Two ethnographies of Mesoamerican Indian communities have recently been published bearing titles that reflect the integrative role of service to the community saints. Van Zantwijt’s study of a Tarascan community in Mexico, Servants of the Saints, and Reina’s description of community culture in Chinautla, Guatemala, describe communities widely separated in Mesoamerica, but sharing a system of community service which has deeply influenced world view and social organization throughout the area. For an introduction to this community culture, Reina’s Law of the Saints is excellent; it is a comprehensive ethnography, yet not so detailed as to weary the non-specialist.
The monograph is expressedly descriptive, despite the commitment of the Bobbs-Merrill Advanced Studies series to theoretical treatment of clearly delimited problems. In the author’s words: “By observing the Chinautlecos in their daily life over a period of time and by analyzing their history, I have attempted to disclose their world view and, in turn, throw light upon the nature of this culture and the dynamics of culture” (p. xv). To this task Reina brings a wealth of data gathered over the years 1953-1957. Through the eyes of many Indians he presents a composite view of their customs and attitudes, climaxed by the life history of one man.
A historical review of the Chinautlecos’ adjustments to other Indians, local ladinos, and authority emanating from the national capital (just seven miles from Chinautla) facilitates the reader’s understanding of the emotional commitment to local saints and customs. The quality of social interaction within the Indian community is sensitively portrayed, as are differences between Indian, Mengala (Indianized ladinos), and ladino life styles and patterns of association. The roles of Indian men and women in socialization, production and marketing, ceremonial ritual, and community service are fully described, revealing greater autonomy among the women (who are potters) than is typical of Guatemalan Indian societies more fully dependent upon agriculture.
In describing world view, Reina samples Indian beliefs (creencias) rather fully in preference to offering integrative, summary statements of the basic premises underlying behavior. He briefly mentions variations among Indian and ladino belief patterns, but omits any systematic examination of these differences either between ethnic groups or within the Indian community variously influenced by Protestantism, by membership in the Third Order of St. Francis (Catholic Action), or by formal education. Since he does not consider the impact of these recent institutional innovations upon the social relations and world view of Chinautlecos, his monograph leaves unanswered a number of questions.
In fairness to the author, one must make clear that his stated objectives did not include an analysis of these new religious affiliations. Since they potentially threaten allegiance to the “law of the saints,” however, one assumes that they must concern Chinautlecos. References are made in numerous contexts to Protestants and to members of the Third Order of St. Francis, but data are lacking on numbers of Indians affected and the kinds of influence. In many instances elsewhere in Guatemala, Protestantism and/or Catholic Action have served to make manifest a conflict in values latent in these societies— the conflict between acquisitive, entrepreneurial values (or financial security) and communal, conspicuous consumption through care of the saints (or social security). Elsewhere Protestantism and education provide new bases of social interaction among Indians and ladinos, often conforming to ladino norms of association. These changes in social relationships, leading to increased intermarriage, influence belief patterns and further undermine dependency upon the saints and upon the status hierarchy traditionally resulting from service to the saints. Perhaps these are not the implications of such innovations in Chinautla, but if not, this is significant and warrants explication.