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

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

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

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

Synopsis

After a decade of military occupation known as la violencia , the Tz'utujil-speaking Maya of Santiago Atitlaacute;n stood up to the Guatemalan Army in 1990 and forced it to leave their town. Yet that act of solidarity did not close the widening internal divisions that threaten to destabilize the community from within. Ironically, after 500 years of resistance to physical and spiritual conquest, many Atitecos now seem eager to abandon traditional Mayan culture. In this compelling ethnography, Robert S. Carlsen explores the issue of cultural continuity and change as it has unfolded in this representative Mayan community. Drawing on documentary evidence, he argues that local Mayan culture survived the Spanish Conquest remarkably intact and continues to play a defining role in the religious and social life of the community. At the same time, however, he shows how the twentieth-century consolidation of the Guatemalan state has steadily eroded the capacity of Mayan communities to adapt to change and has caused some local factions to reject—even demonize—their own culture. This book reflects fifteen years of field research in Atitlaacute;n, where Carlsen learned Tz'utujil, was accepted into a local cofradiacute;a (Mayan/Catholic religious society), and was a first-hand witness to la violencia . It thus presents a rare insider' perspective.

Excerpt

By 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 was discovering how the Atiteco Mayas survived the shower of changes, pressures, and violations to their cultural practices and beliefs. He wanted to deepen his understanding of social change, religious resistance, and creative adaptation. He had seen that the Atiteco Mayas had "successfully resisted their spiritual conquest" by Europeans. Carlsen had learned this, in part, from Luch Chavajay, a former alcalde of the Cofradía Santiago. He taught Carlsen the truth: "The Old Ways of Santiago Atitlán are so vital that if they are not performed, the town itself must literally die." Performance, it seemed was the key. It was Carlsen who introduced me to the opaque genius of Martín Prechtel (whose contribution to the present book is found in Chapter 3) and to Dennis Tedlock remarkable translation of the Popol Vuh, the ancient K'iche' Mayan Book of Council. Through him I met the "Sovereign Plumed Serpent," the "sowing and dawning," "Hunahpu Coyote," and the "overjoyed . . . True Jaguar" who animated the religious imagination of the Maya. Carlsen pointed out a passage in the Popol Vuh which could serve as a key theme to The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town, which is a wonderful, complex, and challenging book. in the Popul Vuh we learn that the world was created and continues to be created through ritual actions. in the words of the text, "It takes a long performance and account to complete the emergence of all the sky-

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