research, and sometimes offering bits of interesting data for comparison, but never quite diving into the fray of the complex challenges that EVC’s material offered up. It was, valga el cliché, a sort of metaphorical image of the manner in which representatives of both traditions have to date barely begun to establish a fertile dialogue.