The Indian Christ, the Indian King

[ Latin American Studies ]

The Indian Christ, the Indian King

The Historical Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual

By Victoria Reifler Bricker

A critique of postconquest historiography about the Maya that challenges major assumptions about the relationship between myth and history implicit in structuralist interpretations.



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8.5 x 11 | 382 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-72141-8

Victoria Bricker shows that "history" sometimes rests on mythological foundations and that "myth" can contain valid historical information. Her book, which is a highly original critique of postconquest historiography about the Maya, challenges major assumptions about the relationship between myth and history implicit in structuralist interpretations. The focus of the book is ethnic conflict, a theme that pervades Maya folklore and is also well documented historically.

The book begins with the Spanish conquest of the Maya. In chapters on the postconquest history of the Maya, five ethnic conflicts are treated in depth: the Cancuc revolt of 1712, the Quisteil uprising of 1761, the Totonicapan rebellion of 1820, the Caste War of Yucatan (1847—1901), and the Chamulan uprising in 1869. Analytical chapters consider the relationship between historical events and modern folklore about ethnic conflict. Bricker demonstrates that myths and rituals emphasize structure at the expense of temporal and geographical provenience, treating events separated by centuries or thousands of miles as equivalent and interchangeable.

An unexpected result of Bricker's research is the finding that many seemingly aboriginal elements in Maya folklore are actually of postconquest origin, and she shows that it is possible to determine precisely when and, more important, why they become part of myth and ritual. Furthermore, she finds that the patterning of the accretion of events in folklore over time provides clues to the function, or meaning, of myth and ritual for the Maya.

Bricker has made use of many unpublished documents in Spanish, English, and Maya, as well as standard synthetic historical works. The appendices contain extensive samples of the oral traditions that are explained by her analysis.


I. Introduction
1. The Historicity of Myth and the Myth of History

II. The First “Rebellions” (1511–1697)
2. The Conquest of Yucatan
3. The Conquest of Guatemala
4. The Conquest of Chiapas

III. Colonial Rebellions
5. Indian Saints in Highland Chiapas (1708–1713)
6. The Indian King in Quisteil (1761)
7. The Indian King in Totonicapan (1820)

IV. Postcolonial “Caste Wars”
8. The Caste War of Yucatan (1847–1901)
9. The War of St. Rose in Chamula (1867–1870)

V. The Structure of Ethnic Conflict
10. The Iconography of Ritualized Ethnic Conflict among the Maya
11. The Passion Theme in Maya Folklore
12. The Indian King
13. Contemporary Developments in Highland Chiapas (1958–1972)
14. Nativism, Syncretism, and the Structure of Myth and Ritual

A. Yucatecan Documents
1. The Proclamation of Juan de la Cruz (1850)
2. Letter to Miguel Barbachano, Governor of Yucatan (August 28, 1851)
B. Caste Wars in Yucatecan Folk History (1971)
1. General Cortés and General Bravo
2. The Epoch of Slavery
3. Cecilio Chi and Jacinto Canek
C. Some Folklore of Ethnic Conflict in Highland Chiapas
1. When the Guatemalans Were Blown Sky-High
2. When the Soldiers Were Coming
3. When Zinacantecs Rode Home on Horseback
4. The War of Saint Rose
5. The War of St. Rose (Chamulan Version)
6. The War of St. Rose (Chenalho Version)
7. War (Zinacantan)
8. The War of St. Rose (Ladino Version)
9. Galindo and the Chamulans


Victoria Reifler Bricker is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at Tulane University.

"...a major work, with the potential of becoming a classic."

"Bricker's elucidations of the roles of historical foundations of myth and ritual drama and of the feedback between myth and history are significant contributions to the literature on myth, ritual drama, and ethnohistory....this is an outstanding work, a standard of excellence...."
American Anthropologist