Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Ñuhun Ñuu Savi: Land and language as cultural heritage of the People of the Rain

The research focuses on the understanding of symbolic stratigraphy of the land (through time) from the worldview of the People of the Rain (one of the Indigenous Peoples of southern Mexico), by studying contemporary cultural heritage in communities of the Mixtec Highlands.

2016 - 2020
Sustainable Humanities Program Sustainable Humanities Program
Sacred landscape: The map or lienzo of Santo Tomás Ocotepeque was made in the sixteen century. Nowadays, the places represented in the lienzo carry with them important oral literature of ancient origin in Sahan Savi language. Currently, they are sacred places for the community of Santo Tomás Ocotepec–Ñuu Yute Suji, since each place is of vital importance for the identity and the community consciousness. Because of that, we can see that the landscape represented on the lienzo is a "sacred landscape". Photograph by the author.

Disconnection between past and present

The Ñuu Savi People or Mixtec People, an Indigenous People in Mexico, belongs to Mesoamerican civilization. Mixtec culture has had millenary cultural development that continues until the present day. However, colonialism has created a disconnection between the past and present, a disjunction between the living heritage from the Ñuu Savi people (language, rituals, living traditions, oral literature and ceremonial discourses) and its cultural-historical heritage (codices, colonial maps, colonial texts in Mixtec language, and ancient pre-colonial remains) as a whole.

In that case, to understand the past and present, values and symbolism of the Ñuu Savi People, it is necessary to reintegrate cultural memory. Linking the present and past through the study of language, oral literature, ceremonial discourses, rituals and the daily life. With this is possible to have a deep understanding of signs, concepts, scenes and themes contained in pre-colonial pictorial manuscripts, the sacred landscapes contained in colonial maps, the intrinsic meanings of the cultural material and even the function of pre-colonial sites.

The research is developed by an indigenous researcher in line with the principles of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007), a Post-colonial hermeneutics and decolonizing methodologies.

Cultural Continuity: The symbol of the marital union in the Mixtec culture is the act of being seated on the mat. It was represented in Mixtecs and Nahuas pictorial manuscripts of the pre-colonial and colonial period (e.g. Codex Yuta Tnoho-Vindobonensis, p.34, and Codex Mendoza, p.61). This ritual continues until this day in traditional marriage ceremony of the Ñuu Savi communities. Photograph by the author.

Understanding the symbolic stratigraphy of the land

With this theoretical and methodological framework, the research focuses on understanding the symbolic stratigraphy of the land (through time) from the worldview of the People of the Rain, by studying contemporary cultural heritage in communities of the Mixtec Highlands. This study follows four principles:

  1. The cultural continuity of the People of the Rain is undeniable and the language is the primordial link with the past.
  2. The spiritual relationship with the land today in Mixtec communities is important to identify rituals and concepts in pictorial manuscripts. Also, it is important to recognize the landscapes depicted in colonial maps as sacred landscapes, which are a Mesoamerican worldview that contrasts with the dominant Western worldview.
  3. The reintegration and decolonization of the cultural memory from the worldview of Indigenous Peoples is fundamental to achieve a deep understanding of the cultural values of the Mesoamerican civilization (past and present) without the colonialism layers.
  4. The importance to study the cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples by themselves is not only by the past, but it is in the present, to recognize their past, strengthen their identity, re-value and protect their heritage.
Cultural values: Dancing with herbs in the hands is well known in Ñuu Savi as an important part of the traditional marriage ceremony as shown in the picture taken in Santo Tomás Ocotepec where women dance with the ita kuutú. This name, which means “flower that ties”, is a metaphor for the union of the married couple. The same scene is in the Codex Añute (page 7, line I), a Mixtec pictorial manuscript from the sixteen-century. Photograph by the author.
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