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Mesoamerican Ethnography: Language, Religion and Culture Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: May 28th, 2020

The modern Mesoamerica region is made up a diversified range of linguistic nature. However, Spanish is greatly spoken in this region and about eighty native languages are still in use today. The study of these languages has led to further discoveries of information concerning these people, their cultures, histories and the relationship between the Mesoamerican societies. The sources of genuine anthropological information based on the linguistic development have not yet been identified, with the existence of a problem to determine the difference between a social and linguistic phenomenon.

The language used may be used to measure, but cannot represent or unlock the complexity of the society using that language. This brings a reflection for clear understanding of the relationship between language, culture and identity. Nevertheless, the trouble for the Maya had begun way back before the Spanish invasion. The pre-Hispanic Maya world was made up of a long series of succession of impressive artistic and intellectual achievements.

For colonialism, the role played by anthropology is relatively unimportant. The theoretical reverse proposition does not actually apply. The colonization affected the local Mesoamericans society in very many ways. A greater concern is directed to the peaceful conquest of the Maya of Yucatan. The initial intention of the missionary as viewed by the field of discourse production-hanks is to bring the subjects to order which would in one way or the other, affect the built space, day-to-day social practices and the language. The conversion of the Indios into Christianity, introduced a change in the native language used by the Indios to a Telos language which the Christians opted as the medium for Christian practice. The conversion is viewed currently as the charismatic change of an individual’s religious beliefs.

However, in the colonial context this was not the case, but rather collective religious changes and not individual. The colonial conversion dealt with the social and cultural conversion of the entire ethnic group as part of the colonial domination. Religious conversion like any other form of conversion has all the reasons with overwhelming evidence that its beliefs and practices were pervasively woven into social life in both the Spanish and the Maya sector of the colony (Asad 315).

The interpretation of words and text provides good source of native cultural clues, thus words and text of a linguistic group qualifies as resourceful ethnographic materials. The reflection of the relationship between culture, language and identity can be analyzed if the use of words and text in that language is studied. This is so important because most of the community aspects are stored in words especially with the current era of literacy. The names used by a society also play a major role in explaining the people’s environment (Hustrap 27).

Linguistic and detention played a very important role in the foundation of the first Andaman home in the Ross Island. This first home marked the turning point for the Andaman human civilization for people. The people’s way of living positively and they started to appreciate their new comfortable homes, with the comfort of more appreciated humanity which led to a reduction in the brutal killing of the ancient communities. These homes were successful in both ethnographic and administration point of view. The indigenous population was well transformed in the homes and led to further production of hybrid inter-tribal identities facilitated by the stable environment of the homes through marriages and communication (Tomas 79).

The missionary intention as based to their action on the colonial Yucatan. The missionary target was clearly on transforming the Indian behavior and beliefs. This is well reflected in their definition of conversion, meaning to convince, be convinced or repentant. By joining conviction with repentance, the term conversion was used to mean the voluntary turning away from the past and current ways of life to different better way of life. The language of the Maya people was also converted in the process of linguistic conversion. The Maya language was transformed from the pagan idolatrous codes it had been into a recorded language of the emerging community of Christian Indios.

Mayan languages are related, these could be used to explain the fact that Mayan people were once shared a macro-Maya culture. This is a clear evidence of the cultural changes that take place in a society. In the same view, such anthropological information can be used to predict the cultural renaissance movement that is actually taking place now. The linguists too support the fact that there existed a unique proto-Mayan language from which the current existing Mayan off springs derives their languages. The Maya ritual ceremonies also used the knowledge of the four cosmological directions which were associated with colors. This is a pan-Maya belief still existing in some modern Maya of different regions (Hanks 8).

In conclusion, it is evident that the presence of missionaries and the Mesoamerica area had distorted several aspects of the language. This distortion has led to the disappearance of some of the traditionally accepted languages and the adoption of the missionary’s language. As the natives were converting from their traditional religion to the new religion, they left some aspects of their culture including language for the sake of the new religion.

Works Cited

Asad, Talal. “Afterward: From the History of Colonial Anthropology to the Anthropology of Western Hegemony” In Colonial Situations: Essays of the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge. NP. 1991. Pp. 314-324. Print.

Hanks, William. “The Field of Discourse Production” In Converting Words: Maya in the Age of the Cross. NP. 2010. Pp. 1-22. Print.

Hastrup, Kirsten. “The Language Paradox” In A Passage to Anthropology: Between Experience and Theory. New York: Routledge. 1995. Print.

Tomas, David. Tools of the Trade: The Production of Ethnographic Observations on the Andaman Islands” In Colonial Situations: Essays of the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. 1991. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Mesoamerican Ethnography: Language, Religion and Culture'. 28 May.

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