Zinacantan, Chamula, and Chenalhó are neighboring Mayan communities situated in highland Chiapas, Mexico, near the city of San Cristóbal Las Casas. The inhabitants of the three communities speak dialects of the Tzotzil language. Five religious fiestas, celebrated by these communities in honor of their saints, provide the data for Victoria Bricker's comparative study of ritual humor.
In Chenalhó and Chamula performances of ritual humor are concentrated in the five-day period of a single fiesta, while in Zanacantan similar performances are distributed over threee fiestas. In these fiesta settings, performers in distinctive costumes make obscene and sacreligious remarks in the context of religious ritual. These performances are defined as ritual humor because they occur only in ritual settings.
Bricker's study constitutes a controlled cross-cultural comparison of ceremonial or ritual humor in its social and cultural setting. Much new information is provided in verbatim texts, recorded during actual fiesta performances. The study reveals that, although the three communities share a common pool of ritual symbols, they elaborate them differently in ritual humor. The study analyzes the symbolic expression of values, social organization, and interethnic relations.