Western's Heather Orr in Archaeology Magazine
Nov. 30, 2008 --A feature article in the November/December issue of Archaeology magazine profiles an ancient ritual in Southern Mexico that involves the offering of blood to the rain gods.
A picture that accompanies the article, "Fighting with Jaguars, Bleeding for Rain," shows two men in masks boxing with thin gloves. Dr. Heather Orr, Professor of Art History, at Western, is in the middle of it.
Not in the fighting, but her expertise is quoted by the author Zach Zorich, alongside others from institutions such as Harvard University.
"This is a big deal for Western," Orr humbly said in a recent interview.
The article from Zorich gives his first-person account of the ritual that is part of celebrations that mark a Catholic Holy Week. Throughout the article Zorich recounts the raw fighting that takes place surrounding him, some wear masks and light gloves and others simply fight with no equipment.
While Orr has never been to the festival, she attests that, “the fighting is less brutal than the UFC.” (The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a popular fighting contest on cable television.)
Orr shared that the more foreigners that attend celebrations like these the more the events change.
"The more touristic pressure on these kinds of community practices breaks down the central significance of those rituals for the communities," she said.
She, however, has spent a considerable amount of time in central Mexico studying stone carvings. Orr lived in the city of Oaxaca and in a small village in the valley of Oaxaca for several years. She worked on her dissertation for her Ph.D. during this time.
Orr is very fond of the area, which she says, “is an awful lot like Gunnison. There is a lot of socioeconomic diversity. It’s an area where there is ranching side-by-side with academics.”
She added that the mountainous landscape is also similar to Gunnison, and there is “a sense of people helping each other out in Oaxaca.”
Her work studying the stone carvings is what led the Archaeology magazine to make the connection between this modern day fighting festival, which is “about machismo and sacrifice” to the indigenous people who lived in the area 3,000 years ago.
To her, this connection is thrilling.
“There is a cultural continuity to what is going on today,” she said.
The full article, “Fighting with Jaguars, Bleeding for Rain” can be viewed at www.archaeology.org and is in the current Nov/Dec. issue of Archaeology magazine. A video of the ritual is also available on the site.
Story by: Luke Mehall, assistant director of public relations