Ritual Humor in Highland Chiapas is unusual for an ethnographic study in that it also attempts a historic-geographic treatment of its subject. Ritual humor in the religious festivals of the Tzotzil communities of Zinacantán, Chamula, and San Pedro Chenalhó is an obscene and sacrilegious commentary on religious ritual, always occurring in ritual contexts. Most often concerned with the contrast between normative and deviant behavior, it has the function of social control. Ridicule is directed at departures from the norm in matters of morality and appropriate cultural behavior, especially conduct unbecoming to women, lax performance by religious officials, and the behavior of Ladinos. Throughout the book, but especially in Chapter 9, “Ritual Humor in Space and Time,” Bricker attempts to set Tzotzil ritual humor in the context of other cultures and other historical periods. Parallels are drawn with other Amerind societies in Middle and North America. Spanish and modern Mexican influences are also evident in the humor.
Illness and Shamanistic Curing in Zinacantán is a study in medical anthropology by a psychiatrist and a social anthropologist, about the way the Zinacantecos interpret illness and how their society is organized in respect to medical care. The book focuses on the activities of the h’iloletik, shamanistic curers who control medical and religious practices in the community. The shaman cures by restoring a person’s sense of belonging to his community and to the world beyond this one.
Zapotec Deviance applies interactionist theory to the study of witchcraft. In an unnamed Zapotec village, the category “witch” is used to label and explain various kinds of deviant behavior, especially the conduct of outsiders and of villagers who do not interact with others in a normal way. The Zapotec’s traditional ways of viewing deviant behavior coincide with interactionist theory, which sees deviance as something created by the social group rather than by the individual. Selby suggests that most of the world, outside of highly complex societies, operates the way the Zapotecs do. Complex societies “have obscured the basic social conditions that give rise to deviant behavior to such a degree that we have had to reinvent a theory that was plain common sense for the people who lived in small-scale communities” (pp. 5-6).