Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Identity, Ritual, and Power in Colonial Puebla

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Identity, Ritual, and Power in Colonial Puebla

Article excerpt

Identity, Ritual, and Power in Colonial Puebla. By Frances L. Ramos. (Tucson: University of Arizona Press. 2012. Pp. xxxvi, 247. $60.00 clothbound, ISBN 978-0-8165-0849-5; $29.95 paperback, ISBN 978-0-81652117-3.)

Frances Ramos examines civic and religious ritual performances sponsored by the town council of Puebla, colonial Mexico's "second city," from the late-seventeenth to the late-eighteenth centuries. She extends recent historiography on grand ritual in colonial Latin America, which tends to focus on ceremony's socially integrative function. Ramos does not deny this role. She investigates how the participation of various corporate groups from Puebla's racially diverse population in the city's rites honoring the king and Catholic holy figures served to solidify New Spain's inclusive but highly stratified social hierarchy.Also like other authors, Ramos studies the political messages embedded in ritual action. She particularly highlights the metaphors of king as head of the body politic and king as patriarch. She builds upon this historiography to argue that the city council used public ceremony to exalt the king and simultaneously to promote its own local authority as head of Puebla's political body and as father of the city's populace. More significantly, Ramos carefully unpacks numerous cases of ritual conflict. Generally dismissed as aberrations or instances of baroque obsession with honor and precedence, Ramos looks to the personal, economic, and jurisdictional tensions that underlay disputes occasioned during rituals.This line of investigation leads her to argue that ritual did not simply reflect the political environment, but rather that ritual engagement functioned as a form of politics, a realm in which competing groups vied for authority and on occasion reordered power arrangements.

The book can be divided into three sections. In the first (chapters 2-4), Ramos examines three types of ritual-ceremonies to honor the monarch, the viceroy, and saints-and their intended meanings. She argues that, despite the fact that the Bourbon monarchy sought to heighten the importance of royal rites and diminish festivities in honor of viceroys, the city council of Puebla continued to celebrate the entrance of new viceroys lavishly. …

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