The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town

The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town

REVISED EDITION BY Robert S. Carlsen
WITH A NEW PREFACE AND A NEW FINAL CHAPTER AND WITH A CONTRIBUTION BY Martín Prechtel
FOREWORD BY Davíd Carrasco
Copyright Date: 2011
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/723986
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  • Book Info
    The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town
    Book Description:

    This compelling ethnography explores the issue of cultural continuity and change as it has unfolded in the representative Guatemala Mayan town Santiago Atitlán. Drawing on multiple sources, Robert S. Carlsen argues that local Mayan culture survived the Spanish Conquest remarkably intact and continued to play a defining role for much of the following five centuries. He also shows how the twentieth-century consolidation of the Guatemalan state steadily eroded the capacity of the local Mayas to adapt to change and ultimately caused some factions to reject-even demonize-their own history and culture. At the same time, he explains how, after a decade of military occupation known asla violencia, Santiago Atitlán stood up in unity to the Guatemalan Army in 1990 and forced it to leave town.

    This new edition looks at how Santiago Atitlán has fared since the expulsion of the army. Carlsen explains that, initially, there was hope that the renewed unity that had served the town so well would continue. He argues that such hopes have been undermined by multiple sources, often with bizarre outcomes. Among the factors he examines are the impact of transnational crime, particularly gangs with ties to Los Angeles; the rise of vigilantism and its relation to renewed religious factionalism; the related brutal murders of followers of the traditional Mayan religion; and the apocalyptic fervor underlying these events.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-73476-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword: Complex Performance in Santiago Atitlán
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Davíd Carrasco

    I first heard of Robert S. Carlsen after giving a lecture on shamanism in Mesoamerican religions at the University of Colorado in Boulder. A colleague came up to me and said, “You need to meet Robert Carlsen. The guy knows a lot about shamanism. He’s been working and living in Guatemala with Maya peoples.” When I met the soft-spoken Carlsen, I was immediately impressed with how carefully he seemed to listen and his easy way of getting to the point. He had been living and working in Santiago Atitlán, becoming familiar with the cofradía community, and he felt that he...

  4. Preface to the Revised Edition
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    On New Year’s Day 1994 the world awoke to the surprising news of a massive Mayan revolt in Chiapas, Mexico. As stunning as the “Zapatista” uprising itself was its coincidence, to the day, with the implementation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. In hindsight, the uprising perhaps should have come as no surprise whatsoever. Amid incessant heralding of the widespread benefits that free trade must inevitably bring, even proponets of NAFTA confessed that its implementation would entail certain “adjustments” for some of those involved. Simply put, the Mayas who took to arms in the mountains and jungles of...

  7. Part One Establishing Place and Imagining Community
    • 1 What in the World Is Going On in Santiago Atitlán?
      (pp. 13-28)

      In the darkness of a morning early in 1990, a municipal ambulance departed down the rutted dirt road from Santiago Atitlán, bounced past my house (where my family and I were sleeping soundly), and continued on its two-hour trip around Lake Atitlán to the regional hospital in Sololá. Inside the ambulance was my gravely wounded friend and contributor to the present volume, Jerónimo Quieju Pop.¹ It was not until some hours later that I was told Jerónimo had been shot fourteen times the night before.

      Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, incidents of violence had been particularly common in...

    • 2 The Atiteco Mayas at the End of the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 29-46)

      Some fifty years ago, the cultural geographer Felix McBryde observed that there is probably “no region in the New World that surpasses western Guatemala for illustrating the relationship between culture and nature. Here is one of the largest concentrations of individualistic Indian populations, preserving much of its Maya background” (1947:2). McBryde proceeds to explain this individuality and cultural conservatism in terms of the high degree of micro-geographic diversity, including formidable natural obstacles to the interaction between communities. Significantly, he cites the Lake Atitlán basin as displaying the highest degree of such geographic diversity anywhere in Guatemala, even in the world,...

    • 3 The Flowering of the Dead
      (pp. 47-68)
      Martín Prechtel

      A survey of the anthropological literature demonstrates that the twentieth century highlands of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico, are among the most studied cultural regions in the world. These studies range from Oliver La Farge’s accounts of his investigations in the Cuchumatán Mountains (1931, 1947) in the 1920s, through Sol Tax’s work in the Lake Atitlán area (1937, 1941, 1953, 1990) to the impressive list of publications that grew out of the Harvard Chiapas Project (too numerous to be cited). Despite Guatemala’s ongoing revolution and the difficulty of working in that country, important studies continue to be published (e.g., Sexton 1981;...

  8. Part Two History, Peripherality, and Social Pluralism
    • 4 Conquest and Adaptation in Santiago Atitlán
      (pp. 71-100)

      Scholarly analyses of the post-columbian highland mayas seem to drift effortlessly toward questions of sociocultural continuity and change. Yet, despite the overtly historical nature of the topic, historical detail has not always received enough attention. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that in too many instances assumptions and theory take the lead over historical data. John Hawkins, for example, writes that “the Saussurian perspective of meaning analysisforces[my italics] us” to conclude that what might otherwise appear as a unique Mayan culture is really part and parcel of Guatemala’s dominant (Hispanic) culture (1984:12). Fortunately, enough solid research by...

    • 5 On Enlightenment, Liberalism, and Ladinos
      (pp. 101-120)

      The close of the eighteenth and the dawn of the nineteenth century in Guatemala represented a time of significant social pluralism.¹ In the newly established capital, la Nueva Guatemala (Guatemala City), preoccupation with the crash of the indigo market reigned, again underscoring the region’s economic insignificance (R. Smith 1959). Outside of the capital, the highlands remained demographically and culturally Mayan. Most indigenous communities were without Catholic priests, and many were virtually without any non-Indian representation at all. Until 1877, most non-Mayas inhabiting indigenous communities were able to do so legally only through thecenso enfiteusis, a type of long-term rent...

  9. Part Three Death of Community, Resurrection of Autonomy
    • 6 Under the Gun in Santiago Atitlán
      (pp. 123-150)

      In 1932 the American archaeologist Samuel Lothrop and his wife, Eleanor, stepped from a boat onto the lakeshore dock at Santiago Atitlán and into what was to be a particularly chaotic venture. It was their plan to take up residence in the town while Samuel pursued archaeological investigations of local pre-Columbian Mayan ruins. According to Eleanor (1948:82), they were the first foreigners to have attempted residence in Atitlán since the eighteenth century. The Lothrops’ efforts at ending that reign of isolation, however, were hardly welcomed by the Atitecos, a people about whom Eleanor wrote, “of all unfriendly Indians, these were...

    • 7 When Immortals Die
      (pp. 151-170)

      The car appeared to be racing the descending darkness as it sped along the south lake road toward Santiago Atitlán.¹ Not until it approached the town’s outskirts did it finally slow, and then stop. One of the passengers took out a blackgorra, a hoodlike knit cap with eyeholes, and pulled it over the head of the man seated between himself and the other backseat passenger. Despite the dusk, the driver turned off the headlights, and then proceeded slowly into town. As he passed groups of Atitecos walking home from theirmilpas(maize fields), the driver, the sole occupant of...

    • 8 Season of the Witch: The New Millennium in Santiago Atitlán
      (pp. 171-188)

      The 1997 edition of this book concluded by stating, “Santiago Atitlán faces an imminent future of most uncertain change.” The ensuing years have in fact ushered in profound change, often in ways that I could not have imagined. This new chapter to the original edition describes and analyzes that change. I pay particular attention to changes in the weaving art and dress patterns, the marginalization of the Old Ways and the corresponding ascendance of Protestantism, and the influx of gang culture.

      Where for centuries Atitecos equated their community with a towering cosmic World Tree, a far more poignant symbol of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 189-202)
  11. Glossary
    (pp. 203-204)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 205-220)
  13. Index
    (pp. 221-227)