CONSUMING INTERESTS: Water, Rum, and Coca-Cola from Ritual Propitiation to Corporate Expropriation in Highland Chiapas



In this article, I trace consumption chains motivated by religious and secular rituals that have promoted demand for water, rum, and soft drinks in Mesoamerican communities for over 2,000 years. It describes transformations in the social organization of water systems, and how these transformations have affected indigenous communities in particular. In preconquest ceremonial centers the collective effort of the entire community contributed to the engineering of water projects and the celebration of deities who ensured the supply of water. Spanish rule brought a new array of saints, often identified with deities of natural forces, and with them cane sugar and rum with which Indians celebrated sacred holidays. Religious fraternities that once promoted imbibing of rum to facilitate communication with the gods and saints during the colonial and independence periods turned to Coca-Cola and other commercial beverages in the 1970s. The Coca-Cola Company promoted the health effects of their nonalcoholic drink and religious brotherhoods provided the infrastructure or local promotion of the drink during celebrations that once served locally distilled cane liquor in the annual cycle of fiestas. Federal concessions for extracting the groundwater of Chiapas now enable the company to produce their internationally sold products along with their newly featured bottled water. Rituals once made to the rain gods as givers of water are supplanted by political concessions to transnational corporations working with local officials in contemporary Mesoamerican communities. The transformation from ritual propitiation of the gods that engaged entire populations in collective action, to the private expropriation of water resources, has a profound impact on indigenous pueblos that are major consumers of these costly products.