Association of Indigenous Anthropologists
While archaeological and ethnographic descriptions often homogenize “the Zapotec” and generalize about cultural characteristics from pre-Colonial times to the present, my project seeks to develop an ethnobotanical understanding of copal use in ritual and the economy from people rooted in place today. This project focuses primarily on contemporary ritual usage of the copal tree, the effects of this usage on the local economy, and link these two activities to the historical record of Oaxaca. San Antonio Arrazola and Teotitlán del Valle have differing identities, history, political organization yet they are located only about 40 kilometers (about 25 miles) away from each other. The differences in their histories, however, are significant. Arrazola is a recently established pueblo near the Zapotec archaeological site of Monte Albán. Teotitlán del Valle is a community in a site that has been inhabited continuously by Zapotec descended people since before European contact. I argue that the copal tree serves as a unifying container for linking the living and the dead, the present world and “the other world,” and material, economic, spiritual, and symbolic realms. I build this argument with ethnographic material from Teotitlán del Valle that focused on copal as an incense during Día de los Muertos, which has is a major holiday in Mexico, but I also suggest that the artisans of Arrazola who use the wood of the copal tree to produce carvings for a tourist and global market, do not divorce the tree’s economic aspects from its spiritual aspects and ancestral connection.