Aurora Castillo Escalona, Persistencia histórico-cultural. San Miguel Tolimán, Querétaro, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, 2000.


The content of Persistencia histórico-cultural. San Miguel Tolimán is very useful both for students and for specialists of the Otomi culture and the regional history. Apart from providing a bibliographic review of theoretical and methodological works, documentary sources and other related studies, it takes into consideration oral tradition and symbolic analysis, which together serve to orientate future studies and to widen our knowledge on the Otomi group.

The book is made up by an introduction, six chapters and a conclusion; in the same way, it has a wide bibliography that includes theoretical and descriptive studies and documentary sources from the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN), apart from maps, plans, charts and attractive photographs that make up the 390 pages.

The first chapter, “The central theoretical categories”, presents various theoretical views for the study of regional history, relating history and physical geography with human geography; that is, the relationship between time and space from the point of view of social sciences. It mentions the importance of oral history as an element of cultural continuation, providing tangible data of a personal and social value, that allow to bridge the gap between the theoretical and the study community. Oral history relates the everyday social world of the community to the study of history, by giving it, in the words of Aurora Castillo, a more human sense. It also discusses reflections around the concepts of “culture”, “ethnic identity” and the religious world, in order to analyze the system of offices and the transformations that have appeared in the Otomi society of Tolimán.

It notes “that even if they have modified the structure and functions of the festivals, the dances and the offices, they have not disturbed the ideology and the weltanschauung of the Otomi, which are kept alive, even if changes are performed through processes of adaptation and adoption.” (p. 84)

The weltanschauung of the Otomi people is expressed by means of functions, symbols and objects present in the cycle of festivals, in which all the members of the community intervene with the performance of some office at some stage of their lives. Besides, the rules and the division of functions during religious festivals of San Miguel’s system of offices are clearly seen (p. 85).

Aurora Castillo says that “the system of offices is the analysis category that allowed her to organize the information gathered on facts, ideas, objects and sites, in order to interpret the functioning of the religious life of the Otomi people from Tolimán, and to point out its relation towards other sectors of society as a whole”. She uses ethnographic description as a base for the interpretation of the culture according to the symbology contained in the system of offices.

In the second chapter, “Historic frame”, the history of the Otopame is outlined starting before the Conquest. She talks about the founding of Tolimán, the Colonial institutions such as the encomienda, the tribute, the evangelization, the congregation of the indigenous peoples, the repartimiento (the mandatory recruitment of men and women as workforce), the ownership of the land and the hacienda. This chapter also deals with the economy (agriculture and herdsmen, and manufactures), the political and social organization from a historic view.

The third chapter, “Territory and economic organization”, deals with the relationship between geography, society and culture , given that in each culture there is a balance between the general geographic conditions and the group within them. It gives us the geographic characteristics of the region: the orographic frame (the geologic structure and the ecologic areas), physiographic frame (for instance, types of soils), the hydrography (the waters), the territorial conformation of the Municipality of Tolimán, its neighborhoods and roads and how the territorial organization is an identity factor. She also refers to the settlement pattern and the form of residency (p. 185). Here she links the geographic and territorial situation, and the economic organization and commercial activities, because these activities are performed during the patronal festivals in which there is the simultaneous accomplishment of religious, social, political, economical and ludic functions.

The fourth chapter, “The population of San Miguel Tolimán”, presents the linguistic profile, the demographic population of Tolimán’s Otomi group, its daily life, the family and cultural reproduction, the social structure of the offspring, the life cycle (birth, marriage and death), and the outfits. She explains the link of the family with the economic organization, describing work organization and how migration encourages change processes, whereas the belonging to the ethnic group is an equilibrium factor.

In the fifth chapter, “Cultural continuation”, she performs the symbolic and ritual analysis of some components of cultural continuation; she analyzes sacred symbols such as the Chimal which are offered by the Otomies during the festival devoted to the patron Saint Michael the Archangel (symbol of the unification between the faithful and divinity), and the four cardinal points (or four cosmic directions linked with nature: wind, fire, running water and falling water). Through these symbols, they ensure a full circle of material and spiritual protection. The turtle or xaha in Otomi -religious symbol of aquatic origin-, is the provider of water and, therefore, of food: fruits and grains.

She deals with sacred spaces and places such as the Zamorano, Calvario, Cantón and Frontón hills, and the Tolimán and San Pablo rivers with their branches- the natural sacred sites for the Otomis are hills, rivers, springs and pools-. Other sacred sites built by men with religious purposes are the Otomi chapels. In this chapter, the sacred symbols and the rituals related to them are analyzed, in order to place the meaning of the symbols within the analysis of the system of offices.

Finally, in the sixth chapter, “The cargueros of San Miguelito”, a detailed analysis is performed of the system of offices; its social structure, the dance groups and the Xitales. They represent the fight between the man and the bull; a group of masked men transform themselves into old men, demons or animals, and they teach the children the dances they will have to represent during the festivals, apart from imposing order and discipline among the dancers.

After analyzing the role and the importance of the various participants -the prayerful people, the musicians and the dancers, and their functions-, she analyzes the context of the festivals and their relation towards the agricultural cycle and the system of offices.

I have yet to describe more than half of the sixth chapter, but I will stop at this point. Through this brief review we can see how interesting and complete Persistencia histórico-cultural. San Miguel Tolimán, from Aurora Castillo Escalona is. It promises to be a reference work of great value due to the huge amount of data and analysis it contains; it is a jewel for those who study the Otopame group and regional history.

Martha C. Muntzel.
Linguistics Direction, INAH.
Translation by Denisse Piñera Palacios

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