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Un activisme pluriel : une visibilité en demi-teinte

The punishment as ritual of initiation in Indigenous Justice: Women mothers, social fighters and intellectual training Ayuujk (Oaxaca, México)

Roque Urbieta Hernández


Madres-solteras, luchadoras sociales y protagonistas del movimiento de estudiantes indígenas en la lucha por la educación comunal en la Escuela Normal Experimental del Cempoaltepelt durante la década pertida de los años ochenta en América Latina. Las experiencias de las mujeres indígenas están marcadas por diferentes acciones políticas como intelectuales orgánicas y son claves en la formación de la autonomía en Santa María Tlahuitoltepec (Oaxaca, México). Por tanto, la profesionalización del liderazgo de mujeres indígenas sobre la escena internacional debe ser repensado desde una perpectiva diacrónica. El impacto que la noción de castigo tiene en tanto que ritual de iniciación para acceder al sistema de cargos hasta el devenir sujetos de derechos humanos nos permite reconsiderar el significado de liderazgo femenino en cuatro bloques históricos: la crisis del indigenismo insititucional, la penetración del Estado, la lucha por la educación comunal y la experiencia de las actoras políticas como dirigentas. En breve, el movimiento de las mujeres Ayuuk dentro del movimiento indígena oaxaqueño, antes de 1995, participó en la reconfiguración del Estado-nación y en su transformación como Estado pluricultural neoliberal.

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  • 1 Testimony of Pilar Flores interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in December 2013. The names of (...)

Previously, for me it was a punishment because you were going to serve as an authority, because you are a single mother, because you made some mistakes, although they do not say it directly, but one perceives it that way, because already when they were appointing me in the Community General Assembly is when I realized that the participation has had results, being reflected in the Assembly to promote them to the positions. And it is from there that people begin to respect you; sometimes one realizes why one says it is as a punishment, as when one serves here in the Cabildo or within the municipality there was mockery, because when we passed from authority a woman (…) the men they looked down on us, they mocked us; at least that is what I perceived when my commission was very below1.

  • 2 From 1995 in the State of Oaxaca there are 572 municipalities governed by the indigenous normative (...)
  • 3 According to Antonio Gramsci (1967: 26), we are all "intellectuals, but not all have the role of in (...)

1This testimony of Pilar Flores describes the practice of punishment as a ritual of initiation for an Ayuujk single mother into the system of charges (Sistema de Cargos). In addition, she explains the difficulties of being an indigenous woman, the economic inequalities she faced when she migrated as a student to the Escuela Normal de Maestros in Guerrero, and finally her return to her home community. She was the first woman to assume the position of Municipal Trustee at the time of the interview in her office in the municipal palace in the Ayuujk community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec2. In 2013, the main spaces in the system of charges were in the hands of Ayuujk women and, presided over by a woman who was not born in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec: Sofía Robles Hernández, a Zapotec, who adapted cultural rites in order to learn the Ayuujk language and socio-political practices of the internal normative regime. Sofía Robles is an organic intellectual3 and female leader with a great trajectory, political commitment and visibility in the Latin American indigenous movement. Her personal memory is central when speaking about the past, present, and future in the political history of indigenous women in contemporary Mexico.

2This ethnographic moment will accompany us throughout this article. We therefore ask ourselves, who are the social and legal actors that give indigenous female leaders their status? What are the characteristics of the struggle for representation in these women's leaderships on the international stage? How do they gain ground inside and outside their communities of origin? And finally, how does the distinction among indigenous women express itself? Behind the professionalization of indigenous women's leaderships in the international space there is a network of transnational intermediaries supported by the indigenous movement, left and right wing intellectuals, the progressive church, non-governmental organizations and foundations. In this article, we explore how the parity policies coming from the state, during its legal reconfiguration, are used as a revolutionary strategy of recognition and legitimacy to give rise to the struggle for political representation as part of the neoliberal pluriculturalism.

  • 4 We describe the public exposure of "single mothers" as a symbol in reference to the break with the (...)

3Our general objective is to analyze the access of Ayuujk women to spaces of participation within the indigenous normative system in a historical context. In particular, it aims to identify the place of enunciation of single mothers and their transition from stigmatization, moral prejudice and punishment to becoming subjects of public rights. The hypothesis to be developed is to consider that the economy of punishment4 works in parallel with other punishment mechanisms that stimulate community participation, such as a ritual of political initiation. In other words, punishment and political control of the body and thought directed at women exist as another multidimensional form of creating political agency to re-signify the meaning of indigenous female leaders in the international space. In this sense, the intellectual formation of Ayuujk women highlights the crisis of the indigenous policies emanating from the 19th century and, at the same time, they participate in the production of counter-hegemonic knowledge such as the comunalidad. This hypothesis argues that colonial trauma, economic migration, moral violence and education are transversal analytical axes in the struggle to transform colonial imaginaries.

  • 5 The interviews of the testimonies and the participant observation in the fieldwork were developed i (...)
  • 6 We propose to think from a political anthropology of gender capable of studying the economic and po (...)

4The methodology5 of this article is based on testimonies from interviews with community activists who in different historical moments intervened socially to improve the material conditions in their community. Life stories (Bourdieu, 1986) are methodological instruments that situate the historical bloc from which the interviewees speak. In the words of the Ayuujk women, they project from the communal praxis variables that allow for a rethinking of Gustavo Torres Cisneros' (2003) assertion that community service in the indigenous normative systems in the Mixe region is characterized by the "economy of prestige". Single mothers, however, maintain that sociocultural punishment is a necessary condition to access in the system of charges, due to the transgression of the traditional family model. Therefore, Ayuujk women represent a new organic legal subject in the application of indigenous justice6. A moral and political argument for the right to punish, a certain discretion in the art of making people suffer, a game of more subtle and more silent pains: the shame inflicted on the bodies of the punished subjects. Finally, it could be said that the repression and stigmatization of Ayuujk women as "guerrilleras for education" was a counter-insurgency practice, a violent instrument to ensure that indigenous people were not political actors capable of aspiring to citizenship and economic equality in a globalized world.

5In the first section, we outline some theoretical questions in order to contextualize key concepts for the understanding of this research. Subsequently, we situate the political place that single mothers had as social actors at the historical moment when institutional indigenism entered into crisis (1950-1960). In the third section, we report on the emergence of the Ayuujk women leaders and intellectuals in the system of charges, indigenous popular social organizations and the Oaxaca teachers' union (1960-1970). In the fourth section, we discuss the rise of the indigenous student movement and the consolidation of Indianist critical thinking (1980-1990). Finally, we present the political career of the first municipal president of Santa María Tlahutoltepec, Sofía Robles Hernández, in order to analyze the historical situation in which an "international voice" for indigenous autonomy was born (1990-1995).

Roque Urbieta, Women Ayuujk with the Bastón de Mando. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México). 01/01/2012

Certified organic intellectuals. Difference feminism and colonialism

6The indigenous women's movement in Oaxaca has taken as its reference the different feminist movements, questioning in social spaces the fabrication of gender equality as a reproductive resource of the neoliberal economy (Nancy, 2012). As a result, the emergence of Oaxaca indigenous women as historical subjects of rights has highlighted the tensions between the existence of indigenist feminism and equality feminism (Urbieta, 2020). At the historical moment of the influence of international liberal feminism one can observe the contributions of Ayuujk women as political actors in "maintaining or modifying a universal concept, in raising new ideas" (Gramsci, 1967: 26). That is, to rethink the universal subject of women, rethought from the perspective of being an Ayuujk woman.

7The research of Liliana Vargas (2010) and Carolina Vásquez (2013), contributes to expanding the notion of comunalidad as a "new and integral conception of the world" (Gramsci, 1967: 27). As indigenous feminist intellectuals, they question the asymmetrical relations of power and colonialism that exist between men and women in the community and the forms of domination and unequal subordination existing in the patriarchal capitalist regime. They denounce how international hegemonic feminism is aware or not of ethnic and class prejudices when it comes to the study of Ayuujk women. These indigenous women point to the racism that appears in the literature of mestizo feminists, who only reinforce white supremacy by nullifying the political bond between women "across ethnic and racial boundaries" (hooks, 2004:35). Social class relations are intrinsic to the "analysis of racism and its role in capitalist society" (hooks, 2004: 35). However, it will be the critical view of the indigenous intellectuals themselves who will put the state's indigenism in crisis by means of a "grassroot policy". They condemn that, “sexism will be an oppressive force in the lives of individual women (...) that is the first point of contact between the oppressed and the oppressor" (hooks, 2004: 37-38).

8The international critical of indigenous feminist leaderships is received by intellectual networks. Such will be the experience of Sofia Robles Hernandez, the first municipal president of Santa Maria Tlahuitoltepec as a militant leader in the Latin American indigenous movement. The participation of Ayuujk women in the system of charges and their integration into the labor market - through processes of unionization - is interpreted as a way of raising the awareness of the common citizen class, which leads to the ethnic struggle for communal education. A common citizenship that complements the family, community service and territory, whose approach resituates political identities as a necessary condition for establishing a new indigenous hegemony linked to new power relations, practices and social institutions that are equitable, balanced and egalitarian.

Crisis of indigenism, punished subjects and moral violence. Single-mothers in the system of charges

9The crisis of state indigenism coincides with the rise of critical anthropology in the 1970s, the destabilization of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the opening up of democracy (Castañeda, 2012). Martha Patricia Castañeda Salgado (2012: 36), carries out the genealogy of feminist anthropology in Mexico alluding to the fact that critical anthropology revealed "the state policy on the integration of the nation promoted since the years before the Mexican revolution of 1910". According to Eva Sanz Jara (2009: 259) “in this awareness of the indigenous, anthropologists play a fundamental role, so that politics and indigenism will henceforth be indissolubly linked”. She differentiates between two levels of indigenism, which she defines as classical indigenism characterized by theoretical-intellectual production between the 1920s and the 1940s, and the second as the institutionalization of indigenism by the state between the 1940s and the 1960s. Founded in 1949, the National Indigenous Institute (INI), through its bicultural educational centres promoted indigenous education by applying participatory indigenism to indigenous peoples in rural areas and in systems of indigenous self-government.

10Between the 1940s and 1960s, the women to enter the system of charges were marked by their civil-cultural status: as single mothers. They exemplify the sexist discrimination by indigenous men, the racism of conservatism during the implementation of indigenist policies and the multiple oppressions as a consequence of advanced capitalism. Single mothers in the Ayuujk community put into practice popular forms of resistance through the re-appropriation of public spaces during their access to the system of charges. Recalling her beginning in the access to the system of charges Pilar Flores shows the rise of a non-economically hegemonic critical Indianist thought in 1950. Furthermore, going through punishment as an act of dramatizing the suffering of single mothers was a necessary condition in social relations of domination, power and community service during the processes of transformation into the consciousness of "female oppression, class consciousness, the struggle for the emancipation of women and the struggle for change in economic, political and social structures" (Castañeda, 2012: 39). According to Rita Segato (2003), moral violence means everything that involves emotional aggression. Punishment is interpreted as moral violence, it reduces single mothers to psychological suffering and damaged by restricted self-esteem, undermining confidence and destabilizing women's autonomy (Segato, 2003). Therefore, the initiation of community participation in Ayuujk women has been perceived as a morally violent principle as they feel punished in this social status of single mothers. In itself, this specificity in the initiation rite to serve in the system of charges is ideologically situated in the condemnation of the patriarchal junction. The explicit of the moral violence for transgressing the cultural-legal contract of marriage.

11For Marcela Largarde (2005), marriage has the meaning of a social-juridical institution that grants recognition to two people of different sexes, to certain single-parent obligations, agreements, rituals, myths, specific ages to live together, to carry out erotic reproductive life and implies the production of communal spaces divided by gender whose functions are inclusive and exclusive. Therefore, single mothers deserve social prejudice and punishment because they abandon traditional practices (Lagarde 2005). This form of transgression is interpreted in the value of single mothers to "live their own life, transform society and, of course, become free subjects" (Castañeda, 2012: 43). During their social trajectories, they build up spaces of communal organization, allowing them to become aware of machismo, paternalism, sexism, racism, discrimination and classism in the midst of the crisis of state indigenism.

Neoliberal Indianism. Indigenous popular social organizations

12From the 1970s to the 1980s, the Xaam Të'ëxy Women's Group was founded with the aim of organizing Tlahuitoltepecan women in vegetable planting and promoting the recovery of traditional medicine. Since 1983, work has been done in the Mixe Life and Language seminars with the aim of rescuing the Mixe alphabet and promoting the reading and writing of Ayuujk. Thus we observe a gradual construction of indigenous autonomy that dialogues with the State. These women are building up trade union spaces:

  • 7 Testimony of Flor Carrasco interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in January 2013

Within the teaching profession, I had trade union positions, and as part of my work I was the supervisor of School Education, which I also started in this town; there had been no such supervision. The work was to supervise the Indigenous Education in the surroundings of the rancherías in this municipality. I didn't know what this job was about, I did know about education, but in order to do what it is supposed to do, you also have to learn from the people who know, who have done this job as equals7.

13The testimony of Flor Carrasco (2013) is a historical reference to the bifurcation of the indigenous movement in Oaxaca during the 1970s, since on the one hand it took a distance from institutional indigenism by using participatory Indianism as a political discourse. On the other hand, these new organic ayuukj intellectuals began to lead the mixed and teacher-trained popular social organizations, and began to “wield Indianism in their negotiations with the state” (Saenz, 2009: 268). Indianism as an alternative anti-hegemonic ideology to institutional indigenism meant the apparent triumph of the ethnic struggle over the class struggle. Rodolfo Stavenhagen (1997: 67) points out that in the Latin American indigenous movement, the class struggle of indigenous peoples is not denied or ignored, but emphasis is placed on weighing up ethnic identity as a "political strategy and tactics". The thoughts of single mothers find in the teachers' union (Yescas, 2006) another historical actor that enriches the Ayuujk women's movement in the spaces of participation, affirming new subjectivities of public law: punishment becomes the political ritual of access to an economy of rights. Within the organization of Ayuujk women, we find that the gender discourse produces the possibility of facilitating alliances with feminist organizations and with reformist policies (Hernández, 2001). This rebellious generation of women teachers question the traditional community regime through the struggle for a new culture of rights: criticism of customs, feelings and conceptions of life in common.

Roque Urbieta. Ayuujk women taking over as municipal authorit. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.

"Guerrillas" for education. A view from the Ayuujk student rebellion

14The lost decade of the 1980s and the ideological hangovers of the 1968 student movement in Mexico City are projected into the first indigenous student movement in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec. In the words of the women, their participation in the Indian revolt led to their being socially categorized as "guerrillas for education", a discourse that calls for the re-stigmatization of rebellious women who transgressed traditional norms. During the Avila Camacho administration, 17 of the 44 teacher training colleges in Mexico were closed. The Secretary of Education, during the Adolfo López Mateos regime (1958-1964), Jaime Torres Bodet modified the educational reforms by making the Rural Teacher Training Colleges disappear. The efforts of the community led to the founding of the Normal Experimental School of Cempoaltepelt in 1983. The five women who actively participated in the struggle and negotiation with the government authorities were threatened with imprisonment by the authorities. According to their testimonies, the students kept the facilities of the Normal, roads and highways closed:

  • 8 Testimony of Azucena Buendía interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in May 2013

[...] We women were very brave. Recognized, named by their partners in the Normal School because not just any woman was there, not just any woman wanted to go talk to men, because that was very marked; ah! It's just that they were among pure men or you're no longer a good housewife, so go away. You are not well seen. We even gave ourselves the opportunity to organize a commission. That's what I learned. It was nice to make myself known, to express my feelings, my thoughts, the ideas I had to say. For me it was normal that there was no prejudice in thinking about what they were going to say to me, what they were going to do to me; on the contrary, I felt so free, so soft, so light, so mind and body, so beautiful, I was not even frightened by what they told me that they were going to put me in prison, because at that time there was nothing wrong with what I was doing8.

15For Azucena (2013) her participation meant transforming her personal life through a break with traditional norms. In these spaces of sociability, women are gaining ground, security and confidence thanks to the organizational work done during the struggle for education. The students' participation was a work of social justice, a manifestation of strength between a traditional past represented by the symbol of the single mother in crisis, and the becoming of modern and independent empowered women whose discourse appeals to the economy of law:

  • 9 Idem.

[...] fight for something that is really for everyone, not a fight for me. It was the most important thing we should do, to support each other for all. Whatever we want to achieve and that of speaking in front of an audience. It kind of opened up a space for me, not to be afraid, not to be afraid to touch the microphone; to talk to people and have everybody look at you. [...]9.

16Azucena (2013) tells us that, on the one hand, the absence of the right to education mobilizes young intellectuals and leaders; but it also shows the tensions between two generations of communal authority. The traditional leadership characterized by local authorities were gradually displaced by a group of young intellectuals and militants who, at the time of the student rebellion, introduced a new political actor: the indigenous activist leader, "many of them professionals who have lived and measured their skills in a non-indigenous environment" (Stavenhagen, 1997: 65). The Rural Teacher Training Colleges have been the professional spaces where these communities train their own indigenous leaders as organic intellectuals with the aim of legitimizing the existence of other epistemologies that allow them to rethink, revalue and conceive the world from their own political cosmologies.

17The professionalization of female leadership has as its starting point the punished subject as a mechanism of transition to a political subject emancipated by the student social mobilizations. The rebellion of the Ayuujk women had as a consequence questioning moral violence, the desire for progress that emerges from the clashes between antagonistic forces where the return of the indigenous past socially represents the temporary need to transform social reality in the era of decolonization. This Ayuujk women's rebellion movement describes the existence of a "grassroots politics" with the participation of the popular classes through the organization of regional, national, continental and international forums concerned with representing empowered and "rights-conscious" political actors. In the face of the crisis of indigenous peoples and the abuse of the power to punish, a multiplicity of historical actors has emerged in the community space, articulating to problematize the economy of punishment as a moral argument for access to indigenous justice.

Roque Urbieta. Ritual of change of municipal authorities. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.

International criticism. The professionalization of indigenous female leadership

18The internationalization of indigenous women's leadership can be understood through the life story of Sofia Robles Hernandez, originally from the Zapotec community of San Francisco Cajonos and wife of the Ayuujk intellectual, Floriberto Diaz (Urbieta, 2018). As she gained access to formal education and became more professional on a transnational scale, an intellectual elite emerged with a past in the leadership of popular social mobilizations and envisioned the future of leadership in opposition to the capitalist regime in Latin America. Sofía arrived in the community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec as Floriberto's wife in the lost decade in Latin America, and both took up positions within the indigenous normative system. Together with the Ayuujk women, she participated in the construction of the Comedor Comunal project, as well as in founding the civil association, Servicios del Pueblo Mixe (SER). The indigenous women's movement within the indigenous movement in Oaxaca was initially about the struggle for indigenous autonomy.

19The testimonies of single mothers and widowed mothers, such as Sofia's voice, tell us that their cultural-civil status has been the determining factor in their access to participate in community life. Sofia Robles' life experience contextualizes this bifurcation that is woven between a (neo)indigenous continuity from indigenous intellectual thinkers and local activists who are “more interested in negotiating specific solutions with existing power rather than following ideological purity or coherence” (Stavenhagen, 1997: 66). For her, the perception of community participation differs from the conception of political participation as defined by the liberal thinking of the political party system:

  • 10 Testimony of Sofía Robles interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in December 2012

Women were not in office, they were men and they are still men [...] Women are almost always perceived as being there to take care of the house and nothing else. So it is very difficult to conceive of women being in public office. In many communities, women are not in public office, they are, but as wives of those who are in office, even married women have, that is, the one who is a candidate for office is the man. The only women who are - in office - are single women10.

20These interpretations of Ayuujk women's access to the system of charges confirm the tensions and disputes over "organizational issues, strategies, and tactics that sometimes give the impression of a highly fragmented and fractured indigenous movement" (Stavenhagen, 1997: 6). Sofia Robles' experience in organizing women is part of the activities of new communal intellectuals who are fighting for a morality, a perception of the truth about life; until this intuition is metamorphosed into original ways of feeling and seeing reality. Because knowledge is power, the indigenous movement articulated with the student, trade union and feminist movements transform national history by drawing on the past to redefine the representation of itself in the present: Ayuujk Indianism as a counter-history to the mythical story of the national state. The second half of the 1980s heralded the shift in Indianist thinking towards reforms to manage and administer cultural diversity in the era of neo-liberal ventriloquism (Urbieta 2020). The reforms of recognition of the nation's cultural diversity are part of the political use of historical memory to argue the inauguration of the neoliberal multicultural state. A kind of struggle for the legitimacy of speaking about the rights of indigenous women as subjects of human rights in the era of neoliberal ventriloquism enters the scene as a strategy of manipulating the past in the present to produce multiple spokespersons in the future. Sofia Robles confirms this:

[...] I started to get involved with the non-indigenous women who were preparing the IV World Conference of Women in Beijing, 1995. Then we saw that it was important to bring in the indigenous issue [...] So we said, indigenous women present! We held a national meeting in Mexico before Beijing, and before the Latin American meeting in Ecuador.

  • 11 Idem.

In Ecuador it was the First Continental Meeting of Indigenous Women, and from there we made a commitment to hold the Second Continental Meeting in Mexico, but we said that it is not possible to hold a Continental Meeting in Mexico without first holding a National Meeting, we said, we have to hold a National Meeting, and we did so in Oaxaca. So these are just meetings and gatherings to address women's issues11.

21We have moved from the struggle for recognition, assisting in the present, to the struggle for political representation in the process of gaining legitimacy to speak about, with and for women and indigenous peoples. This Ayuujk women's rebellion projects in the future a moral argument as an ideal to mobilize reforms in legal recognition in the management and administration of the neoliberal multicultural state before 1995.


Roque Urbieta. Sofía Robles Hernández, activist, feminist and human rights defender. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.


23This article contextualized in four historical moments the metamorphosis of the participation of Ayuujk single mothers in the system of charges until their professionalization as human rights political actors in the community of Santa María Tlahuitoltepec. At first, single mothers were seen as the initiators of the participation of women in the system of charges as punished subjects. This historical period is characterized by moral violence against the female Ayuujk stigma. Punishment as a complex social function, procedures for access to service and the use of communal power. It then describes the different historical actors who participated in the transformation of the punished subject into an empowered subject through migration, education, the creation of popular-indianist social organizations, the teachers' union, as well as alliances with non-governmental organizations and liberal feminism. To understand the appointment of the first municipal president not born in the community and her access to international spaces, it is necessary to contextualize the emergence of the first indigenous student movements in the struggle for education and the transformations brought about by the global economy. This Indian revolt led by Ayuujk women students confirms our hypothesis: on the one hand, the place occupied by organization and resistance in the mobilization against community repression is a place of enunciation in a new communal female political subjectivity; and on the other hand, the counter-insurgency policies and the dismantling of communal spaces to limit collective encounters where they problematize the strategic institutional relationship of power between the indigenous and their unequal relationship with the State. A revolt that shows the intergenerational tensions of the power to speak. One of the contributions of this article is to show, in four historical blocs, the protagonism of indigenous women in the crisis of institutional indigenism, and the emergence of a neoliberal multicultural State from the community bases before 1995. The formation of indigenous intellectuals as feminists is a determining factor in the processes of emancipation. The last years of the 1980s inaugurated a new historical moment in the struggle for hegemony of speaking about, with and for the human rights of indigenous women in the era of neoliberal feminist ventriloquism understood as the economic policies established by women during their integration into the labor market and thus initiating a fight for the authority to represent a subaltern totality.

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1 Testimony of Pilar Flores interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in December 2013. The names of the interviewees were changed in order to respect and anonymize the content of the information. With the exception of the case of Sofía Robles Hernández.

2 From 1995 in the State of Oaxaca there are 572 municipalities governed by the indigenous normative system and 152 by the political party system. It is a territory located in the upper part of the Mixe region, in the northwest of Oaxaca City. It has a population of approximately 8,500 inhabitants. According to the 2000 report by the National Institute of Statistics, Geography and Information (INEGI), around 66% are bilingual, 98% speak the Ayuujk language. The main sources of income and circulation of the local economy are agriculture, livestock and trade. The form of political organization is developed with the indigenous normative system, being the Community General Assembly, the appointing and decision-making body of the community authorities.

3 According to Antonio Gramsci (1967: 26), we are all "intellectuals, but not all have the role of intellectuals in society". Ayuujk women intellectuals represented themselves as leaders because of their "professional activity". Its functioning has the characteristic of producing, reproducing and connecting the ideology between the dominant classes and the subaltern classes to sustain the hegemony of power and to dispute the counter-hegemony. The stories of the women in this article contextualize the various applications of this notion of "organic intellectual", precisely here it is exemplified how they become political actresses linked to hegemonic power at different historical moments until they gain access to international spaces.

4 We describe the public exposure of "single mothers" as a symbol in reference to the break with the traditional regime of "married mothers", and the meaning that this concept of the economy of punishment has for the former in the application of indigenous justice. We agree with Michel Foucault (2003: 10), to displace it to the historical context of the indigenous communities, traditional justice suffers an impact derived from the "innumerable reform projects; new theories of law and crime, new moral or political justification of the right to punish; abolition of the old ordinances, attenuation of customs". And most importantly, the showcasing of the community political space of 'modern codes' through the exposure of single mothers on the public stage of the system of charges.

5 The interviews of the testimonies and the participant observation in the fieldwork were developed in two periods. The first at the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012 and the second during a nine-month stay during the months of 2012-2013.

6 We propose to think from a political anthropology of gender capable of studying the economic and political place occupied by gender as a historical otherness in differentiated societies within indigenous political regimes. This political anthropology of gender serves to interpret the indigenous normative system in coexistence with the system of political parties. This allows us to apply those comparative methodological instruments that give an account of the meaning of the ceremonies and rites that circulate in the modes of being and types of power. In addition to understanding the strategies in the relations of kinship to produce hegemony and ideology, social mobilizations, diverse notions of time and space, their institutions, new forms of social representation and conquests of legal legitimacy in societies of colonial heritage.

7 Testimony of Flor Carrasco interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in January 2013

8 Testimony of Azucena Buendía interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in May 2013

9 Idem.

10 Testimony of Sofía Robles interviewed in Santa María Tlahuitoltepec in December 2012

11 Idem.

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Índice de ilustraciones

Leyenda Roque Urbieta, Women Ayuujk with the Bastón de Mando. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México). 01/01/2012
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Leyenda Roque Urbieta. Ayuujk women taking over as municipal authorit. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.
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Leyenda Roque Urbieta. Ritual of change of municipal authorities. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.
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Leyenda Roque Urbieta. Sofía Robles Hernández, activist, feminist and human rights defender. Santa María Tlahuitoltepec, Oaxaca (México), 01/01/2012.
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Referencia electrónica

Roque Urbieta Hernández, «The punishment as ritual of initiation in Indigenous Justice: Women mothers, social fighters and intellectual training Ayuujk (Oaxaca, México)»Amérique Latine Histoire et Mémoire. Les Cahiers ALHIM [En línea], 41 | 2021, Publicado el 07 julio 2021, consultado el 05 marzo 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Roque Urbieta Hernández

Member of the Sistema Nacional de Investigadores, México (SNI-CONACYT). Ph.D in Social Anthropology and Ethnology for the Centre de Recherches sur les Mondes Américains in l’Ecole des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, (France) and Ph.D in Latin America Studies, Autonomous University of Madrid (Spain).

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