SiStan ChapLee

Friday, May 25, 2018

Ethnography, to and fro


From the very beginning of the 'discovery' of Central America, the missionaries -- surely not the Conquistadores -- started to study the languages, societies, cultures of the native peoples, and produced illustrated books, dictionaries, encyclopedias. Now the "new Indian" peoples repay them with a wonderful book illustrated by the talented Claudio Romo: Monstruos mexicanos (Alas y Raíces, 2012, with essays by Carmen Leñero), also available in Italian as Bestiario mexicano, with different texts (Logos, 2018, essays by Ivan Cenzi).

Some legendary monsters of the Yucatan area are described. Although in that context the concept of "monsters" had a very different meaning than in European folklore, in this Bestiary, in the Italian version at least, the stories of sacred Maya critters are once again explained from the viewpoint of Western anthropology, that makes them quite reassuring. But C. Romo's own comments, and especially his powerful Surrealist pictures suggest that something a bit more dangerous might be lurking over there.

A book to be fully enjoyed while learning. Not to speak of the fact that a crazy, fascinating, dynamic mix between Christian and non-Christian religions is not only a feature of many current cults in Latin America, but had already surfaced in G. B. Marino's long poem Adonis (Greek mythology, in that case), published in 1623 while missionaries of the Old Continent were exporting/importing culture to/from the New World.