This is what the social life of the Huave people is like

The Huave family groupings that congregate in these areas still use territorial divisions as a way to distinguish themselves from other groups and restrict their members' mate options.

This is what the social life of the Huave people is like
This is a typical day in the life of a Huave, as demonstrated by their vibrant social scene. Credit: INPI

In the mountainous areas of Oaxaca, where the grid layout never worked, the Huave towns were set up around a temple. The temple spread the settlement out over the four points of the quadrant and turned the space's physical layout into neighborhoods or sections.

Even today, the territorial sections give the family groups who socialize in these spaces an extra sense of identity and limit the types of people they can marry. In practice, the limits of a neighborhood almost always make it hard to get married.

When you look at the marriage records of San Mateo del Mar and nearby cities, you'll find that a lot of people get married to people from the same neighborhood. This suggests that where people live is the most important factor in who they choose to marry.

Women often leave their nuclear families when they get married and move in with their husband's families. They stay there as long as they need to until they can start their own family, which the Huave call nden, which means "shadow."

Even though marriage alliances separate women from their nuclear family, they give them access to a set of "ritual parents" who make the structure of domestic groups bigger. The Huave have a tradition that the godfather of the wedding is also the godfather of all the children's baptisms, and when a child gets married, he or she looks for their godfather among their descendants.

So, the members of one family group will have the children of another family group as their godparents for baptism and marriage. Those children will get their godparents from a third group. This system sets up an exchange between different family groups, making two lines of descent: one for those who give godparents and one for those who get them.

The exchanges between family groups are just a simplified version of a general rule that applies to all of the territorial sections. Even though the sections tend to marry people from the same family, they are all part of a central hierarchy that gives positions in the village to people from different neighborhoods.

So that all territorial units can have a voice in the municipal council, the main positions change hands every year. For example, if the first territorial unit is mayor for one year, the second must be mayor the next year. In San Mateo del Mar, the only Huave municipality that still uses this colonial model, the main positions in the civil hierarchy rotate between the different territorial units.

This is done to make sure that each section gets a position every year and gives it to the next section at the end of the year. In this way, the different parts of the territory are connected through a system of exchanges in which each section is both a receiver and a giver of positions.

This system is only used for civil hierarchy positions. On the other hand, there is no rule about rotating territories in the religious sphere. This gives the Huaves an alternative way to get civilian jobs. When a man chooses a religious career, which is tied to the church's duties, he is automatically excluded from the municipal council and put in a different group than the other men in the village.

This, however, doesn't stop a man from becoming mayor or municipal president at the top of the civil hierarchy once he has held every religious position. In other words, the civil and religious hierarchies are separate at the bottom but connected at the top. For example, the Chapel Master, who is the most powerful person in the church, can end his career by serving on the city council.

The Huave have a social group called montang ombas, which means "those with big bodies," and it's made up of people who hold civil positions. The term is sometimes used to refer to a small group of older people who don't have their organization but still have a big say in public decisions.

Even though this is what most people think, the status of montang ombas has not always been linked to the idea of an elder based on age. Instead, it has been linked to a strategic mix of senior stewardship and appointment that was common in the past. After being councilman three times and holding the required positions in the town council, men could hold one of the higher positions in the civil hierarchy. This was the only way to get into the group of principals called montang ombas.

The offer was open to the monlüy teampoots, "temple stewards". They had a similar status because they held civil jobs after their religious careers were over. By making this jump, which linked the top of the religious hierarchy to the bottom of the civil hierarchy, the system gave those in charge of the temple the status of ombas, which was part of the category of montang ombas.

The word ombas, which means "body," is very important for understanding how societies work. The word "ombas" is usually used to refer to the top of the different hierarchical structures found in both the civil and religious spheres. This is because the word "ombas" is linked to both images of the body and local ideas about the universe.

In mythology, however, the idea of ombas takes on different meanings. In this case, the term is used to describe the weather phenomena that are part of the local mythology and are seen by the Huaves as the alter egos of people, in the same way, that the terms "tono" and "nagual" are used in ethnographic writing.

So, an old belief says that in the past, the people in charge of the community were monbasoic, which means they had "cloud bodies" and moved as fast as lightning to Cerro Bernal, where the naguals who make it rain live.

In the collective memory, the words "monbasoic" and "authority" are linked in a way that is similar to the relationship that an ancient man had with his alter ego, whose true identity was revealed when he talked to a female, maritime and southern deity.

In the myths, this contact was made because each marriage had to give the first son to Mijmeor Cang, who is known as the "Stone Virgin" by the huaves of San Mateo del Mar and is seen as the first local god.

The transfer happened on the beach, near the hermitage where the second mayor prays for rain. Mijmeor Cang made up for the sacrifice of the firstborn by baptizing the rest of the children. It gave them the "name" and told them who his/her nagual was.

The baptism of Mijmeor Cang made it possible for each person to get in touch with his/her nagual. This turned the people into real monbasoics, who were put into two groups based on their gender: the lightning and the south wind.

Because of this, the relationship between a person and his/her alter ego was the same as the relationship between the real people of San Mateo del Mar and the mythical people of Cerro Bernal since the real people of San Mateo del Mar were just the human copies of the mythical people of Cerro Bernal.

Mijmeor Cang left the Huaves right before they were about to be conquered. It then went into the ocean, where its steps made waves. Its flight broke up not only San Mateo del Mar and Cerro Bernal, but also each person and his or her nagual.

The logic of the myth says that when Christianity came to the ancient Huaves, they stopped knowing about their other selves. This led to a social difference that hadn't existed before: the possibility that some men could learn about their soul entities and become monbasoic, or "cloud-body" men, who had the first idea of authority.

If this break was the start of the social hierarchy, it also made it possible for the huave leaders to talk to the soul entities that live in Cerro Bernal, to whom they now pray to ask for rain.

Source: Huaves, by Saúl Millán, pages 24-29. Saúl Millán is Dr. in Anthropological Sciences. He is a professor-researcher at the National School of Anthropology and History of the National Institute of Anthropology and History. National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples (Comisión Nacional para el Desarrollo de los Pueblos Indígenas)