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Conservation, Cattle, and Commerce among the Q'eqchi' Maya Lowlanders

by Liza Grandia

Publication Year: 2012

This impassioned and rigorous analysis of the territorial plight of the Q'eqchi Maya of Guatemala highlights an urgent problem for indigenous communities around the world--repeated displacement from their lands.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Series: Culture, Place, and Nature


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Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Liza Grandia has worked with Q’eqchi’ Maya in their Guatemalan territories of Petén for nearly twenty years. She went there first as a conservation and development professional, returning a few years later as an anthropologist. Over the last two decades the region has suffered its newest form of enclosure, emerging...

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pp. xi-xix

March 31, 1997. Days before Conservation International’s Guatemala program, ProPetén, was to inaugurate a new biological station in Laguna del Tigre National Park in the northwestern corner of the 1.6 million-hectare Maya Biosphere Reserve, sixty armed men in four motorized canoes arrived simultaneously from different sites on the Rio San Pedro. They burned the station to the...

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pp. xx-xxiv

Preparing to depart Petén, Guatemala, in 1999 and move to Berkeley for graduate school, I read Marcel Mauss’s The Gift for the first time. Thrilled by this new anthropological concept of “reciprocity,” I exclaimed to my friend (and then boss) Carlos Soza, “Did you know there is no such thing as a ‘free gift’?” “Of course, there isn’t,” he replied nonchalantly, much wiser than I about social...

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Q’eqchi’ Language and Orthography

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pp. xxv-xxv

Linguistically, the Q’eqchi’ language is more closely related to nearby highland Maya languages such as K’iche’, Kaqchikel, and Mam than to other lowland languages like Itza or Mopan. The 2002 population census revealed that Q’eqchi’ had become the second most popular Maya language in Guatemala (up from fourth place in the 1994 census). Of the four major ethnic groups (K’iche’...

Notes on Measurements

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pp. xxvi-xxvi


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pp. xxvii-2

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Introduction: Commons Past

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pp. 1-28

The commonness of the word “common” in our everyday language reveals how important this shared agrarian land arrangement once was to our culture. We speak a common language and try to reach common ground in our agreements for the common good. Something ordinary is commonplace. Friends and lovers share interests in common and...

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1. Liberal Plunder: A Recurring Q’eqchi’ History

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pp. 29-57

On a recent flight to Guatemala, seated to my left were two middleaged gringos dressed in overalls who appeared to be on a volunteer trip to build a church. In front of me was a group of young men with military haircuts planning some kind of expedition; in fact, “kaibiles,” soldiers from Guatemala’s special operations force, met them at the airport’s baggage..

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2. Maya Gringos: Q’eqchi’ Lowland Migrationand Territorial Expansion

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pp. 58-82

Discussing Q’eqchi’ migration, another anthropologist once remarked to me, “Oh, I like the Q’eqchi’. They are like the gringos of the Maya world!” Some say that anthropologists unconsciously gravitate toward studying people in whom they see reflections of their own cultures and personalities. Like gringos, the Q’eqchi’ exude pragmatic confidence about...

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3. Commons, Customs, and Carrying Capacities: The Property and Population Traps of the Petén Frontier

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pp. 83-116

Satellite images reveal that within three and a half decades of colonization, forest and natural savanna cover in Petén dropped from approximately 90 percent to less than 50 percent (fig. 3.1). Seemingly in an inverse relationship, Petén’s population grew from less than 50,000 to approximately 500,000 in that same time period (fig. 3.2) (Grandia 2000). Meanwhile, farmers...

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4. Speculating: The World Bank’s Market-Assisted Land Reform

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pp. 117-143

When asked if they own a parcel, frontier settlers frequently reply with macabre humor: “The only land I’ll ever have is in the cemetery.” Or, as a father from Atelesdale said in fatalistic response when questioned about what land his children might inherit, “Poor we were born, and poor we will die.” Although the Q’eqchi’ people have little hope of...

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5. From Colonial to Corporate Capitalisms: Expanding Cattle Frontiers

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pp. 144-170

Adam Smith’s metaphor of the market’s benevolent “invisible hand” remains one of the most powerful narratives buttressing neoliberal economics today. Q’eqchi’ people, however, see other kinds of invisible hands working behind the scenes, as illustrated by their folktales about an...

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6. The Neoliberal Auction: The PPP and the DR-CAFTA

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pp. 171-197

Under the guidance of Liberal-era caudillos, Guatemala’s first railroad line was a quarter century in the making. Rufino Barrios initiated the project in 1883, and untold numbers of Guatemalan peasants sacrificed their lives laying its tracks. After it was completed in 1908, the Estrada Cabrera administration proceeded to award the Atlantic-Pacific line as well as...

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Conclusion: Common Futures

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pp. 198-222

Shortly after the Spanish invasion of Mesoamerica, Catholic friars began teaching the Maya elite to read and write their own languages using a Latin alphabet. Nine of these manuscripts recorded by Yucatec Maya priests survived and are collectively known as the Book of Chilam...


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pp. 223-224


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pp. 225-226


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pp. 227-238


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pp. 239-262


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pp. 263-278

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780295804170
E-ISBN-10: 0295804173
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295991658
Print-ISBN-10: 0295991658

Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Culture, Place, and Nature
Series Editor Byline: Edited by K. Sivaramakrishnan See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 809317446
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Enclosed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Guatemala -- Economic policy.
  • Guatemala -- Economic conditions.
  • Culture and globalization -- Guatemala.
  • Free trade -- Guatemala.
  • Kekchi Indians -- Economic conditions.
  • CAFTA (Free trade agreement) (2005).
  • Kekchi Indians -- Land tenure.
  • Kekchi Indians -- Migrations.
  • Guatemala -- Ethnic relations.
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