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Maya Market Women

Maya Market Women: Power and Tradition in San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Maya Market Women
    Book Description:

    As cultural mediators, Chamelco's market women offer a model of contemporary Q'eqchi' identity grounded in the strength of the Maya historical legacy. Guatemala's Maya communities have faced nearly five hundred years of constant challenges to their culture, from colonial oppression to the instability of violent military dictatorships and the advent of new global technologies. In spite of this history, the people of San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala, have effectively resisted significant changes to their cultural identities. Chamelco residents embrace new technologies, ideas, and resources to strengthen their indigenous identities and maintain Maya practice in the 21st century, a resilience that sets Chamelco apart from other Maya towns. Unlike the region's other indigenous women, Chamelco's Q'eqchi' market women achieve both prominence and visibility as vendors, dominating social domains from religion to local politics. These women honor their families' legacies through continuation of the inherited, high-status marketing trade. In Maya Market Women, S. Ashley Kistler describes how market women gain social standing as mediators of sometimes conflicting realities, harnessing the forces of global capitalism to revitalize Chamelco's indigenous identity. Working at the intersections of globalization, kinship, gender, and memory, Kistler presents a firsthand look at Maya markets as a domain in which the values of capitalism and indigenous communities meet.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09622-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Gender, Kin, and Markets in the Land of Peace
    (pp. 1-17)

    Each morning, as the sun rises over the mountains of San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala, the Q’eqchi’-Maya market women prepare for the busy day ahead. Waking long before daybreak, they complete their daily chores quietly in their homes as the smoke from the day’s first fire wafts from their stoves. After washing clothes, making tortillas, and preparing goods for sale, the women, who range in age from their early twenties to their nineties, walk through the still foggy and silent streets to the market, the place that many residents identify as the community’s “heart” (ch’ool).

    By 9:00 a.m. each day, as...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Continuity and Memory in San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala
    (pp. 18-40)

    A few weeks after my arrival in Chamelco, Doña Rogelia,¹ my first friend in town, encouraged me to buy and use Q’eqchi’ women’s indigenous dress (traje típico) consisting of a loose woven blouse (güipil) and skirt (corte), made from heavy woven fabric. In Guatemala, each distinct linguistic and ethnic community uses a unique style of dress that symbolizes its indigenous identity. Although distinctive ethnic dress (traje) was imposed by the Spaniards during the colonial period, the Maya use it as a symbol of their historical identity.

    Following Rogelia’s persistent suggestions that I adopt Q’eqchi’ dress, we visited the weavers in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Markets and Marketers
    (pp. 41-64)

    In 2004, Chamelco’s established merchants complained about a new market that had formed in the street in the town center. Changes in municipal policy had sanctioned it, designating three days a week as “Market Day” (Día de Plaza). Rural women from throughout the region received the right to sell their crops, animals, and textiles from large wicker baskets in the street. The municipality rationalized that this act would afford all local women with opportunities to support their families.

    The new market immensely disturbed Chamelco’s longtime vendors, many of whom have family histories of market work. They had significant overhead costs,...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Recognition and Immortality in the Market and Beyond
    (pp. 65-97)

    In late 2006, Chamelco’s vendors campaigned for better working conditions in the interior marketplace. The municipal government had shut off the market’s electricity, meaning that the women had to close up their stalls each night in the darkness of the early evening hours. The running water that had flowed freely in the washroom for years was unreliable, notably absent during the busiest days. The evening hours, the women complained, were wrought with theft, and they returned to their stalls each morning to find products missing. The street market continued to grow, blocking the entrances and exits of the interior market...

  8. CHAPTER 5 All in the Junkab’al
    (pp. 98-119)

    In 2004, I established myself in Chamelco by assisting market women with their daily responsibilities.¹ I learned how to weigh and package grains, helped to organize their merchandise, and assisted on shopping trips to nearby Cobán and Carchá to purchase inventory. Learning the art of selling, I helped them tend to their stalls, especially during the afternoon hours when the market was not as busy.

    One afternoon in early 2004, Doña Valeria asked me to help her sell a basket of fruit, which she had collected from a tree in her yard. While I spent that afternoon on the market...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Marketing Memory
    (pp. 120-126)

    In the December 2005 battle over the annual Christmas market, Chamelco’s women defeated the town’s mayor by deploying their prestige to impose their desired location for the holiday marketplace. The prestige that vendors garner, which gives them political influence and enhances their families’ reputations, also gives them the power to confront institutions whose origins lie beyond the Maya past. In the struggle over the Christmas market, the women confronted the mayor, a political executive charged with keeping local life in conformity with national law. In this battle, however, the women won, because the Q’eqchi’ category of the house, the prestige...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 127-130)
  11. Glossary
    (pp. 131-134)
  12. References
    (pp. 135-152)
  13. Index
    (pp. 153-160)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-164)