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chapter 21 Continuity and Change in the Contemporary Community of Joya de Cerén Carlos Benjamín Lara M. and Sarah B. Barber Introduction In this chapter, we present a brief ethnography of the modern cantón of Joya de Cerén, within which the Cerén site is located.1 The cantón is an administrative unit consisting in this instance of five villages , of which the colonia Joya de Cerén is the central unit. According to our data, 5,834 people, living in 680 domestic groups, make up the cant ón’s population.On the following pages, we discuss the economic and material life of Joya de Cerén’s households. Our objective in this chapter is to demonstrate the strength of Mesoamerica’s traditional subsistence economy and its material correlates, despite the wide array of changes that have occurred over the last several hundred years in this region. The Founding of Joya de Cerén Through the nineteenth century, twenty-two haciendas operated in the municipality of San Juan Opico, the location of the modern cantón of Joya de Cerén. Major crops during this time were coffee , sugarcane, indigo, cotton, banana, rice, yuca (manioc), corn, and beans. Both small and large landholders cultivated these crops, also maintaining some land for cattle. In addition to privately held lands, the Catholic Church and its associated cofradías (sodalities) oversaw some communal properties in the region. This latter type of property was eliminated by the federal government at the turn of the twentieth century, which strengthened the regime of private property, although the land remained under the control of the campesinos. In 1942, the government purchased lands from the Hacienda San Andrés, in the municipality of San Juan Opico, to improve the living conditions of smallholders in the area. While the original property consisted of 5,509 hectares, over half of the hacienda was sold to the federal government.The purchased land totaled 3,309 hectares, within which the cantón Joya de Cerén and the community of Sitio del Niño were organized. Later, in 1954, the federal Instituto de Colonización Rural (ICR) initiated an agrarian reform program on these lands. Over a period of several years, the ICR built and sold approximately 160 houses to smallholders. House lots were 1,000 m2 each, sold at the cost of 3,000 colones (US $1,200), to be paid over 20 years. Most of the families benefiting from this program were from the Opico municipality, and were living in the Joya de Cerén area at the time.The ICR planned the project to benefit domestic groups, not individuals. It is possible that this emphasis on assisting functioning households has contributed to the social stability of the community. In the village of Joya de Cerén itself, the ICR created a cooperative association with the objective of cultivating sugarcane and basic grains. The members were to work within the cooperative as a community organization.The land belonged to the ICR, and people obtained use rights from the cooperative .The ICR provided technical assistance and machinery for sugarcane production, although the cooperative was obligated to pay for these services and to rent the land from the ICR. Agriculturalists received a salary for their work on ICR land, and after the sugarcane harvest, they subdivided the profits. In addition, any maize and beans produced Tseng 2002.3.21 12:14 6272 Sheets / BEFORE THE VOLCANO ERUPTED / sheet 204 of 238 the contemporary community of joya de cerén 193 were subdivided among associates. A health clinic, a school, and a community center were also built for the use of cooperative members. By 1961 the cooperative had failed. Some cooperative members accused ICR representatives of appropriating for themselves a majority of the bene- fits, while others accused the directors of the cooperative of receiving excessive benefits.These disputes eventually led the government to divide the cooperative lands among the member households, establishing a system of private small landholdings. Each household received between two and three manzanas (1.43 to 2.14 hectares) of land, at a cost of 3,000 colones, again to be paid over 20 years. From the point of view of Joya de Cerén’s residents , the cooperative failed for two main reasons. First, most cooperative members felt that corrupt acts were impeding the fair sharing of all benefits to all members. Second, most agriculturalists expressed a desire...


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