[Marxism] Fwd: H-Net Review [H-LatAm]: Mehas on McArdle Stephens, 'In the Lands of Fire and Sun: Resistance and Accommodation in the Huichol Sierra, 1723-1930'

Andrew Stewart hasc.warrior.stew at gmail.com
Wed Aug 7 13:41:45 MDT 2019

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From: H-Net Staff via H-REVIEW <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Date: Wed, Aug 7, 2019 at 1:54 PM
Subject: H-Net Review [H-LatAm]: Mehas on McArdle Stephens, 'In the Lands
of Fire and Sun: Resistance and Accommodation in the Huichol Sierra,
To: <h-review at lists.h-net.org>
Cc: H-Net Staff <revhelp at mail.h-net.org>

Michele McArdle Stephens.  In the Lands of Fire and Sun: Resistance
and Accommodation in the Huichol Sierra, 1723-1930.  Lincoln
University of Nebraska Press, 2018.  222 pp.  $50.00 (cloth), ISBN

Reviewed by Shayna Mehas (Elon University)
Published on H-LatAm (August, 2019)
Commissioned by Casey M. Lurtz

Residing in the Sierra Madre Occidental, the area where Jalisco,
Durango, Zacatecas, and Nayarit intersect, the Huichols or
Wixáritari have actively resisted and accommodated impinging
circumstantial changes congruent with Spanish conquest, independence,
and the Mexican Revolution. Through a close reading of priests'
letters, travelers' accounts, and ethnographic reports, Michele
McArdle Stephens attempts to reveal a previously unknown history of
this culturally affiliated and politically nonaligned indigenous
population, showing how they successfully maintained aspects of their
identity, culture, and land in this "region of refuge," over the
course of two hundred years (p. xx).

The work consists of an introduction, conclusion, and six abbreviated
chapters that seek to illustrate how the Huichol people modified,
adapted, and thrived in their native areas, continuing to practice
their traditional cultural beliefs and maintaining the core of their
indigenous identity, despite the increasing presence of the state and
international constituencies. Stephens introduces the region and its
people by briefly explaining the complexity of the area and its
numerous native inhabitants. Though noting that the people within
this region most commonly refer to themselves as the Wixáritari, for
the purposes of "semantic ease" and historical recognition, the term
"Huichol" is used throughout the work (p. xxi). Stephens then moves
thematically and temporally, paying particular attention to the
Huichols' defense of religion and lands. In an effort to understand
Huichol identity, the author attempts to fit these themes into major
points in Mexican history. Herein lies the overarching challenges of
the work. Because of the confines created by the temporal alignment
of the chapters (the arrival of the Spanish, transition from colony
to nation, the rise of Liberalism, including the separation of church
and state and privatization of land, and the Mexican Revolution), and
the limited nature of sources used, sufficient evidence to draw
conclusions as they relate to the big picture of Mexican history is

The dependency on more singular types of sources for individual
chapters creates obvious voids in the ability to see the larger
picture. Take, for instance, the first chapter, "From Native
Neighbors to Spanish Conquerors," that predominately uses priests'
letters. Although the author stipulates that the Huichols "had been
in somewhat regular contact with Spanish missionaries," not only is
the direct evidence of their correspondence, including what this
regular contact looked like and how often and how thorough it was,
unclear, but so are the reasons why some groups resisted
missionization attempts while others accommodated these efforts (p.
9). Did it have to do with where exactly these priests were sent and
how long they remained, or was it something else? A richer
contextualization of the region, the documented movements by the
Catholic Church, and the process of early conversion and assimilation
efforts would have provided more clarity. Stephens is most successful
in doing this in chapter 4, "In Defense of Lands." Stephens's
examination of violent reactions to political and ideological
threats, including the growing hacienda system and racism,
illustrates Huichol resistance. Reminiscent of the other chapters,
this chapter would have benefited from a more thorough
contextualization of both the broader history of these political and
ideological threats (National Land Law and Francisco Pimental and the
"Indian problem") and specifics within the region (a more thorough
investigation into the actual legal actions taken by the Huichols).

Both despite and aligned with some if its shortcomings, this book
contributes to the historiography of Mexican indigenous groups. Most
obviously, this work sheds light on the Huichol people, as referenced
by the author, "a small, heretofore obscure native group" (p. xxii).
Stephens's work succeeds in showing the role that the Huichols'
geographic location played in the maintenance of their communities.
Through her close reading of priests' letters, travelers' accounts,
and ethnographic reports, readers get a glimpse of their traditional
religious beliefs as seen through their continued participation in
the ceremonious peyote hunt, as well as a window into the ways these
peoples were perceived by passing observers. Nevertheless, due to its
brevity and sources, the work falls short in providing a clear look
at how the Huichols were both indicative of and contradictory to
other indigenous populations and towns influenced by the larger
processes and fixtures of the central government. Although there is
limited scholarship on the Huichol, the author does not include at
least one other major work, Paul M. Liffman's _Huichol Territory and
the Mexican Nation: Indigenous Ritual, Land Conflict, and Sovereignty
Claims_ (2014). This is representative of the bibliography, more
generally, in that seminal works for the colonial era, Porfiriato,
and revolution are not referenced. A more thorough contextualization
of the periods and themes under analysis and a more diversified
primary source base would have benefited the work. That said, the
work provides starting points for future studies to expand upon in
these areas.

Citation: Shayna Mehas. Review of McArdle Stephens, Michele, _In the
Lands of Fire and Sun: Resistance and Accommodation in the Huichol
Sierra, 1723-1930_. H-LatAm, H-Net Reviews. August, 2019.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53508

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

Best regards,

Andrew Stewart

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