Accepted paper:

Their gods our customs. native Catholic practices among the Tepehuan people of northern Mexico


Antonio Reyes (Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia)

Paper short abstract:

I explore how the Tepehuan people of northern Mexico have actively incorporated aspects of Catholicism in their lives under their own conceptions and conditions. In this paper I present from an ethnographic perspective, the place they assign to 'Catholic gods' in the sphere of relations of alterity.

Paper long abstract:

The history of northern Mexico has highlighted the efficient labour of missionaries as a source of cultural change imposing a new religion among the natives during European colonisation. However, the active role of indigenous people in adopting new practices is rarely considered as a way to explain those changes. In this paper, I consider how the Tepehuan people, once called by the Spanish the 'most indomitable' of the region, have incorporated Catholicism into their lives under their own conceptions and conditions. Since this native perspective is difficult to track in historical documents, I explore from an ethnographic perspective the place that Tepehuan people assign to 'Catholic gods' in a wider sphere of relations of alterity. Thus after more than 400 years catholic missionary activity among Tepehuan people, they consider themselves Catholic. Furthermore, saints as well as other catholic church festivities are central for Tepehuan religious life. However, baptism is the only ritual for which they require a catholic priest. In this context, Catholic missionaries still in the pursuit of Tepehuan converts face not only the contradiction of a 'Tepehuan Catholicism' with no Catholic priests, but the fact that it is ritualised under precepts prior to the reformations made by the Second Vatican Council and conserving practices long ago abandoned by the modern church.

panel P64
The failed utopia: 'enlightening' the contradictions of christianisation, secularisation and civilisation in the Americas