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Behind God's Back: Reconciling Sex and Sin in an Amuzgo Community
by Gianna Hochstein - NONFICTION
PUBLISHER: Central Coast Press
NOTES: 287 pages
Hardback ISBN: 930401035
The Amuzgo people of the town Xochistlahuaca in southern Mexico live their sexual lives in a vortex of folklore, religion and Mexican and customary law. Hochstein describes Xochistlahuaca's history and the life of its residents in a region so isolated that its inhabitants view themselves as living "behind God's back".
Religious dogma conflicts both with the pressures of sexual desire and with a sense of justice that is reliant on retributional murder. Modern and primitive Catholics, fundamentalist Protestants, and believers in pre-Christian concepts inhabit the same physical world. The many-facetted folklore described here provides the means for the reconcilement of sin with the ecstasy of drunkenness, the pleasure of fornication and the satisfaction of revenge by murder.
In the 1970's the isolation of this community in the foothills of the Sierra Madre began to erode. A bridge was built so that trucks could cross the protective Arroyo Mujer [the Woman river] and helicopters from the federal government would land in pursuit of the villains. Now many years later, despite greater contact with the rest of Mexico, strife interrupts without God's intervention. Customs such as institutionalized homosexuality and murder in retribution for fornication and/or wife abandonment continue to confirm the idea that this place remains "behind god's back".
Hochstein proposes that belief structures are supported at a meta-level beyond Christian principles of morality. Mythical ideas justify the behaviors of daily life. The discrepancies between an individual's deeds and his beliefs is illustrated in metalogical diagrams which reconcile that dissonance.
The reader can not fail to find parallels between the lives of the people of Xochistlahuaca and our own problems in the United States with sex and violence.
Gianna Hochstein (1926-2010) was born in Kansas City, Missouri, traveled widely as an anthropologist and as the "satellite wife of a prominent biological scientist." Her observations of a variety of western cultures in contact with non-western societies provoked her interest in contrastive sexual drives and mores. The intertwining of sexual behavior and religious doctrine arises out of sensibility derived from a study of history and the ecology of human geography.
She was a lifetime scholar, having studied literature and political history at Grinnell College and linguistics and anthropology at Columbia University. She continued doctoral studies in anthropology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and later at the University of Southern California.
She lived in Iowa, New York, North Carolina, Sweden, Italy, and in rural areas of Trinidad & Tobago, Mexico, and Guatemala. Gianna Hochstein died in 2010, a few weeks after the death of her husband Paul Hochstein, and after 15 years of active retirement in Cambria, California. She and Paul were survived by two remarkable sons and three consequential grandchildren.
Settings Historical Geographical and Mythical15
Sexuality in a Bicultural Community
The Reconciliation of Discrepancy
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