Home as a Place of Exhibition and Performance: Mayan Household Transformations in Guatemala(1)

By Little, Walter E. | Ethnology, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Home as a Place of Exhibition and Performance: Mayan Household Transformations in Guatemala(1)


Little, Walter E., Ethnology


Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the town of San Antonio Aguas Calientes, Guatemala, has been incorporated into transnational movements of people, commodities, and ideas through tourism, development, and religious evangelism. The Kaqchikel Mayas living there have long looked outward from their community as they embraced, ignored, or criticized these global flows. Contemporary Kaqchikel Mayas have incorporated these global flows into the organization and maintenance of their households, while giving them a local interpretation. Some families have made their homes a place to enact their culture through exhibitions and performances for tourists. Such performances are indicative of the strategies increasingly used by Kaqchikel women, where the private household/ domestic sphere becomes public and also part of the global. These enactments have changed the economic and social organization of the household in terms of gender relations. (Guatemala, Kaqchikel Mayas, performance, tourism, gender, transnationalism, globalization)

In a 1912 article promoting tourism to Guatemalans and foreigners, San Antonio Aguas Calientes is described as one of the towns "most frequently visited by tourists for its beautiful panoramas." With descriptions of clothing, occupations, and community traditions, it highlights women as an attraction by noting that when they are "on the street they use colorful and clean outfits." The article also calls attention to the economic links Antonecos have with Antigua and Guatemala City, where they go to buy thread for weaving and to sell produce and other items such as mats. The article encapsulates aspects of life in San Antonio Aguas Calientes which are still present; cultural and economic exchanges with tourists, economic ties outside the community, and the differences between indigenous people and Ladinos.

The links to the nation-state and to global economic and cultural phenomena are further strengthened when it is recognized that San Antonio was one of the first indigenous towns in Guatemala to be missionized by Protestants. Reportedly, a school was founded by U.S. missionaries in 1874 (Brown 1998:3). By 1909, the Central American Mission established a permanent clinic and nurse training program (Garrard-Burnett 1998:34), and in 1917, Cameron Townsend, the founder of the Summer Institute of Linguistics/Wycliffe Bible Translators, arrived in San Antonio, where over the next twelve years he translated the First Testament into Kaqchikel Maya (Stoll 1982:33; Garrard-Burnett 1998:53). Since the beginning of the twentieth century, tourism and missionary activity have intensified.

Much has been written regarding the relationship between tourism, craft production, and religion (e.g., Annis 1987; Ariel de Vidas 1995; Deitch 1989; Ehlers 1993; Garcia Canclini 1993; Nash 1993a; Stephen 1991; Tice 1995). Indeed, Kaqchikel women there are world-renowned weavers whose products are collected by American, European, and Japanese aficionados of indigenous clothing, but this article explores the use of households as sites for tourist performances. The focus on these public performances will also explain how in some households gender relations are changing.

A well-known tourist destination, San Antonio Aguas Calientes is a relatively prosperous town located near Antigua, Guatemala, with an indigenous population of 6,262 out of 6,740 people (Rodriguez Rouanet 1996:172). Additionally, San Antonio was one of the favored sites for development in the 1970s because for over 50 years farmers there had "a reputation for being technically progressive, literate, and willing to innovate" (Annis 1987:44). Although economic development projects are not as common in San Antonio as in the past, in part because it is considered to be relatively developed, educated Antonecos, as managers and caseworkers, are a common presence in various development agencies operating throughout Guatemala. And farmers have not ceased being innovative, as in the case of one who turned a chance meeting in Antigua with an English traveler into an opportunity to surf the Internet and gather information on making organic fertilizer with earthworms. …

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