Soldiers, Saints, and Shamans

Indigenous Communities and the Revolutionary State in Mexico's Gran Nayar, 1910–1940

Nathaniel Morris (Author)
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The Mexican Revolution gave rise to the Mexican nation-state as we know it today. Rural revolutionaries took up arms against the Díaz dictatorship in support of agrarian reform, in defense of their political autonomy, or inspired by a nationalist desire to forge a new Mexico. However, in the Gran Nayar, a rugged expanse of mountains and canyons, the story was more complex, as the region’s four Indigenous peoples fought both for and against the revolution and the radical changes it bought to their homeland.

To make sense of this complex history, Nathaniel Morris offers the first systematic understanding of the participation of the Náayari, Wixárika, O’dam, and Mexicanero peoples in the Mexican Revolution. They are known for being among the least “assimilated” of all Mexico’s Indigenous peoples. It’s often been assumed that they were stuck up in their mountain homeland—“the Gran Nayar”—with no knowledge of the uprisings, civil wars, military coups, and political upheaval that convulsed the rest of Mexico between 1910 and 1940.

Based on extensive archival research and years of fieldwork in the rugged and remote Gran Nayar, Morris shows that the Náayari, Wixárika, O’dam, and Mexicanero peoples were actively involved in the armed phase of the revolution. This participation led to serious clashes between an expansionist, “rationalist” revolutionary state and the highly autonomous communities and heterodox cultural and religious practices of the Gran Nayar’s inhabitants. Morris documents confrontations between practitioners of subsistence agriculture and promoters of capitalist development, between rival Indian generations and political factions, and between opposing visions of the world, of religion, and of daily life. These clashes produced some of the most severe defeats that the government’s state-building programs suffered during the entire revolutionary era, with significant and often counterintuitive consequences both for local people and for the Mexican nation as a whole.


List of Illustrations
Note on Ethnic Nomenclature
The Caciques of the Gran Nayar
1. The Gran Nayar: From Conquest to Revolution
2. The “Armed Phase” of the Revolution in the Gran Nayar, 1910–1920
3. Schools, State-Building, and Communal Autonomy Under the Sonorans, 1920–1925
4. The Cristero Rebellion in the Gran Nayar, 1926–1929
5. Boarding Schools, Factional Feuds, and Unlikely Alliances During the Maximato, 1929–1934
6. Cardenismo and the Second Cristero Rebellion in the Gran Nayar, 1935–1940

Read the Introduction

“This book presents a fine example of ethnohistory at its best… An underlying strength of this book emanates from the author’s in-depth knowledge of the region he sets out to elucidate to us…it is heartening to discover that a new generation of historians not only recognizes the vast potential of local history but engages with it in such a way as to maximise its full potential.”—Keith Brewster, Journal of Latin American Studies

"Soldiers, Saints, and Shamans is worthy of careful consideration by anyone interested in the Mexican Revolution, the politics and cultures of Indigenous peoples, peasant and hilldwelling societies, state-building, and civil wars."—Joshua Simon, The Middle Ground Journal

"Many books have been written on the Mexican Revolution, and some on its aftermath (including the First and the Second Cristero Rebellions), but very few on what happened
during that time in remote Indigenous regions of Mexico like the Gran Nayar. ... This book clearly shows that there are no peoples without history in the Gran Nayar."—Johannes Neurath, Hispanic American Historical Review

“This monumental work shows the resilience of the Indigenous communities of the Gran Nayar during the armed phase of the revolution and the first and second Cristero wars. Morris reveals that Indigenous Mexicans were neither a monolithic band of traditionalists fighting the outside world in a Guerra de Castas nor passive victims of soldiers and teachers. It stands as a significant contribution to the ethnohistory of modern Mexico.”—Ben Fallaw, co-editor of State Formation in the Liberal Era

“This is a crucial book of understanding and appreciating one of the most important Indigenous regions of Mexico and for reevaluating the Mexican Revolution from the perspective of the different Indigenous peoples. It is an outstanding and inspiring achievement that draws on ethnographic research, previously unused archives, and the author’s own conversations with Indigenous veterans and survivors of ‘la revolución.’”—Philip E. Coyle, author of Náyari History, Politics, and Violence

"Nathaniel Morris’s Soldiers, Saints, and Shamans in the Gran Nayar is an important new book that brings into focus both a long-neglected region and the active participation of indigenous peoples in the Mexican Revolution."—Julie Gibbings, H-LatAm

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