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197 8 • Conclusion Everyday Life Matters Standing on top of El Castillo, the central temple at Xunantunich, and looking four kilometers to the southeast, all one sees is a vast expanse of trees where the contemporary Belizean forest has reclaimed Chan (figure 8.1 upper). From this distant perspective the vibrant rain forest that covers Chan appears to be a homogeneous mass to the onlooker, and the long-abandoned community is rendered invisible. Just as the trees that hide Chan appear homogeneous from this distant perspective, so too are the diversity and complexity of everyday life at Chan obscured from an anthropological perspective that stands at a distance from people’s everyday lives. When we switch the view to look from Chan to Xunantunich, the perspective is quite different (figure 8.1 lower). From most locations at Chan, if viewers look to the northwest, they can see a distant vista of El Castillo: royal pomp and circumstance reduced to a small, two-dimensional image in the background of the colors and dynamism of everyday life at Chan. At least in the Late Classic period when El Castillo was constructed, this small and distant image of monumental construction, which was unlike anything at Chan, would have been a constant reminder to the people of Chan of the broader world in which they lived. It may also have reminded residents of the limits of their social world and the social differences that existed in their society. As Xunantunich’s power waned in the Terminal Classic and the center was abandoned, this distant image may have symbolized something different: the failures of highly centralized and stratified states. If we switch the focus again, to within Chan, our view becomes even more dynamic. For its ancient residents, Chan was a place filled with the Figure 8.1. Top: View from the top of El Castillo at Xunantunich looking southeast. White arrow points to the location of Chan. Bottom: Cynthia Robin and Santiago Juarez surveying at Chan. To the northwest (upper left-hand corner of image), El Castillo is visible in the distance. Conclusion: Everyday Life Matters · 199 motions and hustle and bustle of everyday life, a warm bowl of corn gruel shared with family under the midday sun, the outstretched branches of a mahogany tree swaying above as farmers till the earth with bifacial hoes, good days and bad days, happiness and remorse. There was time to understand the promise of the land and time to understand the mysteries of the cosmos. The swaying branch of the mahogany tree was part of the monotony of everyday life at Chan. Preserving this tree, as was done by generation after generation at Chan, was part of the repetitiveness of daily life, the maintenance of a tradition, a type of agriculture, in which the forest and field could coexist. The same daily act that preserved a mahogany tree and others like it and countless other mature closed-canopy tropical forest trees around Chan also produced what was dynamic and changing at Chan: a community that thrived and grew for two thousand years. Healthy forests and healthy people have the time and disposition to innovate and to organize a farm, a community, a society, and in the process to develop counterhegemonic political practices as well. Everyday life is central in the production and reproduction of society, and also for its transformation . Across the rhythms of daily life at Chan, people reproduced established norms and produced counternormative acts, often through the same actions. At first glance, the Chan community is unremarkable: in this rolling landscape, pole-and-thatch houses encircled by their terraced agricultural fields surround a central plaza with six buildings dedicated to community-level ceremony, administration, and adjudication. In many ways, Chan was this unremarkable place. With its 5.6-meter-high eastern E-Group temple it was among the smaller end of minor centers in the Maya area. Compared to Maya elites who inhabited vaulted stone houses, Chan’s residents living in pole-and-thatch houses occupied a lower stratum in society. Chan’s residents certainly had less privilege and fewer possessions than society’s power brokers did. While there is nothing inaccurate about such a characterization of Chan and its inhabitants, the same characteristics that make Chan seem so unremarkable are actually what make it quite remarkable. Across a 3.2-square-kilometer area and 274 farmsteads, every resident from community leader to humble farmer lived in a perishable house with a thatch roof. The...


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