Singing for the Dead

The Politics of Indigenous Revival in Mexico

Singing for the Dead

Book Pages: 328 Illustrations: 23 photographs, 4 tables, 3 maps Published: May 2013

Author: Paja Faudree

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Native and Indigenous Studies

Singing for the Dead chronicles ethnic revival in Oaxaca, Mexico, where new forms of singing and writing in the local Mazatec indigenous language are producing powerful, transformative political effects. Paja Faudree argues for the inclusion of singing as a necessary component in the polarized debates about indigenous orality and literacy, and she considers how the coupling of literacy and song has allowed people from the region to create texts of enduring social resonance. She examines how local young people are learning to read and write in Mazatec as a result of the region's new Day of the Dead song contest. Faudree also studies how tourist interest in local psychedelic mushrooms has led to their commodification, producing both opportunities and challenges for songwriters and others who represent Mazatec culture. She situates these revival movements within the contexts of Mexico and Latin America, as well as the broad, hemisphere-wide movement to create indigenous literatures. Singing for the Dead provides a new way to think about the politics of ethnicity, the success of social movements, and the limits of national belonging.


“Paja Faudree’s ambitious new study of ethnic politics among Mazatec people combines a rich understanding of Oaxaca’s unique histories and a sophisticated knowledge of recent social theory...the author does a magnificent job of historicizing and ethnographically detailing the unique cultural revival occurring in the Mazatec region.” — Howard Campbell, The Americas

“A very well-written and important work on the anthropological linguistics of Mesoamerica. Essential.” — P. R. Sullivan, Choice

"A major contribution to the study of ethnic revival movements in the Americas and elsewhere." — Zoila Mendoza, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

"This is a splendid book.”  — Chris Goertzen, Western Folklore

“The questions Singing for the Dead raises are provocative and well timed. An ethnographically grounded and nuanced study, this elegant contribution to knowledge on indigenous literature and literacy in Mexico extends disciplinary walls to address much broader questions of ethnic identity, social movements, and national belonging.” — Alex E. Chávez, American Ethnologist

"Faudree’s book represents an important contribution to empirically founded discussions of the role of artistic practice in linguistic revitalization. In her rich portrait of grassroots initiatives in symbiotic relation with national ethnic demands, Faudree gives us reasons to feel hopeful about the future of indigenous literacy efforts in Mexico." — Genner Llanes-Ortiz, American Anthropologist

"Faudree’s text is a rich and detailed meditation on the revival movements in Sierra Mazateca in Oaxaca, Mexico.... Those who study revitalization movements, Mazateco culture and history, or Oaxaca will find much food for thought in Singing for the Dead." — Mintzi Auanda Martinez-Rivera, Journal of Folklore Research

"Singing for the Dead is an unusual work that brings a sophisticated analysis of language and song into dialogue with the contemporary history of factions and the politics of identification in the Mazatec region of Oaxaca. Paja Faudree deftly unpacks the intellectual and institutional infrastructure that has made a culturally innovative process of native revivalism possible." — Claudio Lomnitz, author of Death and the Idea of Mexico

"Singing for the Dead makes major theoretical and ethnographic contributions to studies of indigenous literacy, ethnic revival movements, and the ways in which politics functions through cultural forms. The book is historically and theoretically rich, situating the different examples of ethnic revival—the Day of the Dead song contest, the Mazatec Indigenous Church, and the work of indigenous Mazatec writers—in a wonderfully vibrant context." — Lynn Stephen, author of Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon


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Price: $27.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paja Faudree is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Brown University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Note on Orthographic and Linguistic Conventions xiii

Introduction. Leaving the Pueblo 1

1. From Revolution to Renaissance: A Political Geography and History of "Deep Mexico" 30

2. Revival in the "Land of the Magic Mushroom": A Recent History of Ethnic Relations in the Sierra Mazateca 75

3. Singing for the Spirits: The Annual Day of the Dead Song Contest 105

4. Scenes from a Nativist Reformation: The Mazatec Indigenous Church 141

5. Meeting at the Family Crypt: Social Fault Lines and the Fragility of Community 174

6. Seeing Double: Indigenous Authors, Readers, and the Paradox of Revival 197

Conclusion. Singing for the Dead and the Living: Revival, Indigenous Publics, and the National Afterlife 236

Notes 251

References 277

Index 297
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing

2013 Choice Outstanding Academic Title (Social & Behavioral Sciences)

Winner, 2014 Society for Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology (SLACA) Book Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5431-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5416-1
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