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Unformatted text preview: C A CONSUMING INTERESTS: Water, Rum, and Coca-Cola from Ritual Propitiation to Corporate Expropriation in Highland Chiapas JUNE NASH City University of New York A growing demand for water that exceeds scarce resources is changing political and social alignments and provoking the emergence of water wars. The scarcity of water is a result of deforestation, the contamination of existing water sources, and the diversion of groundwater to commercial enterprises. These commercial enterprises include irrigation agriculture and, increasingly, consumer beverage production, especially of bottled water, now sold to people who face growing water scarcity. A natural resource once considered a blessing for all people granted by the rain gods is now a contested commodity exacerbating the growing divide between classes. In this article, I examine ways in which a consuming interest in water that once promoted community integration in early civilizations in Mesoamerica has become a multibillion-dollar industry with sales throughout the world, based on a commodity that many local people cannot afford. The concern of preconquest civilizations to ensure the water supply was transformed by the Spanish conquerors, who drained and diverted the abundant waters in the Aztec capital and then intro- duced commercialized cane and maguey used in the production of rum and tequila. Adopted by indigenous pueblos as a libation in ceremonies offered to the saints and divine powers during colonial and independence times, the demand was finally diverted to the consumption of Coca-Cola and other soft drinks imported by local concessionaires responding to corporate inducements. Today the major extraction of groundwater in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas is done by the Coca-Cola CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY, Vol. 22, Issue 4, pp. 621639. ISSN 0886-7356, online ISSN 1548-1360. C 2007 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Presss Rights and Permissions website, http://www.ucpressjournals.com/ reprintInfo.asp. DOI: 10.1525/can.2007.22.4.621. CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 22:4 Company. The company now bottles the water and sells it throughout the world and to the people from whom it was expropriated. 1 The transformation of water from a deified resource to a commodified multi- billion dollar industry reveals how a public interest can be distorted by unregulated privatized expropriation. It is a morality tale that applies equally to other resources such as gold, silver, oil, and tin. Unlike these other resources, however, water has a human rights dimension; without water, humans cannot live. I have concentrated on water as a consumption product in this article because it is intrinsic to the social relations linking indigenous pueblos to their environment....
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