Forest Society: A Social History of Petaen, Guatemala

Forest Society: A Social History of Petaen, Guatemala

Forest Society: A Social History of Petaen, Guatemala

Forest Society: A Social History of Petaen, Guatemala

Synopsis

The author contends that for 250 years, roughly from the 1720s to the 1970s, the sociocultural system of Petén endured with remarkable continuity, not in spite of the changes in the hinterland region but, to an important degree, because of them.

Excerpt

This book is about the people of Petén, the northern lowlands of Guatemala, from the final Spanish conquest of the region in 1697 to modern times. The aim is to describe and to understand the history of social patterns and cultural standards in post-conquest Petén, in relation to the regional ecology and economy and also in relation to the broader national political economy. As will be seen, the cultural standards of the Peteneros include their own particular understanding of their history and the natural environment. Although the bulk of the material deals with the years between 1697 and the early 1970s, the period immediately preceding 1697 as well as the 1980s are discussed, in part to emphasize that the story begins and closes with the conquest of a distinctive Mesoamerican region.

The study combines historical reconstruction with ethnogaphy and with what is sometimes called ethnohistory. The historical account of Petén up to about the 1890s relies most heavily on the rich stores of colonial and post-colonial documents in the Archivo General de Centro América in Guatemala City and in the town halls, churches, and departmental capital of Petén. For the years roughly between the 1890s and 1960, archival research has been combined with lengthy, mostly open-ended interviews with older Peteneros. Several Peteneros, most notable among them the late don José María Soza, also have published histories of Petén or their own towns, and these, too, have been invaluable. Conventional ethnographic fieldwork and survey research was carried out on several occasions between 1960 and 1985 without neglecting the documentary records for those years, particularly documents housed in town halls and in the offices of FYDEP (Empresa Nacional de Fomento y Desarrollo Económico del Petén, National Enterprise for the Economic Development of the Petén), which effectively ruled Petén from 1960 to 1987. Field trips to Petén were made in 1960-1961 and 1974-1975 and the summers of 1970, 1978, 1980 and 1985. The author is most familiar with people and places in the central lake, great savanna, and northwestern sections of Petén, but over the years visits were made to all the other parts of Petén, except the far northeastern Aguas Turbias area and the far southwest corner, where the Usumacinta River . . .

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