The “black book” was the term commonly used by Mixtecs for the Bible upon its introduction into their circles. This particular black book found its way to the village of Yuvinani, another of the many villages in the Metlatónoc vicinity, by means of a migrant worker named Felipe Hernante. A resident of Yuvinani, Hernante had returned from his most recent work trip with a Bible he had been given during his travels. By chance or Providence another man of the village, Juan Mercenario, picked up the Bible and began to read it. He studied the black book like a parched man drinks water, and arrived at a conclusion which would forever bend the
destiny of Yuvinani. Mercenario’s “New News,” as it was called, introduced a story which no one had yet heard: That there is one God, almighty, and He alone deserves worship—yet He is the very One who stooped to become a man so that He could be known by mankind. The people of Yuvinani were at once enraptured and perplexed. Never had they come into contact with news so beautiful, yet so indicting of the lives they led and the images they worshipped. Slowly, some of the villagers decided that having Mercenario’s God would be worth a very high price; none of their virgins or saints had done for them what He had. They gave up their images, their sacrifices, and machismic abuse of alcohol and women. The first Mixtec church was conceived among this group of new believers. The New News, though, polarized the village. Some embraced the change brought-on by the black book while others set themselves firmly against it. So firm was the opposition, in fact, that they decided upon ending the life of Juan Mercenario. On a dark day in 1992, Mercenario was shot to death in front of the new home he was building for his family in Tlapa. One of Mercenario’s disciples, Regino Flores, immediately took upon himself the leadership of the Yuvinani church. Two months later, he too was buried among his ancestors after being murdered outside his home in Yuvinani while his family looked on.
While recoiling from the report of the two murdered pastors, I cannot shake a nagging question: What did the murderers have to gain from the killings? The effects of Christianity on its adherents in Yuvinani seem resoundingly positive—wouldn’t the whole town gain from the types of lifestyle changes Isaul is describing? Isaul says no. Not everyone.
The spread of Christianity among the villagers of Yuvinani was changing the economy of the little town. Demand for alcohol, holy images, and profitable priestly visitations was declining rapidly. Frequent and inebriated festivals honoring the faces of disfigured saints and spirits were
threatened with disinterest. In fact, these expensive events became so distasteful to the new believers that they refused to attend or fund them. With fewer donors, the alcohol, costumes, and offerings necessary for proper appeasement became an unbearable inconvenience for those still committed to such inconveniences. Undoubtably, the crime committed by the believers against the old deities in the little Mixtec village was as great a scandal as that against Artemis of the Ephesians nearly two millennia past: in each case, the deity’s subjects had the timeless insecurity of honor for not only the holy face, but the holy wallet.
Notwithstanding its bloody past, the Yuvinani of today is different.
A look of pride comes over Isaul’s face as he shifts to the present condition of the town of his youth. Today, the tumult aroused by the New News in Yuvinani has all but subsided. Homes are tranquil, and whispers of subversion no longer hang on the wisps of smoke rising from a hundred kitchen flames. A giant rock overlooking the village which once hosted the ritual sacrifice of chickens and goats has, like the town it guards, wiped its hands of the practice in favor of the change brought on by the black book. Indeed, a great number of the town’s collection of families have diverted their allegiances to the God of Juan Mercenario and Regino Flores.