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  • Meaningful RelationshipsCollaborative Anthropology and Mentors from the Field
  • S. Ashley Kistler (bio)

During my summer 2014 fieldwork in the town of San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala, I interviewed my longtime colleague in ethnographic research, Sebastian Si Pop, about how we met. To our surprise, we discovered that we had vastly different memories of our first meeting, which had taken place nearly nine years before. As we drove one morning from Chamelco’s urban center to the rural village of Chamil, I shared with Sebastian my memory of our first encounter in June of 2005. I recalled seeing him for the first time in a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Concepción in the corner of Chamelco’s municipal market during a celebration dedicated to the saint. Sebastian’s wife, Doña Aura, a market woman, was helping the other marketers to prepare for a procession that would highlight the Virgin. Sebastian had accompanied her to the festivities. Through the thick cloud of smoke of copal incense that filled the shrine as the women adorned the saint, Sebastian looked at me with confusion as he tried to figure out why I, a gringa visitor to the town, was dressed in Q’eqchi’-Maya women’s traje (indigenous dress) and assisting the women with their preparations for a ritual event. Aura introduced me to her husband, though we did not engage in a deeper conversation.

Sebastian, however, relates that we met in a completely different fashion, at a different time, and on a different day. In fact, he does not remember attending the celebration for the Virgin at all. Instead, he recalls that I met him in 2005 in his office on the second floor of the Palacio de Gobernación (Government Palace) in Cobán, when he served as the president of the Q’eqchi’ branch of the Academia de Lenguas Mayas [End Page 1] de Guatemala (Academy of Mayan Languages of Guatemala). He said that I came to ask for his support of my investigations into the story of Aj Pop B’atz’, Chamelco’s sixteenth-century founder. He was very interested in my project but said that he would not work with me unless I would commit to sharing my research and results with the community. Too many scholars, he said, came to the community to conduct research and left, never to be heard from again. He would gladly support me in my research if I would promise to share its results in written form with the community when the work was completed. I accepted, he recalled, and we got to know each other during Sunday lunches in his home in Chamelco.

As we made our way down the windy mountain roads that led from Chamelco’s center to Chamil, Sebastian and I laughed at the great discrepancies in our accounts of first meeting. He was certain that my memory had failed me, stating that he rarely attended saint’s day events; I was convinced that he was mistaken, as I have a vivid image of this first meeting in my mind. While we remained unable to agree on the nature and place of our first meeting, we concurred that for many years we have collaborated on an ethnohistory project investigating the story of Aj Pop B’atz’, the Q’eqchi’ leader who protected his community from the sixteenth-century Spanish invasion by welcoming three Dominican friars to Chamelco in peace. Over the years Sebastian and I have worked together in a number of ways to share our research on Aj Pop B’atz’ with the Chamelqueño community. In 2010 we sponsored an ethnohistoric symposium about Aj Pop B’atz’ as part of a community-wide celebration dedicated to this historical figure. In 2012 we co-wrote a children’s book about Aj Pop B’atz’ to offer Chamelqueños a chance to reconnect with their history, lost through decades of state-sponsored violence in Guatemala.1 My nine years of collaborative research with Sebastian emphasized the value of making anthropological research accessible to the communities with whom we work. The many lessons I learned from Sebastian throughout our years of ethnographic fieldwork changed me and...


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