The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics

The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics

NOOK Book(eBook)

$17.49 $29.95 Save 42% Current price is $17.49, Original price is $29.95. You Save 42%.
View All Available Formats & Editions

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now


This reader brings together more than 200 texts and images in a broad introduction to Guatemala's history, culture, and politics. In choosing the selections, the editors sought to avoid representing the country only in terms of its long experience of conflict, racism, and violence. And so, while offering many perspectives on that violence, this anthology portrays Guatemala as a real place where people experience joys and sorrows that cannot be reduced to the contretemps of resistance and repression. It includes not only the opinions of politicians, activists, and scholars, but also poems, songs, plays, jokes, novels, short stories, recipes, art, and photographs that capture the diversity of everyday life in Guatemala. The editors introduce all of the selections, from the first piece, an excerpt from the Popol Vuh, a mid-sixteenth-century text believed to be the single most important source documenting pre-Hispanic Maya culture, through the final selections, which explore contemporary Guatemala in relation to neoliberalism, multiculturalism, and the dynamics of migration to the United States and of immigrant life. Many pieces were originally published in Spanish, and most of those appear in English for the first time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822394679
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 10/31/2011
Series: The Latin America readers
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 192,597
File size: 29 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Greg Grandin is Professor of History at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History.

Deborah T. Levenson is Associate Professor of History at Boston College and the author of Trade Unionists against Terror: Guatemala City, 1954–1985 and Adiós Niño: Political Violence and the Gangs of Guatemala City, forthcoming from Duke University Press.

Elizabeth Oglesby is Associate Professor of Geography and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona. She previously worked as the editor of Central America Report and the associate editor for NACLA Report on the Americas.

Read an Excerpt


By Greg Grandin Deborah T. Levenson Elizabeth Oglesby


Copyright © 2011 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5107-8

Chapter One

The Maya: Before the Europeans

Before the Spanish invasion in 1524 and independence from Spain in 1821, no nation called Guatemala existed. Today's Guatemala is part of what was once a far- flung Maya civilization that developed along a backbone of volcanoes in Chiapas, Mexico, extending down into what are now Honduras and El Salvador, and into the lowlands along the limestone shelf that forms the Yucatán Peninsula and the Petén. Since at least 15,000 BC, people in these areas had been planting maize, beans, squashes, and chili peppers, crops that remain central to the Guatemalan diet. Maya city-states appeared in what is now the Valley of Guatemala around 250 BC. The best-known of these ancient settlements is a large, barely excavated site called Kaminaljuyu. Most of this site of hundreds of temples has been lost to bulldozers, brickyards, and expanding neighborhoods; today, fragments of it lay buried under Guatemala City's Zone Seven (Guatemala City is administratively divided into an ever-expanding number of "zones").

The center of this Maya world moved into the lowlands of the northern Petén jungle and what is now Belize. Here, great city-states such as Tikal, Aguateca, Uaxactún, Copán, Caracol, and Naranjo arose in the ad 200s and then declined precipitously after about ad 800 for many interwoven reasons, including land overuse, drought, and endemic internecine war. Scholars still vigorously debate the causes of the Maya city-states' decline as new evidence continues to be gathered through tree-ring data, historical climate modeling, and new archaeological discoveries. Archaeologists and anthropologists once imagined the Maya to be peace-loving folk, but information supplied by newly found murals and the recently acquired ability to read Maya writing reveal that Maya society was wracked by conflict. The Maya had a complex intellectual and spiritual culture about which we know only a fraction. We know that the Maya had the concept of zero and calculated the movements of Venus, the moon, and the sun almost perfectly. The Maya used base-twenty (vigesimal) numeral systems, and Maya languages contain words for vigesimal multiples. The complexities of the Maya calendar reflect its many purposes, which ranged from agriculture to divination. It is believed that within the Maya worldview, time was not linear but rather consisted of cycles of creation and destruction, and it was conceptualized as sacred. What would have been the trajectories of Maya elites and commoners, and of their local and regional cultures, if the Spanish conquistadores, guided by conquered Mexicans, had not arrived in 1524?

In the centuries before the Conquest—which archaeologists divide into a Classic Period (AD 250 to 900) and a Postclassic Period (the tenth through the early sixteenth centuries)—the Maya world became increasingly dispersed. Groups of Mexican origin ruled the Maya Yucatán, and confederations of the K'iche', the Kaqchikel, and (to a lesser extent) the Tz'utujil and Poqomam dominated millions of commoners, farmers, artisans, and hunters in the highlands of Guatemala. The linguistic cohesion of the different groups in this widespread area consisted of closely related but often mutually unintelligible languages, such as the two oldest, Cholan and Yucatec. Their many gods embodied material forces, such as Chak, the god of rain; Aha K'in, the sun god; Itzamná, god of maize; and Chak Chel, old moon goddess and goddess of medicine.

Our knowledge about the pre-Conquest Maya is mediated by scholars interpreting scant primary sources. Only a handful of Maya texts survived the Conquest because the Spaniards destroyed thousands of scroll books full of histories, sciences, songs, and prophecies. As archaeologist Michael Coe says: "It's as if all that posterity knew about us [in the United States] were based on three prayer books and Pilgrim's Progress." Archaeologists deciphered Maya writing only recently (see "Breaking the Maya Code" in this volume) and are now able to read ancient Maya inscriptions set on vertical stone slabs called stelae. Other sources include texts written in the Roman alphabet after the 1524 conquest, such as the Popol Vuh, the Título de Totonicapán, Annals of the Kaqchikel, and the Books of Chilam Balam. Most of these sources provide information about elite politics and cultures; only glimpses of commoners' lives appear, even though strands of their culture survived the trauma of European invasion and remained in everyday spiritualism, household life, agriculture, art, and community values.

Popol Vuh Unknown K'iche' authors

In the mid-1500s, decades after the Spanish invasion, anonymous K'iche' scribes in the town of Santa Cruz (built of stones from the conquered Maya city of Utatlán) wrote down the Popol Vuh, or Council book. The Popol Vuh, often called the "K'iche' Bible," is a creation story believed to be the single most important source documenting Maya culture. The book was written in K'iche' using the Roman alphabet. It was passed down secretly from generation to generation until one of the manuscript's guardians showed it to the Spanish Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez in 1702. Ximénez copied it and translated it into Spanish. The manuscript remained with the Dominicans until the region achieved independence from Spain, and thereafter it traveled. First it was sent to the University of San Carlos, but it was stolen and taken to France by a French abbot at mid- century. It was sold in the 1890s to a US business magnate who deposited it in the Newberry Library in Chicago. It was not until 1941 that a Guatemalan scholar, Adrián Recinos, rescued it from obscurity.

The Popol Vuh tells how the many gods residing in the sky/earth (the K'iche' way of saying "world") in the "prior world"—that is, before the Christians came—went about making human beings. On their first try, the gods made creatures that could only shriek and had no arms. On their second try, the mud the gods were using wouldn't retain a shape. Before making a third attempt, they decided to consult an elderly couple: Xpiyacoc, divine matchmaker, and Xmucané, divine midwife. The couple told the gods to use wood. This worked, but the humans were emotionless, and they were soon destroyed by a hurricane. The deities then used corn, which worked because corn- humans—"men of corn"—grew in the rain. But before they completed their task, the gods became involved in the complex adventures of Xmucané's twin sons, who embarked on a mission to defeat the underworld—Xibalbá, or Place of Fear—in order to make the world safe for the yet-to-be-invented corn-humans. The twins traveled to Xibalbá, where they were captured by the lord Blood Gatherer, who turned one of them into a calabash hanging on a tree made of bones. Blood Gatherer's daughter, Blood Moon, found the calabash tree one day. Her intervention saved the first generation of twins and allowed a second generation of twins, her children, to defeat the Place of Fear. The following excerpt from the manuscript tells how Blood Moon finds the tree and later makes her way out of Xibalbá to join her new mother-in-law, Xmucané.

And here is the account of a maiden, the daughter of a lord named Blood Gatherer.

And this is when a maiden heard of it, the daughter of a lord. Blood Gatherer is the name of her father, and Blood Moon is the name of the maiden.

And when he heard the account of the fruit of the tree, her father retold it. And she was amazed at the account:

"I'm not acquainted with that tree they talk about. Its fruit is truly sweet, they say, I hear," she said.

Next, she went all alone and arrived where the tree stood. It stood at the place of Ball Game Sacrifice:

"What? Well! What's the fruit of this tree? Shouldn't this tree bear something sweet? They shouldn't die, they shouldn't be wasted. Should I pick one?" said the maiden.

And then the bone spoke; it was here in the fork of the tree:

"Why do you want a mere bone, a round thing in the branches of a tree?" said the head of One Hunahpú when it spoke to the maiden. "You don't want it," she was told.

"I do want it," said the maiden.

"Very well. Stretch out your right hand here, so I can see it," said the bone.

And then the bone spit out its saliva, which landed squarely in the hand of the maiden.

And then she looked in her hand, she inspected it right away, but the bone's saliva wasn't in her hand.

"It is just a sign I have given you, my saliva, my spittle. This, my head, has nothing on it—just bone, nothing of meat. It's just the same with the head of a great lord: it's just the flesh that makes his face look good. And when he dies, people get frightened by his bones. After that, his son is like his saliva, his spittle, in his being, whether it be the son of a lord or the son of a craftsman, an orator. The father does not disappear, but goes on being fulfilled. Neither dimmed nor destroyed is the face of a lord, a warrior, craftsman, orator. Rather, he will leave his daughters and sons. So it is that I have done likewise through you. Now go up there on the face of the earth; you will not die. Keep the word. So be it," said the head of One and Seven Hunahpú—they were of one mind when they did it.

This was the word Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt, Sudden Thunder bolt had given them. In the same way, by the time the maiden returned to her home, she had been given many instructions. Right away something was generated in her belly, from the saliva alone, and this was the generation of Hunahpú and Xbalanque.

And when the maiden got home and six months had passed, she was found out by her father. Blood Gatherer is the name of her father.

And after the maiden was noticed by her father, when he saw that she was now with child, all the lords then shared their thoughts—One and Seven Death, along with Blood Gatherer:

"This daughter of mine is with child, lords. It's just a bastard," Blood Gatherer said when he joined the lords.

"Very well. Get her to open her mouth. If she doesn't tell, then sacrifice her. Go far away and sacrifice her."

"Very well, your lordships," he replied. After that, he questioned his daughter:

"Who is responsible for the child in your belly, my daughter?" he said.

"There is no child, my father, sir; there is no man whose face I've known," she replied.

"Very well. It really is a bastard you carry! Take her away for sacrifice, you Military Keepers of the Mat. Bring back her heart in a bowl, so the lords can take it in their hands this very day," the owls were told, the four of them.

Then they left, carrying the bowl. When they left they took the maiden by the hand, bringing along the White Dagger, the instrument of sacrifice.

"It would not turn out well if you sacrificed me, messengers, because it is not a bastard that's in my belly. What's in my belly generated all by itself when I went to marvel at the head of One Hunahpú, which is there at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice. So please stop: don't do your sacrifice, messengers," said the maiden. Then they talked:

"What are we going to use in place of her heart? We were told by her father: 'Bring back her heart. The lords will take it in their hands, they will satisfy themselves, they will make themselves familiar with its composition. Hurry, bring it back in a bowl, put her heart in the bowl.' Isn't that what we've been told? What shall we deliver in the bowl? What we want above all is that you should not die," said the messengers.

"Very well. My heart must not be theirs, nor will your homes be here. Nor will you simply force people to die, but hereafter, what will truly be yours will be the true bearers of bastards. And hereafter, as for One and Seven Death, only blood, only nodules of sap, will be theirs. So be it that these things are presented before them, and not that hearts are burned be fore them. So be it: use the fruit of a tree," said the maiden. And it was red tree sap she went out to gather in the bowl.

After it congealed, the substitute for her heart became round. When the sap of the croton tree was tapped, tree sap like blood, it became the substitute for her blood. When she rolled the blood around inside there, the sap of the croton tree, it formed a surface like blood, glistening red now, round inside the bowl. When the tree was cut open by the maiden, the so- called cochineal croton, the sap is what she called blood, and so there is talk of "nodules of blood."

"So you have been blessed with the face of the earth. It shall be yours," she told the owls.

"Very well, maiden. We'll show you the way up there. You just walk on ahead; we have yet to deliver this apparent duplicate of your heart before the lords," said the messengers.

And when they came before the lords, they were all watching closely:

"Hasn't it turned out well?" said One Death.

"It has turned out well, your lordships, and this is her heart. It's in the bowl."

"Very well. So I'll look," said One Death, and when he lifted it up with his fingers, its surface was soaked with gore, its surface glistened red with blood.

"Good. Stir up the fire, put it over the fire," said One Death.

After that they dried it over the fire, and the Xibalbans savored the aroma. They all ended up standing here, they leaned over it intently. They found the smoke of the blood to be truly sweet!

And while they stayed at their cooking, the owls went to show the maiden the way out. They sent her up through a hole onto the earth, and then the guides returned below.

In this way the lords of Xibalbá were defeated by a maiden; all of them were blinded. And here, where the mother of One Monkey and One Artisan lived, was where the woman named Blood Moon arrived.

And when Blood Moon came to the mother of One Monkey and One Artisan, her children were still in her belly, but it wasn't very long before the birth of Hunahpú and Xbalanque, as they are called.

And when the woman came to the grandmother, the woman said to the grandmother:

"I've come, my lady. I'm your daughter-in-law and I'm your child, my lady," she said when she came here to the grandmother.

"Where do you come from? As for my little babies, didn't they die in Xibalbá? And these two remain as their sign and their word: One Monkey and One artisan are their names. So if you've come to see my children, get out of here!" the maiden was told by the grandmother.

"Even so, I really am your daughter- in- law. I am already his, I belong to One Hunahpú. What I carry is his. One Hunahpú and Seven Hunahpú are alive, they are not dead. They have merely made a way for the light to show itself, my mother- in- law, as you will see when you look at the faces of what I carry," the grandmother was told.

And One Monkey and One Artisan have been keeping their grandmother entertained: all they do is play and sing, all they work at is writing and carving, every day, and this cheers the heart of their grandmother.

And then the grandmother said:

"I don't want you, no thanks, my daughter- in- law. It's just a bastard in your belly, you trickster! These children of mine who are named by you are dead," said the grandmother.

"Truly, what I say to you is so!"

"Very well, my daughter-in-law, I hear you. So get going, get their food so they can eat. Go pick a big netful of ripe corn ears, then come back, since you are already my daughter-in-law, as I understand it," the maiden was told.

"Very well," she replied.

After that, she went to the garden; One Monkey and One Artisan had a garden. The maiden followed the path they had cleared and arrived there in the garden, but there was only one clump, there was no other plant, no second or third. That one clump had borne its ears. So then the maiden's heart stopped:

"It looks like I'm a sinner, a debtor! Where will I get the netful of food she asked for?" she said. And then the guardians of food were called upon by her:

"Come on out, rise up now, come on out, stand up now:

Thunder Woman, Yellow Woman, Cacao Woman and Cornmeal Woman, thou guardian of the food of One Monkey, One Artisan,"

said the maiden.

And then she took hold of the silk, the bunch of silk at the top of the ear. She pulled it straight out, she didn't pick the ear, and the ear reproduced itself to make food for the net. It filled the big net.


Excerpted from THE GUATEMALA READER by Greg Grandin Deborah T. Levenson Elizabeth Oglesby Copyright © 2011 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of DUKE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xv

Acknowledgments xxi

Introduction 1

I. The Maya: Before the Europeans 11

II. Invasion and Colonialism 39

III. A Caffeinated Modernism 107

IV. Ten Years of Spring and Beyond 197

V. Roads to Revolution 281

VI. Intent to Destroy 361

VII. An Unsettled Peace 441

VIII. Maya Movements 501

IX. The Sixth Century 545

Suggestions for Further Reading 625

Acknowledgment of Copyrights and Sources 641

Index 653

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews