Niku T’arhechu T’arhesi takes the page 99 test

“Yes,” I said.

My answer left you like a glutton without food—unsatisfied.  Before you could request thick ethnographic details, I handed you page 99 of Endangered Words and Invulnerable Worlds: Spatial Language and Social Relations in Cheran, Michoacan, Mexico.

The text appeared straightforward about general trends in Cheran.  Still, you couldn’t shake the notion of being stranded in an ethnographic labyrinth.  So, you read it and reread it.  Being the scholar you are, you decided to immerse yourself in Cheran’s P’urhépecha.  Only there was no rabbit hole, just the whole text—Endangered Words and Invulnerable Worlds.

In the text, you found that theoretically, I argued a spatial language-based cultural model explains many of the properties of social relations.  The part-whole model is simple like a slice of pizza out of a pie, a cigar from a set, or birds of a feather flocking together.  After reading the ethnographic evidence—from emic sociological characteristics affecting face-to-face communication to people ascribing behavioral patterns onto families to large-scale ritual events of greater complexity—you remembered page 99.

Nodding in deep thought, you began repeating like a mantra, “part-whole.”

Reflecting on your initial impressions, you realize what you perceived as a tortuous reading experience was a plunge into ethnographic clarity—a simplified diagram of a complex phenomenon. I saw it in your eyes and asked, “Now do you agree with my answer?”

“Yes,” said you.

He is like that, so all Santiagos are predisposed to behave in such a manner. They are like that… 

While thinking through the ways people in Cheran identify individuals as recapitulating kin or groups as possessing traits displayed by individuals, it helps to consider emic conceptualizations of kinship dynamics…the people of Cheran view individuals as intimately tied to their kin groups. The link between an individual and a family is inextricable. One cannot exist as an atom who makes herself or himself independently of background. When someone encounters an individual…others generally explain that individual’s behavior as recapitulating a family trend. It is quite common to find people explain this dynamic along the lines of “they are like that.” The “they,” generally, refers to the house ergo nuclear family, which in turn, often reflects the patrilineal lineage. 

The aforementioned kin dynamics make sense when considering folk views of the town’s composition. Most people claim that they all know each other. The elderly restrict themselves by qualifying their statements along the lines of “I know those of my generation but not younger folks (of various generations).” Even this statement might be an exaggeration. Cheran has a population of over 20,000…

Niku T’arhechu T’arhesi. 2021. Endangered Worlds and Invulnerable Worlds: Spatial Language and Social Relations in Cheran, Michoacan, Mexico.  University of Michigan, PhD.

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