In this lecture I will focus on the Tehuana, as an object of veneration, and Tehuantepec as a place of pilgrimage, and a symbol of post-revolutionary democratic culture. I will say little at the end on the extent to which the image of the Tehuana matriarchal society coincides with reality as observed by social anthropologists.
Long before the Revolution, as travelogues reveal, the Tehuana had emerged as a archetype
Claudio Linati, Joven Mujer de Tehuantepec, 1828
Why this fascination with the Tehuana and Tehuantepec ?
The Isthmus of Tehuantepec was the bridge between North and Central America, and between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Hence countless travellers paused in Tehuantepec and noted the proud and colourfully dressed Zapotec market women. See readings
For the traveller journeying SE from Mexico City, Tehuantepec presented the first really lush vegetation and tropical conditions.
Apart from the heat and the jungle, the isthmus Tehuantepec also presented the traveller with a vast, seemingly infinite open landscape. This contrasted with the cold, mountain flanked highland valleys where most Mexican lived (and still live).
Tropicalism, exoticism and space encouraged metaphor, hyperbole, and, sometimes, downright confusion. In 1648, the English Dominican monk, Thomas Gage (normally quite a reliable observer of highland society) clearly found Tehuantepec too much to comprehend describing the isthmus as "a mysterious land filled with witches, devils and Indians in the shape of beasts."
It was the women of the isthmus that always attracted the most attention. The fine looking and assertive women of the region, who seemed to dominate the public and commercial spheres, contrasted with the humble, semi-veiled, housebound and apparently subordinate Indian women of the highlands. Apart from their dominance of the market place, descriptions of Tehuanas habitually