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Week 11 Binford

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Week 12 Essay 2

Week 13 Oppenheimer

Week 13 Quinones

Week 14 Dow

Week 15 Dow

Final Paper


Victoria Kline
Anthropology 582: Mesoamerican Cultures
December 8, 2004
Dr. Ramona Perez

Holy Saints and Fiery Preachers Part II

Chapter 7 The Maya Pentecost by Garrett W. Cook: The research for this ethnography takes place in Ox Mul, Belize where there was a massive conversion to Pentecostalism in the 1980s (147). From 1978 to 1988, five new Pentecostal churches opened in or near Ox Mul. Author Garrett Cook tries to find out the reasons for this monumental adjustment away from Catholicism to Protestantism in the Mayan/Mestizo village of Ox Mul. Here we again find that the people of Ox Mul favor the leadership rolls allowed to church members by Pentecostal doctrine, unlike the Catholic authoritarian hierarchy. Pentecostalism adapts “to Maya culture and social life” (148).

Reasons given by converts at the height of conversions say they thought things were getting out of control in terms of men abusing family members and drinking too much alcohol. The pattern of conversion followed family lines eventually ending up with a church leader from each of the five most prosperous families. The churches are endogamous thus retaining their members at marriage; the cores of each of the five churches are brothers and their families. So conversions began within families, others joined until carrying capacity was reached, a new church was formed placing one of the major family’s head men in charge, so that now each church has a leader that is the head of one of the five most prosperous families in Ox Mul. The reasons for conversion between the 1970s and 1980s had to do with freedom of expression, more control over family life, and bettering conditions within family relations.

Chapter 8 Reconsidering Protestant Growth in Guatemala, 1900-1995 by Henri Gooren: gives statistical information on the conversion to Protestantism in Guatemala. The author is asking several questions pertaining to the growth of Protestantism in the whole of the country of Guatemala. For several periods of time we are given the count of membership for each church, and how that differed in terms of growth for several church categories (over 20 churches), a membership profile, and a brief analysis. Between 1976 and 1986 Gooren’s study revealed a countrywide explosion of Protestant conversion. He believes this was due to the effects of the breakdown of society, the mission activity the earthquake brought into the country, the large number of evangelization campaigns at the time, the exodus to urban areas pushed by the war, and the turning away from the traditional fiesta system (190). 

Chapter 9 Making Our World: Protestant Q’eqchi’ Mayas in Highland Guatemala by Abigail E. Adams: begins with an example and discussion of the trance state, and how the US Protestant missionaries, and the Q’eqchi’ Mayas “describe language as a powerful substance that flows from the ‘heart’ among humans, between humans and the gods” (205-206). By the late 1980s, says Adams, one third of the population of Guatemala “called themselves evangélicos” (206) in an assortment of congregations. In 1992 in the Guatemalan town of San Juan Chamelco, over half the households had converted to Protestantism (from Catholicism) (208).

The statistics are given for how many churches of which kind, where, and when started and who started them. The Nazarene Church is the oldest and largest in San Juan Chamelco. The Catholic Church also has strong membership. The town itself was started by Fray Bartolomé de las Casas. In Guatemala the number of Q’eqchi’ speakers is growing with 90% being monolingual. By contrast, the Q’eqchi’ portion of San Juan Chamelco is 89% and of those less that 34% are monolingual (for Q’eqchi’) (209). The population is mostly rural, engaging in corn subsistence and century plant cultivation, with the men leaving seasonally for wage work in the lowlands.

The trances that some Q’eqchi’ Mayas enter and the messages they deliver are witnessed and believed by other Q’eqchi’ Maya. During a vigil, the entranced host becomes a medium for the Holy Spirit (Anglo religion) or any number of mountain spirits (Maya religion). The channeled spirits make demands on those present including instructions to pass the words on to others. And they do get passed on. Instructions can be to stop using the modern time saving corn grinders (women) and go back to grinding corn in the ancient way with the mano and metate. Or, the message can be to donate more money and time to the church so that it may become strong. The goal of the vigils is “to receive the mountain spirits and hear their instructions” (212).

The ability to trance is regarded as a great skill and is believed a centering of the “heart.” A person with “heart” is mature, seasoned, up there in years, and has a command of language. For the Q’eqchi’, “maturity requires a person to take individual responsibility for the collective consequences of their actions” (214) including what they say and how they say it. Language that gets out of hand, for instance in gossip, is said to have heat that grows and becomes destructive. One must be mature to quash that kind of talk for the betterment of the community (213-214). Words (for the Q’eqchi’) are powerful spoken or written. Language is heat produced by the body, “that originated with the creation of the world and with the first words of the gods” (215).

The Church of the Nazarene’s bible translation into Q’eqchi’ was extremely successful. Q’eqchi’ worldview and Nazarene religion focus on the sacred word. With their bible translation the Church of the Nazarene got an unanticipated high number of converts.

The most successful Protestant churches in Alta Verapaz are the Nazarene church and the Babtist church as they are more formal and orderly than Pentecostal churches. Balance and order are important, doing things slowly, having patience. The author points out that there is a connection between becoming more financially stable and changing religion. Again we see that the Protestant church offered “direct access to the Bible and an end to the overwhelming economic requirements of the lay Catholic offices” (222) the hosting of the fiestas and all the high costs that entailed. This brings me to a question about the cofradias. Isn’t the cofradia a tradition that the Maya introduced into the Catholic ritual and not the other way around? This passage makes it seem like the Catholic Church is responsible for making Mayas give all their money away for the recognition of the saints. But it is a synchronistic element of the Mexican Catholic faith that the Maya themselves had a part in creating. Is that not true?

I spent a lot of time on this one because I could see the connection of the Maya desire for balance and order as something universal that all of us would like to achieve. They seem to have a plan for achieving it through living a good life. Part of their instruction comes from their ancient beliefs and worldview, coupled with what they can use to their benefit from any new set of beliefs that comes in the form of words and language that they believe have great sacred power. The Nazarene philosophy fit their thinking in this.

Chapter 10 Pastors, Preachers, or Prophets? By David Scotchmer
One third of Guatemalans claim to be Protestant. Scotchmer says that his “experience and research among Maya Protestants in the western highlands point to the symbolic integrity and totality of the Protestant ‘package’ as it resolves contextually through a constructed worldview and ethos” (236). So the Protestant Mayas have converted to Protestantism because of the soundness they find in Protestant religious representations, and that the way in which Protestantism can be understood or engaged in by Maya involves the ability for Protestantism to be reconciled with the Maya worldview or belief system. Guatemalan Protestantism thus becomes a synchronized construct of both worlds. Guatemalans become agents or constructors of their own system of faith.  He also sees that the conversion has different meaning for Ladinos. They do not have the ancient worldview of the Mayas.

A study of Protestant faith in the town of Ostuncalco serves to illustrate the author’s observations. First he divides Protestants into 16 possible categories as Pentecostal or non-Pentecostal in denomination, historically missionary or indigenous, accountability as local or national, and membership of ladino or Indian (239). Scotchmer is looking for the way the Protestant churches organize themselves. He identifies and describes three types of local organization as democratic, hierarchical, or authoritarian. In Ostuncalco, Pentecostal churches are hierarchical or authoritarian, Presbyterians are democratic and egalitarian in organization as are Christian Assemblies (Pentecostal? Unsure).

Two categories of leadership styles in Maya Protestantism are described: Indian subordination and Indian solidarity. There is a long discussion of each type with specific examples. The Indian subordination example is of Andrés, and his leadership style is considered subordinate because he has given up his traditional beliefs and replaced them with new ones that have allowed him to live a life free of alcohol and poverty. The Indian solidarity story is about Pedro, who gave up all traditional beliefs at once to remove himself from the dominating influence of his father and that of the Ladino Spiritist leader to follow his own calling in the Protestant Church. The solidarity model is for “Mayas who do not want to abandoned their culture, their language, or their identity as Indians” (250) and Pedro is the example for this. These two models are better explained at the closing paragraph: the Indian subordination model “legitimates the unequal status ideology of Ladino dominance in the name of religious accommodation” while the Indian solidarity model allows Maya Protestant leaders to “challenge the inequality of a system that seeks to use and abuse them” (256).  

Chapter 11 Conclusion: Anthropological Perspective on Protestant Conversion in Mesoamerica by Alan R. Sandstrom. This chapter is a superior overview of the entire book that includes information from his personal ethnographic fieldwork in Veracruz, Mexico, in a small community of Nahuatl speakers. Over a period of thirty years, Sandstrom made several yearlong studies of the area. He noticed a change in the temperament of the people during a visit in the 1980s that was caused by the conversion of several members of the community to convert to Protestantism. According to Sandstrom, the motivation to convert from their longstanding Native American and folk-Catholicism to Protestantism was an economic crisis that was partially resolved by having many of the young men travel to urban areas for wage work. At the same time Protestant missionaries attempted to sway peoples beliefs through fear (fear of going to hell), which they impressed into the converts through video images, an experience that most of them had never had before. That is going to be one powerful presentation!

Another part of the chapter is explaining the Nahua Native America religion that took him many years of research in the field to piece together, as the Nahuatls are secretive as a rule. People learn about such thing slowly over time through participation, and that is the route the author had to take to gain information on the subject. He ends the book with reviews and comments on each chapter. He asks some great questions about conversion like why would the Nahuatls all of the sudden fear going to hell after death if they never believed in hell in their traditional belief system (274)?



Dow, James W., and Alan R. Sandstrom (eds.)
2001    Holy Saints and Fiery Preachers: The Anthropology of Protestantism in Mexico and Central America. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.

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