In 1990, a group of German ecologists launched Proyecto Eco-Quetzal (PEQ) in Chicacnab, a village of indigenous Q'eqchi' Mayan people perched in the cloud forests of Guatemala's Alta Verapaz department. The NGO's goal: preserve the region's dwindling quetzal habitat by training villagers for an ecotourism initiative that would supersede traditional slash-and-burn subsistence agriculture as villagers' primary means of support. In The Chicken and the Quetzal, Paul Kockelman argues that in replacing villagers' livelihoods, PEQ ultimately rearranged the indigenous people's daily lives, transforming a local labor commons into a system of externally graded haves and have-nots that incentivized behaviors contradicting PEQ's original objectives. The result of more than five years of ethnographic fieldwork by the author in Chicacnab, this book's case study serves as a launching point for broader explorations of the social construction of nature, political economic power, gendered conceptions of self and place, communal resource management, and the production and portability of value. While much of the evidence offered in this work is rooted in the author's native field of linguistic anthropology, Kockelman discerningly constructs his analysis as a framework for extrapolating local observations to global concerns, positioning the book to offer perspectives of interest to critical geographers, political ecologists, feminist scholars, and Latin Americanists alike.
Broadly speaking, chapters one and four adopt a molar approach, introducing the mechanics and packaging the results, respectively, of the community's interactions with ecotourists and the program itself, while chapters two and three together provide a more molecular examination of the Q'eqchi' worldviews and values framing these exchanges. Readers who are more inclined to browse a work or who are unfamiliar with the minutiae of linguistic analysis should prioritize their efforts toward digesting the first and fourth chapters.
After outlining the brief history of PEQ as summarized above, in chapter one Kockelman follows a seven-person tour group through their largely disappointing trip to the village. While they waited in the PEQ office prior to leaving for Chicacnab, the program's guidebook primed tourists on what to expect, outlining exactly how long the bus ride and hike would last, exactly what "rustic" accommodations and meals to anticipate, and exactly which places and times along the hike through the cloud forest to keep an eye peeled for quetzals (p. 28). In their efforts to standardize the tourists' experiences, PEQ had left nothing to chance: the Q'eqchi' tour guides had been trained to walk no more than five paces ahead of the slowest tourist and exchange pre-rehearsed pleasantries in "a kind of pidgin language of ecotourism" (p. 129).
As it turns out, the tourists arrived late to the village, grouchy and exhausted after a strenuous, quetzalless hike, and left the next morning disappointed by the expensive, "nonauthentic" souvenirs peddled by the villagers (p. 37). William Cronon's argument in [End Page 189] "The Trouble with Wilderness" (1995) suggests that their experience failed to align with the construction of simple village life in an unmolested cloud forest promised by the project's literature. Trained to expect a fiction of what village life should look like, they were ultimately dissatisfied with what it actually was, with one woman remarking in jest that the village boasted more chickens and children than quetzals and cloud forest.
The same could be said of chapters 2 and 3, in which Kockelman unpacks gendered Q'eqchi' conceptions of chickens and examines village gender roles in the context of local labor pooling practices. Both in Q'eqchi' language structure and through village activity, chickens represented internal value and feminine responsibility, and a woman's ability to protect her brood from chicken hawk attacks reflected her capability to manage her home and fulfill her role as a woman. Men, by contrast, were valued outside of the household for their exclusive capacity to participate...