AGRICULTURE, ECOLOGY AND DOMESTIC ORGANIZATION AMONG THE KEKCHI MAYA by Richard Ralph Wilk

AGRICULTURE, ECOLOGY AND DOMESTIC ORGANIZATION AMONG THE KEKCHI MAYA by Richard Ralph Wilk
AGRICULTURE, ECOLOGY AND DOMESTIC ORGANIZATION
AMONG THE KEKCHI MAYA
by
Richard Ralph Wilk
A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the
DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
For the Degree.of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
In the Graduate College
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
19 8 1
THE UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
GRADUATE COLLEGE
As members of the Final Examination Committee, we certify that we have read
the dissertation prepared by
Richard Ralph W
i
l
k
_________
entitled ---- ___________________________________________________________
•
KEK-CHI- MAYA
____________________________ _____________
and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation requirement
for the Degree of ______ Doctor of Philosophy
__________
;
.
V T - ------- ------------------------------------------------------- --
Date
Date
Date
Final approval and acceptance of this dissertation is contingent upon the
candidate's submission of the final copy of the dissertation to the Graduate
College„
I hereby certify that I have read this dissertation prepared under my
direction and recommend that it be accepted as fulfilling the dissertation
requiremento
Dissertation Director
Date
STATEMENT BY AUTHOR
This
requirements
is deposited
rowers under
dissertation has been submitted in partial fulfillment of
for an advanced degree at The University of Arizona and
in the University Library to be made available to bor­
rules of the Libraryo
Brief quotations from this dissertation are allowable without
special permission, provided that accurate acknowledgment of source
is made= Requests for permission for extended quotation from or re­
production of this manuscript in whole or in part may be granted by
the head of the major department or the Dean of the Graduate College
when in his judgment the proposed use of the material is in the in­
terests of scholarship0 In all other instances, however, permission
must be obtained from the authoro
SIGNED
PREFACE
The orthographic system used in this dissertation for the tran­
scription of Kekchi words is the same as that used by Sedat in his
Nuevo Diccionario de las Lenguas K'echi' y Espanol (1955)°
Both vowels
and consonants are pronounced in the same way as in Spanish, and normal
accent is on the last syllable of each wordo
used:
Two special symbols are
a dash placed over a vowel (as in al, heavy) indicates that the
vowel is doubled in length and an apostrophe after a consonant or vowel
(as in c'al, field) stands for the glottalization of the proceeding
consonant, or a glottal stop0
All Kekchi and Spanish words in the text are underlined, as are
the scientific names of plants or animalso
The usual practice is for
the first English mention of a plant or animal to be followed by paren­
theses, in which are given first the Kekchi name and then the scientific
name o
In one case only has a Kekchi word been consistently misspelled,
and that is the name Kekchi itself0 The correct orthographic rendering
includes a glottalized 'k1 and a terminal glottal stop, and this is
indeed the way in which most Kekchi speakers pronounce the wordo
Yet
it is now almost universal practice in the English literature to use
the legally incorrect form without the glottals (in fact the term Kekchi
has crept into print in Belize in the last few years), and I have
followed this practice in the interests of consistencyo
All other
Kekchi words are spelled in accordance with Sedat's dictionary0
iii
iv
All dollar amounts in the text are given in UoSo dollars unless
otherwise stated*
In 1979 a Belize dollar was worth UoSo $*50, but
this exchange rate has varied in the last century, and figures have
been converted to modern UoSo equivalents, where possible, in the in­
terests of comparability*
The research upon which this dissertation is based was conducted
in Belize between December 1978 and May 1980*
The fieldwork was gener­
ously funded by The University of Arizona Graduate Program Development
Fund, a Grant-in-Aid from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological
Research (No* 3312) and a Dissertation Improvement Grant from the
National Science Foundation (BNS 7814205) which also provided funds for
computer analysis*
My parents. Max and Barbara Wilk, and my grand­
parents , Eva Wilk and Irwin and Edith Balensweig, all provided financial
assistance which filled in the gaps between grants, an assistance which
was appreciated almost as much as the moral and emotional support which
they also gave so generously*
There are so many people and groups who helped me in so many
ways between the inception of this project in 1977 and the present, that
I have no hope of including all of them in these brief acknowledgments *
But I will try*
First and foremost I must offer, my deepest and most lasting
appreciation to Laura Kosakowsky, who shared in my research, from
writing grant proposals to life in a thatched hut in Aguacate village*
Without the emotional support and intellectual stimulation which she so
V
often offered, I truly would not have finished the project*
We both
learned a lot from the pains of growth and change*
Within the category of emotional and intellectual support and
stimulation, I must acknowledge T* Patrick Culbert and Robert M* Netting
most of all, for their unstinting help over my entire graduate career*
Michael Schiffer, William Rathje, Dorothy Carancini, Richard Henderson,
Norman Yoffee, Pam Stanbury, Tony Andrews, Niell Ackerly, Edward Staski,
Joseph Moosman, Eric Arnould, Livingston Sutro, Christine Conte, R* Ben
Brown, Anne Wright, Charles Miksicek, Elizabeth Henderson, Rick
Ahlstrom and Susan Philips are just a few of the people whose lively
minds and active interest in my ideas and work have made important con­
tributions to this work over the years*
The intellectual atmosphere of
the Anthropology Department at The University of Arizona has always been,
through the efforts of these people and many more, one in which new and
stimulating ideas circulate and flourish, and this is the atmosphere I
breathed before and after my fieldwork in Belize *
My introduction to Belize and the Toledo District came about
through the offices of Norman Hammond, on whose archaeological projects
I labored for six field seasons*
His lively interest in things Maya
rubbed off on me, and eventually convinced me to pursue the living
rather than the dead*
The staff and workers on the Corozal and Cuello
projects over six field seasons all served to stimulate my curiosity
about the Maya, and introduce me to Belizean hospitality*
In Belize my work was made possible only by the forebearance
and continual aid of the Kekchi inhabitants of the villages of Aguacate,
Otoxha, Santa Theresa, Indian Creek and Crique Sarco, who put aside
vi
their many fears and offered hospitality to an outsider whose work they
did not always understand0 To Pedro Cucul, and his family I owe a
special debt of gratitude o
The cooperation and assistance of the staff of the Toledo Agri­
culture Department of the Belize government, especially of Ricardo
Montero and Louis Frutas, were important in enabling me to achieve my
research goalso
Don Owen-Lewis and Charles Wright, the grand old men
of Toledo agricultural development, offered invaluable advice, infor­
mation, and assistance throughout my time in the field, as did the staff
of the Toledo Rural Development Project —
especially John Briggs, Jerry
Parham and Chris Sykes0
Generous help was offered at various times by the staffs of the
Marketing Board, Punta Gorda and the Lands Office in the same location0
The Department of Archaeology, also of the government of Belize, was
consistently helpful and cordial, and I'm grateful to Harriet Topsey
and Mark Gutchen of that department for their friendship as wello
The expatriate colony in Belmopan, including Ros Warren, Ma'jor
Alistair Duncan and John Wyeth, provided a welcome hospitality during
my visits which was a much-needed break from life in the village0 They
also made it possible for me to stay and work for several weeks in the
Archives of Belize, where Mr* Leo Bradley was of some assistanceo
My anthropological colleagues in Toledo; Nancy Berte, John
Schackt, Hazel Weems and Kathryn Staiano, provided intellectual stimula­
tion when it was most neededo
Each freely gave of their own time and
information, and made important cpntributions to my understanding of
Toledo ethnographyo
Jim McDonald, *batman* and itinerant mammologist,
vii
taught me many secrets of rain forest fauna, and Tom 'beeman* during,
PCV, gave me the benefit of his extensive knowledge of Toledo's economy
as well as many samples of delicious jungle honey.
Gleofus J. Apodaca
was an important companion during my residence in Toledo, often dis­
tracting me from my own cares and problems at the times when I needed
it.
The Catholic priests in San Antonio, Fathers Cayetano and Mesmer,
often took time from their patient and devoted ministrations to their
flock in order to give me advice and information0
Upon my return to Arizona, when I suddenly realized that I would
have to actually extract a dissertation from my masses of notes and
forms, many other people offered their help.
My dissertation committee
convinced me that the task was a practical one; the reader will have to
judge whether or not they were right.
Handy McGuire and Harold Dibble
gave me invaluable advice as I began to acquaint the computer with my
data.
Rick Wallat eventually took over this task for me, and has done
miracles, making the DEC-10 system produce most of the complex statis­
tics which form the basis of Chapter 11.
was crucially important.
His interest in the material
Charles Miksicek, my roommate during the
\
'
'
writing phase of the project, has always been"generous with his exten­
sive ethnobotanical knowledge, and his advice is responsible for the
most secure botanical identifications given in Chapters 6 and 7.
I was
very grateful when he came to visit in Aguacate village during my field­
work, a visit which restimulated my flagging interest in agriculture.
This Catalog of debts is woefully incomplete, and I would like
to apologize in advance to those whom I have omitted.
Scientific enter­
prise of any kind, most especially in the social sciences, cannot be
viii
separated from the lives of the scientistso
All of the people who have
touched on my life have in some way made a contribution to this work,
and I can only offer my gratitude and beg indulgence for the faults
which remaino
The names of villages have not been changed for the purposes of
this study:
anyone with a knowledge of the Toledo district would
quickly see through any pseudonym I could concoct*
In accord with my
verbal promises to villagers, the consent forms which they assented to,
and written documentation deposited with the Human Subjects Committee
of The University of Arizona, all individuals' names (except those in
this preface) have been changed*
As much as possible, code numbers were
used instead of individual names on project forms and documents, to
further insure privacy in case notes fell into unauthorized hands*
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page
LIST OF TABLES © o o
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
o © © © © © © © © © © © ©
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° ° ° ° ° ° °
© „ „ © © ° ° ° ° ° ° ° xviii
ABSTRACT © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © o ©
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
xiv
© © „ „ „ © = © ©
Archaeological Problems © © © © © © © © ©
Ethnographic Solutions © © . © © © © © © ©
The Kekchi © o © © © © © © © © © © © © © ©
Fieldwork © © © © o © © * © © © © © © © ©
Analysis © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © ©
ETHNOHISTORY OF THE KEKCHI © . © » „ „ „ „ » » ,
° ° ■o
xix
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HISTORICAL ECOLOGY OF THE INDIANS OF TOLEDO DISTRICT o ° ° °
57
Undiscovered Roots: Kekchi Prehistory © ©
Peaceful Conquest in- the "Land of War". « « O O-O
Liberals and Conservatives © © © © © © . © O O :o
Die Kekchi Indianer » « » = » , » © » » « O O O
Taking Away Land and Labor © © © . . © © . O o o
Emptying the Lowlands © . © . © © © © © © O O O
Choi Culture © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © O O O
The Conquest of the Choi © © © © © © © © © O O O
The British Influence in Early Southern Belize O
Summary © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © ° ° °
0
A Sketch of Mopan History in Belize © © ©
Kekchi Migration and Settlement in Belize O o O
The Southern Zone After 1914 © © © © © O O O
Early Administration and Land Regulation . o o o
Continued Immigration © © . © © © © © o o o
Methods of Movement © © © © . © © © . o O O
A History of Economic Underdevelopment in Toledo
Toledo Becomes the "Breadbasket of Belize" O O O
Conclusions © o © © © © © © © © © © © © © o o o
Exploitation-Migration = © © © © © © © o o o
Subsistence-Trade © © © © © © © © © © o o o
Nucleation-Dispersion « © « » » « « « o o o
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TABLE OF CONTENTS— Continued
Page
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THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT 0 0 o o
Rocks9 Rivers
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Soils o o o o
Flora O O O O
Summary o o o
and Landform
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AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION:
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xi
TABLE OF CONTENTS— Continued
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F&lILow Cycles o o o o o o o o o o o
Terrain o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
Land Tenure o © © © © © © © © © ©
Distance © o © © © © © © © © © © ©
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Kekchi Corn Productions Agricultural Intensification ©
An Evolutionary Perspective on Kekchi Corn Farming
and Settlement © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © © ©
AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTIONS
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RICE, BEANS, AND THE REST
Rice O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O © © ©
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Corn vs© Rice, Why Bother? © © © © © © © ©
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xii
TABLE OF CONTENTS— Continued
Page
DOMESTIC ANIMAL PRODUCTION
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Pigs, Cash, and Conflict « o « -= 0
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Health, Mortality and Risk » O
Marketing o o o o o o o o o
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Pigs and Social Transaction
HUNTING AND GATHERING
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CHANGING SUBSISTENCE STRATEGIES
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349
0
350
0
Diet in Aguacate = = = = = = = =
0
0
0
0
0
O
0
0
0
0
0
O
Eating Habits 0 0 = 0 0 0 0
351
0
O
O
0
0
0
0
'352
Quantification 0 0 0 0 0 = 0
0
O
0
0 .0
Dietary Diversification = = O O O O 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 356
A Comparison of Agriculture in Aguacatei and Indian Creek 362
0
0
O ■0 0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
Indian Creek 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
362
Evolutionary Change = = = = O O O 0 0 0 0 0 O 0 0 0 364
Summary: Patterns of Agricultural Change 0 0 0 O 0 0 0 373
Motivation and Change = « = °
379
° °
°
0
THE ORGANIZATION OF PRODUCTIVE LABOR
The Question of Efficiency = = =
Kekchi Labor Groups 0 0 0 = 0 0
The Sexual Division of Labor
Dwelling Labor Groups = = =
Household Cluster Labor = =
Reciprocal Exchange Labor =
Village Labor Groups = = = =
Wage Labor o o o o o o o o o
0
0
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
b
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
c
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
°
°
0
0
0
O
O
O
O
O
O
'0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
O
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
O
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
O
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
O
O
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
O
0
.
383
383
387
387
388
390
392
395
397
xiii
TABLE OF CONTENTS— Continue d
Page
Tasks and Labor Group Types o e o o o o o o o 0 = 0 = 0
Domestic Organization and Labor Groups 0 0 0 = 0 = 0 0
Agricultural Change and Labor Groups = = o o « « = = o
Aguacate 0 = 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 o = o = = = o = = o o
11 o
HOUSEHOLDS AS ADAPTIVE GROUPS = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Household Functions o o o = = = o = o o o o = o = o © o
Transmission
=0=0 0 0 0 0 0
=0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reproduction
= = © = = = = = = ©= © = © © © = = =
Distribution 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Co-residence 0 0 0 0 o o © 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Production and Decision-making © = © = = . © © © ©
An Ernie Model of Decision-making in Residence © = ©
The Etic Results of Decision-making in Residence ©
Morphological Variation in Households = = © = = = © o ©
The Morphology of Household Clusters =='= = = = ©
Clusters and Mobility =; = = © © =© © © © © = = = =
Summary © © © © o © o o o © o o ©o ©
= © = © = ©© o ©
12 o
A SUBSTANTIVE SUMMARY = = = © = =
kok
4l8
421
426
428
429
432
433
439
44l
444
447
449
452
457
46l
©
466
External and Historical Forces © = = © 0 0 . 0 = 0 = ©
The Presence of the Past © = = = = © = = = = = = ©
Settlement Patterns and Decision-making = = 0 0 0 = 0 0
The Ecological Basis = = o = = = = = = = 0 = 0 = 0
A Balancing Model of Settlement Decisions © = = © ©
Some Final Conclusions o © © © © © © © © © . © © . © ©
468
473
477
478
485
'490
APPENDIX As
APPENDIX B:
=© = = = = = = = = = =
398
GRANT PROPOSAL SUBMITTED TO THE NATIONAL
SCIENCE FOUNDATION, MARCH 1, 1978 © © = = = ©
493
DOCUMENTS ON THE ETHNOHISTORY OF TOLEDO
DISTRICT
505
©
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
APPENDIX C:
FARM SURVEY FORM = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
APPENDIX Ds
RELATIONSHIP AND DISTANCE CODING USED IN
CHAPTER 10
O
APPENDIXES
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
©
=
©
A BRIEF. HISTORY OF PROTESTANT EVANGELISM IN
TOLEDO DISTRICT © © © = = = = © = . © © = © ©
LIST OF REFERENCES
© © © © © © © © © © © © © = . =
© © © ©
513
519
523
528
LIST OF TABLES
Table
Page
lo
The'population of the Alta Verapaz from 1770 to 1950
2=
Coffee production in Alta Verapaz in 1930 = = = = = = = = =
37
3o
Comparative salaries of Kekchi workers and others = = = = =
39
4 0 The growth and decline of the Kramer Estates
= ==
= = = = = ==
= = = = = = = = = = = = =
31
63
5-
Agricultural exports from Belize
64
60
Kekchi villages of southern Toledo in the 1920s and 1930s =
69
7=
Monthly rainfall figures for four station in the Toledo
District o o = = = o 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
99
80
Characteristics of the soils of Toledo District = = = = = =
105
9o
A catchment analysis of the soil resources available to a
sample of Kekchi villages = = = = = = = = = = = =
= = o =
=
110
lOo
Forest associations of Toledo District
= = = = = = = = = =
114
11 o
Correspondence of terrain, soils and vegetation in Toledo
District O O O O 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 = = 0 = 0 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 0
x
ll8
12 o Kekchi names of different fallow types, English transla­
tions and brief descriptions = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 0
137
13 O Fallow status and travel time from the village
=====
0 160
14.
Survivor and invader species in burned fields = = = = = = =
165
15o
Seeding rates per man hour in fields cut from three forest
types o = = = = = o = o = = = = 0 0 0 = 0 0 = = = = = = = =
172
16=
Basic statistics on wet season corn planting
= = = = = =
17=
Average labor figures for growing season tasks
= = = = = =
l8l
180
Insect pests in stored corn = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
188
19 O Labor expenditures in harvesting for 12 Aguacate farmers
xiv
0
173
o 191
/
xv
LIST OF TABLES-^Continued
Table
Page
20 o
Maize yields of 11 Aguacate farmers in 1979 = = = = = = = =
194
21=
Maize yields for a sample of Maya farmers , = = = = = , „ =
196
22 =
Yield of corn in different kinds of fallow
0 0 = 000C0
196
23-
Yield of corn per man hour and fallow status
24=
Some plants of the riverside secondary succession = = = = = 206
25-
Labor and yield figures for 17 dry season corn fields in
Aguacate = = = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 = = = = = = = = =
223
26=
Intensification and productivity in Kekchi corn product!on=
227
27o
Variability in corn yields under three different fallow
cycles = = = = = = = 0 0 = 0 = 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 0
229
28= Projected yields for primary forest fields close to a
village 0 0 0 = = = = = = = = = = o = o = = = o = = = = = =
233
29= Rice quantities sold to the Belize Marketing Board origi­
nating in Indian villages = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = 0
239
Labor expenditures in rice production for ten Aguacate
farmers = = = o o = = = o o = o o o = o o o o = o = o = o o
252
31. Total labor per hectare in rice farming broken down by
fallow type o = = = = = = = o = = = = = = o = o = = = = o o
'
255
Total household labor devoted to corn and rice production
m 1979 o . e o o — 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 . = = .
256
= = = = = = = = = = 0
259
30=
32o
=====
0 = 199
33.
Rice yields for ten Aguacate farmers
34=
Variability of rice and wet season corn yields in different
fallow types o = = o = o o o = o = = = = = = o o = = o o o
26l
35.
Cash crop production in pounds and dollar value in Toledo
in 1977”7^ - 0 0 0 ©
0.0
O
0.0
O
O
0
0
O
O
O
0
0
0
0
O
O
36 = Legume planting in Aguacate and Indian Creek
O
= = = = = = =
265
274
37.
Frequency and numbers of cacao trees in two study villages=
282
380
Root crops and varieties in Toledo
286
= = = = = = = = = = = =
xvi
LIST OF TABLES— Continued
Table
Page
Frequency and numbers of root crops in the two study
Villages O 1979 O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O O
<288
40,
Varieties of banana and plantain and their characteristics©
291
41,
Frequency and number of Musaceae in two study villages in
39-
1979
42 o
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
Identification and planting locations of nine minor food
crops
O
43.
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
292
O
29^"
Frequency and numbers of vegetable crops in two study
Villages in 1979
29^
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
44.
Identification and characteristics of 22 Kekchi tree crops0 299
45.
Frequency and numbers of the more common tree crops in the
two study villages 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
j502
46.
Identification and characteristics of 18 condiments and
other minor crops o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
47.
Some common minor animal foods
o o o o ' o o o o o o o o o o
335
48.
Commonly hunted animals in Aguacate village © o o o o o o o
3^3
49.
Hunting success of five Aguacate men in 1979
0000000
3^5
V
50.
The relative contributions of 29 foodstuffs to Kekchi dieto
51.
Crop mixtures in Aguacate and Indian Creek
52.
Sources of agricultural income in Aguacate and Indian Creek
371
53.
Types of labor used in different agricultural tasks 0 0 0 0
399
54.
Mean group size for major agricultural tasks
0000000
401
55.
Exchange and domestic labor in agriculture for a sample of
13
403
Sample table of labor group composition statistics for one
individual
408
The relatedness of work groups of increasing size o © © © o
410
m e n
56.
O
O
O
O
57.
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
00000000
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
O
C
354
368
xvii
LIST OF TABLES— Continued
Table
Page
580
Measures of labor recruitment strategies for 13 farmers
411
59 0
Gine index and mean relatedness for 13 men’s labor groups„
4l4
60 0 Mean productivity broken down by domestic group type „ „ 0
415
610 Frequencies of different household types in three study
villages 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
448
62=
Cash cropping, population pressure and household form
449
63=
Household cluster types in three study villages
0 =
00000
456
640 Forces of dispersion and aggregation in Kekchi settlement0
65
. Size
of Toledo Kekchi villages between 1974 to 1979
48?
000
488
X
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Figure
Page
lo A linguistic taxonomy of the Maya languages o o o o o o o o
23
2o The Kekehi area at the time of the conquest = = o = o o o o
24
3= Map of southern Toledo District = = * * * , = « * * = = « „
70
4 0 Landform map.of the Toledo District = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
97
0 = 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
100
5o Mean annual rainfall in Belize
60 .Mean monthly rainfall in Belize 0 0 0 0
= 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
101
7o Soil quality map of Toledo District 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 = 0 0
109
80 A crossplot of field size and travel time to the field for
the fields of 20 Aguacate farmers in 1979 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0
153
9= A crossplot of the travel time to reach a field, and the
number of man hours per hectare spent in clearing forest
vegetation 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 00 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
,161
10o Crosstabulation of labor expenditure and yield per plot » o
198
V
11o A crossplot of rice labor and corn labor for eleven house­
holds 6 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
257
120 Crossplot of crop varieties and years of farming in
Aguacate 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
386
13o Population pyramid for Aguacate, 1979 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
434
=000
483
15o Map of Aguacate village 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
484
140 Map of Santa Theresa village
00 0 0 0 0 0 = 0 0 0
xviii
ABSTRACT
The economic development of traditional communities often has
drastic social consequences<» This dissertation documents and discusses
the change from mobile swidden agriculture to cash cropping and conse­
quent alterations in family and household among the Kekchi Maya of
southern Belize=
?
It is demonstrated that larger, more complex and more
stable domestic groups have resulted from the increasing complexity,
uncertainty and effort required in new forms of agricultural production«
In the course of this discussion, a detailed account of Kekchi
ethnohistory and colonial exploitation is presented, followed by
quantitative analysis of present Kekchi agriculture, hunting and gather­
ing, and livestock rearing.
This data allows a reappraisal of pre­
viously unsupported theories of agricultural change and evolution in
the lowland neotropics.
The organization of village and domestic labor
groups is then discussed in order to demonstrate the linkage between
changing forms of production and new domestic forms and changing rela­
tionships between household members.
In the last chapter the modern Kekchi adaptation is placed in
an historical and sociopolitical context by reference to the ways in
which settlement pattern and migration have reflected a balance
between external forces and the internal organization of Kekchi com­
munities.
CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
The research and analysis which forms the basis for this volume
has changed and evolved considerably since its beginnings as a term
paper in a seminar on cultural ecology in 1975°
The final result in­
cludes the vestiges of more than six years of intellectual development;
a brief intellectual history will clarify why particular topics of study
have been chosen and why they seem interesting and important 0
V
Archaeological Problems
My initial entry into anthropology was prompted by a fascination
with the past as embodied in the intricate art and impressive temples of
the Classic Maya civilization0 My undergraduate training in archaeology,
which took place during the first flush of enthusiasm for the "Newx
Archaeology," was dominated theoretically by parallel interests in re­
constructing past social systems (e0g 09 Longacre 1968) and in using
archaeological materials to confirm the cultural-evolutionary sequences
of Service (1962), White (1959), and Steward (1955)° Our main texts
were New Perspectives in Archaeology (Binford and Binford 1968) and
Mesoamerica:
The Evolution of a Civilization (Sanders and Price 1965),
both of which professed a faith in cultural ecology as the solution to
problems of development and change 0 Reacting with a skepticism which
surprised our teachers (Charles Redman and Howard Winters) my fellow
students and I tended to question the simplicity and elegance of these
causal models, but the underlying approach seems to have stucko
Fueled with an ambition to explain the origins of agriculture;
and the
development of complex societies, I ventured intothe field,
digging in Spain and Israel before arriving in Belize (then British
Honduras) in 1973 to work for Norman Hammond in the northern districts
of that countryo
As season followed season, and the initial fascination
of learning to identify stone tool and ceramic types faded, I began to
develop nagging doubts about the relevance of all the test pits and
stratigraphic sections for answering the evolutionary questions which
motivated the whole exerciseo
Archaeological explanations of culture
change, no matter how ingeniously phrased or argued, seemed to be *just
so” stories in which the link between evidence and theory was tenuous
at besto
My fieldwork in Belize exposed me to a variety of new problems
and
approaches which began to influence my interests^ Besides working
with Maya farmers and laborers
on a daily basis, I spent some time' with
Dennis Puleston0s Rio Hondo Project on Albion Island (see Puleston 1977)
and witnessed their multi-disciplinary efforts to reconstruct ancient
Maya subsistence systems= The field of Mayan Archaeology was alive with
a new interest in agricultural production, and agriculture was cited as
a causal element in both the rise and collapse of Maya civilization
(see articles in Harrison and Turner 1978 and Culbert 1973)o Yet the
ethnographic data used by these theorists was incomplete and outmoded
(e0go, Stadelman 1940; Morley 1946; Lundell 1933; Cowgill 1962; Reina
1967) and speculations about the causes and consequences of Mayan
agricultural change tended to float around in a universe of conflicting
facts and inadequate data0 I began to think about a way of learning
more about the dynamics of tropical subsistence systems, spurred by our
discovery at Cuello in 1975 and 1976 of a lowland Maya agricultural
society which dated to the third millenium BoCo (see Hammond et alo
1979? Donaghey et alo 1976; Hammond 1977, 1980)0
Ethnographic Solutions
In the meantime I had entered graduate school at Arizona in
1974, and plunged into a 8four-field approach8 program which required
me to finally pay some serious attention to linguistics and social and
cultural theoryo
I began to be aware of a deep division in anthropology,
a division in which I had previously been so far to one side that I
had not even known there was another point of view0
In lectures, and
then in lively debate with fellow students, I encountered dogmatic mate­
rialists as well as rabid idealists, those who believed that culture
was a mere 8extrasomatic means of adaptation8 determined by interactions
with the environment, and others who persuasively argued that Culture
was an expressive, dynamic system with a reality of its own, which de­
veloped and changed through the interplay of ideas and social structure=
The eloquence and passion of the extreme proponents of these opposed
views convinced me that the truth lay somewhere in between, in the com­
bination and interaction of the material and ideologicalo
Cultural
ecology seemed to be the only sub-field which actively addressed these
issues and tried to occupy the middle ground»
4
Three seminars helped me to narrow my range of inquiry and
sharpen the theoretical and methodological tools for coping with issues
of causality in culture change„ To Patrick Culbert® s seminar on Maya
subsistence attempted to construct a computer-model of labor costs,
yield and land use which could be used to predict long-term changes
(some of the results appeared in Wiseman 1978)0 In the course of search­
ing for input data in the ethnographic literature, I began to see that
archaeologists* conceptions of agricultural systems were woefully in­
adequate in dealing with the diversity and complexity of reality0
Intensification (as defined by Boserup 1965), coupled with the law of
least effort (Zipf 1949), did not explain any but the grossest kinds of
variation0 And, as Collier (1975) found to his disillusionment, local
agricultural strategies and adaptations are often deeply affected by
larger-scale political and economic factors which are not under local
control and which cannot be explained by reference to local ecology*
Reading Carol Smith's work (1975, 1976, 1977) further convinced me that
there was more to agricultural change than population pressure and 'in­
tensification, and that archaeologists* models were based on interac­
tions and evolutionary changes which ethnologists themselves did not
yet understand*
The second seminar, on cultural ecology taught by Robert Netting,
challenged my initial skepticism about the simplicity of cultural evolu­
tionism with a wealth of new and provocative ideas about interactions
between environments and culture * Building on Geertz's (1965) cogent
program, we were taken through a series of examples of, the close linkage
between environmental factors, systems of subsistence, and particular
aspects of cultural systemso
One discussion which caught my interest
immediately was the suggestion in To C 0 Smith's Agrarian Origins of
Modern Japan (1959) that changes in agricultural systems were so closely
linked to household and domestic organization, that the two could not be
understood apart from each other0 Netting”s own work (1965, 1968, 1969)
presented a clear case where household organization changed quickly and
thoroughly in response to a change in man/land ratio and in agricultural
techniques=
I was intrigued with the idea that household and domestic
organization could be used as an indicator of agricultural change in
the paste
While archaeologists must guess and conjecture about the
nature of ancient agriculture, they are on more secure ground with house­
hold organization because they are able to find and excavate the dwell­
ings in which households lived (Wilk and Rathje 198l)0
A third seminar with Richard Henderson took political anthro­
pology as a focus but ranged widely through a literature which dealt
with the ways people actively manipulate the economic and social fabric
around them0 Here I found other anthropologists interested in the 1
middle ground between material and cultural determinisms0 Bailey's
Stratagems and Spoils (1969) emphasized to me that people are active
manipulators of both material surroundings and social rules and norms0
Social structure and cultural form are as much the medium of striving
and change, the substance of transaction and manipulation, as they are
a set of norms and rules which determine human action,.
As I explored
Barth's work on this theme, I encountered one article which tied all of
my interests together in one package0 Barth’s "On the Study of Social
Change" (1967) asserts that domestic organization and household
6
structure do change in response to market and ecological change, but
that the social response is a product of domestic strategies and changes
in individual decision=making0
Barth persuasively argues that domestic groups do not just
change from one 'type* into another, but that we have to understand the
decisions of individual actors if we are to understand domestic adap­
tations of the kind documented by Nettingo
This explained to me why
social anthropologists using a comparative approach had so little suc­
cess in linking particular aspects of social organization to environment
or subsistence techniqueso
A good illustrative example is the contrast between Goodenough
(1955, 1956) who suggested that population pressure decreases the
strength of lineage systems, and Meggitt (1965) and Earner (1970) who
claim that land shortages lead to an increase in the extension and
importance of unilineal groups0 Population pressure is not a simple,
unitary force (see Cowgill 1975? Hayden 1975), lineages are not all the
same nor do they always perform the same functions, and the relationship
between the two will vary depending on very local factors and because
the humans who compose lineages are active decision-makers who choose
from a range of optional solutions to land shortage problemso
Whatever
options people take will be conditioned and limited by the norms,
rules, and values which comprise their cultural code, but this code is
flexible and negotiable, and there are numerous cases which testify to
human abilities to preach one thing and practice anothero
Carrying this paradigm in mind, I decided on the topical focus
for my dissertation research and set about writing my preliminary exam
paper on the topic of the 'Economy and Ecology of the Household” in
1977o At the same time I began to write grant proposals, an activity
which forced me to state my problem and goals as simply and succinctly
as possibleo
I have included my successful National Science Foundation
grant proposal as Appendix A in the present work so the reader can com­
pare my intentions to the final product0
In the preliminary paper I traced the development in anthro­
pology of the concept that there is a relationship between kinship
organization and subsistenceo
Murdock (1949), I found, argued that
subsistence changes would cause patterned change in residence rules,
and that this in turn would lead to the transformation of one 'type” of
kinship structure and terminology into another0 Yet he never put this
hypothesis to any kind of practical test, and those who tried to do so
(Spoehr 1947; Eggan 1950) met with indifferent success because the model
was ideological at its core and because their data on economy, popula­
tion and behavior was flawed or absent0 Changing relations of produc­
tion were supposed to change ideology, norms and social behavior, but
how does one scientifically and comparatively study the causes of
changes in patterns of thought?
Furthermore, Barth makes it clear that
changes in kinship behavior are logically prior to alterations in norms
and idealso
I searched more literature, looking for discussions of changing
kinship behavior in response to subsistence change, realizing at the
same time that the issue at hand was one which was of practical interest
and application to problems of economic development and social change in
the third world0
I found a whole body of literature, mainly the
province of sociologists and historians, which linked changes in domestic groups to the great transformations in Western economies which took
place during the industrial resolution,.
The traditional view, repre­
sented by Goode’s World Revolution and Family Patterns (1963), stated
that the large, extended families of medieval Europe had been fragmented
into isolated nuclear family units, a theme I had already encountered in
Bott's work (1955)o
This viewpoint had recently come under fire by a loose group of
8family historians8 centered around Peter Laslett, who used census
records and other historical documents to refute the idea of a single,
linear change in European family size from large to small (see Laslett
and Wall 1972)o This was a step forward, but there was also a step to
the rear0 Laslett8s approach was to minimize the size and importance
of any change in household organization during European history
(Laslett 1972s156-158) by using a descriptive and statistical system
which seems to have been designed to produce precisely these results
(Flandrin 1979;74)„
Worse, what variation remained was explained by
reference to simple facts of social class, social norms, and national
cultural patternso
Goody, collaborating with Laslett8s Cambridge group,
had a better appreciation of the wide range in household size and form
(drawing on his African experience), but his explanatory framework was
equally unsatisfactorye
In a series of works he linked different .
8types’ of agriculture (hoe and plow) to different systems of trans­
mitting wealth between generations, and he claimed it was these varia­
tions in the norms of inheritance which led to different kinds of
domestic groups (Goody 1972, 1973, 1976)o Like other attempts to
correlate family types with broadly-defined historical or economic fac­
tors (eogo'f Nimkoff and Middleton I960; Pasternack, Ember and Ember
1976), this approach ignores the wealth of variation in domestic groups
within a single village or region, a body of evidence which suggests
that households adapt quickly and directly to local factors rather than
to broadly defined pancontinental patterns^
All was not so bleak as these criticisms might indicateo
Wheaton (1975)» Berkner (1972), and most especially Lofgren (1974), all
historians, attempted in various ways to trace the economic and ecologi­
cal causes of regional European patterns of variation in household size.
Lofgren stimulated me with his discussion of the ways in which the
diversity of a subsistence system —
must be performed at once —
tended household groupso
the sheer number of tasks which
can promote the formation of large, ex­
Sahlin’s (1957» 1962) work on Moala and Befu’s
(1968a, 1968b) discussions of extended households in Japan made the same
point —
was there a generalization lurking there?
Further evidence
that the scheduling and timing of productive labor had a direct effect
on household organization was found in Loucky's (1979) work in Guatemala.
He demonstrated that craft-workers in one village married younger and
had larger households than did intensive farmers in an adjacent village,
and he attributed the difference to decisions made on the basis of the
differential .efficiency of different sized labor groups in the two kinds
of productive laboro
I felt at this point that I grasped a part of the puzzle, and
that I definitely wanted to investigate the effects of labor scheduling
and timing on domestic groups,since some secure generalizations seemed
to be lurking in the examples I had studied,.
tions aroseo
But as usual, complica­
George Collier, one of the few anthropologists to look
carefully at domestic group variation among Maya-speaking peoples, did
not find labor groups or production to be very important in explaining
variation in domestic group size or organization (Collier 1975s48-78)0
Instead, Collier stressed population pressure on land resources as the
causative factor, findirig that when access to land becomes harder and
harder to gain, domestic group and lineage membership become important
avenues of land acquisition0 Children try to stay in the natal family
after marriage in order to have access to household land, and extended
families or lineage clusters result0 This seems to parallel some of
the findings on European inheritance systems (e=go, Goody 1973; Homans
I960)o
This material suggested to me that different forces affected
household organization in different settings:
production here, inheri­
tance of land there, and perhaps politics or trade elsewhere*
Where
could I study a single train of cause and effect in isolation from 'com­
plications?
The Kekchi
While I was digging trenches at Cuello in northern Belize in
1976, an oil exploration crew in the far southern part of the country
found a new Maya ceremonial center named Nimli Punit, which had over 25
monuments in a single large plaza (see Hammond 1976)*
A team, myself
included, rushed down from Cuello for several days of frantic explora­
tion and recording of sculpture0 In May I returned by myself to dig a
few test excavations in order to secure a pottery sample, but the rains
11
began early and I spent much of my time sitting in a palm-thatched
shelter watching my pits fill with water and talking with Lorenzo Shol,
the watchman of the site.
I learned more about the nearby Kekchi vil­
lage of Indian Creek, where Lorenzo lived, than I did about the pre­
history of the site, and when I returned to Tucson I began to search
out the few skimpy sources of anthropological knowledge about the Indian
inhabitants of the far southern part of the colony (the Toledo district).
What I found in one book on general Mopan ethnography (Thomson
1930), one dissertation on community development (McCaffrey 1967), one
on ethnic boundaries (Gregory 1972), a thesis on political leadership
(Howard 1973), and a smattering of publications on village politics and
ethnohistory (Howard 1975a, 1975b, 1974, 1977a, 1977b; Rambo 1962; Adams
1965; Gregory 1975, 1976), was tantalizing but incomplete.
Information
on population size and distribution, agricultural production, and the
impacts of development was lacking, sketchy, or contradictory.
What was
clear was that population density was low, that long-fallow swidden
agriculture was practiced, and that most'of the Indians spoke English as
a second language.
Over large parts of the district the Kekchi lived in
very small, isolated hamlets where they did little cash cropping and
were uninfluenced by Belizean culture. Elsewhere it seemed that the
same Kekchi people were much more involved in cash-crop production and
participated more fully in the religious and educational institutions
of Belizean society.
By the time I wrote my preliminary paper I was convinced that
this was an ideal setting for my research project for both practical
and theoretical reasons.
First, I knew Belize fairly well already, and
12
was aware that there were few political and no bureaucratic obstacles to
doing anthropological work there (see Wilk 1980 on the anarchic lack of
regulation of social science which prevails there)o
The idea of learn­
ing the native language directly from my own language, instead of
through the intermediary of Spanish (which I speak poorly) was also
attractiveo
Second, the low population density in the southern, remote parts
of the district meant that high population pressure on land resources
would not be a causative factor in the constitution of domestic groups
thereo
I would be able to isolate the influence of labor scheduling
and timing from other, complicating factorso
The gradient of change
within the district opened up the possibility of doing a comparative
study, looking at the ways in which household size and structure changed
in adaptation to market involvement, and population pressure if it
occurredo
The diagram in Figure A-l of my National Science Foundation
grant proposal (Appendix A) was used to map out the directions of
causation I intended to investigate=
'
Fieldwork
In September 1978, after receiving notice that NSF had approved
my grant proposal, I began to prepare for the trip to Belizeo
As I
found out, getting a grant and actually having money put in one's hands
are very different things, and it was not until December 1978 that my
pick-up was filled with all the equipment I thought I needed and I was
able to leave Tucson0
I spent Christmas in Belmopan, the capital of
Belize, and rolled into the Toledo district in time for New Years day,
shaken by the ten hour drive down the Southern Highway,,
13
The first few months in the district.were devoted to finding a
place for safely storing my equipment, building contacts with local
government officials (especially in the agriculture department)9 and
trying to choose suitable villages for research„ I lived in the some­
what isolated rest house at the forest station at Machaca (along the
highway between San Antonio and Punta Gorda) and took a few trips to
the Kekchi and Mopan villages of Laguna, San Felipe, San Antonio and
Blue Creek, but found the people fairly uncommunicative0 The Agricul­
ture Department people were very helpful, and gave me access to their
voluminous records and files of reports, but as time went on I realized
that I was learning more about the operations of government bureaucracy
than about Indian farmingo
The government, in fact, knew very little
about what went on in the southern part of the district, and few of the
Agricultural Extension officers spent much time in the villages, concen­
trating more of their attention on the Creole, Carib, and East Indian
farmers in the coastal and roadside areas„
After a brief trip north to Cuello to set up an archaeological
sampling program, I decided to go into the remote, far southern part of
the district to see if work there would be practicalo
At that time I
was still committed to my original research design of working simul­
taneously in three villages, with the use of assistants=
I planned to
first set myself up in the most remote and *traditional* village, and
then branch out to the more progressive villages near the highway0
By the time I reached Otoxha, three days after leaving Punta
Gorda in a dugout canoe, I had begun to realize that my research design
had to changeo
Practical problems —
few English speakers, no way to
14
buy food, difficult access during the wet season —
made clear that if
I chose to work in the most remote parts of the district I would not
have time or funds to do comparative research elsewhere in the districto
I stayed in Otoxha for three weeks and learned a lot, but left there
discouragedo
The village was deeply divided into Catholic and Protes­
tant factions and both sides thought I was a partisan or missionary of
the opposing group»
Another spell of archaeology at Cuello gave me the opportunity
to re-think and re-evaluate o When I returned to Toledo I had decided
to choose an easier, more accessible village as a base of operationso
Aguacate seemed the obvious choice, being the most remote village which
could be reached (sometimes) by vehicle and a place where there was some
cash-cropping but not yet a complete disruption of traditional subsis­
tence patternso
Furthermore, Aguacate had resisted the inroads of
Protestant evangelism and remained almost entirely Catholic, which
meant that I might avoid becoming embroiled in factional disputes,.
During April 1979 I began to negotiate with the village Alcalde there,
explained myself and my purpose before a village meeting, convinced the
elders that I was not a missionary in disguise, and secured permission
to live in the villageo
During the first week of May, accompanied by
Laura Kosakowsky, I moved into a ramshackle deserted building in the
village and began fieldwork proper0
From May until the end of December we lived and worked in
Aguacate, collecting the agricultural, economic and domestic informa­
tion which forms the basis of this dissertation,,
I found that collect­
ing data on soils, agricultural techniques and yields, hunting,
15
gathering and fishing, all of which were necessary for my research de­
sign, required time and effort which seems out of proportion to the
eventual tabulations of information producedo
This cut into the time
I could have spent on other problems or in other villages*
I also found
that my language skills grew more slowly than I had expected, and I was
achieving some fluency only just before we left the village*
During this time I had one abortive experience with hiring an
assistant to work for me*
Suitable candidates who were literate in both
English and Kekchi, and who could be trusted to work on their own, were
extremely rare, and I jumped at the chance when a young Carib appeared
who seemed to have all these qualifications*
I sent him to Santa
Theresa (about eight kilometers from Aguacate) to do a census and agri­
cultural survey, only to find out later that he had previously been a
schoolteacher in that village and had been forcibly ejected by the
villagers*
What little he accomplished before being ejected once again
was incomplete and had to be laboriously verified and crosschecked
before it could be used*
I was amazed at how little the Caribs and
Creoles of Belize know about the Kekchi, even when they live side by
side in the same villages for years (the opposite is true also:
see
Gregory 1975 on Indian misconceptions and prejudice about blacks)*
My
assistant was an unrivaled font of such creative misinformation*
After another archaeological vacation, I returned to Toledo
District in February 1980 to gather comparative information on a village
which was more involved in a cash economy than Aguacate *
Again I lived
at Machaca, and drove daily to Indian Creek, a large and recently
settled *strip village, along the Southern Highway*
I chose this
16
village because it was the only one along this stretch which did not
include a sizeable Mopan contingent 9 as I did not want to deal with the
complications of multi-ethnic settings,,
Indian Creek is located on the west side of the highway, the
east side opposite being occupied by an enormous ranch and riceplantation owned and operated by members of the El Salvadoran elite who
are insuring themselves against the time when they will no longer be
able to continue latifundia in their native lando
The Indian Creek
villagers are squatters (many are also recent migrants from Guatemala
and are illegal aliens in Belize), and are apprehensive about their
future rights to lando
They see large parts of Toledo falling into the
hands of foreigners (there are now four large American ranches nearby),
and know that they do not have to power to compete, nor do they possess
legal skills through which they could obtain leaseSo
I walked confidently into this situation, convinced that ray
knowledge of Kekchi and my previous experience with them would enable
me to gain the trust of the villagers quickly and then to proceed With
a short census and agricultural survey0
Instead I spent most of ray time
quieting fears that I was an agent for Americans who wanted to buy up
the lando
Work went very slowly, and only began to go smoothly just be­
fore I had to leave in Marcho
I ended up with far less information than
I had wantedo
The very last phase of fieldwork involved a three week stay in
Belmopano
Throughout my work in Aguacate I had become increasingly
curious about the historical basis of the agricultural and economic pat­
terns which form the basis of the modern Kekchi lifeway„
I spent this
17
time in Belmopan searching through the Archives of Belize (AB) for
records of past Kekchi economy and settlement, hoping to find the infor­
mation necessary to trace the development of Kekchi settlement patterns
over timeo
The reader can judge my success in this by reading Chapter 3=
Analysis
After the long drive back to Tucson, and a suitable period of
relaxation and becoming reaccustomed to the luxuries of beds, running
water, and electricity, I began to rethink the entire basis of the re­
search I had done, before starting to code and process my data*
Though
I had not followed my original research design of working in depth in
three villages, I found that I did have the census and agricultural data
necessary for delineating the adaptive responses of households to an
encroaching cash economyo
But every time I tried to write about these
household changes, I found myself led into larger issues and questions,.
What was the historical basis of the Kekchi household:
how much of its
present form was due to a long history of mobility in response to
political and economic domination?
If the household adapted to both
population pressure and market involvement, how were these two factors
related to each other?
The most important new question which arose was a product of my
analysis of the personal residence histories I had collected in Aguacate,
Many of the villagers there had a history of inter-village mobility —
the average adult had moved to a new village every 9=7 years of life0
The more I considered this, the more I realized that household organization and domestic group strategies could not be studied in isolation
from regional patterns of settlement0 In making residence decisions,
18
Kekchi think about and balance regional patterns of land availability
and access to roads along with the advantages and disadvantages of resi­
dence with a particular set of relatives..
My original questions about the ways in which changing produc­
tion methods affect domestic organization remain important, but they do
not form the exclusive focus of this dissertationo
I expect that the
details of Kekchi household relations, kinship organization, residence,
and marriage will form the basis of another monograph-length workc The
present study has become focused on broader questions about Kekchi sub/
sistence and settlement, which seem prior and preliminary to more de­
tailed cultural exposition,,
I have felt all along that a careful and
detailed study of agriculture and subsistence was needed if accurate
inferences were to be made about social responses to them, and this has
meant that I have accumulated a great deal of detailed information on
Kekchi subsistence=
The dearth of adequate studies of Maya agriculture
which examine the productivity of labor as well as crop yield (as is
common now in South America;
see Gross et alo 1979) argues for a full
presentation of this data so that others may use ito
Cultural ecologi­
cal study requires detailed knowledge of the natural environment and
its use, and I have presented as much of this detail as possibleo
The results of these compromises and ’reprioritizing' follow0
Chapters 2 and 3 trace the history of the Belizean Kekchi, of their
relations with the world capitalist economy, their flight to Belize,
and their settlement patterns in Belize.,
Chapters 4 through 9 present
a detailed study of Kekchi subsistence and cash crop production, with
special emphasis throughout on the way production affects work group
19
size and domestic strategy0 Chapter 9 discusses present processes of
agricultural change in Toledo district, and points out some of the ways
in which mobility and subsistence are interrelatedo
Chapters 10 and 11 present, in abbreviated form, my arguments
about the ways in which household organization and subsistence change
are related to each other through the medium of changes in the organi­
zation of productive labor0 More general issues of household form and
function as they change and adapt are addressed in Wilk and Netting
(1981) and Wilk (1981b) both of which draw on the material presented
herein0
Chapter 12 attempts to tie the ethnohistory of the first chap­
ters together with the information on production and domestic groups
into a synthetic model of settlement change and evolution0 This has
been included at the expense of greater detail in the sections on house­
hold organization, but as I have said, I do not think that the domestic
group data can stand outside of a wider economic and historical context0
Answers to the questions about "why the present Kekchi household?" 'are
predicated on answers to "why the present Kekchi subsistence lifeway?"
CHAPTER 2
ETHNOHISTORY OF THE KEKCHI
The Kekchi of Southern Belize are a splinter population, a small
sub-population of a larger ethnic group which has its homeland in the
dissected plateaus and rugged mountains of the Alta Verapaz Department
of Guatemalao
In 1950 this parent population numbered 153,971 and it
is now probably much larger (Flores 1967)0
This chapter will trace the ethnohistory of the Kekchi from
their emergence into history up to the major periods of migration to
Belize, the intention being to expose the historical reasons for that
migration*
The chapter takes up southern Belize, and shows how the
Spanish colonial system displaced and exterminated the native inhabi­
tants, the Choi, providing an opportune vacancy for the Kekchi to enter *
X
Several facets of modern Kekchi life which will be extensively
discussed in later chapters have their origins in the historical pro­
cesses and events which will be discussed here*
The Kekchi have, since
the conquest, occupied a subservient and marginal economic position;
some space will be devoted to showing how this oppression originated
and how it has flourished since*
As a preliminary to a discussion in
the next chapter of the modern Kekchi movement into the lowlands, some
attention will be given in this section to the prehistoric and colonial
relationships between highlands and lowlands*
20
21
Undiscovered Roots;
Kekchi Prehistory
The Alta Verapaz has been almost unknown territory to Mesoamerican archaeologists, which seems peculiar considering its strategic
transitional position between the southern Maya highlands and the
northern Maya lowlands„ Robert Burkitt, who published some early ethno­
graphic notes on the Kekchi (Burkitt 1902, 1905V 1920), also conducted
several archaeological projects in the area during the early part of
this centuryo
While he never published his material, Butler (1940)
organized some of it years later and published a short summaryo
From
her illustrations it is clear that the area was occupied from the Late
Preclassic (c0 300 BoCo) continuously to the time of the conquest0
Close ties with the Northern lowlands are evident in all periods, though
more so in the Early Classic period (c® AoD® 300-550) =
An influx of
Mexican ("toltec") style pottery in the Post Classic period (c® AoD®
900-1520) was probably due to trade rather than to population movement®
During this late period Nahua-speaking immigrants established the
coastal trading port of Nito on the Caribbean coast near modern Izabal, a part of the pan-Mesoamerican expansion of Mexican influence at this
time®
More recent excavations in Alta Verapaz by R® E® Smith (1952),
Adams (1972) and Sedat and Sharer (1972) have added only a little to
our knowledge of the area®
Adams does make four points which have some
significance in the present discussion:
(1 ) that while the area has its
own distinct local characteristics, contact with adjacent lowlands and
highlands was fairly constant; (2 ) there is continuity in occupation and
material culture, and therefore a good chance that the same people were
22
living in the Verapaz from about 0 A 0C 0 to the time of the conquest;
(3) the settlement pattern from Classic times onward was one of small
dispersed ceremonial centers surrounded by a dense but even scatter of
habitation; and (4) the population grew very slowly in the area, reach­
ing a maximum just before the time of the conquest (Adams 1972;3-8)o
Recent work by the French Mission in the Chixoy Valley of western Vera­
paz confirms the above-mentioned population trends=
Linguistic evidence can also be used to locate the prehistoric
Kekchi, though the evidence is equivocal0 According to Kaufman’s (1976)
linguistic classification based on glottochronology, Kekchi as a lan­
guage group diverged from the other languages in the Greater Quichean
group at about 600 BoCo (see Figure l)c Kekchi is still spoken in
regions adjacent to places where Pocomchi is spoken, and is not far from
Pocomam speaking-areaso
That Kekchi still adjoins its two closest rela­
tives argues for jLn situ linguistic divergence, suggesting that the
Kekchi, unlike many other highland groups, have not moved or migrated
since the time their language became distinct.
The exact geographic position of the Kekchi at the time of the
conquest is not precisely known,
Stoll’s 1958 ethnographic map of
Guatemala gives a general position (see Fig,
2) which conforms on the
west and south with present boundaries, and on the north and east to
the edges of the highlands.
But did the Kekchi extend into the humid
lowlands in early Colonial times, as they do now?
Stoll (1884, 1958),
Rambo (1964:2) and Thompson (1938:586) all consider Cajabon, which is
definitely in the highlands, to have been the northeasternmost Kekchi
1----
2200
Huastecan
PROTO-MAYAN
GLOTTOCHRONOLOGY OF THE MAYA
late Pro to-Mayan
MNGUAGE FAMILY
2000
(after Kaufman, 1976)
1800
1600
Eastern Mayan
Remnant Mayan
Mlxe Zoque
1400
Greater Mamean
Western Mayan
Yuoateoan
Greater Quichean
1200
1000
Greater
Tzeltalan
Greater
Kanjobalan
800
600
Ixllan
Mamean
Uspanteo
Qulc'hean
Pocora
K 1oikchi
400
200
Chujean
Kanjobalan
(D/BO.
Cholan
200
Tzeltalan
400
1----1
Choi
Chortl
600
r--------- 1
Tzeltal Tzotzll
800
1000
Itza
Yuoateo
Lacandon
Mo pan
A linguistic taxonomy of the Maya languages. — This shows the position of Kekchi
in relation to other Maya languages and gives the approximate date at which each
language group broke into sub-groups. Some modern sub-groups have been omitted.
This scheme is based on Kaufman (1976:103) but is not universally accepted.
ro
vj
24
BELIZE
PETEN
MEXICO
SonLui
C a h ab o n
C oban
Izabol;
Kenzos
HONDURAS
^ GUATEMALA CITY
20
100
KM
Figure 2.
The Kekchi area at the time of the conquest. — Shaded area
is that given by Stoll (1958) for the Kekchi in 1550.
Surrounding ethnic groups are also labeled.
25
town of any size0 Thompson goes so far as to say that even in Cajabon
the Kekchi were a minority0
Roys (1972) on the other hand, thinks that the Kekchi extended
further eastwards into the lower Polochic valley.
He cites the fact
that Cortes, on his famous march through the lowlands in 1524-5, en­
countered a large town named Chacujal near the junction of the Polochic
and the Rio Cajabon (east of Panzos) where his Choi speaking interpre­
ters were unable to speak the language, which Roys (1972:114) thinks
was Kekchio
This locale would have put the Kekchi at 50 meters above
sea level, on the edge of the true lowland rain forest (Cajabon is at
300-400 meters, Coban at 1325 meters). This implies that the Kekchi may
have had a historic pattern of movement from highlands to lowlands,
replicating the movements of modern times.
Whether or not the Kekchi actually extended into and farmed the
lowlands in pre-Columbian times, they did have extensive trade with the
occupants of the neighboring lowlands, the Chois.
This highland/lowland
trade continued through Colonial times (King 1974:25; Thompson 1938:586)
into the present (Hammond 1978) with remarkable continuity.
Peaceful Conquest in the "Land of War"
Before the arrival of the Spanish in Guatemala, the Kekchi home­
land was known as Tezulutlan, or the land of war.
Involved in wars of
conquest with other, more organized groups in western Guatemala, the
Spanish did not make a serious effort at conquering the Kekchi until
1529o The Indians put up a strong resistance and the Spanish made
little headway.
We can surmise that by this time Spanish enthusiasm for
conquest in the highlands was ebbing.
Gold had not been discovered.
26
and those tribes which had already been pacified had not yet been ex­
ploited in any systematic way 0 Shortly the conquest of Peru was to lure
off many of the more ambitious and warlike conquistadores = The Kekchi
and Pokomchi areas must have seemed less than promising0
Thus, in 1537» when the Dominican Friar Bartolome de las Casas
petitioned the Governor of Guatemala for-permission to pacify Tezulutlan
by peaceful and religious methods rather than by war, he was granted
five years in which to try0 Starting with Remesal’s Historia (1966) in
the 17th century, historians have examined the pacification of the Kekchi
through this "great experiment" from various perspectives (Ximenez 1930;
King 1974; K 0 Sapper 1936; Saint Lu 1968)0 The following summary is
not exhaustive, and is meant to pick out some themes rather than to
document the entire processo
. The Dominicans initially used previously converted Indians as
their agents in the pacification of Tezulutlano
As the priests learned
the language, they preached to the unconverted and made rapid progress„
I
The local leaders apparently allowed this process to continue in
'
exchange for written guarantees that their province would not be subject
to Spanish expropriation and exploitation of the kind which was taking
place in the rest of the country=
It is remarkable that this agreement was adhered to as much as
it waSo
In the ensuing years the Dominicans were partially successful
in limiting the influx of Spanish settlers and the authority of the
Colonial governmento
For example, when Alvarado gave part of the
Verapaz (as the province came to be known) to one of his followers as
an encomienda in 1540, las Casas was absent on a mission in Spain= On
27
his return in lf>44 however, now as the Bishop of Chiapas, las Casas
managed to have the grant nullified= This policy was always more suecesful in northern, or Alta
Verapaz than in the rich and thinly settled
lands in the Polochic and other valleys in southern or Baja Verapazo
Here a
slow flow of settlers had all but wiped out the native population
by the
middle of the 17th century0
But while the Dominicans were willing to protect the Verapaz
from external interference, they were by no means content with religious
conversion and their growing political role*
As early as 1540, the
policy of reduccion began in Verapaz, a policy which became the main
focus of conflict between Spanish and native for the next 250 years«
As in many other parts of the New World, the Spanish found that
native settlement patterns in Verapaz made it hard for them to gain
political, religious and economic control over the natives*
The Kekchi
lived scattered widely across the landscape, preferring to dwell close
to their fields (Viana, Gallego and Cadena 1955 /originally 157^? Reina
and Hill 1980)0 The small interspersed ceremonial and market centdrs
were visited frequently, but supported no large population themselves*
This pattern was
common in various parts of the pre-Columbian highlands*
This settlement pattern, while perhaps ideally
suited to moder­
ately intensive agriculture, also meant that the natives could not be
preached to, taxed, controlled or managed in any convenient way*
into the forest was always too easy*
Escape
The Spanish found it difficult to
count heads for taxes, to call meetings, or to recruit work groups*
To
this day the Kekchi find dispersal an effective counter to the admini­
strative intentions of outsiders*
28
The reduecion was a newly-created or augmented settlement into
which dispersed hamlets or house clusters were gathered around a church
and administrative centero
The Spanish were trying to create a de­
veloped country’s settlement pattern without the developed economy to
go with it, and the results were often economically disastrous^
Some­
times the clerics would make an effort to establish a new economy,
usually trading or crafts, but this only seems to have worked well in
places which already had an indigenous tradition of such industry0
Reduecion also seems to have worked better in places of high population
density and intensive agriculture0
It is unclear exactly how the Dominicans induced the Kekchi to
join new settlements, although military force must have been threatened
if not often used*
King gives the following summary of l8th century
reducciones based partially on Sapper1s work (K0 Sapper 1936s31-38)»
The first step in reduccion was to concentrate the adult
males in towns; when it was seen that wives were needed the
Indians were permitted to seek outside for them and then
usually stayed away0 One gets the impression of constant
gathering up and fading away of Indian town populations= Many'
reducciones were founded in the wet lowlands.« o o where great
loss of life was reported from ecological and climatic dis­
sociation /sic/ and, of course, from European infectious
diseases (King 197^2 26) =>
In 15^5 the Dominicans called the Indians together for a "con­
ference,*1 following which the reducciones of Coban, Carcha and Chamelco
were establishedo
These three centers, unlike several others founded
shortly thereafter, survived the disastrous disease-caused population
decline of the next 100 years, perhaps because the Spanish managed to
provide some economic alternatives (ioe0, trade and craft production)
to farmings
The relationship between the policy of reduccion, economic de­
cline , disease, and population loss was intimate but has not yet been
fully documentedo
Bertrand (1979) uses some probably unreliable census
figures from western Verapaz to document annual mortality rates as high
as 10$ in the peak crisis years of 1561 and 1571 in newly founded
settlementso
The total population fell by 80$ within the first century
of Spanish rule (Bertrand 1979s19)o Besides disease Bertrand cites
changed diets, poorly planned settlements, and unfamiliar climate in
explaining this drastic decline0
Beginning in the 1570s the Dominicans unsuccessfully tried to
push the highland Kekchi and Pokomchi into new reducciones in the low­
lands in order to displace the hostile lowland groups0 When the
indigenous Chois and "Lacandones" (which at the time seems to have been
a general term applied to any hostile forest dwellers) attacked the new
settlements, it was the Kekchi rather than the Spanish who had to take
up the defense (Ximenez 1930;2, 209, 341; Scholes and Adams i960)0 At
one time these attacks were serious enough to threaten Coban itself, and
in 1648 the Kekchi cacique of Coban was captured and eaten (Stone 1932:
248) o
Through the entire 17th century, the Spanish expeditions to
subjugate the hostile Indians of the lowlands were staffed almost en­
tirely with Kekchi warriors (King 1974;24-25)=
The other side of the
Kekchi"s relationship with the lowlands was the lucrative trade they
practicedo
Like many aboriginal groups in early Colonial times, the
Kekchi found it profitable to trade metal and other manufactured goods
with as-yet-uncontacted neighboring groups= Much of the achiote which
30
the Verapaz exported as a dye-stuff to the rest of Guatemala in the
early 1600s was acquired in this way from the lowlands (Ximenez 1930s
2, 382)0
The Alcalde Mayores of the Kekchi were repeatedly cited during
that century for being "reluctant to engage in the reduccion of the
Manche because of highly profitable commerce in cacao and achiote (with
them) through Kekchi intermediaries" (King 1974:25)o
Modern Kekchi folk stories reflect this dual war/trade rela­
tionship between the Kekchi and the Cholo
The corpus of stories about
the Choi collected by Rambo (1964), Thompson (1930) and myself speak of
the Choi both as fearsome warriors who live deep in the jungle, and as
trading partners willing to give cacao in return for salto
'With the "final solution" to the Choi problem in the last years
of the 17th century (see below) and the drastic population declines in
the highlands, the policy of reduccion slowed considerably, and a small
but stable urban population in Coban and Carcha found some security in
a weaving industry and as small traders*
By 1770, when the first fairly
reliable census was taken, the population of Verapaz was over 34,000
and growing (see Table 1 )
from only about 9000 in 1594*
The Spanish
population remained minimal, except in the lower Baja Verapaz, as the
Dominicans kept the policy of discouraging immigration*
In 1770 only
six ladino families were counted out of 10,847 Kekchis in the Coban
region (King 1974:26)*
The Dominicans, to be sure, maintained an eco­
nomically dominant position and practiced their own form of capitalist
expropriation of land and labor*
In 1769 a Dominican sugar plantation
reported owning more than 700 Kekchi slaves as well as having numerous
paid laborers (King 1974:27)°
Seeking alternatives, many Kekchi began
31
Table
lo
The population of the Alta Verapaz from 1770 to 1950o —
The proportions of the total population which is Indian
varies from 9 3 - 9 8 in these figureso The source is King
(1974:285)o The figure for 1940 is King's, derived from
a much larger and probably inflated official figureo
Year
Population
1770
34,104
1823
49,583
1833
60,237
1851
co70»000
1880
86,943
1893
100,759
1902
136,024
1921
161,405
1940
191,295
1950
189,812
32
to migrate seasonally to other parts of Guatemala in search of wage
labor or as itinerant peddlers0
By their *protectionist' policies towards the Indians, the
Dominicans maintained them as an underdeveloped enclave within Guate­
mala's underdeveloped economy0 By stifling most native industry,
creating a separate Spanish dominated urban economy, and retarding the
development of a strong and educated Kekchi polity, the well-intentioned
friars kept the Verapaz lagging far behind the rest of Guatemala, and
worse, did not provide or allow any alternative direction for develop­
ment =
This lag meant that a vacuum was created, an empty space in the
economy which was protected and nurtured by the Church for
200
years0
When the Church lost its power to protect, the outside world would later
come crashing in with all the more force for having been held at bay so
longo
Liberals and Conservatives
By the early l800s the failure of the Church to generate some
indigenous economic development in the Verapaz became increasingly
obvious and painful to the Kekchi as well as to the Church itself0 An
economic decline set in as the population grew0
Among other things, misgovernance, corruption and overtaxation
by the Church led many Kekchi once again to melt away from the cities
and return to subsistence farming«
Tax burdens fell more heavily on
those who remained, and in l80? forced labor appeared as a legal sub­
stitute for taxeso
Crop failure and the decline of the weaving industry
for lack of capital led to more tax deficits, more pressure from the
Church, and more evasion (King 1974:27; Escobar 1841:89-97)°
33
One form of evasion was emigration to the now-vacant lowland
areas where Spanish authority did not reach*
By l807 ’’Indian families
rapidly dispersed from the towns, and many groups settled as far away
as the Rio Pasion, some 10 days journey from Coban" (King 1974i2?)o
Apparently the costs of adapting to a new ecological zone were far out­
weighed by the benefits of not having to pay an onerous tax*
When Independence came peacefully to Central America in 1821,
Church protection of and control over the Verapaz was already ending in
face of external pressure and internal resistance by the Indians*
The
ensuing 18 years of struggle for political control of Guatemala between
Liberal idealists (who thought they could transform the country into a
republican copy of the UoS*) and Conservatives (who wanted to maintain
the oligarchic status quo) began for the first time to bring the Verapaz
into line with national political and economic patterns*
In general, the Indians suffered more from the reforms of the
Liberals (to whom their "backwardness" was a frustration) than from the
paternalism of the Conservatives (see Griffith 1972)*
the Liberals —
The ambition's of
their obsession with progress, rapid development and an
internationalized economy —
led them to compromise their ideology of
equality and social justice, especially when it came to the Indian
populace*
Someone had to provide the labor for all the new roads,
ports, schools and municipal buildings*.
Thus it was under the Liberal regime of Morazan that the
mandamiento law, designed to provide forced labor, was first passed*
Vagrancy and other minor offences were made punishable by forced agri­
cultural (private) or public works labor*
As time went on, other minor
34
offences, even drunkenness, became pretexts for sending the poor to work
on the plantations of the rich (Griffith 1972?79)o
To 'develop1 the country the Liberals also favored the immigra­
tion of foreign nationals from developed countries, immigrants who
would supposedly transplant the foreign developed economies directly
into Guatemalao
Vast areas of the country which were considered public
land were given to foreign colonization companies, whose schemes almost
always failedo
Some Indian communal lands were sold to urban ladinos
(Woodward 1972;50) who produced exportable crops0
In these ways, a pattern was set, in Verapaz as in the rest of
Central America.,
Development was to proceed through the agricultural
production by foreign nationals of materials for the markets of de­
veloped countries, and the land and the labor needed were to be taken
from the indigenes0
In Alta Verapaz, ladino settlers began to infiltrate in larger
numbers in the 1830s, many coming from the Baja Verapaz„
By this time
the earlier cash crops of cochineal and indigo, both dyestuffs, had
begun to decline on the world market0 So the new settlers brought with
coffee 0
them a new cash crop which was to become increasingly important;
When Carerra, a conservative, overthrew Morazan in 1839, pres­
sures on Indian land and labor eased for a while« Old laws which
treated the Indians as a separate legal class but required their pro­
tection were revived, and the mandamiento was repealed (Woodward 1972;
67) =
But foreign planters did not lose interest in the Verapaz, and
after a while they began to return and scheme to acquire lando
By
35
i860 the new European and ladino planters had found various legal and
illegal means of pressing the required Indian labor force into planta­
tion labor o
As ladino population grew to 1/lOth of the population in
the larger towns, dislodging Indians from their previous positions, a
stratified society began to emerge based on racial and cultural differ­
ences <,
Minor resistance and rebellions had previously occurred (though
documentation is poor), but the rapid pace of change at this time
sparked a major Indian uprising in l8640 Melchior Tat, a Kekchi from ,
San Pedro Carcha, mobilized both urban and rural Kekchis to attack
planters and authorities= Brutally crushed, the uprising dissolved and
its participants dispersed to the edges of the Verapaz and perhaps
beyond (see Kelsey and Osborne 1952s2685 King 197^s29)o
Meanwhile, the
world market price of coffee went higher and higher0
Following the rebellion the first Germans moved into Coban and
surrounding valleys= Many were traders who had accumulated funds as
factors in the export of Guatemalan raw materials or in importing
European goods through the British colony of Belize= They sought to
invest this capital, and between 1865 and 1867 managed to buy up most
of the best coffee lands in Verapazo
The slow erosion of the Indians’ rights to their own land and
labor became an avalanche after 1871, when another Liberal regime took
power under Miguel Garcia Granados and Justo Ruffino Barrioso
Again, a
frenzy for ’development’ broke out, immigration was encouraged, and
repressive land and labor laws were enactedo
In 1877 the mandamiento
returned, and with it a land law which allowed the government to
36
confiscate land if its occupant could not prove secure tenure to the
government's satisfaction (Griffith 1972s79)°
Somehow, the Liberals felt, coffee was going to prove the key.
to the rapid development of the entire highland region0 They, went to
great lengths to encourage foreigners to set up plantations, the profits
from which, of course, ended up in the hands of very few Guatemalanso
Die Kekchi Indianer
By l880 the Guatemalan economy was becoming dependent on the
world coffee market= Fluctuations in coffee prices drove the smaller
producers out of business, and the plantations fell into the hands of
German banks and export firms which were usually based in Hamburg0 As
the Verapaz economy became an extension of the German economy, the
Germans came to dominate the area culturally and politically0 German
alcaldes ran the towns, German courts were founded, and from about 1890
the German consulate refused to inform the Guatemalan government of the
number or identity of German nationals living in the country0
A few figures will flesh out the facts of German economic
dominanceo
Between 1896 and 1899? 6l0k% of all Guatemalan exports went
directly through the hands of Hamburg merchants, including two-thirds
of the country's total coffee production,.
By 1900, four German com­
panies controlled almost all trade in Alta Verapaz, and were also the
four largest landholderso
This stranglehold loosened significantly
only after World War II (King 197^s32-38)„
Table 2 shows how large a
proportion of coffee production was still in German hands in 1930o
German companies were always looking for ways to diversify
their business in Alta Verapaz so they would not be dependent on
37
Table
2o
Coffee production in Alta Verapaz in 1930o -= These figures
from King (1974:101) show the quantity of coffee produced
by fincas owned by different ethnic groups in 1930o
Ethnic Croup
Coffee in
Quintales
% of Total
German
44,215
66*9
Other foreign
15,210
23=0
Ladinq
6,460
9=8
Indian
185
=3
38
fluctuations in coffee prices= Early experiments with quinine and
cardamon never worked well enough to help, and not until the 1940s, when
lead and zinc were discovered, did a real alternative to coffee develop*
German capital has dominated the lead and zinc industry, though the
mines are jointly owned with the government of Guatemala*
The debt-
peonage and lack of economic and social mobility which had always
characterized Kekchi life on the coffee fincas has followed the Kekchi
into the mines*
Table 3 shows how Indian laborers were paid, in com­
parison with other groups, in the mining industry in the late 1950s*
Taking Away Land and Labor
Economic development of the Alta Verapaz was built up on Kekchi
lands and Kekchi labor*
The government, at the behest of the planters,
began its final assault on Indian lands in 1877o
All communal land
ownership was abolished by decree on the same day, coincidently, that
the export tax on coffee was removed (King 1974:32)*
In 1880 all pre­
vious land titles and grants made to Indians were abrogated, and an
1896 law permitted further confiscation of land which was "unused" (as
most agricultural land is at a given time in any long-fallow system),
which could then be given free of charge to new immigrants (Griffith
1972:95)=
The finqueros (plantation owners) depended, as before, on the
courts to provide them the labor they needed*
In 1889 a special court
was established to force Cobanero and other Indians to work on the
coffee fincas (King 1974:31)=
It is no coincidence that this is also
the year when groups of Indians first fled across the border into
Belize*
-39
Table
3o
Comparative salaries of Kekchi workers and otherso -“•These
figures are averaged for all employment positions filled by
the respective ethnic groups with the CACPEC Mining Co0 in
1956o The figures are taken from King (197^;301)°
Average Monthly Salary in
United States Dollars
German
240o 00
Ladino
194o37
Indian
92 069
40
(
'
Still, the planters complained that the legal machinery was
cumbersome, and they could not get all the labor they needed in order
to expando
So in 1894 the habilitacion law was enacted, which tied the
Indians to the land they lived on (though they did not own it), and
required them to work for the legal landholder (Ke Sapper 1912s43-44)„
This was in addition to an earlier law which required Indians to give
six days of their labor a month to their landholder, and a further
seven days a month to the (usually German) alcalde of their municipio0
Though the habilitacion law was abolished in 1934,
^lermans^ had so consolidated the legality of their landhold­
ings that the Indians found it difficult to cultivate land not
owned by the finqueros0 In order to payrent for land use the
Indian therefore had to devote several days of labor to the
affairs of the finquero, for which he was paid a very low,
nominal wage (King 1974s37)o
And wages on the fincas, even for those who were permanent employees,
were extremely low 5 as late as 1950 they were 8# (U0S 0) per day (Whetten
1961s98; Rambo 1964s9)=
In the early years the finqueros were willing to allow Indians
----- —
'
—:
to pursue a subsistence economy on the lands they did
coffee, at the times when their labor was not neededo
not need for
But the subsis­
tence sector has since been squeezed from all sides, and has shrunk
accordinglyo
Craft production and itinerant trading are still the only
alternative economic roles for Indians which allow even the illusion of
independence 5 few modern highland Kekchi have enough land of enough
quality to be capable of producing cash crops on their own0
Government policies were also aimed at disrupting any political
and cultural aspects of Kekchi life which served as sources of
solidarity in the face of economic dominationo
The Indians had regained
control of much church ritual in the mid-19th century, and had made
church hierarchies (cofradias) into semi-political instruments (see
Wo Ro Smith 1975 for discussion of this process in other parts of the
highlands)o
However, these organizations suffered a body blow in 1871
when the church was disestablished (Griffith 1972s76)0
Later, as part
of the government's stated plan to integrate the Alta Verapaz into
'national life,' protestemt missionaries were encouraged to enter the
area, injecting yet another source of discord into the already-divided
Kekchi communitieso
Existing tensions within the native society were
exploited by the planter class, who made a practice of using older
Indian employees as their pawns in resisting the demands of younger
workers who wanted more pay or better conditions (King 197^? 31)o
Nativistic and cultural revival movements might have flourished
in this environment, but if they existed they escaped most historians<,
Do Eo Sapper mentions a resistance movement led by a shaman in 1906 in
San Juan Chamelco (Sapper 1926:194-95) which seems to have lasted but a
short tiraeo
Perhaps the general calm in the highlands resulted from
the availability of empty land in the adjacent lowlands= The opportunity
of flight to freedom was always there to tempt the most rebellious<, The
greatest tragedy of the last 30 years is that land theft, plantation
agriculture and wage slavery have since followed the Kekchi into the
lowlands (see below)o
The Kekchi and most other Indian groups in Guatemala remained
relatively uninvolved in the political turmoil which enveloped the
country during the Arbenz regime in the early 1950so
They did not see
42
the national political process as one which was likely to ease their
economic and social straits, and in this they were probably righto
But there are signs that in recent times Kekchi are headed into a new
period of activismo ,I will close this half of the chapter with a quote
from an article which discusses this developmento
The 700 Kekchi Indians, descendants of the Mayas, marched on
the Guatemalan village of Panzos late last month in a desper­
ate protest against their eviction from traditional farm landso
Some of them carried machetes, the tools of their livelihood
in the corn and sugarcane fieldsc, But at the town hall they
met soldiers who, after some pushing and shoving, opened fire
on the Indians with Israeli-made Galil assault rifles0 .’The
shooting came from the rooftops, from the windows, from the
houses around the square,’ a young protest leader recalled last
weeko ’People were falling and everybody ran0’ Several terri­
fied women clutching children jumped into the swift Polochic
River and drowned0 ’We only went peacefully to see the mayor,’
said a stunned survivor0 'If we had gone to attack, we would
not have taken our women and children0’
The government announced that 38 Kekchis had died in a
’peasant uprising instigated by leftist guerillas, Cuba's
Fidel Castro and religious groups«>' 0 = 0 said Jorge LamportRodil, Guatemala's ambassador to the U 0S 0 'Someone got ner­
vous, maybe on both sides, and overreacted*’
Most of the land now in dispute flanks the 'Transversal Strip,'
where a cross-country road being built from the Caribbean to
the Mexican border traverses territory that once only the
1
Indians cared about * In the past two years, say lawyers who
assist the Indians, entire thatched-hut communities of Indian
peasants have been scattered by developers seeking a share of
oil and nickel deposits and of the booming real-estate market
along the road* * * 0
Gen* Kjell Laugerud, Guatemala's President, is said to own
large estates in a "Zone of the Generals" along the strip,
while Gen* Romero Lucas, the President-elect, owns more than
78,000 acres* * * * (Newsweek, June 19, 1978)*
Emptying the Lowlands
The Spanish missionaries who were so successful in pacifying
and congregating the Kekchi in the highlands had a much harder time of
it in the thinly-inhabited lowland rain forests to the north and east*
I
43
At the time of the conquest the lowlands adjacent to the Verapaz
seem to have been inhabited by a single language group, the Choi*
But
the large size of the area and the thin scattering of settlements, as
well as the dubious linguistic achievements of some early chroniclers,
have led to a plethora of names being attached to what were probably
all Chol-speaking people0 They were called Xosmoes (Rambo 1964;3),
Paches, Batenos, Chicuyes, Cucules (Stone 1932;264-268), Acalas,
Toqueguas (Roys 1972;111), Sibalnaes, Ahchenes, Yaxcabeh, Pehechi
(Feldman 1975*3)» and Lacandones (Thompson 1938s568, 590)o Many of
these names are probably derived from surnames of local village leaders
or lineageso
These groups are differentiated by Thompson from the Choi
speakers who lived to the west in a band stretching across the base of
/
the highlands as far as the Gulf of Mexico0 These western groups are
labeled Palencano Choi, while the eastern groups we are interested in
here are called Manche Choi (Thompson 1938)o Thompson developed the
thesis in various writings that the Choi were the direct descendants of
the Classic Maya who built the great ceremonial centers of the Pete'n
from 300 B 0C 0 to A 0D 0 900 (Thompson 1938, 1970, 1972)=
Little archaeological work has been done in the Choi section of
the lowlandso
A few ceremonial centers are known, including Poptun and
Machaquila in Guatemala (Shook and Smith 1950; Graham 1963, 1967), and
Lubaantun (Hammond 1975), Pusilha (Joyce et alo 1928) and Nimli Punit
(Hammond and Wilk 1977) in Belizeo
All these centers are quite small in
comparison to the cities of the ancient central Peten*
A comprehensive
survey around Lake Izabal, also ancient Manche Choi country, showed a
similarly impoverished archaeological record (Voorhies 1972)„
44
Population was quite low and thinly scattered even during times of peak
population, but as yet we do not know why0
To the north of the Manche Choi in lowland areas as far north, as
Lake Peten Itza were the Mopan0
It is possible that in pre-conquest
times the Mopan extended as far east as the lower Belize River valley
(Holland 1977a) and the Caribbean coast of northern Toledo District
(Thompson 1972s9-19)o
North of the Mopan there were fairly dense popu­
lations of Itza and other Yucatec-speakihg Maya (see Helmuth 1977)o
The Choi were culturally distinct from their other lowland
neighborso
The little ethnographic detail we have speaks of religious
beliefs and rituals very different from Mopans or YucatecSo
In their
reverence for and worship of hills, caves and other natural features,
the Choi were much more like the Kekchi than like other lowland groups
(Thompson 1930s61, 1938s603)«
Both Rambo (1964) and Thompson (1930) felt that correspondences
between Kekchi and Choi religion and language (there are many loan
words) resulted from a mixing of the two groups as the Kekchi expanded
into the lowlands in the late 19th century0 This requires that we
believe that there were relict populations of Choi living in the low­
lands at that late date, which seems unlikely (see below)„ Given that
both Kekchi and Choi seem to have occupied the same adjacent territories
for more than 1000 years, it seems more likely that whatever ties or
similarities there are date from pre-conquest times, or at least from
the early Colonial period when, as has already been mentioned, there was
quite a bit of contact and trade between the two groupso
45
Choi Culture
Choi agriculture has only been briefly described (Helrauth 1977s
426; Thompson 1938s 597) with little more than lists of crops given,.
There is slightly more available data on settlement patternsc
Population was light, perhaps a total of 10,000 to 30,000 at the
time of the conquest for the Manche area (Thompson 1938s593)o Most
people lived in small hamlets, with no known aboriginal towns of any
sizeo
The hamlets themselves were dispersed (see Delgado’s Relaccion
in Bunting 1932; Stone 1932; Thompson 1972) with house clusters often
many kilometers apart„ Fray Joseph Delgado, traveling through Manche
country several times in the late 1600s, recorded settlements ranging
in size from 10 to 80 inhabitantso
All chronicles noted the large size of Choi households, with
total memberships ranging from 20-40 persons not uncommon0 Given that
these observations were made some 150 years after the initial Spanish
contacts, it is quite possible that this was an adaptation to disease
and depopulation rather than a real aboriginal pattern,.
Large house­
holds could well be aggregates of widows, widowers and orphans following
an epidemico
\
The Conquest of the Choi
The Choi, like their northern neighbors, occupied real estate
in which the Spanish had little interesto
For this reason, pacifica­
tion proceeded slowly and unevenly0 The Choi were in fact one of the
last aboriginal groups in Mesoamerica to be subdued o
The first Spanish contact with them was in 1544 when the town
of Nueva Sevilla was established as a naval base on the Golfo Dulce to
46
help secure the Gulf of Honduras shipping route= The local Choi re­
sisted and in 1548 the Audiencia of the Boundaries ordered the town
depopulated so the Indians would calm themselves (Stone 1932s24l)0
There was probably contact about this time with Choi villages
on the Caribbean coast, one of which (Yaxal, probably near the mouth of
the present Moho River in southern Belize) is mentioned in a Spanish
record in 1552 (Saint Lu 1968s317)o
The coastal population was subject
to depredation by passing ships, and in 1574 (one of the earliest Manche
reducciones) the village of Yaxal was moved to the north shore of Lake
Izabal, from whence they shortly fled back into the forest (Viana et alo
1955*29; Feldman 1975*13)°
This was taking place at about the time
highland epidemics began to spread into the Choi lowlandso
The formal conquest of the Choi was launched from the Verapaz
in 1594, when Dominican priests accompanied by Kekchi soldiers attacked
northwards from Cajabon0 This expedition, and another similar effort
in 1599s seem to have accomplished little (Ximenez 1930*2, 209, 341)°
They were probably intended to forestall attacks on existing Kekchi'
towns more than to pacify and resettle the Cholo
In 1603 two priests mounted a more successful expedition into
Choi country, establishing eight new towns and settling the Choi in
them (Thompson 1938;592)o
Two of these towns were permanent enough to
appear in records occasionally for the next 200 years= These were San
Miguel Manche, southwest of the present San Luis Peten (see Fig*
2),
and San Lucas Tzalac, which was probably near the present Belize border
at Gracios a Dios Falls on the Sarstoon Rivero"*"
^This location is given by Thompson (1938) whose arguments against the
location given by Stone (1932) seem valid=
47
More pressure to reduce the Choi population was applied in 1625=
1627» when 18 new towns were established and a Vicarate with several
resident priests was centered in the two principal towns mentioned
above (Stone 1932:248; Thompson 1938:592.)°
The total Manche population
settled in these towns was estimated at about 6000, though mention was
made of the constant flight of the Indians back to the foresto
At this
same time a less well documented reduccion was taking place among the
Manche of the Lake Izabal region, where new towns were established on
the north shore of the lake (Feldman 1975s4)0
Among these new towns only two locations can be established with
any degree of certainty*
Santa Catarina Putzilha was probably the same
as the present Mopan village of Pusilha on the river of the same name
east of San Luis*
Chacalte as mentioned in the lists is probably the
same location as the present Kekchi village of that/name which lies
southeast of San Luis*
Both villages are near the present Belize border,
and it is likely that some of the other villages on the lists were
located inside of Belize’s modern boundaries*
x
In 1628 these new towns were attacked by Lacandones, and in con=
sequence 11 towns rejected Christianity and ejected the Spanish (Stone
1932:248)*
This rebellion apparently continued for several years, with
another major outburst in 1633 when more churches were burned and the
friars cleared out of the whole area*
By this time missionary zeal was waning; economic problems in
the already-pacified highlands were absorbing most of the Church’s atten­
tion*
In consequence, the Choi area was left alone for the next 38
48
years except for occasional visits by single missionariesand
coastal
raids by English corsairs (Thompson 1938;592)o
When new missions were launched to the Choi in 16719 the reasons
were more economic0 The strength of the English in coastal waters meant
that sea communications from Guatemala to Yucatan were no longer re­
liable, and a land route was neededo
This route was expected to go
through coastal Belize, where much of the remaining Choi population had
concentratedo
In 16?5 three towns were established on the Maytol (present
Sarstoon) Rivero
Then, in 16779 Fro Joseph Delgado was sent to trace
out the route to the north and report on the nature of the terrain and
inhabitantso
His three memoranda on the trip give us our only infor­
mation on 17th century southern Belize (see translations in Stone 1932;
Bunting 1932; Ko Sapper 1936; and Thompson 1972)o
He first went to San Miguel Manche, then proceededeastward,
down the Yaxal (Moho) River through several small settlementso
At one
of these (probably near the locations of the present villages of
'
Aguacate and Santa Theresa) he met three Spaniards who had been aban­
doned in the area by English pirates who had captured them elsewhere0
They informed Delgado of local villages, depicting a widely scattered
population in very small settlements= Locations are too imprecise for
us to reconstruct the modern places where these settlements were<>
Thompson (1972:26) thought that the largest mentioned village in the
area, Cantelac, may have been in the area of the modern Mopan village
of San Antonioo
49,
Later in the year, on his trip north, Delgado was captured by
Bartholomew Sharpe, an infamous British pirate who was the terror of
Spanish shipping and coastal settlement at this time*
He treated Del­
gado fairly well and eventually released him, but the Spanish hopes for
a safe land route were not to be revivedo
Following Delgado's passage, in 1678 the Choi rebelled against
town life again and dispersed into the forest0 San Lucas Tzalac was
burned and the priests fled back to Cajabon (Thompson 1938s 593) <> The
following year a severe epidemic swept through Choi country, killing
most who had remained in the towns0
In 1682 Delgado and others were sent to convince the Choi to
congregate again, with an expectable lack of success (Stone 1932s 270)«,
In 1685 five Christian Indians sent as messengers to the Choi were
killed, but later that year Frso Cano and Delgado succeeded in reestab­
lishing several villageso
Three hundred Chois were convinced to re­
settle San Lucas Tzalaco
One wonders how the Choi were 'convinced' to
move back to the towns they so evidently hated —
were not above using armed force o
perhaps the padres
This resettlement lasted less than
four years, for in 1689 the Chois rebelled again0
What was the reason for this fierce and persistent resistance,
far more formidable than that offered by the more numerous highland
Kekchi?
I believe two major elements contributed to the Choi's refusal
to stay in towns for any length of time0 First, it made their agricul­
ture almost impossible 5 the Choi practiced long-fallow swidden agricul­
ture which necessitated much movement of plots from place to place o A
large, congregated population in a single place would have quickly
exhausted the available land near the town, and yield would begin to
plummet; it would have been almost impossible to convince the Choi to
intensify their agriculture (i0e0, shorten fallow cycles and lower pro­
ductivity) near the village when huge areas of virgin forest could be
found in areas away from the village0 The second factor is linked to
the conflict between Spanish models of settlement and the Choi subsis­
tence system, the failure of the Spanish to provide an economic alter­
native which would have made the towns viable economic unitso
In the
absence of a thriving agricultural economy, there was little surplus
the Spanish could siphon off to support the town economy based on crafts
and commerce as was successfully done elsewhere in new Spanish Central
American towns0
After over a century of effort, the failure of the Spanish to
reshape Choi culture led in 1689 to a 0final solution01
1 A punitive
expedition was mounted which rounded up as many Choi as could be found
and marched them off to the Urran Valley near Rabinal in the highlands
(Thompson 1938s593)°
This policy was carried out in a series of ex­
peditions, culminating in 1695 when the Council of the Indies ordered
a final rounding up of Cholo
Again accompanied by Fray Delgado, this
expedition continued north through Manche country into that of the Mopan
and Itza, laying the groundwork for the climactic expedition of 1697
when the Mopan and Itza were conquered,,
Of the Choi who were deported
to the highlands, none remain, and only a few isolated pockets of un­
moved Western Choi exist near Palenque in Chiapaso
There is no evidence
to support the contentions of Thompson (1930) and Rambo (1964) that some
51
Choi eluded the round-ups and survived until submerged by later Kekchi
migrantso
The Spanish never made an effort to develop the area which had
been cleared of Choi by 1700o This is perhaps an example of a general
principal discussed by Wallerstein (1976;223)o
are initially based on plunder —
Colonial enterprises
the Choi had nothing worth taking —
and are later based on coerced labor of one form or'another0 Unable to
bring the Choi to congregate, and with no other ready source of slaves
or forced labor, the Spanish found it impossible to exploit the forests
of the lowlandso
Unwilling to defend a useless resource, the Spanish
ceded large parts of the lowlands by default to those who did have
sources of slave labor, the Britisho
The British Influence in Early Southern Belize
English exploitation of the lowland forests of Central America
was based on the extraction of a few valuable resources using imported
black slaves as laborers.
Southern Belize was only one of several
places on the Caribbean shore which the early corsiars and entrepreneurs
visited and exploited.
2
From the viewpoint of extractive industry, natives were fair
game as a labor source, but the early interactions between the British
and the natives of Belize are largely undocumented.
There are hints,
however, that the British played a part in the destruction of the Choi,
An entry in the Archives of British Honduras in 1822 mentions that the
Mosquito Indians in northern coastal Hondural had for over a century
2
Some sources on the Early British in the area are Caiger 19511 Dobson
1973 and Holland 1977b,
52
made a regular practice of raiding neighboring "mild, timid, peaceful"
Indians, arid of selling them as slaves to the British in Jamaica, Roatan
and Belize (Burdon 1934:250)=
The legality of holding Indians as slaves
was disputed in Belize at this time, and in 1829 a census was taken
which revealed over 100 of them in the colony (Burdon 1934s297)o Larger
numbers may well have been present in backwoods logging camps at an
earlier date0
Early British records concerning the far southern part of Belize
refer mostly to the gradual extension south of British settlement, and
the international bargaining over where the boundary was to be set*
The earliest mention of the British in southern Belize is in
one of Delgado's accounts of his 1677 entrada0 Three of the Spaniards
he met had been captured on the Tutuilha (probably present Temash)
River by English corsairs, who also carried off "some of the Indians"
(Thompson 1972s25)o While the major industry for these British groups
at this date was preying on Spanish shipping, they were not averse to
making an occasional profit by taking and selling Indian slaves0 There
are no records of southern Belize in the following century, a time when
the British were engaged in defending their base in northern Belize
from renewed Spanish attempts to dislodge them0
By l802 a new ethnic group was entering southern Belize, the
Black Caribso
Originally deported from StQ Vincent in 1797 by the
British, they began to arrive in southern Belize as they spread out
over the Caribbean shore (see Gonzalez 1969s21-24; Taylor 1951;
Conzemius 1928)0
Despite a few half-hearted attempts by the British to
expel them, they founded several coastal communities, but never moved
Between 1820 and 1830 the still-extant Carib communities of
inlando
Punta Gorda and Barranco were founded (AB, MP397 1953°2 )
The first official claim to a mahogany "works' was
entered
with the British Honduras land office in l8l4, when the north bank of
the Moho River was granted to a British logger (Burdon 1934:166; Gregory
1972s5)o
By 1827 the legislature of the colony had claimed "by right of
conquest" all land south to the Sarstoon River, stating that "consider­
able property" was held (in the south districts) in the form of mahogany
works (Burdon 1934:297)°
In 1855 a government memorandum on the bound­
ary question stated that the forest
0 0 0 between the Sibun and Sarstoon very considerably cut /of
mahogan^7 » with sufficient wood left for perhaps another 20
yearso Wood has recently been cut south of the Sarstoon, on
payment of the Spaniards= The Sarstoon is conjectured to be
occupied as far as 200 miles from the coast, above which the
country is unexplored (Burdon 1934:373-374)=
Following the American Civil War, the British Honduras legis­
lature tried to encourage unreconciled Confederates to emigrate to
X
southern Belize to establish a plantation economy (see Rosenberger
1958)o
Previous White settlement had been temporary; as soon as mahog­
any was exhausted the loggers moved on0 So a magistrate was appointed
and the area was constituted as a part of the Southern District of the
colony (AB, MP397 1953:4)0 A first group of settlers arrived in 1867,
followed by another group in I87O 0 Sugar plantations, mills and
The Handbook of British Honduras (Metzgen and Cain 1925:89) states that
Punta Gorda was founded by Jesuit missionaries to the Caribs in 1845,
but the settlement was probably there for some time before the mission
(see Carr and thorpe 1961:119)° AB as a prefix in a footnote denotes
that the source is an unpublished manuscript from the National
Archives of Belizeo
54
distilleries were founded in a small area of alluvial soils stretching
about 10 km inland from Punta Gorda, called the "Toledo Settlemento"
In 1869 the legislative assembly granted $500 (BZ) to the settlers to.
construct a road from Punta Gorda through the settlement to the interior,
the first attempt to move in that direction (AB Document 15=3$ 1869
Message 11)»
Lack of labor supplies, poor communications, and restricted
access to markets were frustrations to the settlers which led to a
gradual decline in the sugar industryo
The importation of East Indian
laborers (mostly Tamils), whose descendants now form an important com­
ponent of the local population, probably dates to this time0 By 1910 ,
most of the former Confederates and their descendants had departed, and
today only two families descended from the Confederate settlers remain0
The short burst of activity the settlers sparked did have the lasting
effect of separating off the southern part of the "Southern District,"
so that in 1882 it became the Toledo District» The name of the District
was taken from Messrs* Young, Toledo and Company, a British corporation
who, by this time, held legal title to most of the private land in the
area0
To summarize, up to 1890 the Toledo District was a remote and
marginal area of a very marginal British colony*
A small but very
diverse population clung to the coastal margins, barely penetrating the
forested and uninhabited interior*
Most of the mahogany had been ex­
hausted, and a small-scale cane-growing and distilling were the only
productive activities apart from subsistence-farming*
This was the
stage into which the Kekchi were about to make their entrance*
55
Summary
This chapter has traced a long history of events and processes
which led up to migration in southern Belize by the Kekchi population,
which the rest of this dissertation will be concerned with*
This his­
tory adds an important, but often intangible texture to our understand­
ing of the events which have taken place in the last 90 years0 More
importantly, there are historical patterns evident in the early history
of the Kekchi and Choi which can be directly related to the present„
First is the question of highland-1owland interactions..
Carter
(1969) has related some aspects of modern lowland Kekchi culture to the
fact that they have not had time to adapt to the lowland environment
since their recent migration from the highlandso
Whatever the specific
origins of the group he was discussing, I hope this chapter has demon­
strated that there has been a long history of contact between the Kekchi
and their lowland neighbors, and that the Kekchi may have actually lived
in the lowlands at the time of the conquest0 The ancient boundary
between Kekchi and lowland Choi was not impermeable, and we should '
expect many Kekchi to have some familiarity with the lowland environment
and its productso
Furthermore, the pattern of highland Kekchi migration
to the lowlands, if not ancient, at least extends back to the l8th
centuryo
Next, and more importantly, this chapter has depicted a variety
of economic, political and geographic interactions between aborigines
and an expanding and changing capitalist economy0 First in the guise
of colonialism, and then wearing the hat of liberal republicanism, this
economic impetus has cleaned out the lowland forests, taken away the „
land and alienated the labor of highland peopleso
Now, looking more
and more like military dictatorship, the same forces are pushing the
dispossessed out of the highlands into the unpopulated lowlands= No „
cultural-ecological study of the modern Kekchi can ignore the central
fact that Kekchi culture has been adapting, for over 4$0 years, to an
economic and political role in a world system.,
Any local patterns or
adaptations which we perceive in the lowlands today are merely overlays
on this historic pattern,,
*
CHAPTER 3
HISTORICAL ECOLOGY OF THE INDIANS OF TOLEDO DISTRICT
Cultural ecology does not exist in a historical vacuum; the past
uses of the Kekchi environment condition present uses (Hackenberg /l97^7
calls this "ecosystem channeling")c Moreover, contemporary relation­
ships of the Kekchi to their environment are worked out in the context
of a world economic system which has embraced them for over 400 years0
This chapter traces the Kekchi adaptation from their entry into Belize
to the present, with a focus on changing settlement patterns and chang­
ing economic relations with the world economyo
The aim is to lodge the
context of Kekchi life in Belize firmly between external economic forces
and internal social responseso
A Sketch of Mopan History in Belize
,
Around 1886 a Mopan resident of San Luis Peten (Guatemala) led
the first major movement of Indians into southern Belize=
Thompson
(1930:41), Sapper (1897:54) and Maudslay (1887 in Clegern 1968;95) agree
that the move was prompted by forced labor practices and heavy taxation0
Gregory (1972:14-15) recorded some graphic oral accounts of the migration
which involved over 100 Mopan from San Luis, and more followed in later
yearso
They first settled near present Pueblo Viejo, but the boundary
with British Honduras had not yet been surveyed and the authorities in
5 7
.
Peten asserted that the new village lay under their jurisdiction (a
claim not disproved until 1932)o Consequently, in 1889 the group moved
further east and founded the village of San Antonioe Sapper (1897s54)
recorded that the British flag was hoisted over the village in June of
I89O and that most of the rest of Pueblo Viejo had moved in by I89I 0
This avenue of migration did not close; more Mopan moved in
later, and the same route was used by Kekchi who had previously settled
around San LuiSo^
This trail is used to this day by both immigrants
and traveling traders=
The Mopan at first tended to congregate in a single nucleated
community, perhaps because of the protection and attention offered by
the British authorities*
A church was built in 1893 (following the
theft of the Saint's image from the San Luis church vividly described
by Thompson /L930%5&-39/)°
A school followed in 1895 (British Honduras
Blue Book 1895)»
San Antonio grew rapidly from 448 persons in 1891 to 758 in
1901 (B0H 0B 0B 0 1901), but then leveled off and has grown slowly to 'the
present day (815 persons in 1966 ^IcCaffrey 1967/, and IO63 in 1970
j/john Briggs, personal communication 1975^) ° The number of Mopan in
the hilly country around San Antonio continued to grow however, as
excess population dispersed to form small hamlets of 3-10 houses called
alquiloso By 1931 well over 400 Mopan were living in alquilos, some of
which had acquired locally-accepted names*
^Gonzales (1961:100) found many Cahabon Kekchi settled around San Luis
and Poptun when he visited the area in 1867*
59
Many Mopan found the advantages of living congregated in vil=
lages (access to churches, schools and markets for crops) to be out­
weighed by the disadvantages (competition for land, more frequent
disputes, taxation, loss of children’s labor to schools) and decided to
live in dispersed noncorporate communities (see Farriss 1978)0 The
Catholic priest in San Antonio was surely unaware that he was acting
in a 400 year tradition of congregacion when in 1913 he asked the
colonial government to eliminate the alquilos so the Indians could be
’’civilized" (see letters and petition in Appendix B)o
Father Tenk
wanted the Mopan rounded up and brought in where he could keep his
spiritual hands on them and their children0 This time, though, the
colonial government was not willing to force the Indians to adopt a
different settlement pattern, stating:
At a meeting of the Executive council on the 7th of April
yT9lii7 it was decided that Bishop Hopkins should be informed
that the Government is unable to take any steps to compel the
people in question to live in the village /of San Antonio?
e o . o (AB HP 1237-14, 19l8)o
In the 1930*6 the world depression affected the Mopan by Idwering the selling prices for their pigs, corn and beans, and they unsuc­
cessfully petitioned to have their taxes reduced (AB MP 508-32, 1932b,
in Appendix B)o
With market production curtailed, the economic base of
the village disappeared, population became even more dispersed, and
more alquilos were foundedo
More Mopan (and Kekchi) flooded into the
alquilos from Guatemala, a move prompted by labor levees for road con­
struction in Peten (Howard 1977:15)«
In the early 1940’s the government embarked on a policy of
encouraging production of corn and beans in Toledo district, and renewed
6o
its interest in the Mopan farmers <, Churches and schools were built in
the larger alquilos, forming the nuclei of the modern villages of Santa
Helena, Pueblo Viejo, San Jose, and Santa Cruz0 The population drifted
away from the alquilos into the new villages, though some alquilos re­
mained*
Perhaps because of their proximity to San Antonio, the alquilos
of Crique Arena, Crique Troso and Crique Jute never acquired their own
churches or schools, and have remained small clusters of households
along named creeks from their founding around 1934 to the present*
The
process by which farmers dissatisfied with crowded conditions in San
Antonio depart to found new dispersed hamlets near their fields has
continued to the present also, though few of these new alquilos are yet
named*
The dissected, hilly country where the Mopan settled forms an
economic and agricultural zone distinct from the Kekchi villages along
the Moho, Temash, and Sarstoon drainages*
The village of San Antonio,
with its many shops, missions, schools and churches, dominated the eco­
nomic and cultural life of the area*
There is more ethnic diversity
and a much higher population density here, which, along with greater
cash-crop production, leads to much more competition for land resources*
This competition, and shorter land fallow cycles, lead to conflicting
desires between living near fields in order to tend them, and living in
the village in order to partake in the varied economic and cultural re­
sources offered*
The village prevails, mostly because of the attention
and efforts of the government, which built roads to all the villages in
the 1960's and then followed with a scattering of modern schools, police
stations, clinics, football fields, and churches*
The regular contact
and travel offered by motorized transport have brought the Mopan and
Kekchi inhabitants of the northern zone increasingly into the fold of
Belizean national culture (see Gregory 1972, 1975» 1976)=
Most aid
projects administered by CARE, Peace Corps, Ministry of Overseas De­
velopment, and the Belizean Government are aimed exclusively at the.
villages of the northern zone, and life in a recognized village instead
of an alquilo provides access to these resources,.
Further economic and
agricultural contrast between this northern zone and the area to the
south will be drawn in Chapter 9°
Kekchi Migration and Settlement in Belize
Between 1870 and 1890 there was a burst of European interest in
estate agriculture in British Honduras, prompted by a steady decline in
the quantity of extractable mahogany left in the forests*
Like most modern attempts to make quick money on export agri­
culture in Belize, most early estates ran into price instabilities,
\
transportation problems and labor shortages, and went bankrupt* The
major (and by 1904 the only) exceptions were the Kramer estates, which
were managed by Germans (see Romney 1959°118-119)*
Their major opera­
tion was in the far southwest corner of the country on the Sarstoon
River,
2
and their unique success can be attributed to their proximity
to a river route to the major port of Puerto Barrios and to their
2
Documentation on the Kramer estates is virtually nonexistent* There
appear to have been other Kramer operations on the Sittee and Temash
Rivers north of the Sarstoon, though these were less durable*
62
successful solution to the labor problems
they imported several hun­
dred Kekchi from the Alta Verapazo
The Kramer owners established a village for laborers and manage­
ment called San Pedro Sarstoon (later called San Pedro Savery), and
planted coffee shaded by Castilloa rubber, and later cacao shaded by
plantains and bananas (Roniney 1959:118)°
The plantation provided all
the colony's coffee with a small surplus for export, but had major
success with cacao, exporting a peak of 42,800 lbs0 in 1906o
Tables 4
and 5 summarize the scale of the plantation's production from data in
the British Honduras Bluebooks and Annual Reports0
We do not know under what kinds of conditions the Kekchi
laborers on the Kramer estates lived, nor whether they came to Belize
of their own volition*
We may imagine, that San Pedro Sarstoon was
tightly managed by "H* J* Cramer, Finquero” (as read his letterhead),
who also provided the benefits of civilization —
a church and private
school*
The census of 1891 gives the earliest data on the settlement
(which was not mentioned in the 1889 Annual Report), listing 254 occupantSo
Of these were enumerated 58 "small planters" (Kekchi laborers
who worked small subsistence plots?), 2 civil servants, 1 teacher, and
1 female domestic (British Honduras Annual Report 1891:40)*
A note to
the census mentions that "At the Sarstoon River «, * * 23 persons are
represented as occupying 1 house" (British Honduras Annual Report 1891:
4o)* Perhaps dormitory-like structures were provided for single male
laborers*
63
Table 4 «, The growth and decline of the Kramer Estateso — This table
is taken from the acreage figures which appeared in the
British Honduras Annual Reports, later the British Honduras
Blue Books, for each year listedo The figures were included
in the District Officer's annual report on agriculture in
the Toledo District, and are probably estimates handed to
him by the plantation proprietoro Not recorded are the
numerous Nutmeg trees which were planted, which, like many
of the cacao trees, are still found growing in the bush near
Dolores village =, Citrus and pineapple were also reputedly
grown in some quantity on the estate0
Year
Rubber
Cocoa
1894
Coffee
Bananas
15 acres
4,150 plants
1897
25 acres
25 acres
50 acres
5,800 plants
1900
50 acres
250 acres
100 acres
1,555 plants
1908
8l ,800 trees
92,000 trees
25,000 trees
750 acres
1910
120,000 trees
92,000 trees
25,000 trees
700 acres
1914
120,000 trees
35,000 trees
25,000 trees
64
Table 5°
Year
1880
Agricultural exports from Belizeo — The figures for coffee,
cacao and rubber are almost entirely the production of the
Cramer estates= Plantains and bananas were produced in other
areas of the country in some quantity^!
Coffee
(lbs)
_2
Cocoa
(lbs)
Rubber
(lbs)
Plantains/
Bananas
(stems)
-
-
9,000
-
-
-
500,000
1894
953
-
-
-
1900
0
892
■=*
-
1901
488
665
0
-
1906
-
42,800
1908
-
29,174
-
-
1909
=
39,868
-
-
1910
-
32,023
-
-
19H
-
20,650
21,362
-
10,400
-
-
1891 .
1912
*1
2 ,750,000
v
Sources for the figures are the British Honduras Blue Books, which
were printed each year by the Government Printing Office in Belize
City0 Figures for plantains and bananas are taken from Romney 1959s
118-119o
p
A dash (-) indicates that no data were available, not that there were
no exports of that commodity in that year0
65
It is interesting that at this early date there were already 63
people living on the Moho River, of whom 10 were Msmall planters'* while
others were mahogany workers» Perhaps some of the Mopan who moved away
from Pueblo Viejo in 1889 moved south to the Moho River instead of east
to San AntoniOo^
As the Kramer estate grew, San Pedro Sarstoon became the third
The 1911 census shows 328 resi­
largest community in Toledo district,.
dents there (Dunk 1921s135)o
The growth of the Kramer estates, and indeed of all estate
agriculture in Toledo, came to an abrupt halt with the beginning of
World War I when all German properties were confiscated by the colonial
authorities,,
No doubt there was some question about the sympathies of
Mr, Kramer, but the case was not clear cut.
My informants who lived
in San Pedro Sarstoon while the plantation operated stated that Mr,
Kramer himself was English, not German, and in his correspondence he
signed his name with the anglicized name Cramer (AB MP246-1903 1904),
I
surmise thatMr, Kramer was of mixed German-English parentage,
like manyplanters in Alta
Verapaz,
The Colonial authorities must have
been suspicious enoughto shut him down,
his land.
but they never did confiscate
To this daythe 362,000 acres which he owned is the only
%
This would explain two other pieces of evidence, Aguacate village on
the Moho is widely considered today to be a Mopan village, though only
two Mopan live there with 154 Kekchi, perhaps in memory of its Mopan
origins. Also, an aged resident of Aguacate told me in 1978 that
Aguacate was the second oldest village in the district, being settled
after Pueblo Viejo but before San Antonio, An early settlement date
for the village is also supported by my find in Aguacate of glass
bottle fragments which date no later than 1895°
66
large block of private land in southern Toledo (AB MP404 1953as6) <?* I
heard several reports that Mro Kramer returned after the war and cut
mahogany and rosewood on the upper branches of the Temash River 0
There is little information available on the Kekchi who settled
the low hills between the Sarstoon and San Antonio before 1914„
The
1911 census figure of 431 persons on the Moho River may include some
loggers, but also indicates a rapid influx of Guatemalan Kekchio
Aguacate village was occupied (and probably had a church) by 1908, and
the village of Dolores was settled and had a school by the time it was
first recorded in 1914 (BoHoBoBo 1 9 1 4 ) The Temash River had no
recorded settlements, though a steam-powered sawmill was temporarily
sited there in 1914, and Kekchi laborers may have been attracted,.
Further north on the Columbia River east of San Antonio, the
Kekchi village of San Pedro Columbia had begun to form about 1911 and
was formally established in 1914 (Appendix A contains two short con­
temporary accounts of the founding of the village)o
Living in close
proximity to the Mopan of San Antonio, these northern Kekchi became
increasingly culturally distinct from the Kekchi who colonized the
The tract was purchased by the Colonial Development Corporation in
1953 and was resold several times since, though a Kekchi village,
Dolores, sits on it0 Parts were offered in 1977 for a price of $l6o50
per acre (U0S 0) and bought by an American speculatoro In 1979 rumors
circulated that the land had been purchased by the Mennonite Church
for an agricultural colony, much to the dismay of the land's occupants0
^The annual reports list a church named "San Jose Moho" from 1908 to
1922, after which the Aguacate Church is listed in its place0 The San
Jose Moho Church may have been in Aguacate (names of villages changed
constantly, as did the saints attributed to their churches), though it
might also have been in the otherwise unknown settlement called "Real
Moho River" which appears only on the 1921 census (Dunk 1921)o
southern part of Toledo= Mostly they came from the area around San Luis
Peten where they had already adopted some Mopan cultural elements0
Their spoken language includes many Choi and Mopan loan words, which led
Thompson (1930s60) to label them the "Kekchi-Cholo"
Rambo (1964) calls
them Ca'bom Kekchi, tracing their spoken dialect to the northern parts
of Alta Verapaz near Cahabon and Lanquin where they had been in contact
with the Choi through early colonial times*
The Ca'bom Kekchi intermarry
frequently with Mopan and tend to regard the southern Toledo Kekchi (who
they say speak a dialect called "San Pedrano" after San Pedro Carcha
where many originate) as less sophisticated and more rustic*
As San Pedro Columbia grew rapidly, from 194 in 1914 to 261 in
1921 and 312 in 1931, many more Ca'bom Kekchi dispersed to join the Mopan
alquilos north and west of San Antonio*
The Southern Zone After 1914
Upon the closing of the Kramer estate, the Kekchi residents of
San Pedro Sarstoon and Dolores
virgin forest*
dispersed to found new settlements in
Judging by several English and English/Kekchi village
names found on modern maps of the part of Guatemala just south of the
Sarstoon River (e=g*, Blue Creek, Warre Creek, Caqui Creek, Tomagas
Creek), some people from San Pedro Sarstoon went south back into Guate­
mala*
Most however, went north*
The larger settlements formed on major rivers (Otoxha, Crique
Sarco, Machaca), have survived to the present, while the many small
^Dolores is about 6 km north of San Pedro Sarstoon, and as mentioned
previously was founded prior to 1914* It was probably either a
'company town' or a village of friends and relatives of those living
in San Pedro*
68
alquilos on small creeks have since disappeared, leaving only a named
creek or crossing*
The only knowledge we have of these hamlets comes
from the 1921, 1931 and 1936 censuses (Table 6 )*
The San Pedrano settlers moving north probably met and mingled
with Ca”bom Kekchi moving south, in the villages of Aguacate and Machaca
on the Moho drainage*
These two villages grew rapidly to become the
largest in the southern zone*
By 1921 a settlement pattern and a cultural geography had
emerged which has remained remarkably similar to the present day*
In
the next section I will discuss many economic and geographic changes
which have taken place in Toledo in the last 60 years, but a description
of Toledo as of 1920 would include most of what is important today:
there was a northern zone of large villages with much cash-crop produc­
tion and road contact with the rest of the country, a southern zone of
small, isolated hamlets which practiced subsistence farming, and a
tremendous amount of mobility between the two zones, as people chose
the market opportunities of the north or the vast areas of untouche'd
forest land in the south
(see Fig* 3 )5
that which has transpiredsince
is mostly in addition to
this historic
pattern*
Early Administration and Land Regulation
Most early administrative efforts in Toledo were varieties of
the benign neglect typically bestowed on an impoverished and unprofit­
able part of the colony*
The District
concerned mainly with keeping
Commissionerin Punta Gordawas
the peace, and he let
the village
69
Table 60
Kekchi villages of southern Toledo in the 1920s and 1930s=
— This table includes the many small alquilos, most of which
subsequently disappeared, which were founded after the
breakup of the Kramer plantations in 1914= Mopan villages
and logging camps are excluded* The sources are Dunk (1921), AB
MP266-33 (1936), and McCaffrey (1967)o
Village"*"
1921 pop*
1931 pop*
1936 pop*
1966 pop*
Aguacate
229
120
113
55
San Pedro Columbia
261
297
279
545
Crique Sarco
89
162
109
133
Dolores
96
113
126
84
0
124
137
110
173
101
60
0
Hocotal (Otoxha)
68
27
13
154
San Pedro Sarstoon*
34
20
0
0
K'expecilha*
44
20
75
0
Temashito*
56
68
0
0
Little Temash^*
31
0
0
0
Hicatee+*
22
0
0
0
8
0
0
0
San Pedro Alquilos+*
54
85
42
0
Consejo Creekt*
28
0
0
35
Laguna Moho River+’>^
53
0
0
0
Condemned Branch**
3
7
22
0
Real Moho River*^
31
0
0
0
Blue Creek
0
51
44
18
Jalacte
0
37
0
0
Joventud (San
Benito Poite)
0
36
58
37
0
0
1280
12
1280
1
1079
Hinchasones
(Santa Theresa)
Machaca
SeJush+*2.
Graham Creek
Totals
0
1171.
1 * Names have changed in some cases* 0Indicates that the village no
longer exists* +Shows that the general location is unknown* ■
2* Informants state that this was an outlying alquilo of Jalacte*
3o Many have been Mopan or White logging settlements*
4* Does not include many new villages with large Kekchi populations*
70
In d ia n C
• S ilv e r
San Pedro
C o lu m b ia ^
San
R io
P u e b lo .
^itjp *
• Stg^_Amm
Sen B enito
P o ite
• C o r a io n C.
C one jo C.
lO to x h o
I
la r r a n c o
D olores
'C riq ue
Sarco
I#Son P edro Sarstoon
rstoo
Figure 3.
KM
Map of southern Toledo District. — Map includes villages
mentioned in the text. Northern zone village names are
underlined. Southern Highway indicated by thick line,
other roads by thinner lines. Trails are not shown.
71
<7
alcaldes handle all but the most serious disputes..
Schools and
churches were administered by the Catholic diocese0 The Forest Depart­
ment showed some interest in the Indians, mainly aiming to separate
their agriculture from valuable timber0
In the early part of this century most of Toledo was Crown land
available for cultivation upon the payment of a small lease fee col­
lected by the District Commissioner0 This system was relatively easy
to administer in a nucleated village like San Antonio, but as the
southern part of the district filled up, only a few Kekchi bothered to
take out formal leases (e0g0, AB MP1472-16 19l6b; MPl45>4-l6 1916a) 0
Administering a lease system among a widely scattered group of shifting
cultivators must have been a frustrating tasko
In 1924 the Colonial government set up a system of Indian
Reserves which made land administration much simpler0 Each recognized
village (alquilos not included) was granted a sizeable area within which
all residents were allowed to use land for habitations and agriculture0
An occupancy fee of BE $5
was levied from each head of household,
payable to the village alcaldeo
The Reserves established in 1924 were amended in 1933 to include
villages which had been missed in the first survey (AB MP266-33 1936)o
The extreme mobility of the Kekchi population had led, even by 1933,
to two older reserves being unoccupied, while other villages complained
that new villages had been established on 1their' lando
The same
7Alcaldes at this time were chosen by villagers, and were normally the
head of the village's founding family0 The same man often held office
for many years,, He was responsible for settling most disputes, and
collected small fineso
72
process has continued to the present, and while a few Reserves have been
enlarged, most Reserve boundaries no longer bear much relationship to the
real land-use situation,.
The legislation which enabled the Reserve system (as reproduced
in Appendix C) makes it clear that the Reserves are in no way similar
to Indian reservations of the North American kindo
While the government
allowed the Indians to use the land, it made clear that this use was
perpetually at the discretion of the government= No communal land
ownership or tenure was granted or implied, and in fact the system
prevented the Indians from getting any rights of ownership to the land
on which they lived*
The entire land tenure system was and remains at
J
the whim of the national government =
Indeed, the Reserves may have en­
couraged the mobility of the Kekchi, since they made land legally avail­
able for shifting agriculture wherever a farmer might choose to move*
Continued Immigration
Like -their land, the Kekchi themselves have always occupied an
uncertaip legal status due more to pragmatism than to any legislator's
intent*
By law, Kekchi immigrants were illegal aliens, but the
interests of the colony were served by allowing them in anyway*
The
issue was allowed to languish as long as nobody raised any objections,
and in fact legal debate has only begun in the last decade *
For historical purposes the legal status of the Kekchi immi­
grants is important only because it tended to encourage the treatment
of the Indians as second-class citizens by the government and because
it meant that nobody kept any records of the population movement*
What
records there are point to only two major periods of Kekchi migration*
73
The first, from 1890 to 1920, is attested by statements like the follow­
ing from the District Commissioner in 1918s
During the past four years the Indian population has in­
creased - many men with their families coming over from
Guatemala, where, they say the men are taken for military
purposes, or to do work, for which they only get the promise
of pay (ABMP1237-1^ 1918s103)o
In fact, the Indian population of the district went from nil
in 1886 to about 2200 in 1921, a growth rate of almost 63 persons per
year, most of which is attributable to immigration,,
never been exceeded since=
This rate has
In fact, immigration slowed down to almost
a standstill after 1920, hot coincident!y the same year in which the
repressive Cabrera dictatorship ended its rule in Guatemalan
The total
Indian population of the district rose by an average of only 20o8 per­
sons per year between 1921 and 1931 according to the Forestry Department
census (AB MP266-33 1936:Table 2 )0 This rate of o95%> per year would be
a low natural growth rate for a population of over 2000, even with the
total lack of health care, so immigration must have been nearly non­
existent 0
By comparing names of household heads on the 1931 and 1936
enumerations, the Conservator of Forests concluded that 56 households
had migrated to Belize during the five year period (AB MP266-33 1936:4)%
This slight increase coincides with the repressive regime of Jorge
Ubico, who used much forced Indian labor in the construction of roads
in Alta Verapaz and Peten (Howard 1977s15)° Nevertheless, the overall
growth in Indian population between 1931 and 1936 was a low 28.8 a
year.
74
Movement across the poorly-defined border was not in one direc­
tion only.
The same forestry census of 1936 found that 14 of 4l8
household heads listed in 1931 had returned to Guatemala by 1936 (AB
MP266-33 1936:4)o
The ecological and domestic causes of mobility, which
will be discussed in Chapter 10, often have a stronger influence on
residence choices than do the arbitrary lines drawn on the landscape
by international boundary commissions (Durham 1979)° The border itself
had meaning for the Kekchi only during periods of political oppression;,
The decline of government interest in Toledo, which occurred in
the late 1930s and continued until about 1953» seems to have coincided
with another low in Kekchi immigration,,
Romhey (1959:126) states that
many Kekchi left Belize during the 1940s, but no census figures are
available to support this contention,,
In fact, the next detailed census
figure we have is from 1966, when the Malaria Eradication Service re­
ported only 3235 inhabitants of Indian settlements (McCaffrey 1967:46),
a rise of only 23=8 persons per year from the 1936 census0 Again, this
rise is low even for a natural rate of increase, so the effects of
immigration must have been minimal„
Though data is scanty, there seems to be another rise in Kekchi
immigration currently underwayo
This began in the 1960s and can be.tied
directly to the expansion of mining and cattle-ranching into the lowland
forests of Guatemala which were once unwanted by anyone but the Kekchi0
I
Methods of Movement
Most, immigrants trickled in one household at a time, usually
following the paths of relatives or friends, but occasionally larger
75
groups moved together»
A case in point is a 1932 petition by 6 house­
hold heads (with 16 dependents) from Chacalte in Peten which asks per­
mission to settle at Joventud (near modern Machaca) (AB MP249-32 1932a)=
The settlement of about 40 persons from Blue Creek (south of the
Sarstoon in Izabal department) at the new locale of Wetchil-ha in 1979
is a more recent example
Most of the individual household migration to Belize takes the
same form as the Kekchi migration to Peten described by Adams (1965)0
In Peten the first migrants were drawn by the prospect of wage labor
(chicle gathering), but later many returned to get their families,.
They were followed by other relatives, compadres and friends0
Adams noted that most Kekchi migrations take place by steps5 a
household settles for several years in each.of a series of settlements
along a route„ At the end of the route small groups split off from the
terminal community to begin new hamlets in unoccupied forest (Adams
1965:l4)o
The route to Belize goes by way of many communities where
households settle for several years, sometimes remaining permanently
but more often then moving on to villages closer to the borderc
In this
fashion most Kekchi spend many years living in and learning about the
lowland environment before they get to Belize0
To illustrate the confusion which often surrounds Kekchi place names,
this settlement was originally called Wetchil-ha by Kekchi in formal
conversation, though it was more often referred to as Se Wetch (place
of the armadillo)o It soon acquired the name Hamadilli Creek (a
creole translation of the original name) which was used mainly by
non-Kekchi, and just 6 months later was officially dubbed San Marcos
by the Church; which makes 4 names in less than 18 months<,
76
The routes into Belize have been established for a long time and
in fact probably existed in prehispanic times0 This 1936 description
still holds true:
The three main routes of immigration from Guatemala are:
(a) The road from San Luis to Punta Gorda, This taps the Guate­
malan settlements of San Luis, Poite and Mollejon,
(b) The Moho River truck pass of L<. Ho Pearce, through the
settlement of Joventud, which sprang up on the old main
camp site (of the loggers), to cut the Las Canas-Chacalte
road west of the Frontier= This taps the settlements of
Las Canas, Mollejon, Temax and Chacalte0
(c) The road from Coban through Dolores to Crique Sarco taps
the settlements of Coban, Cahabon, Chicabon, Chahal and
Chacalteo
A less important route is by water on the Sarstoon tapping the
settlements of Sarstoon and Warre Creek, presumably by Graham
Creek to Crique Sarco and Sabery Branch to Doloreso
_
There is also a trail from Mollejon, through Jalate /sic/
to Aguacate (AB MP266-33 1936:5)=
The first route is mainly used by Ca'bom Kekchi from the San
Luis area, while San Pedranos from Coban and Carcha prefer the more
southerly passages0 New migrants on these routes tend to settle for a
time in the first villages they come to on the Belize side of the bor­
der; Doloros on the southern trail, San Benito Poite on the Moho River
and Pueblo Viejo on the San Luis trail0
Besides moving to the north and east, to Belize and Peten, high­
land Kekchi began to expand to the south and east into the Izabal dis­
trict in the 1960s (see Carter 1969s9-10)=
They were followed shortly
thereafter by massive cattle ranch developments, mines, and restrictions
on land ownership and use, and many of the Kekchi in Izabal have looked
to the north, to Belize, as a refugee
New routes of migration have
developedo
One trail crossets the Sarstoon river near Warre Creek and goes
to Crique Sarco, and the others goes directly by boat from Livingston (on the
77
coast) and then either up the Moho River to the new villages around
Santa Anna or to Punta Gorda and then by road inland to the large and
growing villages inching northwards along the Southern Highway.,^
The reason behind the stepwise method of migration is that
Kekchi move only to settlements where they already have some ties of
kinship or fictive kinship„
It takes years to establish these ties
with someone in a village further along the route 0 A man may marry a
woman from a village where he wants to move, or he may eventually marry
sons or daughters into a target community0
Within Belize established routes lead northwards from the abovementioned border villages, forming chains of kinship which tie the
villages of the remote south to villages in the northern zone0 Special
ties of closeness and marriage exchange link pairs of villages together
along these routes, but by this I do not want to suggest that all popu­
lation flows are one-directional0 There is a constant atomistic move­
ment of people in many directions, and the routes are statistical trends
on a long-term basiso
There are many reasons why the Kekchi move which have nothing
to do with migration from Guatemala to Belize, or from remote areas to
the highwayo
It is necessary to differentiate conceptually between
migration, a directional movement in response to regional differences
in population density and economic opportunity^ and mobility, which is
a basic part of the Kekchi sociocultural adaptation to the southern
Belize environment (see Chapter 12)0 Mobility consists of many
^These are Big Falls, Dump, Silver Creek, Indian Creek, Moody Hill,
Hicatee and Golden Streamo Recently Kekchi-Mopan villages have been
founded far to the north in the Stann Creek valley and near Middlesex0
movements in different directions prompted by very local population
changes, political divisions or alliances, and the many cultural and
domestic considerations which anthropologists traditionally label as
"residence decisions*"
Thus a household moving from Chacalte in Guate­
mala to San Benito Poite in Belize in order to get away from land-use
regulation is taking part in a migrational movement*
On the other hand,
a household head who moves his family from Aguacate- to Santa Theresa
because he has quarreled with his father and prefers to live with his
wife’s brother is practicing mobility*
A History of Economic Underdevelopment
in Toledo
When looked at closely in a historical perspective, the economy
of the Toledo District belies our modern perception that the area is a
frontier*
In fact, at various times in the last 65 years Toledo has
been directly involved in the world economy and its Kekchi inhabitants
have taken part in a cash economy and sold the products of their labor*
There are good reasons why the area still looks like a frontier
located beyond the margins of the world economy*
Each time Toledo has
been economically penetrated, the land and its people have been so
thoroughly and efficiently exploited that little useful was left behind
when exploitation ceased, except the Kekchi*
First with Cacao and
coffee, then bananas, mahogany, and pigs, outsiders have managed to
extract what they wanted from the area (at a profit) without ever in­
vesting in the development of the region*
Few roads, no markets, no
body of skilled or educated labor, no self-sustaining economic enter­
prises were ever left behind when the area* s profitability declined*
79
What little cash the Kekchi earned could not be invested in land or pro­
ductive resources, but was all spent on trade goods or rum (sold profit­
ably by the merchants in Punta Gorda)0 When cash opportunities were
lacking the Kekchi had to revert to subsistence agriculture or migrate
to areas where economic opportunities were bettero
Toledo thus was not marginal to world capitalism —
there are
many isolated tropical lowland areas which were part of 'developed'
economies soon after they were discovered,.
Rather, outsiders found few
resources that could be profitably extracted from Toledo with the thinly
scattered (though cheap) labor resources which were available„
The underdevelopment of Toledo was and is a part of the general
process of colonial exploitation of Belize as a whole„
In this I can
add little to the treatment of the rest of the country's history offered
by Ashcraft (1973)s Bolland and Shoman (1977), and Bolland (1977b)„ The
emphasis on impermanent extractive industry, the lack of investment in
infrastructure, and the stifling of local enterprise and production
basic to the underdevelopment process in Toledo were shared by the whole
country and in part by most of the lowland tropics (Amin 1976)„
Periph­
eral capitalism practiced its own form of "shifting cultivation" in
these areaso
The period from 1914 to the early 1930s was one of relative
isolation and of concentration on subsistence agriculture in the south­
ern part of Toledo district0 The 1931 forestry survey showed an average
of only 013 acres of cacao and „07 acres of coffee per farming house­
hold (AB MP266-33 1936sTable 2), which would yield barely enough for
home consumption with only a small surplus for barter with Cobanero
8o
traderso
This may have been why Cobanero visits declined and almost
ceased in the early 1930s (Rambo 1964)0
The same census shows only 44 cows in all 14 villages surveyed,
but the reported 7=9 pigs per household is higher than modern figures0
This implies that what cash the Kekchi obtained came through sale of
pigSo
The hogs-per-household figure was much higher in the villages
near San Antonio and Punta Gorda (where pigs were marketed) than in the
more remote areaso
10
Conversely, acreages of cacao and coffee were
higher in the southern villages where pigs would have been much harder
to get to marketo
Obviously, the Kekchi were striving to produce what­
ever they could trade or sell in order to obtain the salt, machetes,
axes, and cloth they could not produce themselves, and to pay land-use
feeso
The northern zone villages saw much more economic activity
between 1914 and 1930„
The road from Punta Gorda to San Antonio (with
a spur to San Pedro Columbia) was completed in 1924 (AB MP2?89-24 1924)
and paved in 1934 and 1935°
Corn and beans were transported to Punta
Gorda in large quantities for sale to merchants there, though in 1928
the San Antonio Indians still claimed that "Our hogs are our most im­
portant means of livelihood" (AB MP1279-28, 1928)0
In the late 1920s the Tropical Oil Products Company began a
scheme to produce an edible oil from the kernels of the wild cohune palm,
which employed over 900 laborers by 1930, and provided a steady market
for local foodstuffs until the enterprise collapsed in 1932 (AB MP1439-30
"*"^Ten and four-fifths hogs/household in the Moho River villages com­
pared to 4 01 hogs/household on the Temash and Sarstoon (AB MP266-33
1936;Table 2 ).
81
1930; AB MP1060-32 1932c; MP508=32 1932b) o11
Wage labor was also avail­
able on the ten small sugar plantations, which were operated by nonIndians around Rancho and Forest Home on the San Antonio-Punta Gorda
roado
As previously noted, the collapse of commodity prices in 1932
hurt the northern zone Indians, who had to purchase their imported goods
for the same high prices as before®
About this time the banana trade,
which had been defunct for many years, began to revive®
Schooner cap­
tains put out of business by the end of prohibition in the United States
began to dock at Punta Gorda to purchase bananas instead of the rum they
had previously loaded in Belize city®
The Kekchi communities located on major rivers benefited most
from the banana trade because of fertile levee soils and the ease of
transport to the river mouth®
In 1936 a farmer in Crique Sarco was
reported to be making $100 a week from his 40 acres of banana trees
(AB MP266-33 1936)®
The banana boom, however, was short lived®
Small Indian pro­
ducers using shifting cultivation had a hard time meeting the rigid
size and ripeness standards established by the large companies which
dominated the trade®
With increasing disease problems the collection
system of regular barge trips to the river mouths broke down and
exports had dwindled by.193? (Romney 1959s127)o As banana cultivation
ceased, mahogany extraction began to increase again®
11
Cohune-oil extraction is a perennial favorite of planners and entre­
preneurs impressed by the huge clusters of nuts produced by the abun­
dant palms® The latest cohune oil project was proposed and studied
in 1979® All these schemes flounder because of the huge cost of
collecting and transporting the heavy nuts to a central processing
plant®
82
Mahogany logging in Toledo went through cycles based on world
prices and extraction costs0 The earliest loggers in the 1820=1850
period took only those trees which were most accessible0 The second .
cycle, from 1912 to about 1920, also concentrated on lumber near major
watercourses*
By the late 1950s mahogany prices and mechanized extrac­
tion methods made it practical to cut logging roads deep into the forest
alqng which the trees could be dragged to the river0
Logging activity seems to have spread from north to south, first
taking advantage of existing roads*
In 1930 over 700,000 board feet of
mahogany were taken along the Rio Grande, and only 92,000 feet on the
Temax and Moho (AB MP1439-30 1930)*
Later in the decade an extensive
system of trails was cut through the forests between the southern zone
rivers, and the Kekchi used the trails for their own transportation and
for access to new village sites (Santa Theresa /Binchasones/ and
Joventud were established on old logging camp sites)*
It is hard to estimate what other kinds of impact the 1930's
mahogany boom had on the Kekchi economy*
The cores of logging crews
were usually Creoles, Caribs, and sometimes Waikas, while Kekchi may
have been offered short-term work in clearing bush, locating trees, and
hauling supplies*
A limited market for produce and game meat was pro­
vided in the camps, though most staples were imported*
Still, in a
cash-poor economy like that of the southern villages, these small in­
puts must have had an effect*
Logging itself fell into a decline in the early 1940s, and since
that time there have been only sporadic arid localized bursts of interest
in forestry extraction in Toledo*
Rosewood has seen something of a
boom in the past decade, but most of the labor is provided by nonIndians and most of the profits go to the non-Indian entrepreneurs, who
obtain concessions from the government to cut large tracts, and to the
foreigners who purchase and export the lumber=
In the long run the
Kekchi get no benefit at all from the removal of the valuable trees
among which they live0
Toledo Becomes the "Breadbasket of Belize*1
With the decline of logging in the 19^0s the government lost
most of its interest in Toledo, and the economy reverted to its previous
patterno
Belize has always imported large quantities of food, part of a
process of colonial dependence by which local labor was kept out of
agriculture to make it available at low cost for extractive export
industry (see Ashcraft 1973 and 1968)0
When exports fell off in the
19^05 because of declining forestry, the sugar and citrus industries
were slow in growing to fill the export gap0 Imports exceeded exports
by B 0H 0 Si =01 million as early as 1939» growing to a deficit of B 0H 0
$4=03 million in 1950 and B*Ho Sl808 million in 1962 (Ashcraft 1973:
50, 64)o Host of the deficit was caused by the importation of foodstuffso
The contradiction of a land possessing tremendous agricultural
potential finding it necessary to import food from developed countries
slowly forced the colonial government to encourage food production, and
Toledo was an early focus of these efforts0 As early as the late 1930s
the government built a rice mill and bean dryer at Punt a Gorda, where
these products were purchased at government fixed prices= The quan­
tities purchased were low at first*
Most of the volume was still
84
handled by merchants in Punta Gorda, who sold much of it locally and in
surrounding East Indian settlements0
The road connection to San Antonio made it possible for the
northern villages to obtain cash by selling corn and beans0 The south­
ern villages still depended on selling pigs.
The only substantial
change during the 1940s was the expansion of rice as a new cash crop in
the northern zoneo
This was a result of government efforts to encourage
the crop, which was not eaten in any quantity by Indians but is the
staple food of the Creole population of Belize City0
Import replacement
meant producing rice in Toledo, and the dietary demands of the Creole
city population came to dominate the cash crop agriculture of the Mopan
and Kekchio
The dubious economics of growing rice in Toledo will be
further discussed in Chapter 60
By the early 1950s Toledo farmers had responded by increasing
their production substantially= Between 1951 and 1953 average yearly
purchases by the marketing board were 794,800 lbs of rice, 34,290 lbs
of corn and 97,800 lbs of beanso
The southern part of the district
produced many of the 2500 or so pigs shipped north to Belize City in :
each of these years, and sold quantities of cacao, coffee, and copal
incense to Cobaneros (figures from AB MP397 1953b). Government interest
in the area increased, and the British Honduras Land Use Survey Team
was very active in Toledo from 1952 to 1954o They conducted soil, agri­
cultural, and economic surveys, drawing further attention to the poten­
tial of Toledo to produce the beef, rice, and beans which Belize needed
to become self-sufficient.
They also showed great sensitivity to the
problems of the Indians and gave much attention to a series of
development plans for all the Indian settlements, aimed towards adding
selected, appropriate cash crops to the existing subsistence economy*
Some of these proposals were acted upon, but the most important sugges­
tion —
the construction of a road south to the Sarstoon River (Romney
1959s128) ■— has never been implemented*
The team's suggestions for
eliminating the reserve system have also proved too controversial to be •
acted upon (see Howard 1 9 7 % McCaffrey 196?)*
Reports sent back to England by members of the survey team about
the abysmal health conditions in Toledo led to questions being raised
in Parliament about the Kekchi*
As a result the Colonial Office created
the post of "Kekchi Liaison Officer" and dispatched a young Englishman,
D* F* Owen-Lewis, to occupy the position (Rambo 1965:14; Nunes 1977)°
He was charged with improving medical and economic conditions, and after
learning the language he made Crique Sarco the center of his efforts*
There he worked to introduce tree crops, began a communal cattle pas­
ture, built an airstrip, and established regular transportation to Punta
Gorda on a communally-owned boat*
Responding to the opportunity to
market their pigs and produce, and to Owen-Lewis' leadership, communal
enterprises flourished and the village quickly grew through immigration
(Nunes 1977)° The autonomy and success of Owen-Lewis' efforts seem to
have built up resentment in the rest of the civil service, and in 1959
he was withdrawn from Crique Sarco and the post was eliminated shortly
thereafter*
Crique Sarco began to shrink, the communal enterprises
declined and collapsed, and the airstrip grew over*
Government interest
in Crique Sarco was reasserted in the early 1970s when a police station
and clinic were built there, followed by a buying center0 The village
has again begun to grow0
The eager response of the Kekchi to Owen-Lewis* projects was an
indication that dissatisfaction with the pig-based economy was growing0
Put simply, the price of pork was not keeping pace with the prices of
commodities the southern zone Kekchi needed to buyc Pigs ate the same
food which humans depended upon, which meant that the limited amount of
corn a household could grow in a year placed an absolute limit on the
number of pigs which could be kept and on the amount of cash which could
be earned through their sale0 A bad corn harvest meant that pigs had
to be sold at low prices in a flooded market, and it took several years
to rebuild a herdo
Pigs were not an ideal cash crop0
As dissatisfaction grew, priests and administrators suggested
that the Kekchi move northwards to areas where economic prospects were
better (and incidently where they would be easier to police and ad­
minister) (Boster 1973s?)= By the early 1950s a major population move­
ment was taking place as the most remote villages drained northwardsc
In 1951 all but three households left Santa Theresa to start
the new village of San Miguel, across the river from San Pedro Columbia
(McCaffrey 1967:44-46; AB MP397 1953bX Most of Aguacate moved to San
Pedro Columbia within the next two years, leaving only four households
behindo
San Lucas, Machaca, and Graham Creek were abandoned entirely
and the other remote villages declined in size, though more immigrants
appeared to replace those who had departed^
This sudden migration to the already crowded northern zone was
not well conceived*
Land for swidden agriculture was already scarce
around San Pedro Columbia, and new settlers often had conflicts with
older residents over land, especially the land near roads (which was
highly valued for growing cash crops)= So, while opportunities for
marketing cash crops were present in the northern zone the cash crops
themselves were not as easy to grow0 The presence of government insti­
tutions and the greater regulation of life in the northern villages was
also perceived as burdensome by some of the southern zone immigrants.,
The new immigrants sought three different solutions to the
problems they encountered in their new environmento
Some returned to
the southern villages, either their former village or less distant
villageso
They decided that the advantages of access to the roads and
markets in the north were not worth the increased competition for land
resources and other complications of life found thereo
Others decided
to stay on in the new, crowded villages, often because they had estab­
lished close kin ties there or had found other economic bases as shopkeepers or wage laborerso
The most frequent response however, was to move off to start
new villages and open up new lands near the roads.
Laguna was founded
in 1958 by migrants from San Miguel (which had in turn been founded from
Santa Theresa, which was started by people from Joventud) on a feeder
road a few miles off the San Antonio-Punta Gorda highway (McCaffrey
1967s46; Boster 1973s?)o
As the highway linking Toledo with the rest
of the country was built in the mid 1960s, the Kekchi used this road to
expand into new lands.
Big Falls was established around 1962 mostly
by people from Laguna, and Silver Creek was begun shortly thereafter,
San Pedro and San Miguel served as conduits, points of entry from the
88
south in a typically stepwise migration*
As Boster (1973;8) says, ’’The
villages along the way portly' have been mere stopovers, a pipeline
spilling its human cargo into the Big Falls area while being maintained
by population pressure from Guatemala in Dolores and Otoxha*’’
The new villages stretching north on the highway tend to be
dispersed and unrecognized as corporate communities by the government*
They do not have Reserves, and rarely have formal alcaldes*
It is hard
to overemphasize the importance of the road to these villages; it is
the economic lifeblood of each community, the major counterbalance to
growing ecological dislocations and problems*
The economy and cultural geography of Toledo district has seen
no major changes from the historical pattern I have just described in
the last decade*
The effects of oil exploration in the late 1970s were,
in their economic concomitants, quite the same as those of the previous
episode of mahogany extraction described above*
Conclusions
Before moving on I would like to summarize several recurring
patterns which emerge from a study of Kekchi history, patterns which
have a great deal of importance in understanding modern Kekchi economy
and settlement*
The patterns can be summarized as a series of dichoto­
mies, oppositions or alternatives*
Exploitation-Migration
These two terms encapsulate much of the experience of the Kekchi
from the conquest to the present * They are the two alternatives which
89
have been offered them by the pressing forces of the world economic
systemo
The Dominican Friars who dominated the economy of post-conquest
Alta Verapaz limited their exploitation to operating small plantations
and dominating trade between highlands and lowlandso
In consequence,
population movements were minimal, and reduccion, as a policy seems to
have worked, having created settled town populations in the highlands0
As taxation became more of a burden in the early 1800s, and a
strictly controlled market system led to the decline of the weaving
industry, escape to the lowlands became a more attractive option0 By
1807 Kekchi migrants had escaped well beyond the Pasion River into the
unpoliced forest, where they considered themselves beyond the range of
Spanish exploitation*
While exploitation is not an easy word to define in many cases
—
for the products of people's labor can be taken from them in many
devious and indirect ways —
the case of the Kekchi in 19th century
Alta Verapaz is very clear cut*
Land was forcibly taken away and then
people were forced to work that land at starvation wages for the profit
of foreign bankers whom they never saw*
They were treated as second-
class citizens when they were not being treated as animalSo
Denied edu­
cation, medical care, political voice or legal rights, many saw escape
as the only solutiono
All over the Guatemalan Highlands, Indians fled
to lowland forests to find unclaimed land and to escape economic domina­
tion (Wasserstrom 1978)*
and endured*
What is remarkable is that many stayed behind
90
As Wallerstein (1975, Chapters 2, 6 ) points out, Latin American
colonialism exploited labor more than it did natural resources —
out labor the lowlands were uselesso
with­
The British had a captive labor,
source (slaves) and a labor-intensive industry (forestry), and had
moderate success where the Spanish failedo
By driving the Kekchi into isolation in the lowlands, the world
economy was merely preparing the way for another cycle of exploitation,.
Now that there is a tractable labor supply in southern Belize, it is
only a matter of time before a form of exploitation arrives0 The begin­
nings of this exploitation —
North American and Salvadoran ranches and
the expansion of East Indians into mechanized rice farming —
will be
discussed further in Chapter 9°
Subsistence-Trade
The Kekchi do not exist in an economic vacuum, and they never
have; nor do they wish too
They want and have come to need, many pro­
ducts which can only be obtained by trade„ They now must have cash to
live
and as a means of gaining security in a changing environment,
though they need far less cash than most residents of Belize=
But the economic and ecological environments in which the Kekchi
live (neither of which are of their making) offer many alternate strate­
gies for obtaining cash and for exchanging cash for essential goods0
Built into the system is a contradiction between using labor to produce
subsistence crops and selling labor or the products of laboro
The flight from Guatemala can be seen as a rejection of marginal
and poorly paid wage-labor and as an expression of the desire for more
91
self-sufficiencyo
Belize was and is attractive because more options are
available, options which allow subsistence production and a measure of
cash cropping as wello
This century has seen something of a squeeze on
both sectors of the Kekchi economy; subsistence has been made harder by
growing population densities and diminishing stands of virgin forest.
The cash economy is pressed by commodity prices which have risen more
slowly than the costs of the goods which must be purchased, and by ris­
ing expectations.
The Kekchi ideal of self-sufficiency with enough left over to
sell seems to be doomed.
All indications show that Toledo Indians are
in transition to an economy based on cash-crop production and wage labor,
with declining subsistence production.
While the reasons for this
change lie mostly in the realm of macroeconomics and the world economy,
and are outside the scope of this dissertation, the effects of this
change on the social and especially domestic organization of Kekchi life
form a major focus of this work,
Nucleati on-Dispersion
The balance between aggregated and dispersed settlement patterns
has great historic depth among the Kekchi,
In examining Kekchi agri­
culture, one finds that the optimal settlement type is a small hamlet
of a few related families located close to shifting fields (see Harrison
1976; Farriss 1978),
So long as there is a very low population density
and no political or economic organization above the hamlet level,
Kekchi settlements seem to tend in this direction.
The early Choi
inhabitants of the same lowland environment seem to have had a similar
dispersed settlement pattern.
92
For political and economic reasons, dispersed and highly mobile
populations have been unpopular with colonial administrators and mis­
sionaries for over 400 years now0 Efforts have been made to make the.
Choi and Kekchi form larger and more manageably stable communities0 As
the sad case of the Choi shows, a settlement pattern which contradicts
the productive ecology of a people without offering compensation of
some sort cannot be imposed on them without drastic results.
The modern Kekchi show, however, that
given economic incentives
tropical forest cultivators are willing to form themselves into larger
and more nucleated villages without coercion.
Modern Kekchi life in
Toledo offers many options between life in tiny hamlets or large nucle­
ated villages, and many people change their settlement commitments over
the courses of their life cycles.
But why are there different settle­
ment types, and why do people move back and forth between them?
I suggest there is more complexity in settlement cycles in
Toledo than simple contrasts between old and new, developed and under­
developed, or remote and accessible can account for.
Underlying the
influence of modern governments, economic changes, market systems, and
migration there lies an indigenous settlement system more complex than
just dispersed hamlets.
High mobility and a developmental cycle of
villages are rooted in the land and the Kekchi way of extracting a liv­
ing from it.
To understand this adaptation requires a detailed look at
the land and at Kekchi subsistence, the topics of the following chapters.
This material will be used, in Chapter 12, to substantiate a complete
model of subsistence, individual residence choice, and settlement cycles.
CHAPTER 4
THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
In the Kekchi world-view, man's culture and his environment
blend into one anothero
Men are a part of and affect nature, and the
natural world has direct effects on the lives, and spirits, of men0
For very different reasons, cultural ecologists have come to a
similar view of the worlds
Determinism and possibilism have long since
given way to a view that main must be seen as a part of am ecosystem
(see Geertz 1965s8-11)0 Culture emd nature are inextricably woven into
a single fabric, neither of which can be explained or analyzed sepa­
rately =,
But this similarity of viewpoint should not lead us into the
logical fallacy of ethnoscience; that the native perception of the en­
vironment is therefore sufficiento
If this were indeed the case, and
the Kekchi understood every important aspect of their own interactions
with their physical environment, there would be no need for a cultural
ecologist —
only for a linguist or cognitive anthropologist0
In fact, the Kekchi apprehend only a small portion of the eco­
system in which they operate —
everyday experienceo
those aspects with which they have direct
These known environmental limitations and re­
sources are of great importance, but they are not sufficient to under­
standing the Kekchi way of lifeo
There are general aspects of the
Toledo rainforest environment which are understandable only in the
93
comparative context offered by the science of ecology0 More importantly,
there are aspects of the Toledo environment which limit and condition
the possible (rather than actual) cultural adaptations open to the
Kekchio
These invisible limitations and conditions are not encountered
by the Kekchi in everyday life —
they may have effects only in unusual,
marginal or very long term situations (as with an exceptionally wet or
dry year)0 These ’non-cognized' aspects of the environment have special
significance in situations of change; when new agricultural strategies
are tried, new aspects of soil and vegetation become important, and the
cultural paradigm of the environment becomes insufficiento
This chapter therefore takes a "scientific1 view of the Toledo
physical environment which is not restricted to what the Kekchi see and
distinguisho
A few general aspects of the environment are explored,
and an effort is made to detail some potentials and limitations for
future developmentso
The detailed knowledge of the Kekchi themselves
will be discussed in later chapters as it pertains to agricultural pro­
duction, hunting, and gathering:,
Rocks, Rivers and Landform
Toledo's landform is essentially the eroded remnant of a flat
shelf of hard, white, cretaceous limestone which rests on a less eroded
layer of mixed, softer sedimentary rock which is collectively called the
Toledo beds0 Uplift and erosion have produced a rugged inland area
fringed by a low, flatter, coastal shelf„
The coastal plain varies between l405 and 32 km in width, and
is crossed by four major rivers —
Grande, Moho, Temash and Sarstoon —
95
of which the latter three have origins in Guatemala,,
The most striking
features of the plain are steep, jagged limestone remnant hills which
form small groups visible from a great distance,.
The rivers follow winding and meandering courses between low
levees, which they overflow in the wet season« Romney (1959:26) states
that ocean currents sweeping south along the Toledo coast deposit sand
bars at the mouths of the rivers» These bars restrict the flow of the
rivers during the wet season, causing them to back up and flood large
areaso
The Temash and Sarstoon feed a common ponding area, while the
Moho floods further inland in the Mafredi swamp0
Over much of the coastal shelf the Toledo beds are close to the
land surface, while smaller areas are covered with thin alluvial de­
posits spread by ancient river courses,.
The sea edge is bounded by low-
lying modified and consolidated sands dropped by the Honduras Bay
currento
The type of inland topography depends on whether the hills are
formed from limestone or from the Toledo beds,.
The limestone has been
folded, faulted and tipped so the strata lie close to vertical, forming
steep and precipitous slopes which are covered with large, jagged
boulderso
Where limestone is extensive a 8cockpit' terrain typical of
karst drainage, with many small, rounded valleys, is presento
The
porosity of the limestone leads to much underground drainage and the
formation of many deep caves0 In fact, two tributaries of the Moho rise
in the San Antonio valley^ but then travel more than two km-underground
"bfost of the geographic and geologic information in this chapter is
taken from the work of the Land Use Survey Team (Romney 1959)°
beneath a range of hills before pouring out of huge caves and down into
the main river channelo
Springs abound, especially at points where
limestone and the less permeable Toledo beds meeto
The upland terrain formed from the erosion of the Toledo beds
tends to be much more gentle and rounded» Hills are covered with deep
layers of slippery clay cut by numerous sunken streams and creekso
The
Toledo beds consist of a complex interbedding of thin layers of cal­
careous sandstone, shale, mudstone and tuff, and many landform and soil
differences result from local variation in the nature of the beds0
Because rainfall is so abundant, there are many small water­
courses in the upland zone, though most of the smaller ones dry up
during the dry seasono
In contrast to the coastal shelf, the permanent
upland streams flow swiftly over a high gradient0 While the lowland
rivers build levees and flood large areas, the highland watercourses,
especially in the limestone areas, run over irregular courses of rapids,
boulders, and waterfalls, and produce no levees to speak of0
As we
shall see later, this difference has a major effect on local agricul­
tural potentials,.
Figure 4 shows Toledo district divided into three
geographic zones; coastal plain, limestone uplands and Toledo bed up­
lands o
Climate
Climatic recording in Toledo has been poor; only two stations
operate in a region which has very wide variation in rainfall0 The
/
southern and western parts of the district have never had so much as a
rain gauge read for more than a few months at a time0
97
KM
Figure 4.
Landform map of the Toledo District. — Stippled areas are
permanent swamp of bog. All hatched areas are those above
the 400 ft. contour. Simple shading indicates upland areas
underlain by limestone, while cross-hatched uplands have
soild derived from the Toledo Beds. Unshaded lowland areas
are mostly dominated by Toledo Bed soils. Villages are
shown as dots.
98
The climate is classified as "Wet Tropical" in lowlands and "Wet
Sub-tropical" in parts of the uplands by Romney (1959°Figo 8)0
This
requires a mean annual temperature greater than 24* C 0, and no more than
one month when evaporation exceeds precipitation,:
The Koeppen Classifi­
cation for the whole of southern Belize is AIw0
On the coast, temperatures range from 10* Co to about 33° C0,
with the coldest temperatures occurring from October through Decembero
During the cold months, when "norther" storms and fronts pass through,
the temperature often stays below 19° 0 o all day, and chill winds blow
into the nighto
The rest of the year varies between hot and very humid,
and just hot and humid, though the short dry season offers short periods
when the weather is less humid, but just as hot0
Rainfall has less pronounced seasonality than in the rest of
Belize; the dry season is shorter and wetter than further northo
The
bulk of the rains fall between June and September, during which time
most days are overcast with brief periods of intense rain0
I recorded
over 125 mm of rain in less than two hours in Aguacate village in August
1979o At times the rain is hard enough to damage cropso
The wet season rains seem to vary widely with local winds and
topography, so the heavy rainfalls are often very localized0
It is not
unusual for one village to bask in sunshine while 100 mm of rain falls
a few kilometers away and unexpectedly floods the riverso
Long-term
rainfall varies over short distances also; the aggregated yearly rain­
fall figures in Table 7
show that San Antonio lies in a considerable
rain shadow0 Therefore, the rainfall maps reproduces in Figures 5 and 6
are only an approximation of regional patterns0
Table 7 o Monthly rainfall figures for four stations in the Toledo District,, — This chart
shows some of the variability in seasonal rainfall across quite short distances
in the district,, The figure for years shows how many continuous years of obser=
vation are averaged (from Jenkin et alo 1978sTable 1 )0 San Antonio appears to
be in a rain shadow of some kindo
Station
Data
Punta
Gorda
Years
Mean mm
Columbia
Forest
Station
Years
Machaca
Forest
Station
Years
San
Antonio
Mean mm
Mean mm
Years
Mean mm
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
43
43
43
43
43
175
103
74
8l
200
5
5
5
6
6
6
6
166
66
79
93
206
4l8
14
14
15
15
15
208
99
111
64
16
17
15
97
68
6l
43
A
S
O
N
D
Year
44
44
44
44
44
44
43
593 720
608
515
316
216
188
3785
6
6
6
6
6
5
608
462
379
293
206
103
3013
15
15
15
15
15
15
15
14
178
4?4
699
514
430
272
201
146
3368
16
15
16
17
17
13
15
15
14
11
67
159
332
558
387
314
241
166
123
2483
100
1524 mm
40 km
2032 mm
2032 mm
2540 mm
j W y > 2540 mm
C \ 3048 mm
^ 3556 mm
4060 mm
Figure 5*
Mean annual rainfall in Belize.
101
FEB
z ^ y 2 5 mm
MAR
S
'
y
51 mm
76 mm
102 mm
152 mm
r^5i
/
mm
al-76 mm
76 mm
^ 102 mm
102 mm
152 mm
mmv
AUG
JUL
JUN
M A Y 102
*152/mm
P
203 mmr—
254 mm
356 mm
506 mm
152 mm
203 mm
a
OCT
SEP
152 mm
^ 0 3 mm
|
254 mm
mm
508 mm
711 mm
^
y x 356 mm
y' 508 mm
- V i 016 mm
NOV
DEC
102
mm
203
mm
102 mm
254
mm
254
mm
R54!
|mm.
203
mm
203
mm
356 mm
356 mm
508 mm
Figure 6.
Mean monthly rainfall in Belize.
203
152 mm
<152
? mm
102
To the Kekchi, the total yearly rainfall is relatively unimpor~
tant; what matters is the length and intensity of the dry season0 The
timing of planting and burning hinges on when the major rains stop and
start, which is often unpredictable0
An outsider sees more of how life in a high rainfall zone places
limitations on Kekchi adaptations0 Work at times comes to a halt;
flooded rivers and creeks and quagmire trails make travel and communi­
cation difficult or impossible, and the few roads are impossible to
maintain0 Crops cannot be dried, preservation of foodstuffs is next to
impossible, and firewood must be collected and dried long before it is
usedo
Houses rot quickly and must be built from carefully-selected
materials; the bare ground around houses erodes quickly and makes the
sites unusableo
Wild animals become hard to hunt because, they no
longer congregate near water sourceso
Laundry and bathing become time
consuming and onerous0
A major limitation on the expansion of swidden agriculture is
the poor drainage of most lowland soils; many rich soils are covered
with standing water most of the year, and can only be used in the future
with large investments in ditching and canal-buildingo
Soils on steep
slopes will erode away if they are left bare for any length of time in
a permanent-cropping system= Rainfall generally leaches nutrients out
of soils and washes them down to the sea0 The unpredictable rise and
fall of the rivers will make any water-management schemes costly and
hazardouso
Added to these climatic limitations on future developments, we
have periodic hurricanes0 These storms occur from May to October, with
103
those late in the season (around harvest time) the most destructive,.
They seem to be less frequent in Toledo than further to the north in
Belize; the last major hurricane to hit Toledo was in 19^5? when almost
every large tree between the Sarstoon and Temash was downed, from the
coast to the border (Romney 1959s19)°
Soils
The Kekchi possess a practical, but limited soil science=
They
are concerned mainly with telling good agricultural soils from bad, and
with recognizing a few special problems0 With their low population den­
sities and easy mobility this seems to be sufficient, but the immediate
future holds less rosy prospectso
I will therefore delve more deeply
into the limitations which soil resources are placing and will place on
Kekchi agriculture than the Kekchi do0
Toledo soils, like most tropical soils, have a precarious
nutrient balance because of the ease with which high rainfall can wash
away vital minerals and nutrientso
At any time, the majority of nutri­
ents are locked up in the vegetations! mantle which covers the soilo
The lushness of the vegetation does not reflect a richness of soil
nutrients (Golley et al„ 1975)o
But tropical soils are not as uniformly nutrient-poor or lateritic as some have claimed (Meggers 1971? Sanders 1962)o
The soil-
forming parent material has a direct and important influence on the
texture and nutrient status of the soils, as do topography and drainage0
The soils of Toledo, for example, are silica-rich, unlike the soils of
tropical Brazil which are rich in iron and alumina but silica-poor0
104
Nutrient-cycling in the Toledo soils will be discussed further below as
it relates to vegetation; here I will discuss soil formation as it re­
lates to parent materials and topography0
Table 8 summarizes the soil variability within the Toledo dis­
trict, based on the work of Romney (1959)o
The richest soils are those
dark clays derived from the decomposition of limestone0 Unfortunately,
the steepness of much of the limestone topography results in very thin
and easily eroded soils in many places0
Deeper soils often occur in
small pockets between the precipitous hills, which make them usable by
swidden methods in some cases, but leaves little potential for use by
more intensive methods,.
The xpicilha series, which mostly occurs on
flatter terrain around the bases of limestone hills, is generally of
high fertility, but has drainage problems in some places,.
The fertility and usability of soils derived from the Toledo
beds varies tremendously, depending on drainage and on the kind of rock
which is locally predominant in the beds; calcareous sandstone produces
the best soils, while sandstone makes the worst„ Only small patches of
the Toledo bed soils are too steep to use; on hilly areas erosion plays
a role in bringing new soils nutrients to the surface by exposing bed­
rock to weatheringo
Lower-lying Toledo bed soils suffer because of
their heavy and impermeable texture, which impedes drainage0
The alluvial soils of the coastal plain hold special potentials
as well as special problemso
Fertility status is generally high as
nutrients are deposited by flooding, yet many of the soils are so water­
logged that they cannot be used by shifting cultivation0 Levees which
are seasonally dry have the potential for permanent cropping, which the
Table 8 „ Characteristics of the soils of Toledo Districto — * This chart, derived from data
in Romney (1959)» shows how the soil variation in Toledo is a product of differ­
ences in underlying rocks, terrain and drainage0 The fertility status and its
usability for shifting cultivation are then rated from good to unusable, with
some explanation of the problems of using the soils0 (a) pockets and small
valleys within the hills covered by this soil contain very good soils, but few
areas are large enough for a good-sized cornfield0
Parent Rock
Topography
Soil Set
Fertility
Problems
Set 1 : Limestone Soils
Limestone
boulders
Steep
Cabro very rocky,
shallow dlay
Unusable
Thin, subject to
erosion
Limestone
boulders
Hilly
Xpicilha bouldery
clay
Poor
Thin, subject to
erosion
Limestone
rock
Rolling
Xpicilha clay
Good
No water in dry
season
Limestone
colluvium
Flat
Xpicilha grey
clay
Fair/Good
Drains poorly in
places
Set 2 s Upland Toledo Bed Soils
Sandstone
mudstone
Steep
Wetziltok rocky
sandy clay loam
Poor
Shallow, subject to
erosion
Calcareous
sandstone
Hilly
Aguacate bouldery
sandy clay loam
Good
Subject to erosion
on steep slopes
Bandes shales
Hilly
Cimin clay and
rubbly clay
Good
Erodable on slopes
Table B=—Continued
Characteristics of the soils of Toledo Districto
Parent Rock
Topography
Soil Set
Fertility
Problems
Siltstone and
mudstone
Hilly
Manfredi stony
sandy clay
Fair
Low fertility,
erodable
Calcareous sandstone
and mudstone
Hilly
Temax pink and dark
sandy clays
Good
None
Calcareous
sandstone
Steeply
rolling
Aguacate sandy clay
Good
None
Sandstone, mudstone, Rolling
shale and alluvium
Temax reddish brown
and grey sandy clay
Fair
Low fertility, slow
drainage
Set 2 continued
Set 3
°
-
Lowland Toledo Bed Soils
Banded shales
Rolling
Cimin clay
Fair
Low fertility
Mudstone, shale,
sandstone
Rolling
Machaca brown stony
clay
Fair
Low fertility
Sandstone
Rolling
Jacinto sandy clay
loam and sand
Poor
Low fertility
Shale, sandstone,
alluvium
Flat
Temax mottled grey
and red clay
Poor
Poor drainage,
flooding
Mudstone, shale,
sandstone
Flat
Machaca mottled grey
clay and sandy clays
Poor
Poor drainage, low
fertility
Table 8— Continued
Parent Rock
Set 4
s
Characteristics of the soils of Toledo Districto
Topography
Soil Set
Fertility
Problems
Alluvial and Colluvial Soils, Excluding Coastal Sands
Monkey River clay
loam
Good
Periodic flooding,
low humus content
Flat -*» levee
Sanjuanilla clay
loam
Good
Occasional flooding
Alluvial/
Colluvial
Flat ~= swamp
Hondo silty clay
loam
Unusable
Poor drainage
Alluvial/
Colluvial
Flat ■— swamp
Caway clay loam and
dark grey clay
Unusable
Poor drainage
Alluvial
Flat
swamp
Ycacos sandy peat
Unusable
Poor drainage, salty
ground water
Alluvial
Flat
bog
Sibal peaty sand,
silt and clays
Unusable
Poor drainage
Alluvial
Flat
Alluvial
levee
10?
108
Kekchi presently practice0 More poorly-drained areas have great poten­
tial if drainage can be augmented, a possibility which has attracted the
attention of development agencies at various times (eog0, Jenkin,
Anderson and Silva 1978)o Where water covers the soil for most of the
year, acid peats accumulate, which renders the soil unusable even with
drainageo
Figure
7 is an approximate soil fertility map of the Toledo
district, showing the fertility and usability status of the soils as
listed in Table 10o
This data has been used to perform a site catchment
analysis (Vita-Finzi and Higgs 1970) for each of seven Kekchi villages,
as shown in Table 9o
The catchment analysis takes a 10 km diameter circle around each
village as the practical limit of soil exploitation and counts up the
area of each soil type within the circle,,
The assumption that people
do not go further than five km from the village to cultivate is not
strictly true; in fact the Kekchi respond to population pressure on land
resources by going further and further from the village, sometimes as
much as eight km„
Nevertheless, five km is close to the average, and
the catchment circles provide the only means of assessing, in a com­
parable manner, the resource base available to the villages0 This
information will become more important in the discussions of Kekchi
land-use patterns which follow0
Flora
Tropical forests in general are not the best understood environ­
ments in the worldo
In fact, the Kekchi know more about the habits and
109
M
jL<^
POOR
GUATEMALA
Figure 7.
UNUSABLE
Soil quality map of Toledo District. — Soils are divided
into rough classes of quality for shifting cultivation,
based on the soil classification and maps presented in
Romney (1959).
A catchment analysis of the soil resources available to a sample of Kekchi villages0 —
This table summarizes the quality of the soils available within an arbitrary five
kilometer circle drawn around each of the villages listedo The assessments of soil
quality are those given in Table 8, which are based on the work of Romney (1959)=
The method underestimates the quantity of good land available to each village because
farmers in fact do go further than five kilometers, especially because there are many
small, but usable patches of good soil in some of the areas shown on the soil maps as
poor or unusableo Nevertheless, the method is the only way of arriving at even an
approximation of man/land ratios without a large-scale agricultural mapping efforto
The village listing proceeds roughly from the niost remote to the most accessible com­
munities o The total area of land within the catchments varies because in some cases
international, reservation or intervillage boundaries exclude some of the land within
five kilometers of the village centero (a) August 1978 census by Health Department
nurse in Crique Sarco0 (b) These figures are from my own 1979 censuses; Indian
Greek was estimated from informant's statements, while the other two villages were
completely countedo (c) Population figure from the 1973 National Census raw data
sheets provided courtesy of the Toledo Rural Development Project0 Present popula­
tion is less than half the 1973 figure0
Ha= Good +
Fair/Person
0 CD
Ha0 Levee/
Person
H
cl960
Soils
Ha0
Fair
wi=>
San Lucas
fla0
Ha0
Size Levee Good
is
Village
Founding
Date
OO
Table 9 C
Total
0
3681
819
1494
463
6457
OoOO
50=56.
1932
101°
275
2550
500
1256
456
5037
2.72
30=20
c 1916
166 a
144
I606
2581
1025
600
5956
087
25.22
1914
205®
526
1477
4791
597
463
7854
2=57
30=58
Aguacate
cl900
159b
163
1450
1531
175
2025
5344
1=03
18=75
San Felipe
C1965
83°
0
800
2156
1369
1556
5881
0=00
35.61
Indian Cr0
cl970
320b
0
256
3038
331
4569
4569
0=00
10=29
Sta0 Theresa
Otoxha
Cr0 Sarco
110
Ill
characteristics of many forest species than do botanists and zoologists0
What science has to offer is a general model of nutrient cycling and
succession which has direct relevance for assessing the long-term impact
of Kekchi agriculture on the foresto
Tropical forests differ from those in temperate zones because of
their higher species diversity and more rapid nutrient cycling.,
Diver­
sity means that there are many different species, most of which are very
specialized, which tend to be scattered rather than forming pure singlespecies standso
The Amazon basin, for instance, supports over 1000
species of trees (Federov 1966), with a recorded 235 tree species found
in a single hectare (Prance, Rodrigues and DaSilva 1976s11-12)0 Niche
specialization means that each species responds sensitively to change
in a few environmental variables (ice0, shade, moisture, slope)0
This species diversity (which extends to mammals, birds and
insects as well) makes human exploitation of forest resources difficult
—
each species is widely scattered and therefore difficult to locate0
An intimate knowledge of the habits and requirements of each species
is necessary, and even then many valuable resources are not1-exploited
because they take so much time to locate (also because seasonality of
flowering and fruiting are not very regular)0 Humans tend to concen­
trate their attention on the more clustered and predictable resources
which are easier to locateo
Hunting and gathering is therefore concen­
trated on special micro-zones within the forest which are less diverse
—
river edges, savannah margins, very steep slopes, natural clearings,
and especially areas disturbed by man (Burkill 1939; Harris 1969;
Linares 1976)=
112
The complexity of the forest depends on the rapid cycling of
nutrients from dead plants and animals back into living matter, before
the high rainfall can wash the vital nutrients away and drain the eco­
system of its building blocks,.
Things rot and decompose to basic com­
ponents quickly; of the 9 metric tons of litter which falls on each
hectare of Guatemalan forest floor every year, more than half has
decomposed within 10 weeks (Ewel 1976s302; Madge 1965)0
Thus, tropical soils do not accumulate the large stocks of
slowly-decaying organic materials which make temperate soils so fertile0
When you remove the forest from tropical soils you are left with few
nutrients and only the burning of fallen vegetation in swidden agricul­
ture can make the nutrients locked up in biomass available for immediate
human use0 These nutrients are rapidly depleted, and fertility can only
be reestablished by allowing the forest ecosystem to rebuild itself and
create a new fund of soil nutrients and available minerals*
Succession then, is the major tool used by the Kekchi for
creating a tappable reservoir of energy and materials, which can be
periodically diverted and pumped into a human-created agricultural eco­
system*
Kekchi agriculture mimics the natural stages of succession,
with annual seed-producing crops coming first (as do grasses in the
first year of natural succession), followed by perennial herbs which
either bear fruit or produce underground storage organs (tubers)*
These
later crops also replace similar natural successions! vegetation, and
after they cease to bear the natural succession continues relatively
undisturbed*
Many of the wild plants which colonize clearings are also
economically useful, and tend to grow in dense pure stands*
113
Succession is not just a simple process of the original vegeta­
tion reestablishing itselfo
It may take as long as 200 years for a new
climax community to return (Richards 1952), and it is unlikely that
this new association will be the same as the original oneo
Many bota­
nists have noted that forests around Classic Maya cities show traces of
human disturbance, even after 1000 years have, passed (Lundell 1937;
Folan, Fletcher and Kintz 1979)o
In fact, some climax communities in
Toledo are dominated by three economically useful trees —
and Cohune palm —
Sapote, Ramon
which may havis achieved dominance through being pro­
tected by ancient Maya farmerSo
Cohune palms in particular are not
often killed during swidden preparation (partially because they are so
fire-resistant and hard to cut down), and several cycles of cutting and
burning lead to a Cohune dominated forest (Romney 1959-288)Q
The fast
regeneration, nutrient-rich leaf litter, and constant shade offered by
these enormous palms can have a beneficial long-term effect on soil
formation (Furley 1975), and it is no coincidence that the Kekchi con­
sider them the best indicator of good soils for growing corn0
Today only small patches of climax forest remain in Toledo
district, and most of those are on extreme slopes or in swampso
At
present, most villages use land which has been fallowed for between 15
and 40 years« What will be the long term consequences of shorter
fallow periods?
To answer we must first appreciate the diversity of forest cover
present in Toledo0 Table 10 lists and describes the communities as
defined in Romney (1959sAppendix II), supplemented by reference to
Standley and Record (1936)p Some of the variability is due to
Table 100 Forest associations of Toledo District= — This classification is taken from Rdmney
(1959) and Standley and Record (1936)o It demonstrates the interaction of soil
resources and drainage characteristics in changing the floristic composition of
the foresto The capitalized species in the composition list are those which are
most prevalent or dominant,. These are the Creole species names in common use
among the non-Maya inhabitants of Belize, and are keyed to the scientific and
Kekchi names in the listing in Appendix C in Romney (1959)=
Map
Key
Terrain
Species Composition
Broadleaf Forest Rich in Lime-loving Species
Deciduous Seasonal Forest 21-31 meters in height
2
Slopes, thin soils, fast
drainage
CHIQUEBUL, Bullhoof, Ramon, Sapote, Copal, Cedar,
Fiddlewood, Mahogany
Semi-evergreen Forest 30-37 meters
4
Hilly, slower draining
CHIQUEBUL, SANTA MARIA,. Ramon, Copal, Cedar, Bullhoof
Mahogany, Ironwood, Mamey Apple, Thatch Palm, Botan
4a
Higher altitudes (500-820
meters)
RAMON, CHIQUEBUL, Copal, Balsam, Cherry, Nargusta,
Santa Maria, Ironwood
4b
Rolling to hilly
CHIQUEBUL, SANTA MARIA, Nargusta, Mahogany, Barba
Jolote, Billy Webb, Yemeri
Broadleaf Forest Moderately Rich in Lime-loving Species
Evergreen Seasonal Forest 30-37 meters
5
Levees, river sides
5a
Flat, levees, seasonally
flooded
COHUNE, QUAMWOOD, Bribri, Santa Maria, Mamey Apple,
Ceiba, Mahogany, Polak, Pokenoboy
_
114
QUAMWOOD, BASTARD MAHOGANY, Bongo Wood, Waika Chewstick. Cherry, Thatch Palm, Bribri, Santa Maria,
Mamey Apple
Table 10—-Continued
Map
Key
Forest associations of Toledo Districto
Terrain
Species Composition
Broadleaf Forest with Occasional Lime-loving Species
High Evergreen Seasonal Forest 27-37 meters
6
Rolling slopes, deep welldrained soils
COHUNE, Billy Webb, Mamey Ciruela, Wild Tamarind,
Mamey Apple, Yemeni, Fig, Monkey Apple, Quamwood,
Rubber
6a
Poorer drainage
NEGRITO, COHUNE, Yemeri, Santa Maria, Caway,
Mahogany, Can't-help-it
Broadleaf Forest with Few or No Lime-loving Species
Evergreen Seasonal Forest averages c0 31 meters
8
Flat to steep, varies with
local topography
SANTA MARIA, Banak, Billy Webb, Yemeri, Cramantee,
Silion, Monkey Apple, Mamey Apple, Mamey Ciruela,
Cohune, Nargusta, Polewood, Mylady, Can*t-help-it,
Fig
'
Transitional Broadleaf Forests (unstable communities)
Medium-high Semi-Evergreen Forest Poor in Lime-loving Species 18-24 meters
11
Gentle relief
NEGRITO, SANTA MARIA, BILLY WEBB, COHUNE, Can'thelp-it, Silion, Black Maya
Transitional Low Broadleaf Forest Poor in Lime-loving Species averages 11 meters
14
Flat, poorly drained
YEMERI, ROSEWOOD, CAWAY, Cutting Grass, Crabboe,
Cashew, Santa Maria, Polewood, Black Maya, White Maya
Shrubland with Pine, shrubs to 10 meters, pines to 18 meters
Flat
PINE, MELASTOME, Cutting Grass, Palmetto, other
grasses
115
16
Table ]Q~Contihued
Map
Key
Forest associations of Toledo District0
Species Composition
Terrain
Marsh and Swamp Communities
Herbaceous Marshes and Swamps averages 15 meters
25
RUSH, SEDGES, Calabash, Pucte, Palmetto, Knock-me=
back, annual grasses if seasonally dry
Flat
High Swamp Forest 15-25 meters
26
Flat
Z
PROVISION BARK, COCOPLUM, CAWAY, Redwood, Yemeri,
Rosewood, Bongo Wood, Bribri, Comfrey, Thatch Palm,
Banak, Bastard Mahogany, Palmetto, Warrie Cohune,
Pucte
.
Mangrove Swamp 3-6 meters, fresh water
31
Flat, river margin, behind
coast
RED MANGROVE, WHITE MANGROVE, Cabbage Palm, Caway,
Pucte
116
117
soil-forming parent materials —
lime-loving species on the limestone
soils are replaced by others on the lime-poor Toledo bed soils (see
Table IT for a comparison of soils, drainage properties and vegetation
types)o
More of the variation in forest communities, and corresponding
successional stages, can be explained by drainage quality and topog­
raphy.
Setting aside the extreme cases of steep slopes and marshes
(which are never cleared for agriculture), we see a change in the height
and species richness of the flora which corresponds to the slope of the
terrain.
High, evergreen broadleaf forest with high species diversity
covers hilly areas, and as the terrain gets flatter there is a change
to medium and low transitional forests with many grasses and fewer
tree species.
Finally, on very flat and poorly-drained areas we find
a few patches of shrubland or savannah dominated by grasses and sedges
with a few pines.
This gradient of flora is paralleled by diminishing
soil fertility and quality.
The stable, natural gradient of high forest to savannah is a
visible demonstration that succession from cleared land back to high
forest is not inevitable.
It shows that topography, parent rock mate­
rial and drainage have a direct effect on the kind of forest succession
which will follow clearing.
In savannah and low or medium broken forests, the fertility of
the soil and the diversity of the plant community is not renewed with
the passage of time.
In fact, the opposite occurs; when grasses and
sedges become established, periodic natural and man-made dry season
fires tend to degrade the plant community by eliminating all but the
118
Table llo Correspondence of terrain, soils and vegetation in Toledo
Districto
This table shows how the soils of Toledo gener­
ally correspond to the terrain and underlying rocks, while
vegetation types are less confined and tend to overlap soil
typeSo Soils are listed only by Set names, while plant
associations are listed by the numbers used in Table 10c
Terrain
Soils
Vegetation
Steep
Cabro clay
2
Hilly/rolling
Xpicilha clays
4, 4a, 4b
Steep
Wetzilok clay
8
Hilly/rolling
Aguacate, Cimin,
Manfredi, Temax clays
6, 8
Rolling
Cimin, Machaca,
Jacinto clays
8, 11
Flat
Temax, Machaca clays
Limestone Areas
Upland Toledo Beds
Lowland Toledo Beds
14,
16
Alluvial, Riverine and Coastal
Levees
Monkey River and
Sanjuanilla clay loams
5, 5a
Swamp/bog
Hondo, Caway, Ycacos,
Sibal peat sand and
clay loam
25, 26, 31, 8
119
grasses and fire-resistant treeso
A 8reverse succession8 occurs, and
increased erosion and soil exposure make the soil more and more comr
pacted, sterile and nutrient-poor (see Richards 1955:48% Charter 1941)0
On steeper slopes, the nutrient regime of the soil is very dif­
ferent, and succession goes in the other direction.
Erosion is con­
stantly breaking down new parent rock material, bringing new nutrients
into the soil and replacing those lost through periodic slashing and
burningo
Similarly, colluvial and alluvial areas receive a constant
supply of new soil nutrients through mechanical and water action, pro­
viding the sustained soil fertility needed to support luxuriant high
climax forest, and agriculture0
On more gentle slopes, a fine balance operates.
Leaching
removes soil nutrients faster than they can be taken up by the vegeta­
tion, so the total nutrient balance depends on how much the erosion of
parent rock can contribute to the soil.
Because the forest cover is so
efficient at recycling and accumulating nutrients and minerals, a
diverse and vigorous climax community can be supported on these slopes,
even though parent rocks are deeply buried and make only a small con­
tribution to the nutrient regime, But the fund of nutrients in the
soil is very low, and under shifting cultivation these areas are poised
on the edge of reverse succession.
If fallow cycles get short enough,
if the soil is left exposed for too long, or if too many nutrients are
removed by demanding crops, the forest may not be able to recolonize,
and a lower, transitional, grass-infested association will take over.
Thus the agricultural potential of an area can be permanently lowered,
120
a process which is familiar from Other parts of the lowland tropics
where Imperata grass has invaded large areas which were once forest0
Grass should be seen as a symptom, not a cause, of declining
fertilityo
Even on the best hill soils, grass forms a normal part of
the early successional community (Kellman and Adams 1970;323-324)0 But
on soils of sustained fertility the grass is quickly shaded out and
killed by dense herbaceous and woody growth which follows» By the time
the land is used for agriculture again, the grass is extinct0
On soils with poorer fertility status, dense leafy growth is
slower in establishing itself, and grasses are able to survive much
longer in the successional sequence„
Therefore, if the plot is recut
for agriculture on the same length cycle as more fertile soils, there
is a better chance that grasses will still be present in the new agri­
cultural clearingo
Since grasses are generally fire-resistant, and are
well adapted to the moisture and light conditions of newly-cleared land,
they can provide serious competition for the newly-planted crops0
The presence of grass is the only sign which the Kekchi see
which indicates declining soil fertility, for the soil may still be
quite capable of producing a good crop from the burst of nutrients freed
by burningo
This situation has led to a certain amount of confusion
about the reasons for declining crop yields when fallow cycles are
shortened, or a newly-cleared field is used for several years in a row
(see Clarke 1976; Vasey 1979)o Some believe that depleted nutrients
are responsible, while others see grass competition as the major cause;
the discussion above shows that both are symptoms of a net outflow in
the soil nutrient cycleo
121
Summary
This chapter has provided a basis for understanding the physical
interactions between Kekchi culture and the Toledo natural environment0
An effort has been made to show that there are aspects of the environ­
ment, which the Kekchi are not aware of, but which condition and limit
their present adaptation and the direction of future options0
Vegetation and soils in Toledo form a system which varies in
relation to topography, drainage and underlying rock formationso
The
best soils occur on rough terrain and river levees, and support a rich
and diverse wet forest flora, which is able to recover quickly from the
impact of slash and burn agriculture.,
On lower terrain, the balance
between nutrient replacement and nutrient leaching and loss create a
range of vegetation and soil associations which vary between moderately
fertile soils with high forest and lower, broken forest or even savannah
on poor or unusable soils0
The less fertile, lower lying areas show varying speeds and ca­
pacities for recovery from clearing and burningo
In some situations a
fairly fast succession back to forest does occur, though there is prob­
ably a long-term decline in the fertility of the soil which will only
become apparent after several cycles of use0 This has been the case in
the lower hills around San Antonio, where grass invasion and erosion
have made some areas almost unusable o
In other areas, clearing is followed by regrowth into a less
diverse, lower and more grass-infested forest which has much lower agri­
cultural potential, and must be fallowed much longer than areas where
soil nutrients are being replaced through the subsoil0
122
It is ironic that population pressure and mobility in response
to market opportunities have brought more and more of the poorer=quality
soils into use in recent yearso
People have moved from the southern and
western parts of the district, where villages are sited near fertile
alluvial soils and lush limestone hills, to the northern and eastern
zones of Toledo, where forest/soil associations are less fertile and
more fragile= Here they have shortened fallow cycles, re-using areas
before they have recovered, damaging just those soils which are the most
vulnerableo
An example of the consequences is the case of San Felipe0 The
village was founded in the late 1960*s on a short feeder road only about
10 km from Punta Gorda, and reached a population of 18 households by
1973o
The village site was chosen because of its easy access to mar­
kets and town by highway, and because it lay close to a patch of high
forest on a limestone hill which provided about 300 hac of usable highquality milpa soilso
Within a few years, however, these soils had all
been used once and had not had time to regenerate, so the flatter Toledo
bed soils around the hills had to be usedc Frustrated by low yields,
poor drainage and the slow speed with which the forest grew back, most
farmers did not wait for the hill vegetation to regenerate, and moved
instead to new villages on the alluvial banks of the Moho rivero
By
1979 only six households remained, reduced to eating the seed corn
loaned them by the government0 The Catholic church and government were
angered by what they perceived as the shiftlessness of the Indians,
123
since they had gone to some expense to build a school in the village
when it was large and then saw the school children disappearo
This case shows how native perceptions of the environment can
be insufficient to predict the outcome of a new agricultural strategyo
As the Land Use Survey Team so aptly pointed out in 1939, western
experts have also had little success in such predictions (Romney 1959s
132)o
The example should also serve to illustrate the way in which
market forces can perturb settlement patterns, moving shifting culti­
vators away from lands with which they are at equilibrium, and concen­
trating them where they can do the most harmo
problems will be considered further below0
Regional settlement
CHAPTER 5
AGRICULTURAL.PRODUCTION;
CORN
This chapter addresses two very different tasks, one documentary
and the other expositoryo
The documentary task, that of providing an
ethnographic and ecological account of a tropical forest agricultural
system, tends to dominate.
The only other detailed account of Kekchi
agriculture, that of Carter (1969), deals with a recently-migrated high­
land population whose practices are very different from those I observed
in Toledo district.
Previous workers in Toledo have provided only the
most cursory and superficial summaries of agriculture (Rambo 1962;
Howard 1973s 1974; McCaffrey 1967; Gregory 1972; Nunes 1977; Romney
1959)o
Besides filling these gaps, the basic data I present on crops,
techniques and productivity also bear directly on a series of issues
about the nature of tropical agriculture, issues which require more data
of the right kinds if they are to be settled.
The expository role of this chapter is concerned with agricul­
ture as part of a changing adaptive system which includes the cultural
realms of labor group organization and the morphology of households and
settlements.
The directional hypothesis of culture change developed in
Chapter 1 states that changing agriculture and production leads to re­
organization of labor scheduling and task groups, and thence to changing
domestic groups.
Testing this hypothesis requires that the discussion
of agricultural production be integrated with a description of the way
124
125
labor is organized in that production,.
Because we are concerned with
change, this chapter will also discuss how efficiency and productivity
vary in relation to work group organization and characteristics of the
physical and demographic environment» for this variation is the basis
of the decision-making of Kekchi farmers0
Agricultural change is a
product of patterned changes in decision-making behavior (see Barlett
1980)0
The equations of this decision-making are not complete when we
have specified the agricultural and economic options and rewards of dif­
ferent courses of action under changing demographic or market circum­
stances*
Production decisions are also made within the framework of
cultural values and social structureso
Chapter 10 will take up the
issue of how agricultural labor is motivated and organized within the
social contexts of the labor group and the household*. This chapter will
pause, in places, to consider the cultural values ascribed to particular
crops' and techniques, and the ways these values affect practice, and at
times conflict with strictly economic considerations*
The Data
Far more information was collected on agriculture during my
seven months residence in Aguacate village than will be presented to the
long-suffering reader of thib chapter*
Greater emphasis will be given
to the most productive crops and to the cash crops which are increasing
in importance than to the many minor (though often interesting and
unique) crops*
Most of the information presented was gathered in Aguacate, a
village which lies on the border between the northern and southern zones
126
of the Toledo district, as defined in Chapter 3°
Agriculture in Agua-
cate is in transition from the more subsistence oriented agriculture of
the south to the greater cash-crop dependence characteristic of the
north„ Whenever the following discussion is couched in general terms,
it refers to practices in Aguacateo
Additional information was obtained during shorter visits to
Otoxha in the southern zone and to Indian Creek in the north.
Most of
this information is general and non-quantitative, but still useful in
defining regional patterns0
bases were;
In Aguacate the basic quantitative data
(1) a series of questionnaire surveys of the entire village
and several samples of male household heads (see Appendix C for a sample
of one form); and (2) a set of 13 six to eight month daily activity
registers kept by paid informants, which recorded the time spent daily
at different agricultural tasks.
Spot checks and resurveys were done constantly in order to en­
sure the reliability of the data.
This was especially important with
the recall-survey, which recorded the estimated number of days of labor
expended during the six months prior to the beginning of daily labor
recording on different agricultural tasks.
Measurement of field areas
was the only major project that proved impossible —
too scattered, irregular and impassable.
fields were just
Three fields were measured,
and the results were fairly close to the farmer's estimates of field
size.
The field size figures presented below are therefore the farmer's
estimates,
and should be regarded as less than totally accurate.
^All farmer's estimates are here converted to hectares from the native
measures, which are tasks (sp. mecates) of 25 x 25 yards* and manzanas
of 16 tasks or about .836 hectares.
12?
Measures of productivity are also estimates whose reliability vary
with the particular crop*
Tools of the Trade
Kekchi agriculture is the epitome of low-technology production,.
It depends on tools which can be produced by the farmer from natural,
freely available materials, except for machete, axe, and file0 The lack
of these three tools in the past must have entailed drastic differences
in the timing and energetics as well as the efficiency of tropical
forest agricultureo
Girdling and felling by burning must have been the
major method of clearing land (see Roys 1972;39)» and long fallow agri­
culture may have been less efficient than short-fallow or ridged-field
agricultureo
Today each farmer buys one or two machetes (ch*ich*) every year,
which are recycled as knives or given to children when they are worn
down too far,
A thin, long, flexible machete (wari sam) is used for
clearing low growth and grass in river levee fields and around the house.
A thicker and heavier machete is used in land-clearing for felling trees
up to 20 cm thick, in the carpentry tasks of house building, cutting
firewood, and butchering animals„ Children grow up with machetes in
their hands, and by adulthood the tool is almost an extension of the
arm.
-The thicker machete occurs in two shapeSo
The bolom ch1ich*
broadens at the tip, while the plain ch’ich1 curves slightly and has a
narrow point0
They are functionally the same and both are purchased in
village stores or in Punta Gorda for $2„50 to $3o00o
128
Axes are valued tools, presently costing between $7o50 and $10,
which are used in land clearing and house construction0
They are kept
for long periods (average of 12=2 years) and are re-used as hammers if
the edges break„ All are single edge tools fitted to homemade
sapodilla-wood handles0
Machetes and axes are sharpened with great regularity and dili­
gence using five to eight inch triangular steel files fitted to a wooden
handleo
The files cost between $2o00 and $3o00 in village stores, and
wear out quickly= Most men go through two or three files in a year0
A socketed metal hoe (asaron) is occasionally used for planting
root crops or sugar cane, but men are usually reluctant to carry them
all the way to the field and backo
Only a few households own them,
mainly because they are needed to dig drainage ditches around houses
and graveso
The planting stick (auleb) is the most common homemade
toolo
It is usually about 1*7 meters long, with a long, flattened point on
the working endo
The thin, round trunk of the acte palm (Astrocaryum
cohune) is preferred because of its weight and hardnesso
This palm
grows large enough only in primary forest, and is getting hard to find.
Some men therefore make their auleb from other saplings found near the
field, and then discard the tool after use.
A shorter planting stick (ch’ina auleb) is sometimes made from
an old auleb for seeding minor crops, but a more common tool is the
digging stick (path)0 This tool varies in length from 1 to 1=4 meters
and has a chisel-shaped cutting edge*
It is used for planting and
digging up root crops, pineapples and sugar caneo
129
The rest of Kekchi food production technology is limited and
simpleo
Jute or fiberglass sacks bought in town or from the government
are used to move crops around =. The sacks are carried on the back, sus­
pended from the forehead on a strip of bark (macapal) which is often
gathered on the spotc Smaller quantities of material are carried in
loosely twined agave-fiber bags (champa), or in the ubiquitous woven
cotten carrying bags (coxtal)0
Champa are usually bought from traveling
Cobanero traders, while coxtal are still woven by many women on backstrap looms using both home-grown and purchased threadQ
Agricultural Ritual
Kekchi men and women learn the physical operations, tools, and
environmental signs necessary in agriculture while they grow up by
watching and helping their parents= Ritual knowledge is learned in a
different and more formal fashiono
When a man gets married and begins
to grow his own corn, he seeks out an older man in the village (often
his godfather) and asks for instruction in the agricultural ritual that
had previously been kept secret from him0 He customarily pays the older
man and brings him gifts (especially rum) in exchange for several weeks
of instruction.
Only when this process is completed has a man made the
full transition into adult status in the eyes of the community.
The substance of the secret body of ritual knowledge consists
of a series of prayers to propitiate saints and native dieties
(tzultacaj) at different stages of the agricultural cycle.
These
prayers are similar to those observed among the Yucatec (Gann 1917,
1918; Villa Rojas 1945) and Mopan Maya (Thompson 1930), and have been
placed in the general context of Kekchi ritual by Cabarrus (1974),
Also
130
similar to practices among other Maya groups are the series of sexual
prohibitions, dietary abstinences and token sacrifices of food which
accompany the stages of Kekchi agriculture, and which are also part of
the secret lore passed from generation to generation„
This work will not treat the subject of ritual in any great de­
tail 0
The general time and nature of ritual observances will be noted
at the appropriate stage in describing agricultural operationso
two general points need be mentioned here*
Only
The first is that in com­
parison with other Maya groups for whom we have accounts of agricultural
ritual, and indeed in comparison with the Alta Verapaz Kekchi described
by Cabarrus (1974), Toledo Kekchi agricultural rites sire simplified and
non-elaborated0 Carter (1969:36) observed the same thing among the
Kekchi in the Izabal district in Guatemala, and felt that this was due
to a loss of cultural cohesion which had come with migration from the
highlandso
Reina (1961) also noted the gradual abandonment of tradi­
tional ritual among Mopan Maya in Guatemala and Belize, though he places
the cause in acculturation rather than migration,,
A second point worth noting is that Kekchi agricultural ritual
applies to only a few of the most important and traditional cropso
Most
ritual relates to corn production, and newly introduced crops in the
Kekchi view do not require proper ritual observance for a successful
crop0
The separation of the new crops from traditional proscriptions
and practices gives them an attractiveness which affects individual
agricultural strategies in subtle ways0
Wet Season Corn Production
If the seasonal round of planting and harvesting crops is the
skeleton of Kekchi life, corn is the hearto
The Kekchi treat corn with
a reverance and respect not accorded any other crop0
It is the measure
of wealth and happiness=
Wet season corn fields produce the bulk of the year's supply0
The method is long-fallow shifting agriculture (Spencer's 1966;l8l,
types 1 and 2) of a particularly extensive nature0 The R value of the
2
system is one of lowest of any agricultural system compiled by
Ruthenberg (1971sTable 3°1) in a world wide sampleo
The only system of
similar low intensity which has been studied is that of the rice-growing
Iban of Sarawak (Freeman 1955)=
The wet season corn cycle begins with site selection in January
and proceeds until November's harvest in a series of steps typical of
most swidden systemso
Many details are similar to those described by
Carter (1969) for a Kekchi population in a similar environment in Guate­
mala, but the differences and the more quantitative nature of my data
makes a detailed chronicle worthwhileo
After a short digression into
the nature of the crop itself, this discussion will follow the steps of
the productive cycle0
Corn Varieties
The Kekchi grow six varieties of corn which they differentiate
by coloro
They claim all are the same in seasonality, productivity and
Joosten (1962) defines R as the number of years a field is cultivated
times 100, divided by the number of years the field lies fallow„ It is
a general measure of farming intensity which is also equivalent to the
percentage of all arable land which is in use at any one time0 The
Kekchi wet-season corn cycle has an R value of 6o7 out of 100 possible0
132
moisture tolerance, except for a single variety which has been intro­
duced in the last five years by missionarieso
This last variety, called
'seven week* (cuukub semanx) corn, will be discussed below0
The five native varieties are red, black, yellow, white, and red
and white striped (called *blood of Christ*)0 Specimens sent to Robert
McKo
Bird were classified as belonging to four separate races of maize0
They are all dent or flint corns of good storability and productivity*
The Kekchi tend to plant no more than three varieties each, and the
bulk of any single farmer’s field will be in a single variety0 White
or yellow corn are by far the most popular0 They are said to be the
highest yielding, and farmers choose which one to plant mostly on the
basis of taste preference*
Red, black, and red-and-white varieties yield
less but their taste is preferred by some men*
The different colors of
maize have different religious significance, and some rituals require
the offering of tortillas of a particular color*
Farmers separate their seed before planting into ears which are
uniform in size and color*
But they then proceed to plant their two or
three varieties together in the same field with no attempt at segre­
gating them*
This ensures a good deal of hybridizing, and many of the
resulting ears are mixed in color and other characteristics*
This mix­
ing of varieties maintains a large fund of genetic variation within the
village maize gene pool (farmers often interchange seed as well), and
even within a single field*
This is an ideal strategy for a highly
mobile population moving constantly between different habitats, because
it preserves potentially useful variability*
133
The vegetative habit of Kekchi corn is well suited to the low­
land environment„ Each seed produces one stalk which grows to 2o5
meters or more in height, on which one single ear is borne0
The clumps
of stalks support each other well against wind, and grow fast enough to
overtop most competing weeds» If a predator knocks over a plant it gets
only a single ear rather than a whole cluster of them.
The husks of '
the ears are very tight and resistant to water and insect damage0
In
addition, the ears of mature plants tend to turn down by themselves,
which keeps water from running into the ear0 This is a rare and de­
sirable characteristic in tropical corn which eliminates the need for
the farmer to go through the field and ’break* the ears downwards as is
done by most other Mesoamerican swidden farmers (Kelley and Palerm 1952;
Cowgill 1962)o
Site Selection
Choosing a field site is a complex decision which brings to­
gether personal, economic, and environmental factorso
It is one of -the
most important decisions a Kekchi man must routinely make in the course
of a year, for it can determine what kind of labor scheduling strategy
he will have to use for the next six months0
Kekchi men are always on the lookout for a suitable place for
their wet season fields when they are in the forest hunting, gathering
or travelingo
Communal labor ensures that men visit each other’s corn­
fields in the course of the year, and so get acquainted with the soil
and vegetation over a large area0 The actual choice,of the plot re­
quires a few special trips to check out likely locations that have been
noted beforeo
Men often go on these trips with a close relative or
134
compadre with whom they plan to cooperate closely during the coming year.
Only 32^ of Aguacate farmers went by themselves to find a spot in 19790
It is customary to burn copal incense (pom) bn the family altar
and to pray before going to choose the fieldo
In some years in the past
men have also gathered in the church for Mass and prayers before setting
out to locate the new fields0 These ritual observances mark the crucial
importance of the right choiceQ
N
If a man has free time in November or December, he can start to
look for a place then, but otherwise he will plan on taking one or two
days in January, though it may mean that some prime locations are
already takeno
When a suitable spot is found, a trail is cut all the
way around it and pom is burned at the base of a large tree nearby or
on a leaf tied waist-high to a cut-off sapling= These actions place a
claim on the marked area which other men
are bound by custom to accepto
Next the trail must be cut from the plot back to the village (or
the nearest major maintained trail) and cleared so it is recognizable
and passableo
More care will be taken at this task if a horse or mule
will later be brought to the field to carry corn0 Cutting this trail
can take up to three man days of labor if the field is isolated and
distanto
The whole process is less time-consuming if the chosen plot
is adjacent to an area that has been used already and the old trails
can be usedo
Disputes sometimes arise over 6staking out* new fieldso
In one
case when a plot was claimed by two men, the second claimant said he
had not seen the trail made by the first
They eventually shared the ploto
because it had been too thin0
Sometimes a man will get angry with
others who use his trail to find their own places0
He feels that they
should share in the labor of cutting the trail if they age going to use
ito
Deceptions —
obscuring trails, clearing false trails, or cut­
ting around and claiming a plot which is not then used (but is saved for
the following year) —
are not common but are also not unknown0 Another
frequent cause of bad feelings occurs when a group of men go out to
search together and one of the group members goes home as soon as he
finds a place he wantso
Though practical, this confounds the cultural
ideal of communality of interests and is publicly interpreted as a
statement of indifference towards village morality0
The frequency of this kind of dispute is proportional to the
scarcity of suitable land0 When land in the vicinity of the village
gets harder and harder to find, land disputes often end up being tried
in public meeting before the village alcaldeo Searching and marking of
fields become a more secretive and household-based activity, and there
are no communal rituals which bring the village together to sanctify the
processo
I suspect that much of the fierce factionalism which Howard
(1978) reports in the densely-settled village of Pueblo Viejo, but which
he is at a loss to explain, can be traced ultimately to competition and
conflict over lando
Before discussing the land-use and tenure systems
in more detail, let us first examine the physical and environmental fac­
tors which define what is a suitable piece of land to quarrel over0
Vegetation and Fallow Status* The Kekchi in Belize have a
fairly simple classification of the fallow status of forest cover, based
136
on the size rather than the age of the trees* Table 12 briefly lists
.1
the vegetation types and describes them using the Kekchi terms*
All Kekchi men I spoke to felt strongly that high climax forest
was by far the best kind of vegetation for making a wet-season corn
field (a c'at c'al)* High secondary forest (ninki al c1al) comes in a
close second, but low secondary forest and small bush are both considered
risky places to choose*
This is, they say, because many grasses which
invade cornfields (especially a stoloniferous variety called cam in
q'uim) can live as either plant or seed for more than 10 years after a
field is abandoned*
One never knows, when choosing a place in coc* al
c'al or coc* pirn, if the grass is lying dormant there*
If it is, it
will grow quickly and choke out the corn*
In Aguacate in 1979» despite the clear statements of preference
for high forest given by each farmer, four men chose low secondary
forest for their fields, while 10 cleared high secondary forest and only
nine used high forest*
Obviously, fallow status is not an absolute
criterion for site selection, and can be modified by other considera­
tions which will be detailed below*
Marker Species* Carter (1969s33) lists 11 trees which he says
the Izabal Kekchi use as markers of forest suitable for clearing a c'at
c'al (wet season corn-field)*
Toledo Kekchi to whom I read this list
stated that all are common trees in high forest and that they only indi­
cate a good location because if you find them you are in high forest
which is easy to recognize without looking for marker trees*
They do
not, they say, look for any tree besides the Cohune palm (Orbignya
cohune)* This is not because the Cohune marks a particular soil type
137
Table 12o Kekchi names of different fallow types, English translations
and brief descriptions^
Kekchi Name
Literal Translation
Characteristics
Coe® pirn
small bush
Low herbaceous growth, tangled
saplings and vines=
Co 1-5 years old.
Coe® che ru or
Coe® al c®al
small trees place
small secondary
forest
Young secondary forest, many
saplings to 25 cm diameter,
fewer vineso
Co 5-15 years old.
Ninki al c’al
big secondary
forest
High secondary forest, trees to
60 cmo Many palms, few vineso
Co 15-30 years oldo
Nink li q®niche®
or Q®niche®
big high forest
high forest
Young to mature climax forest,
many buttressed trees, little
undergrowtho
More than c0 30 years old.
or quality, but because the leaves of the Cohune dry quickly and are
highly flammableo
In a climate that has a short and unreliable dry
season, the advantages of a thick mat of flammable palm leaves to act as
tinder for other trees dropped on top are far more important than minor
differences in soil or drainage properties,,
A place with too many Cohune palms is also a problem.
These
trees grow to more than 35 meters in height and develop extremely hard
trunks.
When they are that tall it is impossible to trim off the leaves
to provide tinder, and it is too much work to chop them all down.
The differences between Izabal and Toledo site selection prac­
tices are probably due to the greater rainfall in Toledo.
In Izabal
burning is not such a tricky business, and more subtle vegetations! cues
can be followed in finding a suitable place.
The plant associations
and soil quality in the Izabal district also appear to be more varied
than in Toledo.
Soil Types and Site Selection. According to Carter, the Izabal
Kekchi use an elaborate and scientifically verifiable soil classifica­
tion system in choosing places for their c'at c'al. My own work in
Toledo casts some doubt on the neatness and reality of Carter's folktaxonomy.
The soil color 'types' and soil texture 'types' which he con­
fidently lists are not as discrete and mutually exclusive as he would
have us believe.
In fact, most of his *types' are descriptive phrases
(like 'that is reddish soil' or 'soil with rocks in it') rather than
names. While Carter (1969s22) speaks of "semantic fields", using the
jargon of ethnosemantics, he employed no formal elicitation frames and
many of the distinctions made by his informants were probably made for
139
his benefit rather than for their own use*
My own informants acknowl­
edged the existence of a minority of his types, but tended to laugh at
the resto
Given these reservations, it _is likely that the Izabal Kekchi
taxonomy of soils is more complicated than that used in Toledo0 While
Carter lists eight recognized soil colors, the Toledo Kekchi only use
two:
black soil (k°ek li ch'och) and red soil (cak li ch'och)*
Black
soils are alluvial or colluvial limestone-derived deposits which are
generally considered better than red soils, which are derived from the
Toledo beds*
In Aguacate, about 85% of the 1979 c'at c'al fields were
made on black soilso
Soil color is not an unmistakable and invariable indicator of
fertility0
Soil texture varies independently of color, and poor yields
are more often blamed on soil texture problems than on color0 Carter
listed ten soil texture types (Carter 1969?23), while my informants
described six variables„
The best soil is soft (k'un)0 The surface has a great deal of
organic matter, holds water well, and is easily penetrated with the
planting sticko
Most soils under high forest vegetation are considered
k'un; the Kekchi well recognize the relationship between forest re­
growth and the build-up of soil humus=
Sandy (samahi) soil is the major problem around Aguacate, made
worse because it is hard to detect until after clearing and burning0
Sandy soil drains too quickly, and the corn will wither from even a
short dry spello
It is more harmful if covered with secondary forest,
because there will be less humus to mediate the effect of the sando
140
The 20^ of Aguacate farmers who had sandy soil in their fields claimed
that their yields suffered from it, but that they had not known the soil
was sandy when they chose their place0
Hardened mudstone (melb) is a problem in the small areas where
it covers the surface of the soil*
If gaps exist around the mudstone
blocks the corn can still be successfully planted with better success
than in sandy areas.
The mudstone also hinders drainage, and these
soils will only be used if they slope.
Soils with or between stones (pec) are also usable if the
pockets of soil are large enough.
Stony soils are preferred over sandy
ones, but present the extra problem of being hard to
damaging axe or machete on the rocks.
clear without
Theseare limestone soils, while
mudstone soils derive from the Toledo beds,
Pok ch'och is a highly undesirable dark soil which is full of
many small roots, and occurs in small pockets in limestone colluvium.
It is hard to distinguish from regular soft black soil, but it drains
so freely that corn is often stunted when planted on it.
Though common,
it occurs in small scattered patches, and all Aguacate farmers were
successful in avoiding it in 1979=
Hard (can) soils have been cultivated in the recent past; low
secondary forest soils are always cau. The soil surface gets compacted
through exposure to sun and rain, and this hardening, along with weed
invasion, is the cited reason for abandoning fields after one year of
use and waiting more than 15 years before reusing them.
The wetter and
the more low-lying the soil, the less danger there is of hardening,
because of the constant moisture.
141
Carter (1969;25) lists five drainage *types’, all of which are
terms recognized and used,by the Toledo Kekchi to describe variation
between steep, well-drained slopes and permanently waterlogged swamp«
Only the driest end of the scale is used for the wet-season corn crop,
while the mid-range soils are used for rice0 Aguacatecos say that the
only drainage characteristic which concerns them for their c'at c'al is
that there be no standing water in the field during the wet season*'
Terrain*
In Toledo, the Kekchi use an agricultural idiom to
speak about their landscape*
A hill too steep or rocky to be cultivated
is called by one name (tsul), while a hill which may be of the same
height and shape but on which corn can be planted is called by another
name (bol)*
Rockiness is generally a much more serious hindrance than slope*
Almost vertical slopes will be cleared and used if there is enough soil
around the rocks*
Level hilltops
are the most preferred location for
a c'at c'al because soils and drainage are usually excellent*
It is
common to clear a large field which includes a small pocket valley, a
slope and a hilltop, thus maximizing the variety of drainage qualities
and minimizing the risk from an extremely wet or dry season*
Informants
often complained to me that some of the best black, soft soils and high
forest cover were found in such small pockets between uncultivable izul
that they cannot be used*
I spoke to one man in Otoxha who had tried to
plant three small fields in these 'cockpits* but complained that he
spent too much time walking from one to the next*
Rivers and steep hills affect access to otherwise suitable areas
during the wet season, when rivers rise and hills get treacherously
142
muddyo
Unless a man owns a dugout canoe (cayuc), he will be reluctant
to choose a field which will require him to ford a flooded river at the
height of the rains carrying 35 kilos of corn on his back*
In general,
the roughness of the terrain makes physical distance a relatively unim­
portant measure compared with travel timeo
Permanent trails between
places make them practically if not physically close togethero
The
Kekchi acknowledge the vital importance of trails and access in their
local geography, and villages often quarrel about the responsibility for
keeping trails between them clear (a task which must be done two or
three times a year)o
PigsQ Pigs are in many ways a more important limit on the loca­
tion of c *at c *al fields than vegetation or soils0 Every day the vora­
cious village pigs spiral out from the village, rooting and foraging as
they go0 Any crop which they encounter on their daily search will be
eateno
The 'pig radius' around the village can be divided into a 'zone
of total destruction' about 1 05 km in radius from the village center
(varying with the degree of dispersion of the village itself), and an
additional one kilometer band beyond this zone where there is a good
probability of pig damage to cropso
In rare circumstances pigs get as
far as 5 km from a village, and they have been known to ford major
rivers and climb sheer slopes.
Thus, excluding the village settlement
area of about =5 km in radius (this is based on Aguacate), the 'red'
zone occupies over ll80 hectares, and the 'pink' zone an additional
1570 hectares.
143
Pigs range further from the village along trails than through
bush, often following people to their fieldso
This is why farmers often
place their field across a river or over a large, steep hill from the
village, despite the extra work of getting to the field themselves0
Santa Anna and Crique Sarco are sited on major rivers, and anyone who
owns a dugout can cultivate close to the village on the opposite bank
with no fear of pigs0 San Benito Poite and Otoxha both lie in the forks
of rivers, and can use the land on either side as long as the water
stays higho
Fencing is the only option which makes usable the land which
pigs can reach daily= The extra work pays off only in special circum­
stances; most villages are surrounded by stands of high forest which are
not farmed because of the pigs and which serve as convenient sources of
firewood and building materials,,
The cost/benefit ratio of fencing is affected by population
pressureo
In very small communities (usually very new ones), where all
the men are close kin, only one large field is cleared each year by the
entire community0
It is planted and harvested communally, and the corn
is divided between householdso
In these circumstances, fencing one
large field takes less time per area enclosed than fencing many small
fields (typically a small field would take 2o5 times more linear fence
per hectare enclosed than a single large field), This changes the bal­
ance, so it is more efficient to make the field close to the village
and fence it than to make the field outside the pig radius and add the
labor of walking back and forth, and carrying the corn backo
Farmers
144
like having the fields close anyway, so they can keep a closer eye out
for pests and disease in the corn*
As long as there are good, large areas of forest close to the
village, and the large communal labor group functions smoothly, the vil­
lage can continue to follow this fencing strategyo
But as prime loca­
tions get further from the village, and travel time increases to the
fenced field, the viability of the fencing strategy declines arid there
is a tendency to •jump* over the 'pink* zone into areas where fencing
is unnecessaryo
Usually, village factionalism or simple population growth
through immigration lead to fragmentation of the labor group’s communal
fenced field long before the land in the immediate environs of the vil­
lage is used up0 Once one or two people leave the group, the economy
of scale starts to fade away, and a kind of deviation amplification
multiplies quarrels and leads to the disappearance of the fenced field
entirelyo
Not surprisingly, the process of fragmentation of fields is
overtly manifested by numerous claims for compensation for pig damage
to crops, or for a pig caught and killed in someone's fieldo
In larger or older villages, fencing can again become a viable
strategy0 When high bush (q'uiche*) has gotten so far from the village
that travel and transportation have become a major drain on the farmer's
/
time, individual fencing of fields in high bush within the pig radius
can become a paying proposition once againo
The villages of San Miguel
and Silver Creek have tried to solve this problem by fencing the village
pigs in, putting a fence around the whole village, but factional
145
disputes and maintenance problems have led to the abandonment of these
planso
Occasionally a group of kinsmen working closely together in a
large village may find it worthwhile to fence a field together= In
1977 a man and his three adult sons built about 600 meters of fence be­
tween two very steep hills less than one kilometer from Aguacate, so
they could grow rice on the land just beyondo
They tired of the con-
stand maintenance, however, and gave up after the first year’s yield was
disapppintingo
X
Fences are made
by
and stacking up lengths
of
driving
rows of paired postsinto the ground
wood between the posts*
tied together with lianas and vines*
Thewhole mass is
Even with constant maintenance
the fence turns into a linear compost within three years*
They are
usually built slowly after the field is burned, finishing before the
corn starts to bear*
Continuity of Location* Farmers hope to find an area for their
c’at c ’al which will bebig enough for several years of clearing so
they can save the labor
of
cutting
a new trail every year*
Keeping a
field close to the previous year's field has other advantages too*
Proximity to the old field means less labor carrying roots and suckers
to the new field to plant new root crops and plantains*
Proximity also
means that the farmer will have frequent opportunities to return to the
old field on the way to the new one, to check and weed any slowly grow­
ing interplanted crops which may remain there*
Distance between old and new fields is the reason most often
given by Aguacate farmers for not planting more root crops, tree crops
146
and plantainso
They say that during the busy agricultural season they
have no time to visit two widely separated locations, and whatever they
have planted in the old field is eaten by animals or overgrown by weeds0
The desire to work in a single locale for several years conflicts
with the desire to work adjoining fields with close kin or compadreso
Since good soil/vegetation associations occur in small pockets and
fragmented areas, a whole locale is likely to be used up in a single
year if several relatives make adjoining plots thereo
Yet most Agua-
catecos prefer to work close to their relatives, exchanging labor and
sharing certain duties, and then accept the disadvantages of making
their next
field several kilometers from the old one0 Thus, communal
labor patterns indirectly lead to a reduction
in the quantity of inter­
cropped biennial and perennial food crops0
Land Tenure0
The legal and official version of Kekchi land
tenure was described in Chapter 3 in a discussion of the reservation
systemo
In fact the reservation boundaries are not clear to the vil­
lagers and they are unsure of the actual legal status of the reserva­
tions, especially given the recent hesitant steps taken by the
government to convert the reservations into private lando
The most recent scheme, begun in 1972, allowed individuals to
take out leases on reservation land at the rate of $ 025 per acre per
year, with the option to take permanent title after 60$ of the land had
been *developed** Only the wealthiest and most entrepreneurial Indians
in the northern zone took advantage of this system, braving the paper­
work and initial survey in order to get access to recently-abandoned
milpa which they could use for cattle pasture*
Nobody wanted to pay
lease fees on land they planned to use and abandon in the course of
sv/idden farming.
When non-Kekchi began to lease reservation lands, the
protest was loud enough that the system was phased out, though a version
of it continues to operate on non-reservation lands0 This has not
stilled the constant rumors which circulate through the villages about
reservations being sold to outsiders,,
Amidst the vacillations in government policy, and the often
passionate debate about the future of the reservation system (e0go,
Howard 1977a, 1977b), the Kekchi have developed a native system of allo­
cating usufruct rights to land which flexibly adapts to different local
needs and resources,.
Under this indigenous system, a reservation is
seen as being under the authority of a single village, whose alcalde is
responsible for regulating land use0
The alcalde must give his permis%
sion to new settlers who want to use the reservec Over the years
adjacent villages have negotiated a set of practical boundaries which
are enforced by the alcaldese A Machaca man who made his field on Santa
Theresa land in 1979 was arrested in his home by Santa Theresa village
police, and he was later tried and fined by the Santa Theresa alcalde0
When he persisted the case was taken to the District Commissioner, who
authorized Santa Theresa to harvest the mature corn for themselves and
to fine the man again if they caught him0
Within each village there are customary restrictions on the use
of land which vary according to local population pressure on land
^In some of the larger villages alcaldes have begun to refuse entry to
people who have wanted to settle there,. Appeals to the District
Officer lead to the formulation of the policy that if a person is born
in a village they have a right to return there in the future, but new
immigrants can be excluded=
148
resourceso
In villages where well-fallowed land is plentiful no rights
are recognized over the c*at c'al after is has been abandoned=
In most
northern zone villages, and in some in the southern zone where land is
getting harder to find, rights to re-use a plot after is has been
cleared are recognizedo
If one finds a piece of secondary forest and
wants to clear it, one must first locate the man who used it last and ask
permission, which can be withheldo
A usufructory system like this remains very loose and flexible
while fallow cycles stay longo
Memory is limited and people move around
a lot, so there is little practical difficulty in finding a plot which
, is not actively possessed,.
But when forest fallow has been replaced by
a true bush-fallow system of less than ten years length, as in San Pedro
Columbia, usufruct rights are valued and enforced, and rights to the use
of land can be loaned, given, or inherited,,
The alcalde and his court
take on an ever-increasing task of adjudicating disputes over land*
Tenure, then, is adapted to agricultural needs rather than viceversa, and this will continue so long as the government takes no heavyhanded action and imposes a uniform system on a diverse area0 The sim­
plicity of the system as described here is complicated considerably in
practice because different rules of tenure apply to different kinds of
land and propertyo
These complications will be discussed further in
this chaptero
Distanceo Choosing a c'at c'al site requires more than just
finding a place which has suitable vegetation, soil, and terrain outside
the pig zonec Different plots at different distances will require vary­
ing labor inputs, different labor scheduling, and different combinations
149
of productivity and risko
Distance is therefore one major attribute of
a prospective location which must be considered,,
Fields far away from the village are cultivated at decreasing
efficiency because of the labor spent walking back and forthc
If we use
an eight hour day as a baseline, it is obvious that 1 2 = ^ of the day's
labor will be spent traveling to and from a field which is 30 minutes
walk away0 When the field is 60 minutes away, 25^ of the workday is
wasted, and at 120 minutes distance, half the day is spent in nonproduc­
tive laboro
When large exchange-labor groups are,called together to work a
distant field, a very large portion of the borrowed labor will be wasted
in travel, though the farmer will have to pay back a full day to each
man0
The man who borrows 160 hours of labor for his 90 minute distant
field, only gets about 100 hours of labor, though he must pay back a
full l60 hourso
This is why we see an increasing tendency for individ­
ual or small group labor in distant fields, rather than large exchangelabor partieso
A small cooperative work group of close kin can work a
longer day at the field, and can even stay overnight there, thus in­
creasing the proportion of work time to travel time„ All of the men in
Aguacate who clear their fields at greater distances from the village
reside in household clusters which provide this kind of male task groupo
The extra hardship caused by working distant fields is out­
weighed by the greater reliability of yields in high forestc This
trade-off is necessary only in larger villages where all primary forest
in the village vicinity has been used up„
Given the greater preference
of Kekchi farmers for cultivating high forest, it is not surprising that
130
in most villages this has indeed occurred*
The folk-model of settlement
is not far from the more elaborate scheme I have constructed below and
in Chapter' 12 as villages grow the high forest is progressively used up
in an ever-widening circle around the village 0 When primary forest is
more than two hours from the village, people begin to move away and the
village shrinks, easing pressure on the remaining forest resources (see
Harris 1972; Logan and Sanders 1976)=
Field Size
Marking the field by clearing a trail reflects the farmer’s
judgment of the area he will need at the time, though it is subject to
later alteration*
In the northern village, where well-fallowed land is
short, land is measured off into mecates using a knotted cord, but this
is not done in the southern zone where good sites are still common and
usufruct rights are rarely enforced*
There is considerable variation in the size of the fields each
farmer eventually clears for his c’at c’al, and this variability is
worth examining because it draws us into the core of the agricultural
system and helps us understand regional processes of change *
Corn is the main subsistence crop*
The imperative for the far­
mer is to provide enough food for his family to last the next year*
He
assesses how much corn he has left from the last crop, how much he may
have growing in a dry season field (sak’ecuaj), and how much his family
is using, and then estimates how much he will need, leaving a generous
margin of error into which he hopes to fit the corn he will feed his
pigs*
Therefore, a successful crop one year may allow a smaller field
the next, and vice versa©
151
Family size is a fair predictor of the area of wet-eeason
fieldso
The estimated field sizes of 20 Aguacate farmers correlated
positively with absolute household size (r = 0650, p < o01) and with an
index of household corn consumption (in which all children under 14 are
counted as half of adults) (r = 069^, p < o00l)o
This indicates that
farmers are indeed adjusting the size of their corn fields to the size
of their households and the rate of household corn consumption^
Given
all the other mitigating factors and errors of measurement, even this
strong a correlation is surprising,.
.
This data tends to contradict the
suggestion by Sahlins (1972;41-148), Ritter (1980), and others that
household productive strategies vary independently of simple household
size or consumption needso
Perhaps the Kekchi live closer to the
'Chayanov slope' (see Sahlins 1972) because they have fewer subsistence
alternatives than do other groups and because food storage is difficult
and risky in the humid rainforest environment„
The other major consumers of corn are pigs*
The average full
grown hog in Aguacate eats over one kilogram of corn per day0
corn consumption is elastic, while human needs are less soo
for themselves if corn is short, while children cannot0
Yet pig
Pigs forage
Also, a house­
hold's pig herd varies widely in the course of a year, since pigs grow
to selling weight in less than six months and have a high mortality rate0
This makes it hard for a farmer to judge his herd's corn needs for the
next year, but it also means that the judgment is less critical„
This explains why there is so little relationship between field
size and the household pig herd's corn requirements as measured during
152
the growing season (r = =188, p > 0l)o
These figures tend to confirm
the view that pig raising is a flexible means of disposing of surplus
and spoiled corn rather than a planned part of the subsistence systemo
The size of fields is also related to the distance of the field
from the village, though the cross-plot of the two variables shows in
Figure 8 that this relationship is neither simple nor linear„
It
appears that fields closest to the village tend to be small, and those
most distant also tend to be small, while those between are the largest»
The close fields are small because they are made by men who have little
household labor to invest in farming, men who are old, own shops or who
spend much of their effort in raising cash crops*, The most distant
fields are smaller because the time spent walking back and forth places
a practical limit on the size of the area which can be cleared and
planted*
Other often mentioned reasons for making a larger or smaller
c'at c'al are directly related to the labor resources available to the
farmer * A man who plans to produce a cash crop of rice or beans in some
quantity must reduce the size of his cornfield so he can split his labor
between the two crops*
Men in the process of moving residence from
village to village, or who are building a new house in the same village,
also have less time to devote to their fields, as do men who are sick or
who hold the time-consuming alcalde office*
The absolute sizes of 21 Aguacate fields in 1979 ranged from *84
to 4*l8 hectares, with a mean size of 2*15 ha0
Sror this measure, small pigs were counted as requiring 1 /3 the corn
ration of mature animals*
153
<4
f ie l d
SIZE
(h a )
3 j
2
•
•
•
•
•
•
-
T---------- 1---------- r»-------- 1---------- 1---------- 1---------- 1---------- r
30
60
TRAVEL TIM E
Figure 8 .
120
in M INUTES
A crossplot of field size and travel time to the field for
the fields of 2 0 Aguacate farmers in 1979•
15k
Cutting and Clearing
Clearing the forest is a dangerous and arduous task which is
considered the hardest work of the agricultural year0
There are several
rituals intended to reduce the risk of injury during clearing and to
placate the entities who live in the foresto
Men refrain from sexual
intercourse for two weeks to a month before beginning to clear, with
shorter prohibitions for secondary forest than for primary foresto
The clearing process is divided into two elements which can be
translated as chopping (yoc'oc) and felling with an axe (curue) 0 Every
day while chopping, incense (pom) is burned at the field in the morning
and again during the lunch-breako
The night before felling begins, a
candle is burnt in the village churcho
Pom and prayers are offered
daily before work begins, at the lunch-break, and again when work is
completed (see Thompson 1930;50-51 for Mopan versions of the prayers)o
Timing
Clearing may begin as early as January in the high forest be­
cause the large trees there take much longer to dry0
Such an early
start means that no time is available for tending the dry-season corn
crop, a situation where elements of the subsistence system conflict
with each other0
If only a few men in the village are making the c* at
c'al in high bush, it will be hard to find a large work group willing
to start in January, and work will have to begin in small groups=
In Aguacate, where a majority of men use high secondary forest
for their fields, large group clearing begins in mid-February0
Informal
discussions between the older men after church or during court cases
155
generally leads to a consensus choice of a starting date for clearing,
which then continues until mid-Marcho
This secondary forest dries
faster, and if it is cut too early there will be much rotting and re­
growth before burning-time and the burn will be poor0
Methods
Strategies of clearing vary with the type of forest cover=
In
high forest clearing proceeds in two stages, chopping the underbrush
followed by felling the trees,.
The low growth is chopped first in order
to produce a mat of dried material which will help catch the trees on
fire.
If there is a lot of undergrowth it is common to call a work
group of up to eight members to help with the machete work, but often
this clearing is done by the farmer himself, one day at a time*
Felling
the trees is complicated by the high buttress roots which extend in many
cases to more than five meters off the ground0 A scaffold (ch'at) must
then be built against the base of the tree so the trunk can be cut
above the projecting buttresses,.
In Toledo the scaffold is a more com­
plex and sturdy structure than that illustrated by Carter (1969s52),
with two poles for each person to stand onc
It is built on the spot from
poles and vines, and is not reused or moved after the tree falls0
The largest trees are the least predictable as to where they
will fall, and are
often most dangerous0
tree to fall in an unintended direction,.
Gusts of wind can cause the
Two men chop on the same or
opposing sides of the tree while another two men watch, with frequent
changes of place=
As the tree gets close to falling, work slows down so
■
■
156
the men will have warning and can jump from the scaffold and run at the
first signs of movement= Progress depends on the hardness of the tree:
cuachil (Dialium guianense) and muy (Lucuma sp0) are the hardest and
four men may require a whole working day for a single tree0 Smaller and
softer trees are cut by two men, either one working at a time or both
working from opposite sides*
The softest and smallest high forest trees
still take two men more than 2# hours to fell*
Not all the trees in the high forest must be cut*
Most trees
are tied together by masses of vines and epiphytes, and when one forest
giant falls to the ground it may pull or knock over others*
Often
smaller adjacent trees will be weakened so they will fall more easily*
Even so, it is typical to fell 30 to 35 trees per hectare in high forest,
leaving standing
only the occasional mahogany (sutz’ujl)
(inup), the first because
it is considered sacred*
and ceiba
it is protected by law and the second because
No elaborate protective clearing like that
reported by Carter (1969s56) or Conklin (1957) is practiced to preserve
economically useful trees, nor is any great effort made to chop the
large trees into more burnable pieces which are spread around the field,
a practice reported for the Izabal Kekchi*
Clearing high forest is time consuming, and requires a work
group most of the time*
The four users of this forest type for whom I
have figures for 1979 averaged about 289 man hours/ha* to clear their
fields, which is
slightly faster than the 308 man hours reported by :
Carter (1969:49)
for high forest clearing
in Izabal*
High secondary forest varies in size and difficulty of clearing*
Men confer at the beginning of a work day to decide on the fastest and
'
safest strategyo
157
Where trees are greater than 15 cm in average diameter
they will chop the low growth first with machetes, and then go through
a second time to cut the trees with axes0
They form themselves into a
line and walk through the forest, cutting vines and saplings off close
to the ground with sweeping machete strokes but spending little effort
on chopping up the plants after they have been cut off0 More attention
is paid to clearing around trees so there will be room to swing axes
latero
Cutting the trees usually takes place on a subsequent day,
though a very small plot may be completely cleared in a single day in
two passes*
In axe-work, because most trees are dropped in the direc­
tion in which they lean small groups of men operate separately for
safety,
A smaller tree is notched with a single stroke of the axe by
one man, while another man or two will chop through a larger tree which
then falls on the weakened trees, bringing the whole mass to the ground.
This makes work safer because the actual falling of trees comes in
bursts, and others can be warned away.
When trees are tied together with masses of vines, they often
will not fall even when cut through, and their weight puts tension on
the adjacent uncut trees.
This is dangerous, for the supporting trees
often kick back or shatter when they are axed in turn.
The preferred
remedy is to drop yet another tree onto the area and cause the tangled
mass to fall.
Most clearing moves up slope, so the work area is not covered
with what has already been cut.
Very steep slopes are finished quickly
because the weight of each fallen tree drags down others.
158
Cohune palms are dealt with in different wayso
When they are
very young and have little or no trunk, all the leaves are cut with a
single stroke and the stem then often dies after firing,.
The trunks of
young trees up to five meters high are protected by thick, woody peti­
oles which are too much work to cut through and which often harbor
snakes and scorpions.
leaves at the crown.
Instead, a man climbs up and cuts off all the
These trees always survive the fire and quickly
grow a new set of leaves.
The larger trees have exposed trunks below
the petioles, and are hard to climb, so the whole tree is cut down and
killed,
A few of the largest Cohunes may be left standing if there are
plenty of others to provide tinder; the resistant, moist wood of the
trunk rarely burns well anyway.
If the forest to be cleared is so young that the trees can be
felled conveniently by machete, chopping and felling are collapsed into
a single stage.
Clearing proceeds by the method of weakening the smaller
saplings and then dropping larger trees on them.
Much more time, on the
other hand, must be spent in cutting vines, which are profuse in low
growth and are often armed with spines and thorns,
Clearing nihki al c'al involves some division of labor.
/
Men say
it is more efficient to work in small teams which can each deal with a
single block of vegetation without interfering with each other.
It is
a Kekchi article of faith that work groups clear the same area in fewer
man days than a single man working alone, besides which it is said to be
more fun to work with a group.
It takes less time to clear a hectare of high secondary forest
than a hectare of high forest, but the rate is more variable = The
159
average of 15 Aguacate farmers who cleared the former was 151 man hours/
hectare, of which an average of 79 man hours were spent in chopping and
71 in felling treesc The high variability is reflected by a CV of 51%
This compares with a figure of 113 man hours/ha„ given by
Carter (1969:49) for clearing ’saplings,* the difference reflecting the
shorter average fallow cycles in Izabalo
The Aguacate and Izabal fig­
ures suggest that it takes almost twice as long to clear a hectare of
high primary forest as it does to clear high secondary forest0
Low secondary forest (coc* al c’al) is used by few men in
Aguacate for the wet season corn crop, and nobody there uses low bush
growth, as do the farmers in some northern zone villages and in the
Izabal regiono
Low secondary forest is cut entirely by machete, using
wide swings close to the ground to cut off vines at their base0
Most Kekchi profess a distaste for clearing low secondary forest
or low bush because there are so many insects, snakes and stinging or
thorny plants there o Timing is also more of a problem because this type
of forest must be burned within a month after it is cut (preferably
within two weeks) or the vegetation will start to grow up again and
what has been cut will rot0
In Aguacate, where there is still a great deal of high secondary
forest available, the use of low secondary forest is limited to special
situationSo
Men with severe labor shortage, recent migrants, the sick,
and shopkeepers may use ito
The major advantage of using the low bush
for these men is that the work can be done entirely on their own without
^CV is the coefficient of variation, which is the standard deviation
divided by the mean x 100„
160
any labor group= Division of labor makes little difference in effi­
ciency in the clearing operation,.
The actual quantity of labor per hec­
tare expended in clearing low secondary forest is about ll405 man hours,
which is not much less than the 151 man hours spent in clearing high
secondary forest,.
Distance and Clearing
The relationship between the kinds of forest used and their
distance from the village helps to clarify the land use situation in
Aguacateo
Using the travel time estimates of 23 farmers we can see a
clear relationship between fallow status and distance from the village,
as listed in Table 13, though the precise nature of the relationship is
obscured by the crudity of the native forest typology«
Table 13=
Fallow status and travel time from the village=
Average One Way
Travel Time in Minutes
Fallow Type
N
Low secondary forest
4
42=5
15
52=9
6
95=0
High secondary forest
High forest
If, as mentioned above, the amount of labor required to clear
land is a direct function of fallow status, there should be a positive
correlation between man hours per hectare required to clear a plot and
the plot's distance from the villageo
Figure 9 crossplots these two
variables, showing a strong linear correlation (r = <,712) and a very
TRAVEL
TIME
50
•
•
•
•
•
•
—i--------------------------------------- r - -------------
100
200
----------------i—
300
MAN HOURS PER HA.
Figure 9.
crossplot of the travel time to reach a field, and the
number of man hours per hectare spent in clearing forest
vegetation.
A
162
interesting clustering of the fields into two groups with a gap between,.
This suggests that the native taxonomy of three forest types is decep=
tive and that there are really two major strategies of field placement
and labor allocation present in the village0
These will be discussed
and elaborated below0
Burning
Burning a slashed field serves many purposes:
it physically
clears away a lot of debris, kills competing vegetation, drives out
pests and snakes and frees nutrients which are locked up in the forest
vegetation0
A good burn is a clearly defined goal for the Kekchi, and
is the harbinger of a good crop for the year0
Despite the risky nature
of burning, there is little ritual associated with the act0 Pom is
burned at the field before the fire is set, and a prayer is offered,.
The time for burning is the last two weeks of March and the
first two weeks of April0
People want their field to dry as much as
possible, so they put off burning as late as they dare, anxiously watch­
ing the sky0
The first time the heavy thunder of the wet-season rains
is heard in the distance, those who are still holding out prepare to
burn the next dayc
Before the fire is set, a firebreak may have to'be cut if there
are other unburned fields or an area of dry low growth nearby0
This is
usually unnecessary, except for those burning in the low growth close
to the villageo
fireso
In high forest there is never a problem with escaped
In 19?6 a fire escaped from a c'at c'al between Blue Greek and
Aguacate, burning through a large area of secondary forest and almost
163
catching several people who were clearing their rice fields*
Aguacate
men were angry because they were then deprived of a large area of useful
forest for the many years it will take to grow back*
Razor grass
(Scleria bracteata) invaded the burned land after the fire*
Burning is usually done by the owner of the field alone, though
owners of adjoining fields may agree among themselves on a day.when
they will burn together*
The fire is started in several places, using
Cohune leaves as tinder*
Unlike the Izabal Kekchi (Carter 1969?58),
Toledo men do not wait for a calm day to start the fire*
Instead they
prefer a steady breeze to fan the flames, and they say that in high
primary forest the stronger the wind, the better*
This difference in
practice reflects the greater moisture in Toledo*
The fire is always started upwind, and the ideal situation has
the wind blowing upslope so the flames climb upwards*
Plots are often
oriented with this in mind, since the winds during burning are predict­
ably south-easterly*
If areas are missed in the first burning, a man
may pile up the remaining burnables into piles before he tries to burn
again*
In wet years several tries may be necessary*
Burning requires little labor but is one of the most critical
factors in determining the eventual yield of the field*
If it is done
too soon, weeds and regrowth will be knee high by the time the corn is
planted and will choke out the young corn*
If burning is long delayed
and the rains begin, no burning is possible at all, in which case a man
must either plant the field anyway and fight the weeds through the whole
growing season, or use his ricefield to plant corn*
164
All indications show that the Izabal Kekchi find it easier to
burn their fields than do those in Toledoo
In Izabal white ash is com­
mon after burning (Carter 1969:34), showing that higher firing tempera­
tures are reached than in Toledo or Peten (Cowgill 1962s282) where dark
and gray ash predominate„ The latter is actually beneficial because
the less complete burning allows soluble nutrients to wash out slowly
in the heavy rains instead of being washed away all at once0
A few kinds of trees survive the burning of the field, and grow
back to full size from stumpso
Many of the trees which do coppice
cannot compete with herbaceous growth, however, and the saplings blow
down in the first heavy windo
Other plants which are not killed by
fire, the 'opportunists,* begin to grow back in the field within a few
days, and place restraints on later activity in the field*
The sur­
vivor plants I have been able to identify are listed in Table l4o
The labor requirements of burning bear little relationship to
the size of the plot but vary with the ease with which the field can be
fired*
Most Aguacatecos spent less than half of a working day burning .
their fields in 19799 though they said that in a bad year it may take
eight'days before they are satisfied*
Planting Wet Season Corn
Planting time brings a festive atmosphere to Kekchi villages,
for the hardest and most critical work of the season has already passed*
Everyone eats well at the ceremonial meals which precede and follow
every communal planting work group's labor, and village factional dis­
putes seem to recede for a time as the communal spirit is actualized
in daily work*
165
Table 140 Survivor and invader species in burned fields*
Kekchi Name
Creole Name
Scientific Name
Hu
Wild fig
Ficus spp*
Cakaj
Gumbolimbo
Bursera simaruba
K 1an xan
Nargusta
Terminalia obovata (?)
Puj
Balsa
Ochroma lagopus
K eerk
Waha
Heliconia latispatha
Gala*
Jipijapa
Carludovica palmata
Ch’abay
Bay Cedar
Guazuma ulmifolia
Chahib
Tie-Tie
Unidentified woody vines
Kuk'te
Prickly yellow
Zanthoxylum kellermanii (?)
Puch'uch'
Mala mujer
Cnidoscolus multilobatus
Pok
Hogplum
Spondias purpurea or mombin
C ’ajam parcuai
Morning glory
Ipomoeia spp*
A'l
Trumpet tree
Cecropia peltata
Obel
Cowhoof
Piper umbellatum
Mara1
Elephant ear
Xanthosoma sp*
Ichaj
Nightshade
Solanum nigrum
Ch'onte
Wild papaya
Carica papaya
Tz'imaj
unknown
Momordica charantia
Trees that Survive
Plants that Invade
Kik^che
-Rubber tree
Castilla elastica
-
Survives and Invades
Mococh
Cohune palm
Orbignya cohune
166
Timing
The earliest limit on planting is placed by the,need for the
ashes in a plot to cool and 'settle,* which takes from two days in low
secondary forest to a week in high primary forest»
Ideally there should
be a light rain to help settle the ashes and 'cool' the field0
Men want to plant soon after burning so there will be less weedcompetition with the young corn plants, but they want to wait, long
enough for the young corn to catch the first major rains to help it get
startedo
Because the onset of the rains cannot be predicted, choosing
a planting time is always an uncertain business which involves consul­
tation with the elders of the village and endless discussions after
church on Sundayso
In Aguacate the second week in April used to be the preferred
starting time for the planting season, but in 19?4 many had poor crops
because the rains did not begin until July and the young corn was
stunted by lack of moisture= Many had to replant their fields in June
in order to get a bare minimum yield*
The rains have continued to be
late since that time, and the village has moved its planting forward to
late April, continuing until May 20th*
They have also moved up their
burning so that weed growth will still be minimal at planting time*
This rapid rescheduling of the major agricultural events of the year
belies the view of the Maya farmer as a tradition-bound slave to custom,
blindly following a sacred yearly calendar (see Redfield and Villa Rojas
1934)o
It does fit with recent work on subsistence farmers and peasants
>
which stresses the constant experimentation and almost mandatory flexi­
bility of their agricultural strategies (Johnson 1972)=
167
Ritual
When a man brings in corn from his granaries during the year he
selects the most regular and the largest ears of the variety he wants
to plant next, and ties them together in bundles which are hung from the
family altaro
These will be the seed for his next c'at c*al, though he
will often also arrange to borrow seed from a close relative in order
to change his mix of varieties©
The extra care shown in this selection
process is typical of the ritual element which permeates every step of
the process of planting corn©
I do not think it is coincidence that
the most ritually laden part of the agricultural cycle is also the time
at which there is markedly greater community participation in communal
labor groups and greater community solidarity than at any other time in
the year©
Prohibitions on sexual intercourse and on eating certain foods
(coffee, fish, fruits) are in effect for two weeks before and after
planting©
The afternoon before planting, a pig is killed for the meal
which will be fed to the planting group after the next day's labor©
The
night before planting, an yo'lek (all-night vigil) is held, and many of
the men who will come to the planting group the following day attend©
For several hours they play a backgammon-like game csilled buluk, using
corn kernels as counters and sire fed a light meal around midnight, after
which some go home but others stay©
Pom and candles are burned on the
family altar throughout the night, and early in the morning the patron
(the man whose fields sure to be pi suited) passes the bundles of seed
corn through pom smoke, and then shells it into a sack©
During the
working day, pom is burned and prayers are said at the beginning, middle,
168
and end of worko
The wife left at home also burns pom at the altar at
noon and prays for the success of the crop*
ing are kept on the altar all day0
Tortillas made in the morn­
If the fields are very close to the
village, women will often go out to the fields to bring men their lunch
during plantingo
There is no prohibition on women entering the field
during planting, as is found in other Maya groups (Gann 1917)o
Corn planting labor groups are supposed to be solemn and quiet,
according to older Aguacate men, and respect for the corn is supposed
to be expressed at all timeso
I observed many instances in which
younger men made efforts to disrupt and mock the gravity of the elders
with elaborate joking and clowning, but generally planting groups are
less raucous and jovial than other kinds of work groupso
Methods
In the morning, the planting group gathers at the patron1s house
and collects a measured quart of corn seed in each of their cotton
shoulder bags (coxtal)» Each man leaves for the field after his bag
is filled*
If beans or squash are going to be interplanted, the last
men to leave (often the eldest) will have a handfull of seed mixed with
the corn in their bags*
The patron follows last, carrying the remaining
seed corn in a sack*
At the field the men confer and decide how the party should
divide and in what direction each group should plant in relation to the
topography of the field*
Two or three groups are usual*
The steepest
and most broken terrain are best planted by small groups, while flatter
areas may be planted by a single line of men*
Those who are
169
interplanting with the corn will plant together in an area near where
the corn-storage house will later be built=
The planting stick is used as a probe = If rocks, roots or hard
soil are struck, the stick is used to feel around in the soil for a
softer spot0
Two strokes make a hole, one to penetrate the soil and the
other to widen the hole into a funnel shape with a quick side—to-side
motion0
In places where the ground is covered with a dense tangle of
unburned tree trunks and limbs, the planter has to balance above the
ground and throw the stick into the soil below=
The planting holes are from 8-15 cm deep, angled slightly to
afford the seed some protection,.
As the hole is opened with the plant­
ing stick, the left hand dips into the bag for seed, which is counted
with the thumb on the palnu
Seven seeds are allowed to slide down the
fingers, and are then thrown into the hole with a deceptively simplelooking flick of the wristo
Accuracy is high, and holes are made and
filled at the rate of about six per minute0
The spacing of the holes is variable, but farmers know that if
they are too close the plants will produce few ears ("like a house with
too many families in it"), and if too far apart the yield of the field
will suffero
The measured average in one field is 1,58 meters between
adjacent holes, placed in a triangular pattern of staggered rows0
Spacing is wider in rocky or debris-covered areas, closer in places
where the soil is soft and deep,.
Labor Use in Planting
Labor input in planting corn is one of the few things in the
agricultural cycle for which efficiency can be measured directly in
170
terms of the number of quarts planted or the area seeded per hour, with
some reliabilityo
•
Work days while planting are shorter —
about 7 hours—
than in
other communal agricultural tasks0 Most men try to finish planting in a
single day so the corn will all grow and mature at the same rate0 This
also simplifies the problem of scheduling times at which to pay back the
days of labor which have been borrowed, but often two men will want to
plant on the same day, and they must each settle for a smaller group
(splitting the village labor force) and then call smother group to
finish the job at a later date0
The working ideal of the communal planting group is that each
field be finished in one day through the labor of sill the men who are
planting fields that yearo
In this way each person’s labor debt to each
other person balances out=
In small villages where discrepancies in the
balance sure buffered by kinship relations this is indeed the way that
planting works out0 But in a larger village, like Aguacate where 26 men
planted corn in May of 1979, there are complicationso
The size of men’s
fields varies from 08 to Aore than 4 hectares, and obviously they do not
need the ssune suaount of labor to planto
But the productive process is
melded with social process through the medium of the work group, and men
are not free to adjust their work force to fit neatly the size of the
area to be planted.
Instead they must work for all of the kin and com-
padres who ask them for a day of labor, and then they must call back the
days owed when they plant, whether they need it or not.
This means that
the farmer may end up with many more men than he needs to plant his
small field, and the work day will be very short.
By the same token, a
171
man with a very large field will have to make his work group plant for
a longer work-day, and even then the workers may decide to leave before
the work is finished, leaving the patron and his closest kin to return
and finish up later0
These labor processes go a long way towards explaining the wide
variation in planting and seeding rates in Kekchi fields,.
In fact,
field size and the quantity of seed planted in the field do not corre­
late as strongly with each other as we would expect if the quantity of
2
seed planted per hectare were being held constant (r = 0636, r = <,405,
p <roOl)o
The coefficient of variation of liters of seed planted per
hectare is
3 ^ %
of the mean of l8„l liters» Beyond the labor allocation
problems, part of this variation in seeding rate may be due to farmers'
attempts to maximize yield by planting more heavily in small fields0
They hope to compensate for smaller field size by getting more plants
to groWo
The reality of this behavior is supported by a strong inverse
correlation between the quantity of seed planted per hectare (seeding
rate) and the size of the field (r = -<,72, r
= <,52, p < <,001)„
Planting labor also declines in efficiency at greater distances
from the village, first because so much work time is taken up with
travel, and second because the more distant fields are cut from high
forest, which is harder to plant because it is covered with unburned
tree trunks0
Distance per se reduces the efficiency of planting labor at a
rate of about <,15 liters per man hour per each additional hour of travel
from the village (regression based on r = o564, p < 0O5)=
The greater
difficulty of planting high forest is harder to measure0
Table 15
172
contrasts seeding rates in liters per man hour in the three main kinds
of foresto
Seeding rates per man hour in fields cut from three forest
typeSo
Forest Type
N
Mean Liters Corn
Planted Per Man Hour
Low secondary
3
0
ru
%
Table 15o
2#
13
.350
31#
4
=235
18#
High secondary
High primary
' cv
The surprisingly low labor efficiency in low secondary forest
may be due, in part, to the hardness of the soil which is so character­
istic of areas which have been fallowed for a short time*
The figures
do clearly show that less seed is planted per hour in primary forest
fieldso
Table 16 summarizes average planting data on a plot and hectare
basis for Aguacate fields in 1979, figures which run almost double those
given by Carter (1969s135), which are presented merely as a single aver­
age for all kinds of fields=
I hope the discussion above has shown that
a single figure like this can obscure a great deal of meaningful vari­
ability in the efficiency of labor, and worse, give a spurious impres­
sion of uniformity and 'conservatism1 to a very traditional agricultural
practiceo
The Growing Season
When corn has been planted, there is a long respite from
strictly scheduled labor in the c'at c'alo What work must be done
173
Table l6o
Basic statistics on wet season corn plantingo
CV
N
Liters seed per plot
14o2 - 56=8
34=3
31#
23
Liters seed per ha<>
9=6 -29=9
18=1
34#
22
Liters planted per
man hour
33#
20
Man hours per plot
70
120 o8
30#
20
65=3
49#
20
Man hours per hectare
f t -
Mean
1
Range
CO
H
o
Measure
- 217
33=5 - 129=4
=31
174
can be fit into the other demands on the farmers' time with some flexi­
bility =
Many visits to the corn field during the growing season are
multi-purposeo
A man may stop in the cornfield while hunting and pull
a few weeds, check the crop for animal or pest damage, cut some firewood
and then go home0
This kind of activity is very hard to record reliably,
even when farmers keep a daily labor recordo
My own surveys recorded
only the work days when the farmer made a special trip to the cornfield
for a specific task, and therefore underrepresent the absolute quantity
of labor expended during the growing season, especially in weedingo
Interplanting
Immediately after the corn begins to sprout, other crops are
planted in selected parts of the fieldo
These crops are discussed in
greater detail in the next chapter,because
minorcrops
the rice field, dry-season corn field andhouse-yard
areplanted
in
as well, andshould
be considered as a crop complex very separate from corn production0
Some
8 8 &
of Aguacate farmers do plant other crops in their corn fields,
with an average of 6<>2 species per farmer from a total list of 28 dif­
ferent specieso
Some of the interplanted crops continue to bear well
after the corn is harvestsdo
Care of these crops is fairly convenient
because the field is visited frequently anyway in order to get corn from
the corn house where it is stored=
The Corn House (rochoch li hal)
Before the harvest begins, usually in July or August, a pole and
thatch building is constructed near the center of the cornfield, in
175
which is built a raised corn crib (ch'atal li hal)0 These are unimposing, unwalled structures, often built on hilltops to minimize the
drainage ditches which will have to be dug.
They are really a slightly
simplified version of the normal human dwelling, but perishable woods
are used for framing, less attention is paid to binding and tying, and
the cohune-leaf thatch is thin„
The corn crib is floored and walled
with the ribs of the leaves of the cohune, raised off the ground on logs
and lashed to the roof-posts of the house=
It is open on the interior
side so the corn can be stacked,.
Corn houses cannot be built by a single man working in a simple
linear manner, but require cooperative labor„ Most men do as much work
as possible by themselves, cutting the wood and thatch and finding the
bark strips (macapal) and vines (cajam) which tie the structure together.
Then they call one or more small labor groups to help them put up the
frame and thatch.
This is considered a good time to call in any out­
standing labor debts left over from the planting season, since the work
is not considered arduous and counts as a half day of labor.
The timing of this task is not critical and may be put off until
September if the farmer is busy with a rice crop or other labor. If he
plans to intercrop a lot in the c'at c'al he will build the corn house
early so he has some place to shelter and store tools, seeds, and cut­
tings.
The size of the corn house varies with the expected yield of
the field.
The average is about 4 x 8 meters.
The average corn house
built in Aguacate in 1979 required 100.5 man hours of labor, with a
maximum of 217 and a minimum of 36.
While there is no significant
176
correlation between field size and corn house size, there is a moder­
ately strong relationship between the recorded yield of a field, and the
amount of time which the farmer spends building the corn house (r = 06l2 ,
p < o05)o
The relationship between the farmer's prediction of his yield
and the amount of time he devotes to preparing a place to store it is
complicated by the differences in corn consumption rates between men,
and differences in the amount of corn they may have stored from the pre­
vious year, both of which influence how long they will expect to need
to store the present year's yieldo
A more sturdy corn house will also
be built if a man expects to stay there overnight, or use it as a hunt­
ing campo
Given these complications, and the uncertainties a farmer
has in predicting his yield, it is surprising to find as strong a rela­
tionship as that cited above between yield and labor spent building the
corn houseo
Weeding
The Kekchi in Toledo's southern villages do not recognize weed­
ing as a distinct phase of the wet season corn production cycleo
It is
something done casually while doing something else, or is 'spot control”
on the worst offending weedsQ The general feeling is that there is no
use fighting the bush, arid that there will be no great loss provided the
corn gets a head start on the weedso
Those farming in low secondary forest accept that a very heavy
weed growth may reduce their yields, but take only sporadic action to
reduce weed competition;,. This makes sense when we consider that most
men who presently use low forest do so because they have a labor short­
age already, and therefore have no labor to devote to weeding even if
177
the crop is threatenedo
In northern villages, on the other hand, people
use low bush because they have no choice, not because they have a labor
shortage, and there weeding is becoming an integral part of the yearly
agricultural round„
Kekchi men fear grass invasion much more than the simple re­
growth of herbaceous vines and herbso
They distinguish several kinds of
grass, of which the stoloniferous cam in q ’uira is considered the most
destructiveo
Some men take precautions to keep grass seed off their
pants when walking from a main trail (which are all grass-infested and
serve as vectors of grass distribution) to their fields, and others keep
an eye out for the first grass plants, which are carefully pulled by
hando
Much more time is spent in weeding if there are other crops
interplanted with the maizeo
Chile and plantains in particular are
weeded thoroughly and often by clearing around them with a machete,,
Pests and Control Measures
Occasionally the wet season corn is attacked by mammals, in­
sects, birds, diseases, and fungi„
The nature of these threats bears
a close relationship to the nature of risk in corn production, and their
risk is one of the major variables which shapes Kekchi agricultural
decision-making,.
Birds occasionally damage the young growing corn or steal the
seed just after planting,.
Since most tropical forest birds do not form
large flocks (an adaptation to the scattering of plant foods through the
forest), they are rarely able to congregate at fields and do major
178
damageo
Migratory Muscovy ducks (batux, Cairina moschata) sometimes
flock near watercourses and do damage to nearby mature corn.
Diseases and fungi are said to be more of a problem to corn
growing in fields cut from low secondary forest than in high forest
fields, but in neither case are they considered serious threats since
local corn varieties have built up immunities,.
In very wet years a dark
leaf mold identified by the Agriculture Department as "brown spot"
(elminthosporium) damages corn in low-lying areas, but there is little
that the Kekchi can do about ito
Insects are a more serious danger0
The most destructive are
the wee-wee or leaf-cutter ants (tequen, Atta sp0)„ Traveling on long
trails out from the nest, they can completely defoliate young growing
corn over a large area0 Their colonies are particularly dense in the
low bush closest to the village, and laud is considered unusable once
invadedo
If these ants do find the field, the farmer must search out
the nest and pour aldrin (a powerful insecticide sold in the Punta Gorda
shops) down the entrances=
An older method is to plant plantains in the
center of the nest, which is said to drive the colony away in a year or
tWOo
Two types of worm (both called motzo") eat the leaves of young
corn (Spodoptera spo and Laphygma sp0) or bore into the stem*
Grass­
hoppers (sac, Ambyltropidia sp») eat leaves of all kinds of plants, and
two kinds of beetles (caki chili*, Orphulella spo and k"an, unidentified
genus) eat both leaves and growing ears0 A few men have tried spraying
aldrin on especially badly infested fields, but usually no physical
measures are taken against insects*
Instead, if there is a bad year
179
for insects (as in an outbreak of multi-colored.beetles ^c'an^ in 1977)
a community ritual is heldo
Many of the insects are collected in jars
and carried to a cave where they are offered to the tzultacaj along with
pom and prayers (cf0 Carter 1969s97)o
Mammals are by far the most destructive pests in corn fieldso
The coatimundi (sis, Nasua narjca) Eire most feared because they often
travel in large packs and can destroy hundreds of plants in a day, ruin­
ing more than they eat0
Single coatis and racoons (aw, Procyon lotor)
are especially disliked because they have a habit of eating ears without
breaking down the stalk, so the damage is not discovered immediately0
The collared peccary (ac, Dicotyles tajacu) and warrie, a white-lipped
peccary (chacoh, Dicotyles labiatus) are often encountered in corn­
fields, but they do the most damage to other crops and attack the corn
only if there is nothing else*
Rats (ch'o, Sigmodon sp0 and Oryzomys
sp„) do some damage to growing corn, and pocket gophers (Ba, Orthogeomys
spo) sometimes dsimag® the rootsb
Deer (quej, Odocoileus virginianus)
and brocket (yuc, Mazama americana) wander into cornfields, especially
at the very end of the dry season, and graze on the young corn plants
and lick the ashes of the burned vegetation for the salt there0
All the above species except for the rodents are also valued
o
as food, and in some cases the loss of corn is balanced by the gain in
meato
Coatis are the outstanding exception, for the damage they do is
fair out of proportion to the number which end up in caldo0
Catching the animals at work in the field means getting up early
in the morning and walking in semi-darkness to the field, obviously a
more unpleasant task if the field is far away from the villageo
The
general pattern is to visit the field periodically to "check1 it for
animal damage, and if the damage is heavy a special trip early in the
morning will be made an'order to try. and catch them0 In very distant fields
farmers may camp out for the night„
If a field is close to the village,
it will often be visited by night hunting parties in search of game 0
Thus, special trips to the field planned specifically for catch­
ing
and killing animals are rare= More often the farmer says he is
going to "check" his field*
These trips may include a little inter­
planting, a little weeding, maybe a short stop to gather some wild
foods, or a stop at a creek to catch some fish*
ported an average of
k j o k
Aguacate farmers re­
man hours spent checking their fields in June,
July and August of 1979o Most checking visits were done alone or with
members of the household cluster*
The amount of time spent checking
bears very little relationship to the size of the field, but distance
does make a difference*
of time
As distance to the field increases, the amount
spent checking decreases (r = -*54, p <*1 )*
The reason why fields at adistance are checked less often is
that pests are much less prevalent in the high forest at a distance from
the village*
As one informant put its
When you go and make your field far away in a new place, it
takes years before all the animals there learn to eat your
crops* In a place where there are many fields ^close/ 7 together
for a long time, the animals know how to eat your crops and
they come right out after you plant*
The animals of the climax forest —
peccary and brocket —
are
the least destructive and the easiest to hunt, while the smaller and
more numerous mammals which cause the most damage to crops —
rats —
coatis and
prefer the man-made disturbed habitats of secondary forest
l8l
closer to the village=
Insects and diseases also seem more prevalent
close to the village and in secondary forest, where there are more vec­
tors for transmission..
This increased potential for predation on crops
in the shorter-fallowed areas is an important element of the changing
agricultural scene, and has great effects on the entire agricultural
systemo
,
Summary of the Growing Season
The corn growing season is a fairly relaxed time in the year,
and activities are relatively unstructured..
Visits to the field are
irregular and multi-purpose, and often take less than the whole day0
Labor is provided by the individual or a small group„ The aver­
age man hours spent at each task are given in Table 17=
Included are
estimates of time spent in cleaning the trail to the field, an activity
performed only by those farmers who plan to bring a horse or mule to the
fieldo
They may even go so far as to build log bridges over small creeks
so the horse can passo
Table 17o Average labor figures for growing season taskso
Task
Izabal Mean
Man Hours
Per Field*
Aguacate Mean
Man Hours
Per Field
Man Hours
Per Ha.
100=5
50.1
45.4
22.4
not given
40.4
lo9
=9
not given
not given
Build corn house
Checking
Road cleaning
"From Carter 1969°
70.9
Man Hours
Per Ha.
not given
182
Though my figures are not very far different from those given by Carter
for the Izabal Kekchi, I believe that measuring problems have led to a
strong tendency to underestimate the more casual, but still important,
amount of labor spent by tropical agriculturalists in protecting and
checking fields during the growing season» Given that most of the vari­
ation in labor devoted to growing season tasks is independent of the
size of the field (checking the field is done whatever the size), I
think it makes much more sense to present labor figures on a per plot
rather than a per hectare basis0
Otherwise there is a temptation to
simply use the per hectare figures to extrapolate to larger field areas,
as in recent simulations of the labor inputs to tropical forest agricul­
ture (e0go, Wiseman 1978) 0
Harvest, Storage, and Transport
I consider these three tasks together because they are often
performed together on a single day*
Transportation is particularly hard
to separate from other labor, because corn is carried back from almost
every trip to the cornfield, whatever the purpose of the trip, after
the harvest6
Timing
The timing of the harvest is flexible and can be fit to the
schedules of other tasks, though with some cost in damaged and spoiled
corn for longer delays<> The physical limit on the start of the harvest
is the ripening of the corn in late July to mid-August0
All varieties
ripen at the same rate, except for the introduced 7-week corn, and are
adapted to moisture by having tight huskso
If the corn has not been
183
harvested by December, even this will not protect the grain, which will
start to sprout on the cob0
Ritual
The beginning of harvest is a festive event and harvest ritual
is mainly devoted to giving thanks and strengthening community soli­
darity »
,
The harvesting of the first green corn (rax hal) is done by all
household members together, and household cluster members are often
invitedo
Pom is burned at the field on arrival, and everyone then
'breaks' (k'oloc) ears from the stalk, and carries about 50 back to the
houseo
Others in the village are invited to come share the large pots
of green corn porridge (lab), green corn tamales (is gwa) and thick
toasted green corn tortillas (culuj) which are cooked0
Offerings of
lab and culuj are placed on the household altar, and gifts of green corn
ears are given to all visitorso
An average of 1890 ears of green corn
are harvested before the ears begin to dry out.
The beginning of the dried corn (chaki hal) harvest is marked by
a ritual performed by the female head of the household*
She burns pom
and a candle on the home altar, and puts a bowl of chicken caldo, tor­
tillas, and some cacao drink before the saint's image there, praying in
thanksgiving*
She then feeds a ceremonial meal to the harvesters as
they return from the field with the first sacks of dried corn*
The im­
portance of the female practitioner in harvest ritual marks, I think,
the passage of the corn from male ownership in the field to female
ownership in the home*
A resource of the forest becomes for the first
time subject to control in the domestic realm*
184
The best harvest time is said to be the waning moon, which en­
sures that the corn seed will be hard and resistant to weevils0
This
follows a general pattern of beliefs about the moon’s influence on crops
and material So
Wood or thatch for houses is also cut on the waning moon
to promote resistance to rot0
When the corn is stacked in the corn house, pom is again burned
before and after the day's work in order to ward off termites and other
predators on stacked dry corn0
Methods
When the green corn is just about ready for the first harvest,
those men who have their fields in the same area will get together and
decide on a date to clear the road to the fieldso
The group brings
pressure on all who will use a road to participate0 By this time men
will also have arranged to borrow (or will have built) a dugout for
carrying the corn across large watercourses,.
The first corn harvested is the 7-week government corno
Though
this corn is quick to rot from too much moisture, stores badly and
yields poorly, it is valued because it yields green corn in early July
and dry corn a couple of weeks later at a time when most households in
the village are running shorto
People with the earliest green corn
often sell small quantities to others who are still waiting and hungry
for the roasted green ears (k ’ux)o
The quantity of the 7~week corn is usually so small that it is
just harvested as needed, and is finished by mid-August when the main
harvest begins0
A little over half the Aguacate farmers grew 7-week
185
corn in 1979, planting an average of 4C8 quarts of seed and harvesting
an average of 22 kg of shelled corn for each quart (25=6 kg return per
kg of seed, much lower than the yield of native races)»
The local corn varieties begin to yield dry corn in late August =
The method varies slightly with the size of the work group= A man har­
vesting alone will break ears and carry them to the cornhouse for many
days before taking a day or two to stack the unhusked ears in the cribo
If a larger group is working together, they will divide the labor with
most men breaking ears and throwing them into small piles (tub) which
are collected and hauled to the corn house by other men who also stack
thenu
If harvest is delayed or the season is unusually wet, all effort
will be devoted to piling the ears in the shelter of the corn house,
and stacking will wait until the harvest is finished,,
Breaking of the ears is complicated by the thick vines and weeds
which cover the field by this time0 Each harvester carries a machete
to cut through the worst of the tangle and will clear weeds away from
any interplanted crops he finds during the process,.
If beans are going
to be planted in a part of the field, all growth there will be cleared
and finely chopped into a mulch as the harvesting proceedso
Before stacking, the ears are sorted into three categories*
The
smallest and badly damaged ears are pig feed and are carried home im­
mediately instead of being stacked*
into small and large sizes*
The rest of the ears are sorted
If there are many small ones the crib will
be divided in two and the two sizes are stacked separately; otherwise
the large ears are stacked and the small ones are taken home sack by
sack*
186
The intent of stacking is to pack the corn so tightly that many
pests cannot get in0
There is also some aesthetic value placed on a
neatly stacked crib, with row after row of uniform cobs providing a
visible measure of the year’s labor and the coming year’s prospects0
There are standard measures of stacked corn0
The span from
fingertip to outstretched fingertip is called one moco.j, and from one
outstretched fingertip to the other elbow is oxib chumai xuco
The
largest corn cribs are 1 mocoj deep (about 16 ears end to end) and 2
mocoj wide (about 115 ears side to side) 0
A crib of this size with 40
layers (tzol) of corn is said to contain one mocoj of corn,^ and with
25 lines of corn it is called one bat0
Smaller crops are stacked in
cribs only oxib chumai xuc deep and one or two mocoj wide * To give the
size of his crop, often a matter of some pride, the farmer tells how
many lines he has, and how large the crib is, which is convenient for
the anthropologisto
Coarse jute sacks are used to carry the corn home0
packed in as tightly as possible and the end is tied*
The ears are
For long dis­
tances a man will carry about 35 kg on his back, containing about 200
large or 300 small ears0 For shorter distances he will tote a sack of
300 large ears weighing about 52 kgo
A horse carries two of these sacks
tied side-by-side on a roughly made wooden pack saddle covered with
hide0 Only when the corn is to be sold and must be carried long dis­
tances between villages is the corn shelled in the fields
^This is equal to about 9000 kilograms of shelled corn —
most men will ever harvests
This cuts
far more than
187
the weight of a given volume of shelled corn by about 27%,
n
but it is
not done on a regular basis because it deprives the household of the
useful cobso
8
Pests
Corn stored in the crib is attacked by insects and mammals,
limiting the length of time it can be stored*
corn are listed in Table 18*
Insects found in stored
Weevils do the worst damage„ and at times
you can actually hear them munching their way through the stacked corn*
Fortunately, most weevils die during the dry season, and farmers state
that after the first four months of storage weevils stop being a prob­
lem*
Stinging ants can work at any time though, and their appearance
provokes many farmers to invest in spray cans of insecticide*
Only one
Aguacate man currently treats his stored corn with aldrin, scattering
the powder (which is extremely toxic) on the lines as they are packed*
Most men just trust the thick husks of their corn and accept their
losses*
Insect damage is said to be only slightly worse in secondary
forest than in high primary forest*
The worst threat to stored corn comes from horses and mules
rather than wild animals*
These pack animals quickly learn the trail
to the field, and return there to eat corn whenever they can break free
from their tethers in the village, which is often*
There are two
7The cob weight per ear which I measured from some 150 samples was much
lower than that given by Cowgill (1972;277)» which is
of the total
weight of the ear* My figure is much closer to that given by Drucker
and Heizer (1960;40)* Most anthropologists have used Cowgill*s figure*
^Cobs are used for starting fires and as a native version of 8ozark
toiletpaper* 6
188
Table l8 0
Insect pests in stored corn0.
Kekchi Name
Description
K'eki max
Small black weevil
Caki max
Small dark stinging weevil ->■ Curculionidae
K ’ac li max
Large flat weevil
K'eki sane
Black stinging ant
Solenopsis sp=
K'eki chili"
Large black beetle
Orphulella sp0 (?)
Scientific Name
J
189
solutions;
the horse may not be brought all the way to the field, or a
fence may be built across the trail= Sometimes village horses or mules
find their way into someone else6s corn field if it is close to the vil­
lage 0
Some men build traps which can injure the offending animal, or
they will attack the animal with a machete when they catch it*
One'
quarrel which started this way is still continuing in Aguacate after
four yearSo
Coatimundis, agoutis (acam or watus, Dasyprocta punctata),
Sibnut (halau, cunicuius paca), skunks (par. Mephitis macroura), opos­
sums (uch, Didelphis marsupialis), and rats have all been known to
damage stored corn at timeso
The arrival of the European brown rat
(Rattus norvegicus) in the last ten years (Tim McDonald, personal com­
munication 1979 ) has been much more of a problem than any native animal0
The Kekchi practice 1spot control0 on larger mammals when their depreda­
tions get serious by staying at night and shooting the culprits0
reliable way has been found of catching the ratso
No
All of these pests
are much worse in secondary forest fields0 Men speak wistfully of the
old days when they all used primary forest and they could leave corn for
years without having to worry about animals eating in the cribs0
Even with pest damage, corn is left in the corn house for up
to two yearso
These southern villages which regularly produce a sur­
plus of corn have evolved a system where the farmers sell their stored
corn as soon as the next year's c'at c'al crop is in and they see that
the yield will be adequate for their own use0
In Aguacate and the nor­
thern villages the stored corn rarely lasts a year before being used up;
whatever is damaged is used to feed animals or to make corn beer (bo3) 0
Labor Use
Aguacate farmers claim that in the past, before people began to
grow corn in secondary forest, labor groups like those for planting were
called together at harvest time*
Today, they say, people harvest at
different times and some people have a lot more to harvest than others,
so people never work together in large groups anymore=
Some men, when
asked why they did not call a large group to help harvest, said they
did not want to be away from their fields for many days afterwards
(paying back the borrowed labor), because the corn would get too wet
and start to rot, and animals would come to eat it0
It may be that the
advent of rice, which is harvested in August, has pushed the corn har­
vest into a later time of year, when the danger of moisture damage to
the standing corn is greater0
Whether or not we accept the idealized view of the community
solidarity of the past, it is clear that small groups do most of the
harvesting at present»
The diversity of agricultural strategies in the
village and high variability in field size cause practical difficulties
in calling together large labor groups because labor requirements and
timing differ so much betwem households=
A man who grows a lot of rice
must delay the corn harvest until the rice is threshed (or birds will
eat it), while a man with a large corn harvest wants to get an early
start.
Those with no rice and small yields in their c'at c'al want to
finish the harvest as quickly as possible so they can get started on
the dry season field.
Household and household cluster labor resources also influence
the choice of a harvesting strategy,
A man with many workers in his
191
household cluster will try to finish the harvest with little outside
help0
Those with no household help have to form groups with whoever
else is available —
usually other men in similar positions —
or they
must try to finish the chore by themselves0
When labor is exchanged in harvesting, each worker takes home a
sack of corn from the field where he works that day, so his household
will have a steady supply and he will not have to take the time to visit
his own field for corn,.
This practice looks like a form of payment, but
is actually just am extension of the common practice of borrowing corn
from relatives when it is more convenient than going to one's own fieldo
For example, many men who have their fields on the other side of Aguacate Creek from the village will borrow their daily corn from a rela­
tive's field when the river is flooded over the bridge, and will pay the
corn back when the river goes down0
So far, labor in all phases of
corn production has resisted monetarization0
The total labor spent in harvesting corn.is listed in Table 19=
Table 19^ Labor expenditures in harvesting for 12 Aguacate farmers0
Task
Range
Per Plot
Harvest
36 - 446
253=2
117=2
91=8
0-9 9
44.8
22o 6
48.1
Stacking
Mean Hours
Per Plot
Mean Hours
Per Ha.
Izabal Mean
Hours Per Ha.*
“Carter 19&9
The correlation between amount of corn harvested and amount of
time spent harvesting and stacking is not particularly strong (r = o677.
192
2
r
= <>4599 p < o05) o The lack of a direct linear relationship implies a
considerable amount of variation in the efficiency of labor, as well as
differences due to the different distances to fields0
Quantity of labor spent in transportation increases with dis­
tance to the field and quantity harvestedo
I have used farmers' counts
of the number of trips they have made to their fields to carry back
corn, multiplied by the time it takes for a round trip, plus a halfhour at the fields loading0
These figures show wide variation in man
hours per year, part of it due to the fact that some men own draft
animalSo
Average labor spent in transportation is 222 man hours per plot,
or 102o7 man hours per hectare (compared with Carter's figure of 98o3
man hours per hectare)o
Despite complicating variables, transport labor
correlates well with total yield from a field (r = 083, p < oOl) and with
the travel time to the field (r = o77« p<oQl)0
As noted above, a lot of corn hauling is done as part of other
laboro
Some transportation is done by women and children; the flexible
labor supply offered by a large household or household cluster can ease
the constant demands on the household head's time which hauling corn
entailso
A single worker is often drawn away from other tasks in order
to get corn for his family and pigs, and his wife cannot go if there
are no other females in the cluster to care for the children in her
absenceo
The large cluster can send one member while the rest continue
their work uninterruptedo
Summary of Harvesting
Harvest, storage and transport are tasks that can be scheduled
flexibly over a long period of time, and which can be done by different
sizes of work groups« Larger groups seem to offer some advantage by
allowing a division of labor„
It is yield rather than distance to the
field, field size or fallow status that determines the amount of labor
required for stacking and harvesting, though labor in transportation
does increase with the field’s distance from the villageo
Yield
By the time the farmer has neatly stacked, his corn in the corn
house, he has already consumed up to a quarter of the harvesto
I was
able to get yield figures which included this large quantity eaten
before stacking (pigs consume much of this, but 7=week corn and many
green ears are also eaten by humans before stacking) for only 11 far­
mers,
This figure was arrived at by counting the number of sacks hauled
home before stacking, and by counting the green ears harvested.
Sample
sacks were weighed and counted, and sample ears were shelled so a cob
weight-shelled weight conversion could be made.
The results are in­
cluded in Table 20,
Most yield figures for Maya swidden farmers are derived from
farmer’s estimates, or from counting stacked ears so the quantity eaten
before stacking is missed, which lowers the totals.
Another problem
with comparison has been the use of Cowgill’s (1962s277) ratio of 100s55
for converting unshelled corn weight to shelled corn weight (used by
Reina 196? and Carter 1969 among others).
This may be accurate for some
19k
Table 20o Maize yields of 11 Aguacate farmers in 1979o =— Information
is given for 11 corn fields, including yields figured on a
total, per hectare and per man hour basiso
Field
Noo
Fallow
Status3
Size
(ha)
Total Man
Hours Labor
Total
Yield
(kg)
Kg per
Hectare
Man Hours
Per ha=
Kg Per
Man Hour
1
Q
1*67
1874=5
4709
2820
1122.5
2.51
2
Q
2.09
1410=7
3708
1775
674=6
2.63
3
Q
1=67
1397oO
3020
I808
836=5
2=16
k
Q
2=51
1376=5
2754
IO97
584=4
2.00
5
N
1=67
823=5
2014
1205
492=5
2.45
6
N
2=09
709=5
2325
1112
339=5
3=28
7
N
2.09
1031=5
2724
1303
493=5
2.64
8
N
2=51
480=5
479
191
191=4
1 .0 0
9
N
2.51
1066.0
3598
1433
424=7
3=38
10
N
1=67
1036=8
2197
1316
620.8
2.12
11
N
2=51
934=8
3204
1267
372.4
3=43
aQ = O'uiche, high primary forest; N = al c'al, secondary forest0
195
small—seeded varieties of corn, but the Toledo corn varieties average to
a much higher ratio of 100s70, a figure which is close to that given by
Drucker and Heizer (1960s40) for Tajin Totonac corn0
The average yellow
or white Kekchi ear weighs iBl grams unshelled, yielding 127 grams of
shelled seed*
The uncritical use of Cowgill's figure could underesti­
mate actual yields by as much as 22#«
Despite the measurement problems, the Kekchi yield figures are
not unreasonably high compared with other lowland Maya groups, consider­
ing the longer fallow cycles employed by the Kekchi (see Table 21) 0
Stadelman's (1940) figures for long fallow cultivation in the highlands
are close to those reported by the Kekchi for their wet season fieldso
The comparison of groups shows a clear tendency for higher yields with
longer fallow cycles, with a discrepancy at the very longest end of the
scale where the shorter-fallowed Jacaltec fields yield more than those
in Aguacate village=
This is probably due to the better climate and
volcanic soils in the highlands,.
The figures on Tables 20 and 21 support the contention of the
Kekchi themselves, that "the larger the trees, the more corn*' The
longer the fallow, the higher the yield per hectare; there is a positive
correlation between travel time to the field (a rough index of fallow
status) and yield per hectare (r = 063, p < o05)„ Another demonstration
of this relationship is given in Table 22o
Despite the flexibility and
imperfections in the Kekchi classification of fallow status, it is here
demonstrated to be effective as a predictor of yields per hectare0
There is no reason to doubt the Kekchi explanation for lower yields in
196
Table 21o Maize yields for a sample of Maya farmers0
Average
Kg Per Ha.
Range of
Kg per Ha.
Group/Area
Source
Kekchi/Toledo
Present study
<7
1515
1097 - 2820
Jacaltec/Highlands
Stadelman 19^0
<9
1845
1024 - 3102
Yucatec/Yucatan
Morley 1946
160 7
1303
1054 - 1551
Ladino?/La Venta
Drucker & Heizer
I960
20.0
1050
800 - 1100
Mbpan/Peten
Cowgill 1962
c. 30.0
877
not given
Kekchi/Izabal
Carter 1969
ll.l=67oO
846
not given
Mam/Highlands
Stadelman 1940
Co 36.0
1024
620 - 1240
Kekchi/Toledo*5
Present study
64.1
' 839
234 ~ 1943
R Value*
as defined by Joosten (1962) and clarified by Ruthenburg (1971) is
P
Number of years of cultivation of a plot x 100
“ Number of years of fallow < ■ number of years of cul­
tivation
The smaller the R value, the less intensive the agricultural system»
A value of 1 means a field is rested for 100 years for each year of
use, while the maximum value is 100, when a field is in continuous use0
^These figures relate to the Kekchi practice of dry-season corn farming
which is detailed below0
Table 22.
Yield of corn in different kinds of fallow.
CV
Fallow Type
N
Mean Yield, kg/ha
Low and high secondary
forest
7
1118.1
3 7 %
High primary forest
(Q’uiche)
4
1875=0
3 & %
t = 2 .219, p < . 0 5 , one tailed test.
197
secondary forests
weed competition and higher crop losses to predators
and disease, more than declining soil qualityo
Labor and Yield
Given the abundance of land near Aguacate, people have some
choice between the kinds of forest they cut for their c'at c"al* From
the above it is clear that people are not all maximizing yield per
hectareo
Given that the limiting resource in Kekchi agriculture is
labor, hot land, a more significant measure of productivity is yield
of corn per man hour of worko
This figure, when calculated, proves to
have some surprising characteristics as well as those which were ex­
pected..
First, an expected result is that, in general, more work is re­
warded with more corn*
Man hours per plot and yield per plot are highly
correlated (r = <>79, r
= =>624, p < o01) 0
These two variables are cross­
tabulated on Figure 10, and a regression line is plotted which indicates
that for each additional man hour of labor expended, a farmer can expect
to reap about 1082 kilograms of shelled corn at harvest time„ This
linear regression line is actually the flat mid-section of an 8S"-shaped
curve, for above about l800 man hours per plot the rate of return will
surely fall off because of the problem of scheduling additional labor
so it can be used efficiently0
In determining eventual yield, the
quantity of man hours spent in clearing and planting are by far the
most important in determining the eventual yeild of a ploto
Total labor expenditures in man hours per hectare increase with
longer fallow periods=
As the Kekchi are aware, high forest takes more
Slope • 1.86
1500
M A N HOURS
PER PLOT
1000
-
800
2000
3000
4000
KG SHELLED CORN PER PLOT
Figure 10,
Crosstabulation of labor expenditure and yield per plot. — The
crosstabulation shows total man hours of labor for each field and
the total yield of shelled maize in kilograms. The calculated
correlation coefficient is .79. A regression line of slope =
1.86 is plotted.
199
work on a per hectare basis than does low forest, both because there is
more labor involved in clearing large trees and because of longer travel
times to the fieldso
This relationship is confirmed by the high posi­
tive correlation of travel time to fields (as an approximate measure of
fallow status), and total man hours per hectare (r = o736, p < o01)o
The obvious question then, is whether or not the additional
labor inputs needed to cultivate primary and high secondary forest are
repaid by the higher yields derived,.
The data in Table 23 show
The answer is an unqualified 'noo"
the mean yield in kilograms of corn per man
hour from seven secondary forest fields (including both high and low
secondary forest), and from four primary forest fields, including co­
efficients of variation in that yieldo
Table 23=
Yield of corn per man hour and fallow status=
Mean Yield in
Kg Per Man Hr0
Fallow Status
N
Travel Time
in Minutes
High secondary
forest (al c’al)
6
30 - 60
2=88
20%
High primary
forest (q’uiche)
4
90 - 120
2=33
13%
Coefficient of
Variation of Yield
t = 3 <>838, p < o 05» one tailed test
Yields per man hour actually decline with increased fallow
lengtho
This decrease is also revealed by the negative correlation be­
tween travel time to fields and yield per man hour (r = -<,602, p < 0O5)„
So while yield per hectare increases in primary forest fields (Table
22), yield per man hour is lower„ Why bother to use the primary forest
fields at all?
200
One possibility is that the difference between the two kinds of
forest is too small to be noticeable to the farmer„ This explanation
makes untestable cognitive assumptions*
A simpler and more factual
explanation is that Kekchi farmers, like subsistence agriculturalists
the world over, are seeking to minimize risk rather than just maximize
yield (McCloskey 1975; Coombs 1980; Tarrant 1974)=
The coefficients of
variation in Table 23 suggest that primary forest, fields' yields are
less variable and therefore less risky than those of secondary forest
fields*
The lowest yields of all, per man hour, were reported for a
low secondary forest field (1*0 kg/man hr, see Table 20), and the next
lowest yield was in a high secondary forest field which was devastated
by coatimundiso
So while the yields per man hour in secondary forest
are potentially great (as high as 3 o38 kg/man hr*), the risk is also
great*
The differences in agricultural strategies represented by the
choice of one kind of fallow for fields will be discussed further below,
in the context of the other major Kekchi productive systems*
Some other
aspects of wet season corn yield will also be discussed at that time*
The Early Corn Field (Junxil C'al)
Moisture is only a limitation on corn growth during short periods
in the agricultural year in Toledo* The low rainfall of the dry season
is only a problem for very young corn and for corn which is flowering
(see Roosevelt 1980;l48; Aldrich, Scott and Leng 1975)° This means that
corn can in fact be grown at almost any time of the year in Toledo, and
that clearing and burning are the real constraints on seasonality of
201
production*
Given the incentive, the Kekchi are willing to clear and
plant corn outside of the main wet-season c'at c'al cycle I have de­
scribed above * The most common practice is the river-levee dry season
planting described in the next section*
A more rare planting takes
place in what is called an ’early field' (junxil c’al)*
When a farmer finds his corn stocks very low, and does not think
he will have enough to last until the next September’s harvest9 a spe­
cial planting of an early field is one option*
In northern villages
where a cash economy and access to the marketing system allows a farmer
to count on buying staple food, there are no early plantings*
The early field is in most respects cultivated in the same way
as a c’at c’al, except that all cropping operations are scaled down and
begun between one and two months earlier*
Clearing must be finished by
the third week in January, and planting is finished as soon as a decent
burn can be managed, preferably by the end of February*
This is risky,
/
but the whole operation is one of desperation and the risk is not
■
counted*
If the year is very wet and burning must be delayed, the young
regrowth will be recut and the field will be burned and planted at the
regular time for the c’at c’al*
The early field is usually cut from high secondary forest in
small areas at the bottoms of valleys which will hold moisture well
through the dry season*
The fields are small because of the risk.
of the enterprise, and labor investment is kept to a minimum*
If the risk pays off, there are more benefits than just the
early supply of corn for the household*
The green corn from the early
field can be harvested as early as the first week of May, when there is
202
no other green corn, and few other fresh green vegetables, in the vil­
lage o Many people, even from other villages, will come to buy the green
ears (aj) and a good deal of cash can be raised*
Usually all the corn
is gone within a month of ripening, so a corn house does not have to be
built for storage*
Only those men with a large household or household cluster labor
force can find the time to make an early field without a major disrup­
tion of the scheduling of their other crops*
It is difficult to induce
other men to join in labor groups to cut and clear for an early field
because they are busy elsewhere or have no immediate need for the return
day of labor in their own work*
Only the largest household units can
motivate the labor supply needed to cut a large field at this time of
year*
Only one Aguacate household made an early field in 1979; because
of a miserable corn harvest the previous year when low secondary forest
was used for the c'at c'al* The early field was cleared very close to
the future site of the year's c'at c'al so the two fields could be con­
veniently visited on the same day*
Most labor was provided by the three
adult males in the household cluster, and all three dwelling units
shared in the harvest * One labor group of eight men (five from outside
the cluster) was called together for one day to cut the largest trees on
the site, but all the men called were paying back labor debts still out­
standing from the previous year*
There is no way of telling if early fields were more common in
the past when the purchase of foodstuffs was less of an option if corn
stocks ran short*
I was told that the practice is presently more common
in villages that do not have levee land for dry season corn fieldso
The
dry season crop usually serves to make up corn shortages in the c’at
c’al harvest, and if there is no place for the dry season field, the
early field is the next best backup0
Another common reason for making
an early field is a household moving to a new village0
Moves usually
take place during the wet season, and the farmer will often begin to
make a small early field as soon as his house is built, so he will have
corn to tide him over until the main harvesto
Dry Season Riverbank Cornfields:
The Sak8ecuai
The names for the dry season Corn crop sire expressive:
matahambre, the Spanish name, means literally *kills hunger,' and the
Kekchi name of sak*ecuaj literally translates to *sun field,* which
implies that the crop is planted as an emergency measure to make up for
corn shortages from the wet season cropo
This is indeed the way that
most anthropologists and geographers have felt about the role of dryseason second cropping in the Mesoamerican lowlands (Reina 196?; Reina
and Hill 1980; Carter 1969; Kelley and Palerm 1952)=
They express the
opinion that dry season yields are low, and the practice is relatively
unimportant, and their treatments are correspondingly cursory0
The Kekchi term sak*ecuaj merely notes that the crop is grown
during the hot, sunny part of the year0
They consider the dry season
field an important and sometimes essential part of their yearly agricul­
tural cycleo
Anthropologists are also beginning to realize that dry-
season double cropping on seasonally-flooded riverine soils is a vital
and important part of lowland agriculture which has had a central role
in the evolution of agricultural ecosystems in the tropics (Culbert,
204
Spencer and Hagers 1976; Culbert, Hagers and Spencer 1978; Coe and Diehl
1980; Coe 1974; Roosevelt 1980)0
The importance of the system lies
mainly in its potential for intensification, because of the higher fer­
tility status of the seasonally flooded levee soilso
As will be shown
below, this is why the importance of the sak*ecuaj field is much greater
than it appears to be on the basis of just the absolute quantity of
corn grown in it0
Site Selection
Hoisture is the major limitation, and the major cause of risk in
dry season corn cultivation*
Sloping land on limestone or clay hills
dries out too quickly after intermittent dry season rains, so most of
the land used for the wet season c'at c8al is unusable during the dry
season*
Only an elaborate terrace system like those built by the
ancient Haya in central Belize (Saxe and Wright 1966; Ower 1927;
Puleston 1978; Turner 1978) would make the hill soils usable during the
dry season, by trapping moisture and storing it behind impermeable walls*
I suspect that the ancient terraces were constructed for this purpose
rather than solely as a means of controlling erosion (as suggested by
Puleston 1978:2$0 and Healy, Waarden and Anderson 1980)*
Low-lying, less permeable soils are the only choice during the
dry season, but because standing water will quickly damage a corn plant,
a usable spot for sak*ecuaj must also drain well enough so that a hard
shower will not lead to flooding for more than a few hours*
Only a few
areas occupy the narrow band between too wet and too dry; a few pockets
within the hills and the higher parts of the alluvial levees*
205
Figure 7 details the extent of levee soils in Toledo* showing
that several villages have no access to levee lando
In these villages
the lowest-lying part of the wet season c'at c'al is sometimes used for
a sak* ecua.j by clearing away the cornstalks after the harvest = The
methods* timing and yields of this recultivation of the c'at c'al are
very similar to those I will detail here for the levee cultivation I
observed in Aguacate 0
Soils and Vegetation
The natural* undisturbed levee vegetation is a dense gallery
forest dominated by huge fig trees (Fiscus spp„) and densely packed with
cohune palms, fragrant Quamwood, and Santa Maria0 Little of this
original community survives today because of human activity, and the low
shrub and vine successional association which replaces the gallery
forest is found in most places« The low growth is called vega by Mopan
and Creole speakers, and sajal by the Kekchi0
Sajal is characterized by the Kekchi as soft (k'un) vegetation,
meaning that it is easily chopped with a machete and has few woody
specieso
Vines, especially Morning Glories (sarab sotz, Ipomoia spp0),
tie the low growth together into thick, impenetrable mats0
Many of the
plants in sajal are armed with spines or thorns, and four common species
(kobe xan, la', cajam la' and mara') produce itching, irritation, and
swelling when leaves or sap touch the skin0
Table 24 lists the Kekchi, common, and scientific names of some
of the species which compose the sajal communityo
Few firm identifica­
tions were possible because there has been so little work on these un­
impressive plants, and those who have looked at early successive 'weeds'
206
Table 24«
Some plants of the riverside secondary succession0
Kekchi Name
Creole or Spanish
Latin Binomial
Kobe xan
?
Elytraria spp.
La'
?
Urera caracasana
Cajam la'
Picapica
Puch uch
Ortiguilla
Rax q'uix
Pringamosa
Pach'aya
Guinea Grass(?)
Stizolobium pruritum
(or Mucuma pruriens)
Tragia volubillis
?
Paspalum sp0
Sin chau
?
Smilax coriacea(?)
Jotz cor
?
Hyptis sp0
Sentiy a ch'o
Cundeamor» cerosee
Roc hab
?
Pe' ayuch
?
Momordica charantia
?
Passiflora foetida
Mara'
Elephant Ear
Xanthosoma sp<>
Tzakal mox
Waha leaf
Heliconia sp0
K'erk
Wild plantain
Heliconia sp=
Ts’uk
?
Heliconia sp0
Sarab sotz
Morning Glory
Obel
Bullhoof
Ipomoia sp0 and
Calonyction spo
Piper umbellatum
A'l
Trumpet tree
Cecropia sppc
Ch'on te
Wild Papaya
Carica Papaya
20?
in Belize have "not bothered to collect local names of plants
( e 0g o »
Kellman and Adams 1970) 0
Soils in levee areas are called green soil (rax ch’och), because
they are usually covered with a thick bed of decaying vegetation0
Prob­
lems are only encountered if there is too much sand (samahi) in the
soil, which can make the soil dry out too quickly0
Sandy soils are
assiduously avoided where detected, but sometimes floods will deposit
sand on a sak'ecuaj field which is already in use and force the farmer
to abandon the ploto
Fallow Cycles
Sak'ecuaj fields are valued highly because of their sustained
fertilityo
Due to seasonal flooding and regrowth of dense herbaceous
cover, grass invasion does not become a problem during annual cropping
in the levee fieldso
Each year the vines and herbs which have grown
over the plot to head height are slashed and chopped into a green mulch
which gradually decays, releasing organic nutrients for use by crops0
The Izabal Kekchi assist the mulching-regrowth cycle by planting a non­
edible legume called the velvet bean (Stitzolobium sp0(?)) along with
the corn0
The bean plants shade out competing weed growth, fix nitrogen
into the soil, and are easily re-cut into a green mulch every year0
The
Kekchi in Toledo have heard of the practice from Guatemalan immigrants,
but do not follow ito
Perhaps the greater moisture in Toledo makes the
practice unnecessary, and the wild legumes are an adequate substituteo
Aguacate men state that the average sak*ecuaj field can be used
for five years in a row before the ground starts to get hard (cau ru li
ch'och) and the field must be rested for one or two yearso
Hard here
208
refers,to an actual change in soil texture brought about by exposure to
;
"
'
Y
the sun and direct rainfall, and perhaps by leaching=
The reasons for
fallowing sak'ecuaj fields are therefore very different from the reasons
for abandoning wet-season fields0
The stated ideal of the fallow regime is not far different from
the figures derived from tracing the use-lives of 28 Aguacate fields0
The average period of use without
fallow was 5=2 years, and the average
length of time the fields lay fallow between
periods of use was 208
years, which is slightly longer than the stated minimumo
The same data
prove that soils do not always get hard and unusable after five years?
two fields were counted which had been used continuously for eight and
twelve yearso
Terrain
Within the class of sak8ecua.j land there is considerable vari­
ation due to landfornio
The typical riverside profile in the transi­
tional hill/coastal-plain terrain
favored by the Kekchi for settlement
has steep, high river banks which
slope down to a lower, quite flat
bench cut by narrow winding drainage channels and dotted with swampy
ponding areaso
This bench either grades into true swamp from 50 to 100
meters from the river, or slopes up to the bases of small, steep hillso
In some places the hills are close to the river and all the zones are
compressed, in other places there is a strip of low swampy terrain at
the base of the hillso
Climax vegetation and drainage vary over the profile0 The high
levee by the river8s edge and the slope at the base of hills both drain
quickly and support high forest with many large trees<, The level area
between is less well drained, and parts are still muddy at the height of
the dry season0 Climax vegetation here is lower, with much Dumb Cane
(Dieffenbachia sp0), Razorgrass (Scleria bracteata) and Escoba Palm
(Crysofilia argenta) in the wetter placeSo
The drainage characteristics of each area affect the fate of
the corn planted there0
The lowest areas hold enough soil moisture in
their heavy clays for the corn to draw on even if the dry season begins
early and lasts longer than usualo
But if the dry season is short or
rainy, standing water may kill the corn0 Planting on higher and drier
spots is productive in wet years, but the corn will suffer if the dry
season is long, especially at germination and flowering,.
The ideal strategy for minimizing risk in the face of both cli­
matic variation and differences in the quality of soils under different
moisture conditions is to use a variety of terrain so that under the
q
worst case dry or wet year there will still be some yield= The very
fine mosaic of micro-zones in the levee area allows some farmers to
clear a single field which spans both wet and dry areas„ But these
areas are rare and highly valued, and most farmers seek to clear more
than one field in different zones, a strategy very much like that of
medieval English open.field farmers (McCloskey 1975)»
^This kind of risk minimization is often called 'minimax' (Coombs 1980;
Mclnerney 196?), though there are several game-theoretical paradigms
for arriving at an optimum solution (see Tarrant 197^s38=45)o Here
I assume that, like most subsistence farmers, the Kekchi are follow­
ing either a highest-worst-case (Wald's criterion) paradigm, or a
maximum-average over best and worst cases strategy (Bayes Solution)
(both terms are explicated in Coombs 1980 and Tarrant 197*0 °
Land Tenure
Personal control of land becomes more strongly asserted among
the Kekchi as fallow cycles become shorter=
This rule holds true for
sak1ecuaj land, which is considered to be the personal property of the
man who clears it from virgin forests
The Kekchi norm of ownership of
sak*ecuaj land is very similar to those of modern Americans, with one
important exceptions
While the property can be loaned, given as a gift,
and inherited, it cannot at present be soldo
In practice the tenure system is more flexible than the firm
statements of the norm which I heard would suggests
Possession can only
be asserted under customary law, not the laws of Belize, which hold that
all reservation land is Crown property*
This means that any penalty im­
posed by the Alcalde on someone who breaks customary law can be appealed
successfully to the District Commissioner*
Only the weight of com­
munity opinion supports the native concept of ownership, and this weight
does not always counterbalance an individual’s greed or acquisitiveness
(see Howard 1977a on the social costs of acquisitiveness in a Kekchi
village)*
In 1979 in Aguacate there were two separate incidents in which
a sak’ecuaj field was stolen, meaning that the plot was used without
J>
the permission of the owner*
In both cases the offended party did not
take the case to the Alcalde’s court*
One professed forgiveness because
the offending party was a newcomer in the village who did not know that
the piece of land was owned*
The other wronged party, reputed to be a
sorcerer (ilonel), claimed that he had other ways of getting even with
the offender without having to air the case before the village*
211
There is no great shortage of sak*ecuaj land in Aguacate at
present, so these disputes simmer rather than explodeo
Many men now own
plots which they do not use, and they will often comply with a request
to loan the field for a year or two, especially if the request comes
from a kinsman,.
This custom can continue because cultivation does not
impair the fertility of a plot*
Many men actually feel that it is good
for the land to be used regularly, because then the trees will not grow
too high, and crowd out the beneficial sajalo
The value of sak*ecuaj fields is not a mere product of scarcity,
or of their sustained fertilityo
The labor needed to clear a plot from
virgin forest is far greater than the work which is needed every year to
chop and mulch the sajalo The Kekchi value land in respect to labor
investment, and consider it part of the natural order of things that
rights of ownership should accrue to those who invest their labor in
clearing forest (an attitude familiar from the American frontier)o
Distance
Aguacate is located almost one kilometer from Aguacate Creek,
and the levees where the sak'ecuaj fields lie0 Most other villages are
also some distance from their levee fields, a distance which restricts
the access of pigs to the crops« Pig problems are also ameliorated by
the many small creeks and streams which cross the levee areas and keep
pigs out in all but the driest years.
Operating as if they had read about the 'law of least effort,'
the Kekchi prefer sak'ecuaj fields which are closest to their village0
Those residents who have lived longest in a village therefore own the
212
fields closest to the village, while newcomers must find fields pro­
gressively further from their residences unless they can steal, inherit
or otherwise acquire one of the closer fields =,
Of the three men who moved to Aguacate in 1979, one appropriated
a field belonging to someone else (and was bewitched for his transgres­
sion) , and the other two had to go almost an hour downstream to find
and clear fields from virgin vegetation*
It was the opinion of several
men (who all owned closer fields) that the longer distance was too
great, that the amount of corn harvested from a dry-season field is not
worth all the extra travel time to a field an hour away*
Thus being an early settler of a village or the descendant of
an early settler (or even the affine of an early inhabitant) gives
access to a limited resource*
Dry season fields which are closer to the
village will, all other things being equal, give a higher yield per man
hour than fields at a greater distance*
This may well be the key to
the pattern of Kekchi village politics noted by Howard (1973« 1977) in
which the original settlers of a village and their descendants form a
political faction which controls the alcalde office and excludes late­
comers from power*
Controlling this office means control
o f
land dis­
putes (more so in the past when there was no District Commissioner con­
tinually looking over the alcalde's shoulder), and therefore control of
access to sak* ecuaj fields in prime locations*
As will be noted below, sak° ecuaj plots increase enormously in
value when population pressure on wet-season land increases, and this
makes the political control of access to this land much more important
too*
It is not improbable that this kind of conflict lay at the root
213
of prehistoric social stratification in the lowland tropics, as proposed
by Flannery and Coe (1968) and more recently expounded by Coe and Diehl
(1980) and Roosevelt (1980)0
Ritual
The ritual of the dry-season crop is very similar to that of the
c'at c'al cycleo
Because the sak'ecuaj agricultural operations take
less time, and perhaps because they are less dangerbus, ritual
tends to be a bit less exacting and less frequent, and is in some cases
dispensed with entirelyo
No ritual is performed at the sak* ecuaj until clearing begins0
Then a candle is burnt in the church the night before, and pom is burned
at the field each day before work begins0
Sexual prohibition lasts a
shorter time than in c*at c'al clearing from a few days to a week de­
pending on the size of the fieldo
Planting ritual is the same as in the c'at c'al, except that the
playing of buluk is dispensed witho Here too the sexual prohibition
period is shortened,,
During the planting season pom is regularly burned
at the field and the c*at c'al rituals are repeated at the harvest of
the first green corn0
There is no dry corn harvesting ritual, perhaps
because the corn is always harvested slowly on an individual rather
than group basiso
Clearing
Methods of clearing sak11ecuaj depend oh how long the fields have
lain fallowo
Primary forest, as in the c*at c'al, must be cut early so
the fallen trees will dry enough to burn0 This, and the practical
214
problem that it takes a great deal of time to clear virgin forest, makes
it impractical to farm a first-year sak*ecuaj on the same schedule as
the rest*
Instead, in the first year they are usually treated as an
early field, that is, planted in late January and harvested in Mayo
If the sak*ecuaj plot has lain fallow long enough to have trees
larger than 20 cm, chopping and felling methods like those previously
described are usedo
The difference is that the fallen trees and under­
growth are chopped finely and scattered evenly over the field in order
to eliminate the piles of debris which provide convenient nesting places
for ratso
Farmers prefer not to burn0 Burning hardens the soil and
eliminates the desirable layer of mulcho
The fire can also escape easily
into adjacent fields in low sajal and ruin thento
is often too wet for a good burn anywayo
The chopping season
Burning is said to be the
sign of a lazy farmer who does not want to cut and spread the chopped
materialo
In clearing both virgin riverside forest and the long-fallowed
fields which have overgrown badly, the extra work required restricts the
amount of land which can be cleared each year to less than one hectareo
Men usually start the first year with a small clearing, and enlarge it
gradually each year until it reaches the desired size0
In normal sak'ecuaj which has been fallowed for less than four
years, clearing is done in a single processo
The tangled vegetation is
cut at the roots with sweeping horizontal machete strokes, and the mass
is then chopped on the ground with vertical strokes« A certain finesse
215
is involved so that the hands and arm have little contact with stinging,
irritating or thorny plantSo
The debris is evenly distributed when the chopping is done and
has been compacted somewhat by the worker’s feeto
No protective clear­
ing is done, except that a band of vegetation is left along the river
banko
The large trees there provide a wind-break and a modicum of shade
from the scorching dry-season sun0
The steep river bank would be of
little use anyway0 Cohunes are sometimes left for shade during the
first clearing, but they are usually cut down a few at a time in later
years for their edible hearts,.
Schedulingo Timing and clearing of a sak’ecuaj is a more deli­
cate problem than timing clearing in the c’at c’al, and involves a
balance of climate, regrowth of vegetation, and labor scheduling,,
The climatic restriction is due to the fact that the corn must
be growing well by the time the dry season begins= Given the variation
in the date of the onset of the dry season, the earlier the corn can be
planted the bettero
But the planting and clearing cannot be done too
soon because of scheduling problems= The ideal time for chopping the
sak’ecuaj conflicts with the time when rice and corn must be harvested,
and neither of the latter tasks can be postponed or the rice will be
eaten by birds and the corn will sprout on the ear0
Nature imposes a tight schedule on all clearing in the sak’ecuaj
due to the fast regrowth of competing weeds after the area is chopped
(since there is no burn to sterilize the soil)„
If the field is not
planted within a week after being cleared (5 days in wet spots), the
weeds will have too much head start on the young corn.
This is why the
216
clearing and planting of sak°ecuaj proceeds in a cyclic pattern; the
farmer continues clearing and planting one plot after another until he
has planted as much as he wants or until he thinks the dry season is
approaching too closelyc
The amount of sak'ecuaj planted by each farmer in a year is
determined by a homeostatic regulating system0 If the farmer's c'at
c'al harvest was small, he will finish harvesting early and will have
time to chop and plant several sak'ecuaj fields= He will need a lot of
sak'ecuaj to make up for his bad wet-season harvest0
If, on the other
hand, a man's c'at c'al harvest was high, harvesting will keep him so
busy that he won't have much time to clear sak'ecuaj, but then he won”t
need it very much either<, Sometimes the sak'ecuaj is dispensed with
entirely if a bumper crop in the c'at c'al is keeping the farmer busy0
Labor recruiting can be tricky in clearing sak'ecuajo
»
—---
Men who
finish harvesting their c'at c'al corn early have few neighbors who are
willing to break off their own harvesting to come and help, him chop his
sak'ecuajo
The seven day limit on the chopping-planting cycle requires
careful coordination and planning of a group of less than seven so that
each man will chop on successive days, and then return to plant each
field in order on successive days (assuming that all seven are chopping
their sak'ecuaj)o
Seven is the maximum labor group possible if all the
participants are expecting to be paid back their day of labor during the
same seven=day cycleD
These complications mean that well«=coordinated groups of close
kinsmen or neighbors are most able to get together for chopping= A more
common practice is for a man to use household or household cluster labor
21?
for several days, and then to call a small labor group together to
finish in a single day0
Field Size and Labor0 Given the limitations listed above, the
average field size for a sak'ecuaj field is much smaller than that of
wet-season fields.
All 1978 and 1979 fields in Aguacate averaged to­
gether to o 7 H ha=
Of 22 active farmers censused in 1979, 5 had no
sak* ecuaj, 9 had one field, 7 had two fields, and 1 planted three
The average area planted per planter was <>995 ha 0
fields o
Labor expenditure in clearing varied widely in a sample of 12
men, from a minimum rate of 107 man hours/ha= to a maximum of 38I 0 This
is wider than the range of variation in clearing wet season fields in
primary and secondary forestc The average rate in sak*ecuaj was 205=1
man hours/ha=, more than that required in clearing high secondary forest*
This heavy labor cost results from the extra time taken in chopping and
spreading the slashed material after it is cut down=
The tangled small
bushes and vines make it impossible to save labor by dropping one tree
on top of another, and furthermore, there is no division of labor in
clearing sak’ecuaj, so there is no inherent efficiency to larger labor
groupso
Planting
Sak'ecuaj is planted in the same way as the wet-season corn­
field,
The dibbling hole has to be a bit deeper in order to penetrate
the thick mat of decaying plant matter on the ground, and seeding rates
are about 20# higher (22=3 liters of seed per hectare vs0 18=1 liters)=
218
The same corn varieties are planted, though more seven-week corn is
planted in the sak'ecuaj where it is said to yield better0
Timingo Everything about choosing a time to plant revolves
around giving the young corn a month of good rainfall before the dry
season begins= The rule is that the earlier the better, with the ideal
being to have the seed in the ground by Todos Santos in the first week
of Novembero
The reality is that most men begin to plant after mid-November,
and they continue until the rains show signs of slacking0 The feast of
Esquipulas in mid-January is said to be the last possible planting date0
Corn planted late is said to have 'weak roots' and is easily blown down
by windo
It is best to plant drier fields the earliest, to take advantage
of the,remaining rainfallo
This can backfire if there is a short dry .
spell after planting and the residual soil moisture in the dry spot is
not sufficient for germination.
When this happens the field is re­
planted, but the results of replanting are said to be poor.
Labor. For 13 sample fields, the average was 77<>7 man hours per
hectare spent in planting, only slightly higher than in the c'at c'al.
As in the wet season, work groups are always called for planting, with
five to eight men participating.
The stated motive is to keep the en­
tire field at the same stage of growth by planting all of it at once.
The Growing Season
The locational permanence of the sak'ecuaj makes it a good place
for biennial and perennial crops like fruit trees, sugar cane, and
219
plantainso
There are permanent trails along the river bank and behind
the levees, so farmers need spend little effort in clearing or maintain­
ing the trails to their fields unless they are very distant from the
villageo
All the men who use a main trail to get to their fields will
convene yearly to build or repair log bridgeSo
Weeding is sometimes necessary because there is no regular burn­
ing in the sak'ecuaj to sterilize the soil0 As in the c'at c'al, spot
control of grasses is done with machete or by hando
Two months after
the corn is planted a more formal weeding is done with machete, a task
which is often a good excuse to call in any outstanding labor debts,,
The climbing vines are cut at their roots, and the largest heliconias
are cut because they shade the corn with their broad leaves©
The aver­
age labor spent on this task is only about 21 man hours/ha0, with a
maximum of 45 hours/ha= in a field which was planted too long after
clearing,.
These figures emphasize the cursory manner in which weeding
is done„
Weeding labor varies with the year's rainfallo
Very dry years
reduce weed competition, and sometimes no formal weeding is needed at
alio
Pestso
Insects, birds and mammals are the major cause of re­
duced yields in dry season fields; the Kekchi say that if it weren't for
the animals they could get just as much corn from the sak'ecuaj as they
do from the wet season fieldo
The permanence of the fields encourages
resident communities of pestso
All of the insect pests mentioned previously are active in the
sak'ecuaj, and worms are said to cause the worst damage of alio
Rats
220
and moles are the most pernicious animal pests, eating corn roots and
plants blown over by windo
Birds, especially grackles (ch*i cuan,
Cassidix mexicanus) and Muscovy ducks (batux, Cairina moschata), fre­
quent the river and often stop to eat young corno
They Eire killed with
slingshots if they cause too much damage0
Coatis are second to rats in the damage they do0 Tapirs (tix,
Tapirus bairdii) frequent the river levees at night, and then love to
roll on their backs in the young corn, leveling large areas but eating
littleo
They are much feared in the fields distant from the village
where they have not been hunted outo
The consensus is that the fields
furthest from the village are in the most danger from coatis and other
mammals because there is less human traffic there and because hunting
parties do not keep the population down enough.
Fields close to the village are, however, in the most danger
from grazing horses and mules, who take every opportunity to slip their
tethers and head for the young corn.
The three men who have fields
closest to the road into Aguacate complained to me constantly about
problems with horses.
The sharpest village dispute during my stay began
when a horse caught in a sak’ecuaj was injured with a machete, In the
balance, though, wild animals probably cause more damage than domestic
ones.
Farmers check their sak*ecuaj as often as possible, especially
if it is close to the village and can be visited on the way elsewhere.
Counting only visits made specifically to check, each farmer averaged
9,9 hours per month in checking, for a total of about 29,7 hours total
for the growing season.
Checking time bears no statistical relationship
221
to the size of the field, and a figure on a man hours per hectare basis
would be meaninglesso
Harvest
Green corn is harvested beginning in mid-January, and dry corn
is broken as early as the first week of February,
The latest plantings,
on the other hand, yield green corn in mid-April and dry corn in May,
Thus, staggered planting of two or more fields ensures a household a
steady supply of green and dry corn for four or five months.
The greater concentration of pests and animals in the levee
fields make it unwise to leave the corn standing in the field for more
than a few weeks after it ripens.
plants.
Storm winds also damage standing
So as soon as the green corn is hardening, a corn crib is built
in the home.
After the grains are hard, the ears are brought home, hung
from the rafters to dry for a few days, and stacked in the crib so they
are easily visible to any visitor who enters the ’living room,’ Only
in the most urgent cases is a labor group called to harvest.
Most men
can finish easily with household labor, since yields are small and the
distance to the field is short.
The corn crib in the home serves as a tactical reserve, cush­
ioning the impact of variation in the c’at c’al yield, or in the house­
holder’s ability to walk to the c’at c’al to bring back corn.
If a man
is too busy, sick, or lazy to haul in his wet-season corn, the corn
stored at home is used.
Otherwise the c’at c’al corn is brought in
daily until it is gone; then the daily supply is drawn from the home
crib.
222
Laboro Lacking an enumeration of harvesting and transportation
labor for the entire sample group of sak'ecuaj fields, I have calculated
an estimate for each field based on observations made in four fields=
About four sacks of corn (250 mixed size ears each) are har­
vested per nine hour man day0 With an average round trip travel time
of 90 minutes, five sacks are carried home per working day, or about
three times that quantity if a horse is usedo
Using yield figures, I
calculate that an average of 57o5 man hours are spent harvesting each
hectare, and that the average farmer spends 30=2 man hours/ha0 in trans­
porting corn0 The latter figure obscures a very wide difference between
those who use draft animals (l6«4 man hrs/ha =,) and those who carry their
corn on their backs (43o2 man hrs/ha«)o These figures are much lower
than comparable quantities in the c*at c'al both because overall yields
are lower and because travel time is shorter0
Yield
Kekchi informants stated that sak*ecuaj yields varied widely,
but that in general they were lower, per unit area than c'at c1al
yieldso
They were righto
Table 25 summarizes labor expenditures and
yields for 17 1978 fields, divided into those of men with draft animals
and those withoutD
Yields are lower, both per hectare and per man hour, than wetseason fields of any fallow status=
Also, yields were more variable,
with the highest yield per man hour more than four times the lowest,
and the highest yield per hectare better than nine times the lowest0
Distance from the village was not measured, but so little of
the total labor was spent in transportation or travel time that
Table 25o Labor and yield figures for 17 dry season corn fields in
Aguacate0
Household
Numbera
Size
(ha)
Total Man
Hours
Man Hours
Per ha 0
Total
Yield (kg)
Yield
Yield kg/
kg/ha0 Man Hour
Households with Draft Animal
00
o
ft
CO
308
08
I 0672
622
372
1037
621
1*67
17
2 o500
932
373
1622
649
1=74
16
l o460
587
402
1310
897
2*23
09
0836
355
424
843
1008
2.37
21
lo250
524
419
1310
1048
2=50
18
0836
423
506
1215
1453
2=87
867
2.06
Sub-means
367
330
395
1=07
409
Households without Draft Animal
23
2o090
490
234
=69
363
220
263
=72
s0
340
O
710
304
12
0836
312
374
282'
337
.90
13
=416
168
404
157
377
=94
15
1=670
650
390
937
561
1.44
07
0836
345
412
532
636
1.54
19
0836
393
470
906
1084
2.31
19
=836
406
485
1000
1196
2.46
19
=209
146
697
4o6
1943
2.78
11
0836
445
533
1301
1556
2.92
Sub-means
447
819
1.64
Total Mean
431
838*7
1=83
59#
43#
Total CV
aIf a household cultivated more than one field, they are listed
separatelyo Note the tendency for all the fields of a single house­
hold to cluster togethero
224
variation in distance could only account for a very small part of the
variation in yield per man hour*
Possession of a horse, on the other
hand, does make a difference in a man's labor productivity0
The yield figures in Table 25 raise an obvious question;
why
bother to grow corn in the dry season at all when the yields are lower
than in the wet season and the risks are higher?
There are several
answers, all of which illuminate the differences between the abstract
tenets of game theory and actual human decision-making»
First, the c'at c'al yields are often insufficient to last the
year; to last out the year the farmer must grow more, whatever the labor
costso
Second, the farmer's labor cannot be used effectively on any
other alternative crop during the dry-season0
In his eyes it is better
to use his labor at lower efficiency during the dry season than to sit
and not produce anything at alio
Let this be a caution to those who
see agricultural evolution as a simple transition from a high laborefficiency system to a lower return system (e0go, Boserup 1965)0
People
value their labor differently during various phases of the agricultural
cycleo
Another attractive aspect of the sak'ecuaj method is that during
the best years, when the crop escapes animals, insects, and disease,
the rewards can be handsomeo
The surplus corn can be sold within or
without the village or used to fatten pigsQ
One important note must be made in regard to the high varia­
bility in dry season corn yieldo
Much of this variability must be
blamed on the variable attitudes of farmers towards their fields, and
consequent variation in the intensity of their efforts0 Some men had
225
a ,plant it and forget it0 attitude, while others visited their fields
often, weeded them frequently, and kept a careful eye out for pests0
The extra attention was given by the men who needed the corn most in
order to feed large families or herds of pigsQ
resources to fall back upon —
labor —
Those who had other
relatives, a shop or occasional wage
were careless of their fields0
Extra attention is amply rewarded by higher yields0 Man hours
per hectare and yield per hectare correlate almost perfectly (r = o962,
p < o 001 for the 10 fields farmed without a horse) showing clearly that
there is a great deal of room left in the dry season corn system for
improving yield through more intensive labor0 The sak8ecuaj areas could
be yielding much more corn than they do at present0 We will take up
these issues of intensification of labor and land usage nexto
Kekchi Corn Production; Agricultural
Intensification
Fallow cycles, agricultural productivity and population growth
have been tied to each other in many prominent discussions of agricul­
tural .change (e0go, Boserup 1965? Baker and Sanders 1972; Spooner 1972;
Netting 1974; Dumond 1965; Cohen 1977; Flannery 1973; Geertz 1963)0
Boserup*s argument (1965) is the prototype= She says that extensive
(by which she means long-fallow) agriculture is more productive per man
hour than more intensive (shorter fallow) agriculture, and that there/
fore people adopt more intensive practices out of the necessity to sup­
port higher densities of peopleo
The key elements of her argument I
will discuss are her assertions that with agricultural intensification,
productivity per man hour decreases, while production per unit of land
226
increases (because it is used more frequently)o
In the course of this
brief discussion I also want to demonstrate that the current concep­
tualization of *agricultural intensification' as no more than a pro­
gressive shortening of fallow cycles is inadequate (Turner, Hanham and
Portararo 1977; Brown and Podolefsky 1976)0
A more appropriate defi­
nition of intensification must preserve the economist's original meaning
—
the application of greater labor, capital or skills to production
(Turner and Doolittle 1978)0
Let us compare Kekchi agricultural data with Boserup *s postu­
lates about the relationship between intensity and yield»
If we use
fallow period as a measure of intensity, we can divide Kekchi corn pro­
duction into three categories:
(1 ) primary forest swidden with an R
value of <4; (2) secondary forest swidden with R = 4-7; and (3) short
fallow dry season fields of R = 64-78„
There are wide extremes of
intensity in this sample; Table 26 tabulates the four variables of labor
and yield for the three sub-systems of Kekchi corn production0
This evidence shows intensification to be a more complex process
than Boserup's linear postulates suggest0 Shorter fallow cycles lead to
lower yields per hectare per year, and much higher yields per hectare on
a long term basis as wello
These are the two factors which are of great
interest to farmers who seek to maximize the yield of limited land re­
sources 0 But to a population which has abundant land, a maximum yield
per unit of labor is much more important than yield per hectare planted,
and here we see that the longest fallowed land is by far the most labor
intensive of Kekchi corn productive systems0 And, secondary forest
227
Table 26o
Intensification and productivity in Kekchi corn production.,
— This table divides Kekchi corn fields on the basis of the
ratio of years cultivated to years fallowed (Joosten's 1962
•B') and then shows four different measures of productivity
for each of the three fallow typeso Yield per hectare is
measured both per planted hectare per year, and for each
hectare averaged over a 25-year cycle=
Total Man
Hours per
Hectare
per Year
High Forest
R <4
Yield in Kg
per Hectare
per Year
Yield in Total
Kg per Hectare
Over 25 years
Yield in Kg
of Corn
per Hour
805
1875
<1,8751
2=33
Secondary
Forest
R = 4-7
419
1274
1»6332
2=61
Dry Season
Levees
R = 64-78
431
839
13,4465
1=83
1
The minimum fallow cycle takes 25 years for this kind of forest, in
practice it is longer and the figure represents a maximum0
2
This figure is calculated on the basis of an average 19=5 years of
fallow per plot0 25/19o5 x 1274 = 1633°
%
Based on a 208 year average fallow and 5 years of use°
228
swidden provides the highest yield per man hour of labor, rather than
primary forest swidden as suggested by Boserup0
These differences from Boserup’s postulates require that we see
a series of curved rather than linear relationships between yield and
intensity, which differ from Boserup mainly at the long-fallow end of
the curveo
The best explanation for the difference is that Boserup had
inadequate data on long-fallow systemso
Once a fallow cycle is short­
ened beyond about R = 10, the relationships she posited hold up wello
But even with these amendments we cannot accept Boserup6s causal
proposition, that population pressure leads to shortened fallow cycles
in all caseso
I have two further objections,.
First, Boserup seems to depend on a simple maximization model to
predict how people will behave under conditions of shortageo
They
change techniques out of a desire to maximize yield or prevent decline
in per capita production.
But recent (and also older) work on peasant
and subsistence farming has emphasized the importance of risk management
and minimization in farmers* agricultural decision-making (Johnson 1971;
Myren 1964; Cancian 1972)o
The importance of risk in agricultural
change is highlighted by the Kekchi data given in Table 27=
Here we see
that while yields from primary forest fields are lower than in secondary
forest fields, the risks, as measured by variation in yields per man
hour, are also lower0 Here is a case where the increased risk of the
shorter fallow system may be much more of an aversion than the reduced
yield. This example suggests strongly that the responses to land short­
age caused by population pressure may include various means of risk
minimization instead of, or as well as shortened fallow cycles and more
229
Table 2?o Variability in corn yields under three different fallow
cycleso — Average variability is calculated for yields per
hectare,1 and the coefficient of v a r i a t i o n ^ is listed for
yields in kilograms of corn produced per man hour0 These
figures give some idea of the relative risks involved in
each kind of cultivation,.
Average
Average Vari­
Average
ability in
Yield in Kg
Yield per Ha 0
Yield per Ha 0 per Man Hour
per Year
Coefficient
of Variation
of Yield per
Man Hour
High Forest
1875 kg
61=09
2=33
12=6%
Secondary
Forest
1274 kg
86=67
2=61
33.4%
839 kg
87.96
1=83
42=6%
Levees
^Average variability is defined by Hanks (1972:166) as
Maximum crop - minimum crop x 100
maximum crop
^The coefficient of variation is simply the standard deviation divided
by the average value x 100,
250
intensive land useo
As Grigg (1976, 1980) points out, there are many
responses to land shortage or population increase which do not require
that fallow cycles be shortened*
One method to increase yield is to multi- and inter-crop more in
the existing corn fields*
The Kekchi do increase their plantings of
minor crops in the c'at c'al and sak'ecuaj when land gets short, as
will be discussed further below*
They also, like European peasants
(Grigg^1976s151-152, 1980s44-47; Netting 1981), switch to higheryielding cultivars, growing more starchy root crops and less corn (see
also below)*
The riverside sak'ecuaj can also be viewed as a means of in­
creasing production by bringing new land under cultivation, and making
greater use of labor at a slack time in the agricultural year, again
not exactly what is meant by "agricultural intensification" as it is
used by some anthropologists and geographers (e*go, Turner et al* 1977)°
One of the best ways to control risk due to rainfall variation
in the sak*ecuaj fields would be some kind of moisture control by
ditching*
This is analagous to terracing hillsides in order to trap
moisture in the dry season, but would require less labor*
Simple canals
or ditches cut through the floodplain could drain moisture in wet years
and trap rainfall in dry ones, therefore increasing the reliability of
the crop*
As shown on Table 25, even without these modifications the
levee fields can, when tended carefully in a good year, produce just as
much corn per hectare and per man hour as the average long fallow field*
I am arguing here that the ancient ridged field systems in the
Maya lowlands which have received such overwhelming attention lately
231
(see articles and bibliography in Harrison and Turner 1978 for example)
may not have been a simple response to population pressure as most
authors assume«, The modern Kekchi take up *intensive1 short fallow
riverine agriculture long before there is serious ’population pressure*
on their wet season swidden soils, because they want to make use of
their dry season labor and because the dry season yields are not very
greatly below those of the weto
Thus, intensive and extensive systems
can easily coexist in a single time and place, as pointed out by Boserup
(1965;56-64) and Netting (1977)° This is not to say that population
pressure does not increase the intensity of utilization of levee soils
over time, or that there is no evolutionary change from shifting to
settled cultivation in the long run0 Such changes do occur in modern
Toledo as well as the ancient Maya empire, but we should not visualize
them as taking place only when impending starvation threatens0 The
ancient Maya began their intensive agriculture long before all the land
usable for swiddens was ’used up* (see the early
date for ridged
fields given by Puleston 1977), and did not flee into their ridged
fields when they suddenly realized that they had exceeded the carrying
capacity of the hills (as implied by the arguments of Rice 1978 and
Harrison 1977)°
An Evolutionary Perspective on,Kekchi
Corn Farming and Settlement
To tie the theoretical perspectives offered above to the model­
ing of long term change in Kekchi agriculture, I offer the following
summary of the ways in which yield, land use, and population presently
interacto
232
Around any small or very young village will be found an expand­
ing ring of land in which the primary forest is clearedo
This is the
ideal situation for a Kekchi village, for the high forest provides a
high yield with low risk*
The productivity of this high forest de­
creases, however, as the ring of forest closest to the village is used
up, and travel time to and from the field becomes a larger and larger
burden,.
The effect of travel time on labor productivity is confirmed and
quantified by the analysis presented in Table 28 0 Here the labor inputs
for four Aguacate farmers who used primary forest in 1979 have been re­
calculated to what they would be if their fields were only 15 minutes
from the village instead of the present 90 to 120 minutes (the mean was
97o5 minutes)o
10
An estimated 51 man hours were added to each, in order
to correct for the time which would be needed to fence a field that
close to the village's pig populations
11
The re-figured yield/man hour
figure is 2087 kilograms of shelled corn, which is about 10$ higher than
the 2 o6l kg/man hour presently offered by theaverage secondary forest
fields
Thus, a primary forest field close to the village gives a better
yield than a secondary forest field at the same distance, and probably
involves less risks
This substantiates the glowing terms with which
Kekchi men describe the easy life in a new village when primary forest
is still close by 0
^The total number of visits to the field in a year were counted, and
this number was multiplied by the minutes saved by the shorter trip,
which was then subtracted from theyearly total of man hours of labors
XT
*
'
Based on a fencing rate of 50 meters per man day, with five men co­
operating to fence a single field totaling 10 hectares in sizes
233
Table 280 Projected yields for primary forest fields close to a
villageo — The labor figures of four farmers who cultivated
primary forest at distances of between 90 and 120 minutes
from Aguacate village are recalculated for the same field
only 15 minutes from the village« The total number of visits
to the field was multiplied times the time saved and sub­
tracted from the original total0 An extra 51 man hours was
then added to account for the extra labor of fencing the
fields, a necessary task when the field is so close to the
village.
Household
Number
Original
Total
Man Hours
Corrected
Total
Man Hours
Original
Yield in
Kg/man hr.
Corrected
Yield in
Kg/man hr0
15
18?4
1524
2.51
3o09
08
l4ll
1162
2.65
3=19
19
1397
IO58
2ol6
2=86
1377
1184
2.00
2=33
2=33
2=87
18
5
Mean
234
From the recalculated primary forest yields we can estimate the
rate at which yields decline as fields get more distant from a village=
This works out to about a 0OO65 kilograms per man hour decline in yield
for each extra minute of travel time from the village= This rate,
which can be considered a slope of decreasing return, can be compared
to the returns from secondary forest*
The sample of seven secondary forest fields with adequate docu­
mentation averaged 43=6 minutes travel time from the village, and gave
an average yield of 2*61 kg/man hour*
Using the above rate, we calcu­
late that when a primary forest field requires about 27*5 minutes travel
from the village, it becomes equal in average yield per man hour to a
secondary forest field at 15 minutes travel time from the village*
If
these were exact figures, if the Kekchi were aware of them, and if they
were not also taking risk into account, we could expect the farmers to
begin to shift to using close secondary forest as soon as the primary
forest is about a half hour's walk from the village*
In practice, the
reduced risks, the good hunting and gathering, and the almost aesthetic
pleasure which the Kekchi derive from clearing and planting in the pri­
mary forest, mean that the primary forest must be used up within a
circle of about 45 minutes travel from the village before some men begin
to choose the alternate strategy of clearing secondary forest*
And then
the transition from one strategy to the other is gradual, rather than
sudden, and people with different household resources and needs choose
different strategies*
It is not until the primary forest is sill used
up within a two hour walk from the village that people give up using it
entirely*
At that point some people, usually those with large household
235
labor forces (who are also the last to give up cutting in primary for­
est) , begin to talk about leaving the village for a new location where
the forest is still virginal<>
Let us put a few approximate numbers on the time required to use
up forest resources around a village=
Above we defined a circle of 45
minutes' travel time around the village, in which all the primary forest
must be used up before most men will begin to switch to clearing secon­
dary forest (though shopkeepers, the old, and the sick may switch to
closer fields much sooner because they just have less total time to
spend in farming, whatever the yield); this circle is about lo9 kilo­
meters in radius, and encloses some 1134 hectares of lando
In the
average village, based on the catchment analysis, 6609% of the land
within this circle falls in the range of good to fair soils, and of this
75806 hectares of usable soil, only about 30^ (379o3 ha) is cultivable
because of rough terrain and drainage problems0
Having previously calculated that the average Aguacate house­
hold uses 2 ol5 hectares of forest per year, we can infer that about 176
household-years of primary forest cultivation can be accommodated within
the lo9 km radius circle around the villageo
12
These rates and esti­
mates are considerably lower than the very optimistic figures given by
Carneiro (i960) for the manioc growing Kuikuruo
thing.
Yet they imply the same
Though there is plenty of cultivable land around Kekchi
"^^This means that a village of 10 households would use the available
primary forest in about 17 years, while a village of 20 households
would begin to shift to secondary forest cultivation in about nine
years, A village of only six households could stay within the circle
in perpetuity, allowing 30 years for the forest to regrow between
uses.
villages, and the people will never be 'forced' to move by shortages,
a village of any size will have to shorten its fallow cycles as the land
around it is converted from primary to secondary forest cover0 And
using the same figures given above, we can show that a village of just
kl households will use up all the primary forest within a two hour walk
within the 30 years it would take for the forest to grow backo
Re­
calling that the Kekchi consider a minimum practical fallow period to
be 15 years, we can estimate that a village of 82 farming households
will be at a disequilibrium with their 10 kilometer diameter catchment
zone (2 hours walk in each direction) because they will have used all
the land before all of it has had a chance to re grow«, At present only
one village, San Pedro Columbia, has exceeded this size, and there
fallow periods have long been shorter than the optimal 15 years<>
These issues of productivity and land use have implications for
cultural and agricultural evolution and change which cannot be explored
here=
Once more the documentary task must take priority0 The reader
must be consoled, as I return to facts and description, by anticipating
the future chapters on household organization and settlement patterns,
when the theoretical issues raised here will once more emerge into
prominenceo
CHAPTER 6
AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION; RICE, BEANS,
AND THE REST
In this chapter I will discuss a series of diverse crops, in
order of importance=
A division into cash crops and subsistence crops
was originally envisioned, but the distinction between the two cate­
gories is blurred, since many crops are both eaten and soldo
The mar­
keting system, prices, and returns for the cash crops will be described
where applicablec
Rice
Rice is by far the most important cash crop in Toledo district0
Growing of rice has been encouraged by the Belize government for over
30 years because it is the staple food of the large urban Creole popu­
lation in Belize City and the northern districts0 Promotion of the crop
is part of an import-substitution program aimed at making the country
self-sufficient in foodstuffs,.
Most of the efforts of the government’s
agricultural extension officers in Toledo are aimed at rice production,
though they are more concerned with the large scale and mechanized pro­
ducers than with the village farmers in the southern part of the dis­
trict 0
On a national level this policy has been successful,.
No rice
was imported in 1974 (for the first time in history), and only BoSo
$168,000 worth in 1975 (Belize Central Planning Unit 1978;56)«
237
Domestic
238
rice production has risen from 6 ,252,000 lbs in 1964/5 to 13,798,000
lbs in 1975/6 (Belize Central Planning Unit 1978s96) <, However, much of
this increase comes from a single, large mechanized farm in the Belize
Valley, while small farmers* production has stagnated,,
Toledo rice
production has declined from about 4,200,000 lbs in 1974/5 to 3,400,000
lbs in 1977/8 (Toledo Buying Centre 1978)„
The cause of this decline seems to be a decline in the govern­
ment support price offered at the buying center, relative to inflation*
Prices have risen from 5°5 cents (Bz) per pound in 1956 to 12 cents in
1973, 16 cents in 1978 and 18 cents in 1979, an annual rate of increase
of 5=4% at a time when inflation far exceeded this figure=
Of the total Toledo quantity purchased by the Marketing Board
each year, about 60% is grown in Mopan or Kekchi villages*
This may
overrepresent the Indian contribution, since some of the large mechan­
ized producers market their rice privately, while virtually all Indian
rice goes through the government*
As shown in Table 29, most Indian rice production comes from
the northern zone villages which have access by road to the Marketing
Board (now located near Big Falls on the Southern Highway), or by river
transport to the road*
Aguacate and Crique Sarco are the most remote
rice-producing areas, and it is here that the declining real price of
rice is squeezing the small producer out of the market because of the
relatively high transport costs which must be paid by the producer*
At UoS* So09 per pound, human transport from the most remote
villages is a poor prospect whatever the production costs*
Below I
will detail the production cycle and labor costs of rice production in
239
Table 29=
Rice quantities sold to the Belize Marketing Board origi­
nating in Indian villages0 — This table breaks down rice
production (as estimated by quantities sold to the Marketing
Board) by area and by ethnic group0 It is clear that the
majority of rice produced comes from the northern zone
villages which have access to the Marketing Board by road or
rivero The Aguacate figures are inflated by Aguacate men
re-selling rice produced elsewhere = Source: Toledo Buying
Centre 19780
1976-77 Purchases
(ibso)
1977=78 Purchases
(lbs.)
5 Mopan villages
539,242
717,189
3 Mopan-Kekchi villages
208,840
193,647
1,242,976
1,349,007
103,131
56,300
17,748
2,832
Origin
Northern Zone
8 Kekchi villages
Southern Zone (Kekchi)
Aguacate
Crique Sarco
240
Aguacate, and will discuss some of the reasons why rice is still a major
cash crop there despite the low cash return to the farmerc
History of Rice Production
Rice was a minor subsistence crop in Aguacate for some time
before it became a source of casho
Sometime in the early 1940s an
Aguacateco brought some seed back from Punta Gorda and sold seed to his
compadres and kin, who planted it in small areas of the c'at c'al and
learned how to thresh it from him0
The small quantities produced were
eaten in the household, though many Kekchi felt that rice was not 'real
foodc'
In 1963 a young man who had come from Crique Sarco to find a
wife, and who was living with his father-in-law during a period of postmarital residence, grew the first commercial crop0 This is significant
because from the beginning rice has been disembedded from the tradi­
tional set of social obligations and rights involved in agriculture0
With corn and other crops, a man who is living with his father or
father-in-law does not work his own field; he provides labor for the
household and shares in the yieldo
Rice provided a means for a young
unmarried or recently married man to begin his own production separate
from that of his father or father-in-law=
In 1963 this one man had to carry his threshed rice on horseback
the 10 km to the highway, and he received only U 0S 0 S3=50 per hundred
pound sacko
The next year his father-in-law also tried growing rice,
and in the next years other men followed his example, acquiring new
varieties of rice from East Indians in Mafredic
The popularity of rice
241
farming grew steadily until 1975? which was an exceptionally dry year
when most of the crop died=
Since that time the number of farmers
growing rice and the area planted by each farmer have declined.
Fifteen
households grew rice in 1978, declining to 11 households in 1979o
Ritual
Rice cultivation is marked by an absence of ritual paralleling
the social disembeddedness of the crop.
Only for the clearing of
forest for a rice field is there a ritual similar to that used in the
corn field.
It was explained to me that prayers and incense must be
offered at this time to prevent harm to the workers from snakes or
accidents.
The attitude of the Aguacatecos towards the difference between
corn and rice farming ritual was clarified for me by the example of the
East Indian schoolteacher who lived in Aguacate in 1978-79o
The teacher
had cleared and planted very small corn and rice fields to supplement
his diet.
The corn field produced little because of grass invasion and
coatimundis, while the rice field gave a fair yield.
My informant said
that the poor corn yield occurred because the schoolteacher did not know
the proper ritual forms, and because he did not respect the tzultacaj.
But rice is a caxlan k'en (foreigner crop), so "anyone can grow rice."
Ownership and Tenure
In cultural terms, the most important differences between rice
and corn production lie in attitudes about ownership of the crop.
Young
men who still live with their parents can successfully assert a claim
to their own rice field and the produce therefrom.
This directly
242
contradicts the norm in corn production, which requires that any junior
male within the household must work for the household heado
The produce
from the cornfield belongs entirely to the household heado
A man cannot
grow his own cornfield until he marries and sets up his own household,
an act which firmly signals the autonomy of a new social unite
Rice
therefore gives an unmarried or recently married man the chance to di­
vert some of his own labor into a crop which will profit him directly,
and allows him to accumulate cash which is his own0 As will be dis­
cussed below and in subsequent chapters, the role of rice in ’household
politics’ affects the technology and techniques of rice production, and
also has important effects on household organization0
Fathers tend to co-opt their sons’ enterprise by going into rice
production themselves»
They will cooperate with their co-resident sons
in every step of rice production from site selection to marketingo
This
has three benefits besides the cash income the father gainso
lo
The cooperating group of two or more males is more flexible in
scheduling productive tasks, and in coordinating rice production with
subsistence cropping.
2.
The father promotes a frequency of labor exchange with his sons
which tends to generalize exchanges and maintain the unity of the house­
hold.
3.
The father can maintain his authority over his sons and hold
them in the household, while allowing them to accumulate the cash they
need to marry (which he might otherwise have to provide for them).
lln this discussion I speak of fathers and sons, but a similar pattern
is evident between fathers and their sons-in-law during the short
periods of post-marital residence when they share a dwelling.
243
In fact, of the five young Aguacate men who lived with their
fathers and grew rice, all but one cooperated on a daily basis with
their fathers, who also grew rice*
The exception, whose father did not
grow rice, proves the rule, for the ultimate result of non-cooperation
in farming rice was the fission of this household, when the son moved
OUto
The father-son cooperation in rice production is often so close
as to appear as if a single field were under cultivation instead of twoc
The fields are usually adjacentj a single rice house is built, and the
household labor force often works together in one field or the other0
In this way the threat to traditional roles and economic power posed by
the young men's possession of a rice field is lessened by the parental
stratagem of recourse to traditional forms of labor reciprocity between
kino
Rice Varieties
Farmers state that the first rice grown in the village was dif­
ferent from those in use today, being short grained with a low stalko
Today only long grained, tall varieties are grown, which vary mainly in
the time they take to matureo
Three main varieties, listed in order of
shortest to longest maturing, are Bell Patna, Texas Patna, and Blue
Bonneto
Two minor varieties which mature at intermediate times are
Sultan Patna and Portoon»
From one to three varieties are planted per farmer, depending
on the area planted, planting time, and the desired harvest time0 There
is a conscious strategy of causing staggered maturing because harvesting
244
is time consuming, and farmers do not want to leave grain standing in
the field long when it is most vulnerable to bird and storm damage0
Site Selection
The overriding criterion for site selection is proximity to the
roado
Rice must be transported all at once to the road (unlike corn
which is brought home gradually), and Aguacate farmers do not use any
area which is more than half an hour's walk from the roadside even if
they own a draft animalo
The strip of land on either side of the road
to the village was cleared and used for rice many years ago, so land
within the half-hour limit is becoming hard to findo
Some men cite this
as a reason for the declining number of rice growers, but this seems
unlikely since hauling the rice is still a comparatively minor labor
cost when compared to the rest of the productive processc
Other reasons for selecting a spot are much the same as those
given above for the c'at c'al, except that the steeper and drier slopes
are not used and wetter lower-lying areas are preferred,.
The major con­
straints on site selection are that the spot must not have standing
water or heavy mud during the dry season, so that the slashed vegetation
will dry enough to burn0
Types of wet soils which are far too muddy for
corn (sulul ru li ch'och and sab ru li ch'och) are used for rice, though
there is considerable overlap between suitable corn soils and good rice
soilso
Rice competes well with invading grasses, and for this reason a
lower, shorter-fallowed forest can be cut for a rice fieldo
Farmers
explain that they would rather use lower bush near the road and accept
245
lower yields than search out higher forest at a greater distance from
the road and then have to carry the produce furthero
Of 13 fields cen-
sused in 1979» six were cut from 5-15 year fallow (coc* al c'al) and
the rest from 15-25 year fallow (ninki al c1al)0 No rice fields were
planted in primary foresto
Clearing
As the reservoirs of land from which corn and rice fields are
selected overlap with each other, so the labor scheduling of most rice
farming operations overlaps, and in some ways conflicts with, the labor
scheduling of corn production*
In Aguacate the priority given to corn
production means that scheduling conflicts are resolved in favor of
corn even if the rice suffers*
In Indian Creek, on the other hand,
where rice production has surpassed corn in importance, the scheduling
of rice labor takes priority*
Here I concentrate on the situation in
Aguacateo
Rice clearing begins only after the corn field is finished*
The
rice field size is therefore partially determined by how much time the
farmer has left after the corn field is finished, and how much labor the
farmer has available in his household, as well as the amount of cash
income desired*
All rice clearing must be completed by the mid-March
deadline, the last time when sufficient drying is assured*
The average size of rice fields in Aguacate in 1979 was just
*761 ha*, the largest fields being cleared by young, unmarried men*
Most of the labor used in clearing these fields comes from within the
household or household cluster*
This is because fewer men make rice
fields and therefore desire participation in exchange labor groups, and
246
because rice fields are cleared at various times according to each
farmer's schedule= Also, rice fields are smaller and require less total
labor —
between 3 and 16 man days —
and most farmers can fit this in
after they finish clearing their cornfields without too much trouble„
Sometimes several young men will get together as an exchange labor group
and begin to clear ricefields while their fathers are still working at
clearing the cornfieldso
This is a source of friction between fathers
and sons, since fathers feel that sons have a duty to help them finish
the cornfieldso
Planting
Rice planting is done by the same methods as corn after the corn
is in the ground0 Planting begins in mid-May, and because it is more
time consuming than corn planting it stretches on until mid-June» Un­
like corn, rice can be successfully planted after the rains begin*
Rice is planted in dibbled holes which are shallower (mean 9=4
cm) and closer together (mean 44*5 cm) than corn dibble holes*
The
number of seeds thrown in each hole varies widely (from 14 to 32 in a
sample of 50) and seed often spills on the ground*
Seeding rates are
higher than for corn, with an average of 30*1 liters per hectare*
Work
rates in planting also vary widely, from 1*17 liters to 3=9 liters per
man day with a mean of 1*9 liters*
On the average, more rice is planted per hectare in high second­
ary forest fields (34*3 liters/ha) than in low secondary forest (25=2
liters/ha), perhaps in recognition of the greater fertility of the
higher forest soils*
Farmers however state that regardless of the size
or fallow status of the rice field, the total quantity planted reflects
24?
the amount of work time they have available for the task and how much
time they expect to have at the harvest season= Planting is usually
done in small groups or by a single farmer, so the rice field will
mature bit by bit instead of simultaneously0 Frequently a man will go
and plant a quart or two of seed in the afternoon after planting corn
in the morning in a large communal group„
The Growing Season
Rice fields are often weed-infested, but few men take any
counter-measureso
In 1979 two Aguacate farmers hand-weeded and three
others sprayed their fields with herbicides purchased in Punta Gorda
(a technique introduced about 1975 by the Agriculture Department)0
Weeding did seem to improve yields per hectares
those who weeded aver­
aged about 3^o higher yields than those who did not, though some of this
increase is probably due to other kinds of care and attention,,
A major problem with rice in Toledo is the pervasive Rice Blast
(Piricularia oryzae), the only remedy for which is planting resistant
varieties,,
The Agriculture Department has tried to introduce resistant
strains but none have so far been successful0 Blast reduces yield by
damaging young growing plants, but infestations in Aguacate were moder­
ate in 1979 and no fields were badly blightedo
Stem and stalk borers
of the genus Diatrea also do damage to growing plants, mostly in fields
which have been cut in low secondary forest0
The most feared insect pests are leafcutter ants (tequen, Atta
S£o), which can defoliate a field overnight0 Frequent checking is
necessary if there are active colonies nearbyo
Coatimundis do not
bother rice very often, but deer and brocket find the young plants
tasty and are hunted frequently early in the growing season0 Rats are
active when the grain matures, but birds (especially grackles) are the
most pernicious pests in mature stands of rice0 More than 30^ of the
heads I examined in three fields had been damaged by birds, and they
are the main reason why grain must be harvested quickly0
As long as
shotgun cartridges remain exorbitantly expensive, slingshots will remain
the only (and ineffective) means of controlling bird predation*
In the larger rice fields a small thatch hut is usually built
in late June or early July, to serve as a shelter for unthreshed grain
and as a center of threshing operations*
Often men who have adjoining
fields will share in building a single rice house (rochoch li arroz)*
In very small fields a very flimsy shed-roof will be built, or the un­
threshed rice will just be carried back to the village in bundles*
Household or household cluster labor is always sufficient for this con­
struction*
Harvest
Cutting and threshing rice is the single most time-consuming set
of tasks in rice production*
It occupies most of the farmer's free time
during September, October and November if he has a large field, and
conflicts directly with the corn harvest and the best time for clearing
the sak'ecuaj*
Harvesting is done with a short iron 'rice knife' (ch'ich li
arroz) which has a curved toothed blade about 20 cm long set in a wooden
handle*
The tool is held in the left hand, and a bunch of stalks grow­
ing from a single planting hole is collected in the curve of the blade*
The tuft is then grabbed with the right hand, which pulls the stalks
249
towards the right, severing them against the blade about 20 cm above the
ground= Each handful is added to a small pile until about 10 kilograms
have accumulated, which are then tied into a bundle with a strip of
barko
The bundles are stacked against a low rail in the rice house to
dry before threshing.
The efficiency of this operation depends on the clumping of the
rice caused by planting many seeds in a single hole.
A Peace Corps-CARE
joint project aiming to introduce broadcast seeding of pre-germinated
rice in place of this laborious dibbling has met with indifferent suc­
cess, perhaps because the widely broadcast plants are harder to harvest.
Because the timing of the rice harvest is delicate and because
it conflicts with many other tasks, it is hard to get together a group
of any size for the job.
If groups are called, they are usually men
with ripening rice who also want to begin to harvest.
Large households
or household clusters have a clear advantage, because they can plan
their rice harvesting so the household labor pool can deal with each
field as it ripens and still send out a worker to harvest corn or begin
a sak*ecuaj.
The urgency of rice harvesting means that men with large fields
do not want to stop working to pay back days of labor which they have
borrowed.
This has led some of the larger rice-growers, especially shop
owners who have ready cash, to hire other men to help them harvest and
thresh the rice.
These are the only tasks in Aguacate for which wage
labor has become an acceptable if infrequent option.
In each case in
Aguacate the hired laborer had no rice field of his own and had no need
for a return day of labor anyway.
The hired person was usually a young
250
man who still lived in his father’s household and had no corn of his
owno
The offer of wage labor is very attractive to these men, whose
only other option is to work unpaid for their fathers or to cultivate
their own field of rice0 This monetarization of labor has put new
strains on the relationship between father and son*
Threshing, Transportation and
Marketing
In past years, when rice production was higher, a gasolinepowered threshing machine was brought to the village each threshing
season by the Marketing Board and housed in a communally built shedo
One villager operated the machine and collected a small fee from each
user*
All the men growing rice would gather together as a large group
and carry each man's bundles of rice in from the fields (which were then
closer to the village)=
As rice fields spread further away from the village, and less
rice was being grown, enthusiasm for the threshing machine diminished,
the communal labor group collapsed, and some men began to thresh rice
in the field by hand.
In 1979 the thresher was not brought to the vil­
lage because of low demand and because of squabbling among the village
officers over who would be the operatoro
Everyone now threshes by hand
except for one man (a protestant convert) who was able to get a mission­
ary to truck his bundles of rice to Mafredi for machine threshing0
The first step in threshing is to procure sacks0
Sometimes
these can be borrowed from the Marketing Board, but other times they are
in short supply and must be purchased if they can be found at alio
One
Aguacate man made three separate trips to Punta Gorda before he could
251
find sufficient sacks for his rice (this time is included under market­
ing on Table 30)»
In the rice house a -table is then built from Cohune-leaf ribs
set sharp-edge-upwards with gaps in between.
Walls of Cohune leaves are
built to enclose the table on three sides and sacks or sheets of plastic
are spread out on the ground beneath.
To thresh, a bundle of rice
stalks is held in the hands and beaten on the table; the grain falls
through and is swept out into a pile using the rice straw as a broom.
Each pile of grains is winnowed with a palm-leaf fan and then bagged.
Threshing goes faster if two men work together.
Those men who
cannot get household help or exchange labor will hire a helper for a
day or two.
Labor groups are never called for threshing because there
is no room for more than two to work in the shed.
Farmers with large
household or cluster labor forces have an advantage because they can
alternate harvesting and threshing as the rice ripens and so reduce
spoilage and rat damage (which can be extreme if the harvested rice has
to sit unthreshed in the shed for any length of time).
With a few exceptions, a general rule of thumb is that threshing
takes half as many man-hours as harvesting.
As seen on Table 30 man
hours in threshing are, as expected, roughly proportional to the total
quantity of rice produced.
When the rice has been sacked in bags weighing up to 60 kg, it
must be carried to the roadside.
Men who have fields in the same area
usually cooperate in clearing a path directly to the road and in erect­
ing a crude shelter there to keep the rice dry until it can be trucked
to the mill.
A horse is an obvious help in carrying the rice.
Exchange
Labor expenditures in rice production for ten Aguacate farmers0 —
Man hours spent in
each of ten agricultural tasks are tabulated for ten farmers0 The last columns give both
total man hours per plot, and man hours per hectare,. The genealogical relationship
between farmers in the same household is indicated in the first column,, The bottom row
lists mean man hours per hectare for each tasko
Household
Noo
Field
Find
Size (Ha) & Mark Clear Plant
08
OO
Table 30=
51
136
=35
4=5
27
32
09
0836
4=5
90
144
18
=836
9=0
117
136
1=250
9=0
144
108
19 Son
=836
e=.
144
120
17
=42
9=0
45
16
=42
18=0
23
=627
11
%
19 Father
%
72
OO
9=0
Mean Per Ha0
Mean Field
Size
43=0
Weed
Harvest
Thresh
Carry
Market
Total
Tot0 per Ha0
18
-
126
110=0
36=0
9=0
576 =0
689
9
-
36
9=0
4=5
4=5
126=5
361
13=5
18=0
243
63=0
36=0
18=0
710=0
849
18=0
.*•
144
27=0
4=5
9=0
464=5
556
9=0
4=5
144
72=0
18=0
18=0
625=5
500
-
18=0
22=5
136
54=0
18=0
4=5
517=0
618
80
-
9=0
™
81
13=5
4=5
=
242=0
576
36
32
-
18=0
-
31=5
9=0
4=5
4=5
153=5
365
9=o
99
88
49=5
9=0
-
130=5
49=5
13=5
4=5
452=5
722
4=5
72
56
49=5
18=0
9=0
63=0
18=0
22=5
36=0
348=5
41?
113=5 129=3 36=5
21=4
6=3
154=6
54=1
21=0
13=7
563=5
13=1
<>725
Fldo
Hse0 Check
80=0
99=0
253
labor is however never used in hauling, and most men try to finish the
job by themselves or with their close kin0
The farmer will often carry
one or two sacks a day after he has finished the day's work in the
sak'ecuajo
Carrying the rice to market can be a tricky and tension laden
business for the farmer, who feels uncomfortably at the mercy gf nonKekchio
Truck owners are reluctant to brave the road to the village,
charge dearly for their services, and are unreliable=
Often a man will
take a long day's walk to Mafredi or Punta Gorda to charter a truck and
then will waste a whole day waiting in vain on the appointed date0
Sometimes when the'truck does appear the driver will demand a higher
fee than originally agreed.
The Kekchi's stereotype of the Creole and
East Indian as shifty, lazy, and exploitative is reinforced by this kind
of experience.
More anger was generated in 1979 when the rice mill com­
plex in Big Falls opened, cutting the distance from Aguacate to the mill
by half, but instead of falling the charges for freight actually in­
creased (mainly because the price of fuel doubled in less than a year).
Owners of large trucks charge U.S. $30 to carry a full load to
the mill.
cost.
A group of men will usually share the charter and split the
Men who harvest late or who cannot arrange to share a charter
may have to hire a smaller truck on their own, which can cost much more.
The average rate for transport in 1979 for a sample of ten men was U.S.
$1.25 per 100 kg or about U.S. $.75 per sack.
Further frustrations await the village farmer at the rice mill.
Though the offered price for rice is U.S. $.09 per pound, this applies
only to the highest grade with the lowest moisture content.
Up to half
254
a cent per pound is deducted if foreign matter is present, and moisture
content over lb% is penalized on a sliding scale to a low price of |o075
per pound.
There is no drying floor in Aguacate, so moisture content
and foreign matter tend to be high.
In fact, the average price received
per pound by Aguacatecos was close to the minimum at $.074 per pound.
Moisture is tested by a small electronic device, the workings
of which the Kekchi do not comprehend.
Not surprisingly, they often
reach the conclusion that they are being cheated and made fools of.
An
obvious remedy would be for the government to reward high quality rather
than penalize the poor, by announcing a minimum quality and price for
rice and a set of bonuses for high quality and low moisture.
At present
the average Kekchi finds the whole process of marketing and selling rice
to be tense, mysterious, qnd unpleasant, leaving him feeling powerlesso
This is added to his knowledge that rice gives him a low return for his
labor.
Labor in Rice Farming
Table 30 gives total labor expenditures for ten of the 16 far­
mers who grew rice in Aguacate in 1979°
Figures are given in man hours
per plot and bear comparison with those for corn farming.
takes more time than corn.
Rice planting
More time is also spent harvesting a hectare
of rice, but corn is checked much more often.
As in corn production,
the fallow status of a rice field affects the total labor needed per
hectare.
Table 31 gives total labor rates per hectare, averaged for
five fields cut from high secondary forest and five fields cut from low
secondary forest.
.
255
,
Table 31 o Total labor per hectare in rice farming broken down by fallow
type*
Mean Man Hours
Per Hectare
Fallow Status
N
cv
High Secondary Forest
635=4
5
Z7°%
Low Secondary Forest
495=2
5
24 o8^
This table shows clearly that shorter-fallowed fields require less labor
per hectareo
Again the more land-intensive form of agriculture proves
to be less labor intensive 0
The total man hours per hectare for average rice fields is in
fact 563o5 , very close to the total man hours per hectare devoted to the
average corn fields
552olo But the average is deceptive, for there is
a great deal of variation in the
total man hours expended byindividual
households in growing rice = The average rice grower spent 421 =5 man
hours on his rice field, while the average corn grower spent 1103 man
hourSo
Overall then, more than twice as much labor is spent on corn
than on riceo
We must also take into account the fact that only a portion of
village households grow both rice and corno
over to rice production is taken
How much of the labor given
away from corn production?Table 32
gives data for 11 households for which I have labor figures for the
entire year’s productive cycle, including both wet and dry season corn
and rice0
The data on Table 32 are best interpreted in the light of Figure
11 on which each household's corn production labor is plotted against
256
Table 32°
Total household labor devoted to corn and rice production in
1979o
For each household, the total man hours devoted to
cultivation of wet season corn (c'at c'al), dry season corn
(sak1ecuaj) and rice are listedo The four households listed
at the bottom are all young men who live in household clus­
ters with their fathers, and three of them also own shopso
The other seven households are clearly balancing corn and
rice production within a set amount of labor=
Household
No*
Dry Season
Corn
Wet Season
Corn
Total
Corn
Rice
Total
Man Hours
191
1397oO
945-0
2342*0
1142*5
3484*5
092
0*0
355-0
355-0
710*0
1065.0
18 ’
1376*5
423-0
1799-5
464*5
2264*5
23
1037-0
710*0
1747-0
452*5
2199-5
11
935-0
445.0
1380*0
348*5
1728*5
17
1066*0
932*0
1998*0
242*0
2240*0
155
1874*5
650*0
2524*5
0*0
2524*5
16
709-5
587-0
1296*5
153-5
1450*0
13
1031-5
168*0
1199-5
0*0
1199-5
12
823-5
312*0
1135-5
0*0
1135-5
07
480*5
304*0
784*5
0*0
. 784*5
lo
This is the only household on the table which has two adult males*
The figures should be divided by two to be comparable with the
others*
2*
The head of this household was sick and unable to work during the
wet-season corn clearing, and made a large rice field to compensate*
He had to purchase corn with much of the income from the rice field*
3*
This individual had about 200 man-hours assistance in his dryseason corn from a l4-year-old nephew who was visiting from another
village* This quantity is included in the table *
500 -
MAN HOURS:
RICE
o
100-
|
500
•
1 1
V---- 1---- 1---- f---
■---- 1
1000
i---- 1
1600
i
i
i
— *---- 1—
2000
MAN HOURS i CORN PRODUCTION
Figure 11.
A crossplot of rice labor and corn labor for eleven households. —
This chart shows a clear tendency for a tradeoff of corn and rice
labor during a single productive cycle. In other words, labor spent
on corn is deducted from that spent on rice, and vice versa. The
four nonconforming households are discussed in the text.
258
total household rice production labor (in one case in which two adult
males live in a single household the figures have been halved)0 Here a
clear pattern emergeso
All of the points fall close to a regression
line (slope = -<,301) except for four households which fall well below
the line, spending moderate amounts of labor on corn production and
little or no labor on rice.
All four of these households are headed by
young men who live in household clusters with their fathers, and who
have other sources of cash besides riceo
Three of the four are shop
owners, one is a paid Catholic sacrisant and lay preacher, and one tends,
in joint ownership with his father, a large herd of pigs which is a
major source of cash,.
Three of the men have only one child and there­
fore have low household corn needs*
The other seven households, which have no sources of cash income
other than pigs and rice, are quite clearly apportioning a fixed quan­
tity of yearly labor between rice and corn*
For this group of seven,
the linear correlation between rice labor and corn labor is very strong
(r = -<>901, p < oOl)* Along the regression line, farmers are choosing a
variety of strategies for apportioning labor, based on individual house­
hold corn requirements and a desire to minimize risk while maximizing
cash income„
Yield in Rice Production
Table 33 gives yield for 10 rice fields in 1979°
„
The comparison
between means for high secondary and low secondary forest plots is im­
portant*
It shows that low forest gives less yield both per hectare
and per man hour, supporting the assertion that the relationship between
Table 33°
Rice yields for ten Aguacate farmers0 — Figures are calculated on a total, per
hectare and per man hour basis* Dollar value of the crop is calculated at a
rate of 16*30 (U*S*) per kilogram* Five fields cut from high secondary forest
are listed first, followed by five fields cut from low secondary forest*
Household
No*
Field
size
Kg* Per
Man Hour
710*0
1724*1
2062*3
2*42
281*03
*396
1270*1
1519*3
2*21
207=03
*359
*
00
’ft
1
!
O
I'
Kg* Per
Hectare
O
00
Cash Value
of Rice ($US)
Cash Return
per Man
Hour ($US)
Total
Harvest (kg)
Total
Man Hours
576*0
19
1*250
625*5
641*4
513*1
1*03
104*55
*167
23
*627
452,5
453*6
723=4
1*00
73=94
*163
11
*836
348*5
722*1
863=8
2*07
117*70
=338
537*0
962*3
1136*4
1=75
156*85
*285
Mean, High
Secondary Forest
18
*836
464*5
478*1
571=9
1*03
77*93
*168
19
=836
517-0
366*1
437*9
*71
59*67
*115
31
*350
126*5
299=4
855=4
2=37
48*80
=386
16
*420
153*5
175*1
416*9
1*14
28*54
*186
17
*420
242*0
136*0
323=8
=56
22*17
*092
300*7
290*9
521*2
1*16
47*42
*189
626*6
828*8
1*46
102*14
*237
Mean, Low
Secondary Forest
Mean, All Fields
,
260
fallow status and yield in swidden agriculture is non-linear0 High
secondary forest gives higher yields than either primary forest, or
1bush fallowed' low secondary forest0
The shortest fallow period also
gives the highest variation in yield= .In rice cultivation low second­
ary forest yields per man hour of labor have a CV of 62#, while high
secondary forest yields have a CV of 39#°
Given these problems, why does anyone bother using low secondary
forest for rice production?
A major reason, I believe, is a growing
shortage of high secondary forest at a reasonable distance from the
roadsideo
In 15 years of rice farming, most of the suitable accessible
places have been used and today a farmer must go more than half an hour
from the roadside to find high secondary forest.
A more important
reason is that suggested by the previously presented data in Table 31,
which shows that low secondary forest requires less labor per hectare
to clear.
Table 33 shows a complementary difference in the total man
hours spend by households farming rice in low secondary forest (300.7
man hours) and in high secondary forest (537=0).
Together, these data
make it clear that the household which has limited labor available for
growing rice (or that which chooses to make rice a minor part of its
agricultural strategy) is most likely to clear low secondary forest,
because it takes less labor to clear there.
It.is the 'serious* rice
farmer who seeks out the high al c'al, devotes more time and effort to
the care of his crop, and reaps a higher reward for his labor.
Others,
perhaps shopkeepers or young men who are not yet independent, approach
rice farming as something of a lark and make a small field in a
261
convenient piece of low forest0 They tend their crop rarely and accept
whatever small cash reward comes their way with fatalism,,
Corn vso Rice, Why Bother?
If we compare the average rates of-return for rice and corn per
man hour of labor (corn = 2=5 kg/man hr; rice = 1046 kg/man hr) we end
up wondering why the Kekchi bother with rice at alio
Corn can always
be sold to the Marketing Board for UoSo $ol405/kg, sometimes for more
to merchants in Punta Gorda, which means that if a farmer sold his corn
he could average about UoSo $=36 per man hour of labor rather than the
average of UoSo $<>24 which he presently gets from riceo
Why not just
grow more corn and sell the surplus?
There are a whole series of reasons and explanations why rice
is still a viable crop alternative, despite the quantitative difference
in monetary yield per man hour,.
Before mentioning some of the histori­
cal and cultural reasons, we can again call up figures on crop yield
variation, as in Table 34, which shows that at least in some circum­
stances rice yields are less variable than corn yields=
Table 340 Variability of rice and wet season corn yields in different
fallow typeso
Fallow Type
CV of Rice Yield in
Kg per Man Hour
CV of Corn Yield in
Kg per Man Hour
CO
12=6#
High secondary forest
26=4#
33.4#
Low secondary forest
36=2#
-
Primary forest
262
We cannot compare yield variation in primary forest, but in secondary
forest rice is a bit more reliable in yield (though the average yield
is lower) than corn*
This may lend an element of attraction to a strat­
egy of adding rice cultivation to corn farming as primary forest becomes
harder to find and corn yield begins to vary widely0
I have already mentioned that one of the major social-structural
reasons for adoption of rice is that it is free from traditional social
obligation,.
Rice income belongs to the farmer whether or not he is
living with his father» From a young man's point of view, growing rice
at a lower return is better than putting his labor into his father's
corn field, no matter how productive the corno
return belongs to him.
At least that lower
Fathers follow sons into rice production to
maintain labor reciprocity patterns.
Rice production is also pursued because it uses land and labor
which cannot be effectively used in corn production.
Wetter and
shorter-fallowed land where corn cannot be planted is suitable for rice,
and when rice was first introduced its popularity grew quickly because
land close to the road and the village which had previously been un­
usable could now be cultivated.
The closeness of the new rice fields
to the road made it much easier to transport the crop and made rice an
attractive prospect.
Because rice can be planted after the rains begin,
men could work in the early wet season when they would otherwise be
idle.
This is the same kind of labor intensification noted above in
the acceptance of lower yields from the dry season corn fields.
Corn is a mainstay of the diet, but rice is rarely eaten by the
Kekchi,
As a subsistence crop, corn is storable in the field house for
263
long periods as insurance against illness or subsequent crop failures=
Spoiled stored corn can always be fed to pigs, which are then soldo
This subsistence mainstay with a cash-conversion option (through pig
production) is a proven adaptive system of long standing and reliability,
with a certain structural integrityc
It offers a security the Kekchi
are reluctant to jettison when a road makes it more practical for them
to sell their corn directly after they grow ito
corn is never soldo
This is not to say that
If a farmer produces more than his family and pigs
need for the coming year he is glad to sell the surplus either in the
village or to the Marketing Boardo
Rice lies outside this corn-pig symbiosis, and is grown for no
other reason than a quick cash sale0 Rice stores poorly, so a man does
not have the option of holding onto the crop in case he needs it for
foodo
Rice is rarely fed to pigs (who do not like
it) and it does not
circulate in the intra-village exchange system, so the farmer has little
choice of what to do with it« This lack of options provides a certain
freedom of action0 Rice does not complicate the subsistence system so
much as it simplifies by removing some of the pressures of cash pro­
curement from subsistence crops„ Rice gives the farmer the chance to
compartmentalize his farming into subsistence and cash producing sec­
tions, a division emphasized by the ideological partitioning of rice
into a profane, foreign category, separate from corn (the sacred object
of ritual and religion)o
Corn is central to Kekchi life and cultures
one of the most
important Kekchi mythical stories relates the way corn was given to man
by the Tzultacaj (Burkitt 1920)0 Corn is borrowed and loaned between
264
kin, given as gifts, and sacrificed on the family altar0 Rice is har­
vested, threshed and returned to the foreign world from which it cameo
I do not mean to suggest that these values prompt the Kekchi to an
'irrational* approach to farming, that rice is sold because it is not
sacred.
But I do assert that cultural attitudes about corn and its
place in Kekchi life have influenced the Kekchi in their choice of a
strategy for coping with a growing need for cash and growing involvement
with the national economy.
They have sought, quite cleverly, to procure
the cash they want by adopting a new and culturally unhindered crop,
allowing them to preserve the economic and symbolic integrity of their
traditional subsistence system.
Beans
Together with rice, red kidney (RK) beans (caki kenk, Phaseolus
vulgaris) are the staple food of urban Belize,
By weight, beans are
third after corn and rice in Toledo's agricultural production, but be­
cause of the higher price paid per pound for beans they are the second
highest cash-earner (see Table 35)°
Most bean production for sale is concentrated in the northern
zone villages on the road system.
In 1978 only 12,850 pounds of RK
beans and 813 pounds of black beans were produced in the southern zone
villages and sold to the Marketing Board,
By far the majority of beans
grown in the southern zone are consumed there by the villagers, while
in the northern zone much more is sold than is eaten.
The different
emphasis on beans is paralleled by the kinds of beans grown, and the
techniques used.
These will be discussed separately below.
265
Table 35°
Cash crop production in pounds and dollar value in Toledo
in 1977-78°
Crop
Weight in Pounds
Estimated Value in
Belize Dollars
Rice
3,563,055
493,024
Corn
812,133
106,065
Beans (RK)
369,356
161,224
5,880
2,352
Beans (Black)
Source;
Toledo Buying Center 1978, Annual Report°
266
Red Kidney Beans (Phaseolus vulgaris)
This is the type preferred by the Belizean Creole population in
preparing the national dish of rice-and-beanso
They are also the most
sensitive to excess soil moisture and humidity of the bean varieties
.growno
They do not store very well, are susceptible to leaf mold, and
require fairly good soils and careful attention0 Nevertheless, the
government wants Belize to be self-sufficient in bean production, and
the dietary preferences of the majority dictate an emphasis on RK pro­
duction = High prices are offered to farmers at the buying center,.(UcSo
$021-o23 in 1978 and $ o26-o30 in 1979)i and seed is loaned to farmers
during the planting season»
Red kidney beans must be planted and harvested twice a year when
grown as a cash crop*
The first, or 'seed* crop, is planted in Septem­
ber and October in a small clearing in the c'at c'al —
where green corn has already been harvested.
reaped in early December,
usually the area
This small first crop is
The seed crop is said to be required because
RK beans cannot be stored for a whole year without rotting and weevil
infestation.
The seed crop supposedly restores the fertility and via­
bility of seed stocks for the main crop (McCaffrey 1967)°
By the end of December a larger part of the now-harvested c'at
c'al is cleared of undergrowth and corn stalks and is then burned.
The
main crop seeds are dibbled, three to a hole, and the farmer begins to
hope for a long dry season so the beans will flower and fruit success­
fully and then dry enough for an easy harvest.
Too much moisture causes
the flowers to rot, or the leaves to 'stick together,' a condition which
leads to black mold and death for the plant (see Gregory 1972s60-70),
26?
Harvesting is a laborious process which begins in April or early
May as soon as the weather is dry enough for the pods to get brittle0
The bean plants are pulled from the ground and hung for a few days from
the rafters of the corn house= The dry plants are put in burlap bags,
which are suspended by a string and beaten with sticks.
The sacks are
then emptied and the trash winnowed out with a palm-leaf fan.
If there
is no dry spell around threshing time the beans will sprout in their
pods and spoil.
In northern zone villages, RK beans are a favored cash crop
despite high risks of failure, because they use no new land (they re­
use the corn field), require very little clearing and planting labor,
and because they are planted during a slack time in the agricultural
year.
The government's seed program has had some success here, espe­
cially in Mopan villages.
Dried seed is loaned to the farmer in Novem­
ber or December, eliminating the need for a separate seed crop.
have however been some problems.
There
The seed arrived too late for planting
in 1977, and in 1978 many sacks proved to be infertile.
Farmers who got
poor results often refused to re-pay their seed loans, and by 1979 the
seed was no longer loaned but was sold for U.S. $42.50 per hundred pound
sack.
Response was poor; it is one thing for a poor farmer to risk his
labor in the prospect of getting a cash return, but it is something
entirely different to risk the little cash he does have in the hope of
getting more.
As I have pointed out elsewhere (Wilk 198la), Kekchi
farmers want to turn their labor into cash, but they are not yet inter­
ested in trying to turn what little cash they do have into more cash
through investment in agriculture.
This is probably a very wise kind
268
of decision to make given the uncertainties of agricultural investment
in Belizeo
EK beans are grown in small amounts as a subsistence crop by
farmers in the villages south of the highway.
Of all the southern vil­
lages, only San Benito Poite grows RK beans in quantity as a cash crop,
selling 11,480 pounds in 1978 and 5,300 pounds in 1977 to the Marketing
Board, comparable quantities to individuals and shopowners in other
southern zone villages, and some across the border in Guatemala.
The
Poite farmers say that the high price they get for beans makes it worth­
while to carry them out to the road on muleback.
Why, then, are RK beans shunned as a cash crop by the rest of
the southern zone villages?
At up to $.30 per pound, their value per
unit of weight is competitive with pigs, and inferior only to coffee or
cacao in transport potential.
Aguacate with its highway access, and
Crique Sarco with the river could market RK beans much more easily than
Poite.
It may be that in these villages rice fills the niche for a
cash crop, displacing beans because it is much less susceptible to crop
loss due to excessive rain and moisture.
But this cannot explain why
Poite has chosen to grow beans instead, or why other southern zone vil­
lages stay with pigs as a cash producer (Poite does also raise and sell
pigs)o
The Aguacatecos explain their dislike for RK beans as a cash
crop in many ways.
Some say they used to grow more of them, but that
they had several bad years and gave it up.
Others blame the soil, which
they say is inferior to that in Poite or the northern villages.
seems to be no physical justification for this.
There
One man claimed that
269
beans were more easily killed by grass infestation in the field, and
that there is no grass growing in the region of Poite0
The most acceptable explanation seems to be small-scale local
variation in rainfall patterns*
Some villages report that their area
is just too wet for the beans, and that the rate of crop failure from
mold and spoilage is just too high to tolerate*
Given the rainfall
variability noted in Chapter 4, it may be true that Poite lies in a
small rain shadow*
Even in the northern villages, which are definitely
drier, a wet year can wipe out much of the bean crop*
Like rice, RK
beans are an inferior and risky cash crop which have been forced on
local farmers by government policy, regardless of local ecology*
RK beans are planted as a subsistence crop in the southern vil­
lages once a year, in September, in a small unburned clearing in the
c1at c'al, usually at the same time as black beans are planted*
This
earlier crop is small because this time of year is a labor bottleneck,
Aguacate farmers told me that they have no fertility or spoilage
problems with RK beans which have been stored for a year in plastic
buckets, so they do not have to grow two crops a year*
This casts the
'seed crop' explanation for the practice of planting two crops a year
in the northern villages into some doubt = Rather, the first crop is a
subsistence crop, while the second is a cash crop which has been added
to fill a slack time in the agricultural cycle*
Thompson (1930) men­
tions no second bean planting in his work on San Antonio in the 1920s,
a time when RK beans were not yet a major cash crop*
This is yet
another example of the way the Kekchi keep their cash crop production
systems separate from their subsistence crop production*
Black Beans (€sr _i kenk, Phaseolus vulgaris)
This variety is a bush bean which grows much like the EK bean
plant but seems better adapted to the humid conditions in the Toledo
district.
It is not subject to serious damage from black leaf rot,
requires less of a dry spell for harvesting, and is not as susceptible
to the stem borer or bean beetles (k* an, Epilachna sp,)„
Despite these advantages, black bean production is declining.
At one time they were a major export from Toledo to the rest of Belize
(Thompson 1930), and large quantities were produced in both the northern
and southern zones of the district.
But the tastes of Belizeans seem
to have settled increasingly on the EK bean, and the government has dis­
couraged black bean growers by keeping purchase prices lower for black
beans than for EK,
The result has been a steady decline in cash production of black
beans in the northern villages, though cash production continues on a
small scale in wetter southern villages, where the moisture tolerance
of the black beans outweighs the price differential.
In 1977» 87% of
the black beans bought by the Marketing Board (36,190 lbs) came from
the southern zone villages, mostly Poite, Otoxha, and Aguacate,
At various times the Marketing Board has found itself buying
more black beans than it wanted (even at low prices), and suspended its
buying, leaving the farmers literally 'holding the bag,'
in 1976-77 and then again in 1979°
This happened
The Marketing Board agent I quizzed
claimed that many of the black beans they had been buying were coming
across the border from Guatemala because prices are much lower thbre.
Whatever the reason, this policy was a blow to farmers in many of
2?1
the southern zone villages, who have few options in cash crop producA
tion0
Black beans are natives to the tropics and have a long history
as a subsistence crop in the Maya lowlands« The traditional Kekchi
planting practice for bush beans is the same as that described above
for EK beans:
a small patch is cleared and planted within the harvested
Wet-season cornfield, a practice extending back at least to the time of
the conquest (Reina and Hill 1980:77)°
Seeds are dibbled into holes in
the unburned clearing, and are harvested in late December or early
Januaryo
The plants are pulled up and hung to dry, and then the pods
are stripped off the stems and beaten inside sacks to break up the pods
before winnowing*
The beans are carefully dried in the sun, sometimes
two or three times, to enhance their storability*
Other Bean Varieties
Four kinds of vine beans, one native and three introduced from
the Old World, are interplanted with corn in both the c'at c'al and
sak'ecuaj as a subsistence crop°
All produce small quantities, but are
significant additions to the diet and favorite foods*
Nevertheless,
few households plant more than one variety, and many do not bother to
harvest all the beans which grow*
Many complain that it is hard, nowa­
days, to find seed for rare varieties of vine beans, and that at one
time they were much more common and popular*
In Indian Creek it is
claimed that they have fallen out of favor because they take so long to
bear and require a lot of tedious labor to thresh*
As will be seen
below, all of these assertions are at odds with the facts*
272
At one time the Marketing Board experimented with buying these
well-adapted and moisture tolerant vine beams« They were reputedly
'flooded* with huge quantities, but quickly stopped buying them because
their size and color made them unacceptable in the urban marketplace
so they could not be resold, at least at the prices asked0 Again a
well-adapted local crop was rejected because it reputedly did not appeal
to urban tastes»
I tend to wonder how much effort was devoted to intro­
ducing the new beam varieties, and what kind of price incentives were
offeredo
All of the following bean varieties are planted by dibbling
three seeds at a time into the same holes as the corn seedo
The vines
climb up the corn stalks=
Cara Bans (derived from Spanish garbanzo), Vigna ungiculata.
Non-Nativeo These plants take six months to flower, and one more to
bear fruit, which are long thin pods containing small, round., black
beans, They bear prodigiously and some pods are eaten green, but the
plant is susceptible to attack by beetles (chilli)0 Threshing is done
by breaking open each pod by hand after bundles of the pods are dried
in the sun*
Ch'oox (unknown derivation), Vigna so«,(?), Non-Native, The vine
takes six months to bear long, thin pods containing small (smaller than
cara bans) bright red beans„ They are valued and consumed entirely as
a green vegetable, and are allowed to dry out only for seedo
Tanacal (unknown derivation)* Phaseolus lunatus. Nativeo A
native climbing lima bean with short pods and black to brown flat beans0
273
The crop is unpopular because it takes up to 10 months to bear, which
means the farmer must clean around the plants several times while they
grow..
Eaten green or dried, they are threshed in sacks like black
beanso
Ch'o kenk ('rat beans,’ also called la* coc in some villages),
Vigna umbellata, Non-Native0 These beans are really a semi-domesticate,
retaining many characteristics of wild legumes,
A very thin climbing
vine bears clusters of very thin, round pods which contain tiny, bright
red beans the size of rice grains.
They are planted with corn in the
c'at c'al or sak'ecua.j, but the seed is broadcast on the ground rather
than dibbled.
They mature after eight to ten months and are often
planted in the sak'ecuaj during harvest so they can be picked when the
field is chopped the following year.
They will sometimes re-grow from
the root after the field is cleared.
Though they are by far the har­
diest and best adapted local bean, they are poor producers.
About five
gallons of pods must be threshed to yield one quart of seed.
The numbers of farmers in Aguacate and Indian Creek who grew
each of the legumes described above during 1978-79 are listed in Table
36 o
It is clear that, contrary to informants’ statements, more Indian
Creek farmers plant beans than do the more 1subsistence oriented’ far­
mers in Aguacate, and they tend to plant more beans of both commercial
and subsistence varieties.
Part of the difference may be climatic
(Indian Creek is a bit drier than Aguacate), but there are economic
reasons for the increase in minor crops too, reasons which will be dis­
cussed further below.
For now note the fact that the 'progressive1 and
cash-crop involved village of Indian Creek grows more of the varieties
274
Table 360
Variety
of
Bean
Red Kidney
Legume planting in Aguacate and Indian Creek,
Aguacate*
Indian Creekb
% of Farmers
Average
% of Farmers
Average
Planting
Quantity
Planting
Quantity
Variety0
Planted (qt,)^ Variety
Planted (qt,)
0
Black
12
Cara bans
52
Ch'o quenk'
8
0
v
3,0
60
39-0
50
5o2
-35
50
,64
,6
20
,2
,44
Tapacal
20
<>25
30
Ch’oox
16
,28
20
1=5
a,
A total of 25 farming households out of 28 in the village were
censused.
b.
Statistics are given based on a sample of 10 out of the 60
households in the village,
c.
This is the percentage of sample households which had planted each
particular variety in the 1978-79 agricultural year, from May to
May,
d.
Farmers used various measures to estimate the quantity of beans
planted, from the number of plants to the.number of handfulls of
seed. The reduction to quarts of seed planted is an estimate.
275
of beans than the etraditional* subsistence-oriented village of Aguacate,
This surprising fact runs counter to the perceptions of Kekchi farmers
and agricultural scientists alike0
Cacao
Cacao (by which term I refer to both species grown) was the
cash crop for which southern Belize was famous in prehistoric times
(Hammond 1975=Chapters 8 and 9)o
Despite the natural suitability of the
Toledo environment for growing cacao, a high world market demand for the
product, and the desires of the Kekchi for a new source of cash, Toledo
today barely produces enough cacao for its own use0
Cacao is an essential part of daily Kekchi life*
Every cere­
monial or ritual occasion is marked by the drinking of cacau, a thin
drink made from roasted cacao beans, black pepper, sugar and sometimes
wild vanillao
Men who have no trees of their own will walk long dis­
tances when they hear that some cacao is for sale in another village,
or they will try to establish a tie of real or fictive kinship with
someone who has a grove of producing cacao trees=
Cacao planted on the Cramer estates brought the Kekchi to Belize
in the first place= For many years after the estates were closed the
Kekchi and Mopan continued to harvest the abandoned trees, selling the
cacao to highland Cobanero traders in a recreation of the prehistoric
.
highland/lowland cacao trade0 When new villages were established on
the Moho and Columbia rivers, more cacao groves were planted^
Old men
tell of the days when Cobaneros would hike back to the Alta Verapaz
each carrying 150 pounds of cacao on their backso
276
But in the 1930s and 1940s, first in the northern zone and then
in the south, the native trade system reoriented away from the Cobanero
links with Guatemala and towards the British colonial economy based in
Punta Gorda,
Cobaneros continued to come in reduced numbers, but the
Kekchi in Toledo began to buy more and more of their dry goods and
supplies from merchants in Punta Gorda0 By 1943, in all but the fur­
thest southern part of the district, the Kekchi had shifted from produc­
ing the cacao the Cobaneros wanted to growing and raising the rice,
corn, beans, and pigs which the Colonial economy required,,
As the old
economic ties with the highlands withered, cacao groves were neglected
and no new ones were planted.
orchards.
Domestic needs were filled by old
When the Cobanero trading revived in the late 1950s, this was
motivated by the Cobanero's desire to buy British goods in Punta Gorda
to smuggle back into Guatemala rather than by Kekchi needs for markets,
A slow revival of interest in cacao and coffee began in San Pedro
Columbia and San Antonio in the late 1960s,
Because so many Mopan and
Kekchi had to buy cacao for household use, money could be made by pro­
ducing for sale to other Indians through informal trading ties and
village shopkeepers.
Prices gradually rose from U,S, $,30/lb in 1965
to over U,S, $,50/lb in 1978=
Demand always outstripped supply, and
there were sporadic attempts (mostly in the northern zone villages) to
establish new groves, despite the lack of legal tenure arrangements
for land.
There is as yet only the beginnings of response in Toledo to a
nationwide campaign, begun in 1978, to re-establish the cacao export
industry in Belize,
The buying center is at the Hershey plantation over
277
150 km north of the district, and beans must be fermented before they
will be purchased, a technique presently unknown to Indian planters0
Once local farmers can respond to the high prices offered (>UoS0
$o75/lb), they may well have a viable option to rice farming= Land
tenure problems must still be ironed out, a local buying center must be
set up, and extension agents will have to teach people how to propagate
and care for trees again, but the future may yet see Toledo reestab­
lished as a major cacao producero
Ownership of Cacao Trees
The long history of cacao as a cash crop has led to the tree’s
possessing a unique place in the Kekchi concept of property„ Land used
for corn can be held by an individual, and in some cases right to its
use can be loaned, given as gifts, or inherited.
But land used for
annual crops can never be sold or rented for cash payment„ Cacao and a
very few other tree crops can be sold, as well as transferred in the
other ways already mentioned.
planted upon it can be.
The land is not sold, but the trees
People who move away from a village must sell
their groves, usually to kinsmen.
Cacao and coffee groves are the only
possessions of a man or woman which have an important role in inheri­
tance,
Unlike pigs, chickens or minor possessions left behind after
death, cacao groves are a productive resource which will last for many
years.
Ownership of a number of cacao trees seems to be a factor taken
into account in personal decisions about residence location, and can
sometimes inhibit mobility.
By the same token, it is usually the old
278
families in a village, those which have lived there many years and
dominated political affairs and kinship networks, who own the largest
part of the village’s cacao= Mobile households must buy either the
beans or a grove of trees» An interesting new trend in villages off
the reservation is the planting of tree crops as a means of asserting
claim to land.
In Indian Creek some men plant quantities of cacao and
coffee on Crown Land (see Chapter 3) because they think the government
will take this into account when the land is finally surveyed and soldo
At present the members of a household cluster generally share
in maintaining and harvesting established cacao groves, though the trees
2
planted by a younger cluster member belong entirely to him0
This joint
usufruct is an incentive for sons to continue living close to their
father after marriage=
After the father’s death, the sons try to main­
tain the joint enterprise and ownership, or they should according to the
cultural nornio
takes placeo
Quarrels are common, however, and division eventually
As the value of cacao increases, this kind of informal
ownership and inheritance system, which encourages negotiation and
manipulation, may well break down and be replaced by a more formal set
of ruleso
<
Varieties of Cacao
Two species of cacao are planted, one of which is the commonly
. known cacao proper (cacau, Theobroma cacao), while the other is a
2
This kind of dual division into family property which is held by a kin- dred, and individual property which can be disposed of by individuals,
is well known from other parts of the world, especially the Caribbean,
where Wilson’s (1973:44-69) elegant description gives a good example
of how such a system works0
279
related but less well known native species known as pataxte in some
parts of Guatemala (balam, Theobroma bicolor).
proper are planted,
Three varieties of cacao
Cakil cacau has small, red pods, raxal cacau has
large green pods with black seeds and is the most common, and sakil
cacau is an uncommon variety with medium green pods and light brown to
white seeds.
Cacao of both species is planted in well drained soils, usually
in relatively flat winding valleys between hills where the trees are
sheltered from wind and receive adequate moisture during the dry season.
In'Aguacate there are over 10 hectares of these groves, most in a single
area about 1 km east of the village in an especially favorable valley.
Here their spreading branches create a continuous canopy over a per­
manently moist ground surface blanketed with decaying leaves.
Few weeds
can compete in this micro-environment, which is a favorite place for.
night hunting for the halau (a rodent of up to 15 kg) which is attracted
to fallen fruit.
Opossums are also common in the groves, where they
damage young fruit and are killed on sight.
Planting is done in low bush, which is cleared with machetes
and chopped into mulch rather than burned.
area is tangled with vines.
Burning is only done if the
Cacao seeds are then dropped three at a
time into widely spaced dibble holes.
Weeding is done three or more times a year until the plant
reaches waist height, after which the plot is cleaned once a year.
High mortality is reported among the young trees, which is not sur­
prising considering the casual planting methods, the lack of care, and
the absence of shade for the young plant.
280
Fruit is borne after the fifth year9 with some fruit maturing
all year round and a main harvest during two months beginning in midMarch,
The pods are picked with sticks, opened in the field, and then
the pulpy fruit and seeds are carried home.
Some pulp is eaten as a
refreshing treat (for children especially) and the seeds are then washed
in the river and dried in the sun for three or four days on cohune leaf
or tin racks next to the house.
They are roasted as needed before being
ground on a metate or in a corn mill.
After 30 or 40 years the yield from a tree declines, faster if
little care is given to the grove.
When yield reaches next to nothing,
the entire grove may be burned during the height of the dry season
(taking care that the fire doesn’t spread), and new and vigorous new
shoots grow again from the stumps, bearing fruit after three to five
years.
Total yield for the average mature tree is between two and five
kg dried seed per year, which works out to approximately 300 to 600
kilograms per hectare,
A minimally-tended hectare of cacao, requiring
perhaps 80 man hours of labor per year, can therefore yield about U,S,
$150 to $300, a rate of return per man hour at least five times higher
than the return in rice farming.
The cacao also yields more per hectare
of land than rice (which averages U,S= S135/ha, on land which can only
be used once every 10 years).
Cacao is sometimes planted around houses within the village,
though each young plant must be carefully protected from pigs by means
of a wooden fence.
Those who have established a stable, multi-
generational household cluster, who have lived in a single village for
281
many years, or who want to assert their claim to membership in the com­
munity are the most likely to plant a few trees around the house0
Balam is a large forest tree with a massive columnar trunk.
It
is relatively unknown in the literature on tropical agriculture, except
in Guatemala, where its fruits are considered an inferior substitute
for real cacao (McBryde 19^5-148).
The Kekchi prefer balam to cacao,
claiming that the seeds are sweeter and better tasting, and that the
fruit pulp tastes more strongly.
There are two varieties:
t'uru* balam which has a smaller,
better quality seed, and latz* latz* balam which has larger fruits
pocked with many small holes, and a wetter pulp around the seeds.
Both
grow wild in the forest as well as be'ing planted among the cacau in the
groves.
They are planted by the same methods as cacau, but take many
years to mature and are rarely planted today.
They do not grow well
around houses.
Balam trees bear fruit once a year, in November and October.
Unlike cacau, the pods fall from the trees by themselves when ripe.
One tree annually yields 5-7 kilograms of dried seeds which are invari­
ably kept for home use rather than sold.
Table 37 shows the percentages of households in the two villages
which own cacao, and the average number of trees owned.
In some cases
the putative owner actually shares the yield with other close relatives.
The lower planting frequency and number in Indian Creek reflects no lack
of interest in cacao there, but the recent date of settlement in the
village.
In Aguacate over 5^% of those who own cacao trees have in­
herited them, 22& bought the trees, and only 2k% planted the trees
282
Table 37°
Frequency and numbers of cacao trees in two study villageso
Aguacate
Indian Creek
Percent of households owning cacau
56
20
Average number of cacau trees
44
14
Percent of households owning balam
40
10
6
2
Average number of balam trees
themselveso
283
Less than 12# of the households in Aguacate have planted
cacao in the last five years, while all the cacao in Indian Creek has
been planted druing that time0 This means that planting rates are
actually higher in Indian Creek0
Other Crops
I have discussed the Kekchi subsistence and cash crops which
absorb the majority of the years’ agricultural labor and yield the major
portion of a household’s food and casho
The remainder of the diet comes
from a very wide variety of crops, domestic animals and wild foods= The
diversity of these resources, and the complexity of the tasks and labor
scheduling necessary to procure them must provoke some questions about
why so many very minor and unimportant crops and resources are main­
tained and usedo
In the Kekchi case, the many minor crops are not inte­
grated into a finely interwoven, scheduled, interdependent system like
that described by Conklin (1957) for the Hanunoo in the PhilippineSo
We see no conservation of soil and moisture through layering of cano­
pies, little timing of planting for sustained yield, scant recreation
of natural vegetation patterns with cultigens in an 41artificial rain­
forest ' (Wiseman 1978, 1973)» and none of the careful management of
symbiotic intercropped species found in the swiddens of the Yukpa in
lowland Venezuela (Ruddle 1975)=
Rather, the Kekchi depend on corn above all else, not even the
classic triad with beans and squash so common on the margins of Mesoamericao
Dependence on this one staple above all others derives, I
believe, from its unique storability in the extremely moist Toledo en­
vironment =
Storage of growing root crops in the ground (as practiced by
284 '
many South American horticultural groups) is not a viable option for
the Kekchi, for reasons to be described below0
Minor crops keep variety in the diet and provide needed vitamins
and protein, but always in a transitory fashion since they bear for such
short periods of time0
A diversity of minor crops ensures that the corn
diet will almost always have some kind of supplement»
Space limitations restrict the detail to be presented here on
minor cropso
tableso
Most information will be given in a series of charts and
I will break down the minor crops into groups presented in
rough order of importance in the diet*
Labor requirements and yields for the minor crops would be
valuable information to have, but I , like most people who have studied
tropical agriculture, found this task impossible0 .^he crops are planted,
tended and harvested in many places and at many times, often in conjunc­
tion with some other task.
The best I can offer is a very rough figure
for the time spent specifically on tending minor crops during my eight
month labor recording period.
This averages out to less than two man
hours per month, per household, with labor peaks in June, July and
October (recording went from June to January) when other tasks in corn
and rice were not urgently pressingo
This is no doubt an under­
representation of the actual labor figure, but it is not a gross under­
estimate.
Yields may be reckoned roughly from the data on planting
frequencies and quantities given below and from the dietary information
included in Chapter 9=
Root Crops
Root crops are in no way as important in modern Kekchi subsis­
tence as has been hypothesized for past Maya populations (Bronson 1966),
though they offer high caloric yields both per unit of land and per man
hour of labor (see discussion in Roosevelt 1980)0 They can be left in
the ground long after maturity as a form of storage, and can be used
as animal feed or for making liquor0 But for the Kekchi (and I suspect
for the pre-Classic Maya) there is a blot on this rosy picture, a blot
named Dicotyles tayacu, or peccary0 This wild animal6s favorite food
is the tuber of young root crops, and I heard countless complaints of
the futility of planting them while a wild population of peccaries re­
mained in the area0 Only a field planted close to the village and
fenced, rather than a swidden in the forest, is a practical site for a
large planting of root crops in southern Toledo= The higher frequency
of root crop plantings in the northern villages by the highway results
more from hunting pressure on the local peccary population than from
direct population pressure on land resources0
The seven major root crops are identified and named in Table 38 ,
with the varieties of eacho
Native or pre-Columbian species are iden­
tified with an asterisk by their Kekchi name,.
Most varietal names on
this and other tables are merely color identifiers, unless otherwise
notedo
All of these crops are reproduced vegetatively by planting
single corms, parts of the roots, or sections of vines in shallow holes
dug with the machete or digging stick*
The major planting of all root
crops takes place in.the c*at c'al in the month following the corn
Table 380 Root crops and varieties in Toledo0
Kekchi
Name
Belizean
Common Name
Scientific
Binomial
Varieties and Their
Characteristics
Ox*
Cocoyam
Xanthosoma violaceum
Sakil - white stem
Rax
- green stem
Balu
Dasheen
Colooasia esculenta
Cakal - reddish stem
Sakil - pale green stem
Is*
Sweet Potato
Ipomoea batatas
several unnamed varieties
Tz’in*
Yucca9 Cassava
Manihot esculenta
K ’an - sweet, yellow stem
Raxal — sweet, yellow leaves
Sakil - bitter, tall plant
Piyac'
Yam
Dioscorea alata
Sakil - white stem joints
Cakal - red stem joint
Yampa
Yampa
Dioscorea trifida
Sakil - white flesh
Raxal - purple flesh
Yamachin
Chinese yam
Dioscorea esculenta
Sakil - white flesh
^Indicates a native American crop0
28?
planting, and they are usually sited in the area immediately surrounding
the corn house, so weeding can be done when the field is visited to get
corn.
It is less common to plant root crops in the sak* ecua.j, though
this locale is preferred if the c'at c'al is far away and cannot be
protected effectively from the herds of peccary more common further from
the village«
All of these root crops take more than six months to begin to
bear, with manioc taking the longesto
All are harvested casually, a
few at a time during a visit to the field to get corn, and are shared
with other households and consumed immediately«,
The average quantities planted in the two study villages are
shown on Table 39°
The chart shows clearly the greater importance of .
all root crops in Indian Creek„ This is due both to the relative lack
of peccaries there and a tendency for corn fields to be closer to the
village where the root crops can be more carefully tended and super­
vise d0 Root crops also do better on the shorter-fallowed land used for
corn fields in Indian Creek„ An added incentive to plant root crops
there is that the surplus can often be sold either within the village
or during weekly market days in Punta Gorda0
The relative popularity of cassava and yam in both villages was
explained by my informants on the basis of high productivity and re­
liability compared with the other root crops, though there may be
dietary preferences at work here too0 Cassava is not processed into
bread, and the bitter variety is rarely planted.
It is boiled and eaten
in stew (caldo) and is planted by some men as an emergency supply of pig
288
Table 39°
Crop
Frequency and numbers of root crops in the two study
villages: 1979=
% Farmers
Who
, Planted
Aguacate
Mean No0 Max, No,
of
a
Plants
Plants
9? Farmers
Who
Planted
Indian Creek
Mean No 0 Max, No,
of
of
Plants
Plants
Ox
16
17
31
40
166
300
Balu
28
38
100
20
28
50
Is
16
3
5
40
31
100
Tz* in
52
28
100
80
70
200
Piyac’
28
23
105
50
45
60
Yampa
20
24
60
50
134
500
4
2
2
10
15
15
Yamachin
a 0 This is the mean number of plants reported by the men who had
planted that crop (does not include non-planters).
289
feed if they run short of corn*
YamachTn has been introduced in the
last ten years, and is only beginning to catch on0
Plantains and Bananas
The Kekchi grow eight varieties of plantain and one kind of
sweet bananao
attention —
These are highly valued crops because they require little
just weeding two or at most three times a year —
and
because they continue to bear fruit long after they are planted,.
They
extend the useful period of a swidden beyond the single corn cropo
The bunches of fruit are harvested unripe, and will keep hung
on the wall of the kitchen for more than a week*
Still, men in the
southern zone like to plant different varieties at different times so
they will not all bear fruit at the same time and hence produce an un­
consumable surpluso
Even then, many plantains are informally exchanged
as gifts as each person's trees bear sporadically or heavily, and they
sometimes end up being fed to pigs,.
In the northern zone plantains are a minor cash crop for road­
side villageSo
They sold for UoSo $ 1 o 5 0 - 2 o Q 0 per stem in the Punta
Gorda market during 1979=
Transportation is, however, expensive and
supply in the market often far exceeds demand, so vendors have to sell
cheaply or carry the unsold fruit home again= It is mainly the low
labor cost of the crop which encourages farmers to continue to try and
sell themo
Plantains are usually interplanted in the c'at c'al two months
after the corn, especially if the year's c'at c'al is close to the pre­
vious site of plantain planting, so the suckers will not have to be
carried far to the new ploto
Second in frequency are plantings in the
290
sak* ecuaj, more frequently if these fields are well-drained.
Planting
in the sa* ecuaj has the advantages of being close to the village and
easy to keep clean, but the dangers of flooding and animal damage are
greater.
The birds, bats (zotz), opossums (uch), rats (ch'o), and teyra
(sacol) which frequent the levees are all happy eating ripe and unripe
plantains.
Some plantains, most often the dwarf variety (met' tul),
are planted around the house plot for both shade and fruit.
stems must be protected from pigs.
The young
This custom seems much more popular
in Indian Creek, where some farmers complain that the fruit in distant
forest fields is frequently stolen by 'two legged rats,1
Plantains begin to bear six months after planting, and some
varieties continue to bear for three years if they are weeded regularly,
while other varieties bear for one year and die.
Depending on a house­
hold's food requirements and the varieties planted, the farmer may plant
plantains every other year or every third year instead of each year.
Table 40 lists the varieties of plantains and banana and their indi­
vidual characteristics.
Yields must be judged relative to each other,
for example sakitul bears one bunch a year while caketul bears up to
eight.
Table 4l gives the percentages of farmers in the two villages
who grow
each of the varieties,
A total of 88% of Aguacate farmers
and 90% of those in Indian Creek grow some variety of Musa, with the
average quantity grown being much higher in Indian Creek,
Again, the
relative popularity of the different varieties is similar in the two'
villages, though the absolute quantities differ.
The most popular
varieties in both cases are not the most productive ones.
Factors of
291
Table 40 » Varieties of banana and plantain and their characteristics0
Common and
Scientific
Names
Kekchi
Varietal
Name
Relative
Yield
Banana, Musa
sapientum*
Queney
high
Large, yellow when ripe0 Eaten
cooked unripe or raw ripe0 Bears
for three yearso
Plantains,
Musa
paradisiaca
Sakitul
medium
Large, white fleshed, yellow skin
fruit which stays hard when ripe0
Bears one bunch and dies after
putting out suckerso
Tuliyaj
medium
Very small green fruit, square in
section, tree bears for two years.
Cakitul
high
Reddish skinned, small fruit
which ripens quickly. Yields two
- three years if kept clean.
Par ax
high
Large flattened fruit, yellow
when ripe. Bears occasionally
over more than three years.
Tz'ultul
low
Small fruit, stays green until
very ripe. Bears only one year.
Alaban
medium
Large fruit, yellow when ripe.
Bears one year, susceptible to
wind damage,
Cakisakitul
medium
Large fruit, reddish skin with
hard white flesh. Bears only one
year.
Met1tul
medium
Dwarf tree which bears medium
size fruit with white flesh.
Lasts two-three years.
*
Characteristics
*For a clear dissection of the confusing taxonomy and systematics of
the Musaceae, see Purseglove (1972:348-351)°
292
Table 4lo
Crop
Frequency and number of Musaceae in two study villages in
1979=
% Farmers
Planting
Aguacate
Mean No 0 Maxo NOo
Plants
Plants
Indian Creek
% Farmers Mean No 0 Maxo No 0
Planting
Plants
Plants
Queney
48
6
20
60
57
100
Sakitul
68
19
50
70
102
300
Tuliyaj
20
5
8
50
15
50
Cakitul
16
3
5
20
5
5
Parax
40
4
12
20
10
15
Tz'ultul
44
7
20
50
20
50
Alaban
28
4
10
40
26
50
Cakisakitul
32
8
20
50
24
50
4
2
2
30
11
25
Met'tul
293
storability and taste preference (sakitul is the favorite for cooking)
override those of yield <>
Further, in Indian Creek we can see a clear differentiation into
varieties, those planted heavily for the market (quehey, sakitul) and
those planted primarily for home consumption,.
The response here empha­
sizes the two varieties which bring the highest prices in the market in
Punta Gorda because they are preferred by the Carib and Creole pur­
chasers thereo
Minor Food Crops
These crops are all planted and tended in a fairly casual manner,
at many times, of the year and in many locations,.
Table 42 gives basic
identifications and data on varieties and planting places*
Dates of
planting and bearing are so widely variable that a tabular presentation
would be deceptively definite*
In practice, each household will have a
particular plant's produce for a few weeks at most, during which time
they will tend to have more than they can consume and give this surplus
to kin and visitors*
An informal network distributes infrequent and
irregular yields all around the village in this way*
In planting these vegetable crops, farmers seek a particular
kind of place they call josk' (strong), spots with thick, soft dark
soil, usually where a large hardwood or Cohune trunk or stump has burned
or rotted*
It is usual to find vegetables scattered through the field
in small clusters, each centered around a rotting cohune stump*
In the
sak'ecuaj a large rotting cohune log may serve as a garden bed for year
after year*
Table 420
Identification and planting locations of nine minor food cropso — If only one variety
is known, it will not have a specific identifying name. Native crops are marked with
an asterisko Under the column headed *planting locations,6 ’C signifies the wetseason corn field, ’S ’ is the dry-season riverbank field, 'A* is the rice field, and
•H' means the house ploto
Kekchi and
Creole Names
Scientific
Binomial
Planting
Locations
Pixp*- tomato
Lycopersicon
esculentum
C,S,AoH
pixp - cherry tomato on creeping vine, often
feral
Okr - okra
Hibiscus esculentus
C,H
naj - long pot, tall plant up to 2o5 meters=
coc* - short, fat pod, small plant
Ch'ima* - chocho,
chayote
Sechium edule
C,S,H
k'ix - green prickly fruit
mac'a k'ix - pale, smooth skinned fruit
C ’urn* - pumpkin
Cucurbita sppo
C,S,H
c'um - flat, round buff colored fruit
yocotun - elongated, thin multicolored fruit
Ceboyx - onion
Allium cepa
C,S,A,H
caki - red, small bulbs
ch’o - no bulb, grows in clusters
Ic*
- chile
Capiscum annuum
Capiscum frutiscens
C,A,H
ninki - large, red fruit, small annual bush
coc' — tiny, reg-orange fruit, large annual
bush
jutz’ - small long fruit, perennial shrub
Anx
- garlic
Allium sativum
C,H
anx
Uts'aj - sugar cane Saccharum officinarum
C,SoH
saki - large stemmed, whitish green
cha" > large stem, loose, thin ash colored skin
caki - thin cane, red to black
Ch’op* - pineapple
C
k'ix - large fruit, spiny leaves
tranjer - smaller fruit, smooth leaves
Ananas comosus
Varieties and Their Characteristics
- grows poorly and slowly if at all
ro
*
295
The closest thing to a permanent garden in Kekchi agriculture
is the sak'ecuaj fields which are close to the village and have been in
use for a long time.
There the members of a household cluster may share
in planting and tending a patch of vegetable crops in an area separate
from the corn0 Only the driest levee areas are suitable for this kind
of planting, and as yet the amount of care given these proto-gardens is
minimalo
Pixp, tomatoes, are planted in josk* places merely by squeezing
the seed out of the ripe fruit with the fingers, spraying it on the
groundo
Each vine yields over a pound of fruit through a two or three
month period, the main harvest being in November0 They are used mainly
in sauces and soups0
Okr, okra, is a very hardy and well-adapted crop, which is often
grown around houses because pigs do not bother ito
The large variety is
preferred because all the pods ripen at once, instead of one or two at
a time like the small plant0 They are also used in soups and stewsc
Ch1ima, chayote, is very popular as a market crop in some nor­
thern zone villageso
In the southern zone it often fails to flower
because of excess moisture„
In dry parts of the sak'ecuaj it bears for
many years if kept weeded, setting fruit in November,,
The succulent
roots are also eaten,.
C u m , pumpkin, is one of the most important vegetable crops,
dibbled into the same holes as the corn during both corn cropso
They
bear in October and November in the c'at c'al, and in March in the
sak'ecuajo Rats, worms and opossums damage much of the crop, so much
more is planted than is needed.
The fruit is mixed with sugar and
296
boiled for a favorite festive dish (c*at c*urn), and the seeds are some­
times roasted and ground to add to corn porridge (lab, mats)„
Ceboyx, onion, and anx, garlic, are mostly grown as condiments
and as a green leafy addition to stews and soups, but Ic, chile, is a
universal and important part of the diet.
It is eaten ripe and dried,
as well as green, as an accompaniment to the eternal corn tortilla.
Seed is broadcast in small patches, which are weeded carefully by hand
until the plants are established.
Men like to have several patches
growing at any one time in different places to ensure a steady supply,
and women often plant one or two of the perennial species near the
house.
Uts'aj, sugar cane, was probably a minor cash crop for the
Kekchi in long past days when Toledo had the beginnings of a sugar in­
dustry.
Today it is a declining crop, though some men still have a set
of wooden roller-presses and iron cauldrons used for crushing the cane,
and boiling the juice down into coarse raspadura sugar.
Only in the
most remote villages do men still go through the process regularly;
elsewhere commercially processed sugar has become cheap and easy to buy.
In the northern villages cane is still grown as a snack food, and small
amounts of sugar are made for sale within the village to people who
consider the processed product inferior.
Ch'op, pineapples, are a popular crop in the southern zone be­
cause they require little care and are fairly easy to plant in old corn
fields.
In Aguacate, however, most of the plants are destroyed by
peccary before they ever bear fruit.
In Indian Creek they are planted
in old c'at c'al close to the village, or around the house where they
297
can be tended more carefully and protected from animalso
Several men
in Indian Creek are trying out pineapple as a cash crop because they
bring a high price in Punta Gorda0 Table 43 shows the planted quanti­
ties and frequencies of planting of all of the crops mentioned above in
the two study villageso
Tree Crops
A large number of species of domesticated and semi-domesticated .
trees are planted and tended by the Kekchi,
The minimal labor spent in
this enterprise is rewarded by very sporadic but highly valued dietary
supplementso
Children are especially active harvesting fruits, often
eating them green instead of leaving them to ripen.
Even more than
vegetable crops, trees bear very heavily for short periods of time.
For a week everyone will be eating mamey apples, selling mamey apples,
giving them away, and ultimately getting sick of mamey apples and feed­
ing them to the pigs.
Table 44 lists the tree crops, their varieties, and scientific
names when known,
I have included a number of semi-domesticates which
are rarely planted, but often volunteer from discarded seed, and are
then tended and protected like the domestic trees.
crops have any importance as sources of cash.
Very few of the tree
Coffee is grown on a
large scale in San Antonio and San Pedro Columbia and is sold informally
to Indians in other villages.
for household needs.
Elsewhere a small quantity may be planted
Other fruits are sometimes carried to Punta Gorda
on market days, but prices are low and the cost of transport compara­
tively high.
Oranges are sold informally within and between villages,
and a lack of root stock and limited knowledge of grafting techniques
298
Table 43<> Frequency and numbers of vegetable crops in two study
villages in 1979°
Crop
Aguacate
% Farmers
Mean No0
Planting
Plants
Indian Creek
% Farmers
Mean No0
Planting
Plants
Tomato
40
8
50
17
Okra
36
6
40
6
Chayote
12
a
30
a
Pumpkin
52
b
70
b
Onion
44
16
60
25
Cane
52
19°
40
Pineapple
48
39
40
128
Chile
72
d
90
d
'
14C
a 0 No farmers claimed more than one or two plants°
bo
The average was about one handfull of seed planted, yielding
somewhere between 10 and 30 vineso
Co
This is the number of cane segments planted, each of which yields
more than 5 new stalkso
d°
Average areas planted were about 5 x 10 meters in Aguacate and
slightly more in Indian Creeko
Table 440 Identification and characteristics of 22 Kekchi tree cropso — Unless otherwise noted,
the fruits of the tree are eaten, as a snack food* '.+ 6 indicates that the tree is semidomesticated, and the asterisk denotes a native New World specieso
Kekchi and
Creole names
Scientific
Binomial
Varieties
Characteristics and Use
Persea americana
caki
raxi
red skin, small fruit
green skin, large
Cape, coffee
Coffea canephora
Coffea arabica
ch’e
coc*
(robusta) large tree, large fruit
shrub, small fruit, most common
Pac,* custard apple
Annona reticulata
saki
white flesh, smooth skin
Pox,* sweetsop
Annona squamosa
sometimes called
red flesh, rough skin
caki pac
Anap,* soursop
Annona muricata
anap
not widely grown
Pata',+* guava
Psidium guajava
caki
saki
reddish pulp, favorite of children
whitish pulp
Marik, mango
Mangifera indica
cas
ninki
small, stringy, purple skin
red, large, pulpy
Coc, coconut
Cocos nucifera
coc
rarely planted, but fruit valued
Jom,* calabash
Crescentia cujete
Sakiite,* •physic nut
Jatropha tubulosa
sakiite
a common snack food
Chochoc,+* bribri(?)
Inga edulis
chochoc
pulp form long pods is eaten
Masapan, breadfruit
Artocarpus attilis
masapan
a famine food mostly
Avocado
fruit dried and used as container
299
Table 44— continued
Kekchi and
Creole names
Scientific
Binomial
Varieties
Characteristics and Use
Bokut or ch*elel,+*
sackysac
Inga laurina
bokut
larger fruit than chochoc
Aset, castor
Ricinus communis
saki
caki
white stem, leaves and oil medicinal
reddish stem nodes
Leem, lime
Citrus aurantifolia
leem
thin skinned, used as seasoning
Lamox, lemon
Citrus limon
lamox
lemonsee
rare, thin skinned
large, thick skinned, more common
Cheen, orange
Citrus aurantum
Citrus sinensis
rere
k'i
bitter, used as seasoning and in juice
sweet, popular fruit
Toronj, grapefruit
Citrus paradisi
toronj
rarely planted
Saltul,* mamey apple
Calocarpum sapota
saltul
large, red fleshed, very sweet
Muy,+* sapote
Achras zapota
muy
white flesh, sometimes called coc*
saltul
Rum,* hogplum
Spondius mombin
rum
snack food, increasing popularity
Obel,+* bullhoof
Piper umbellatum
obel
leaves boiled and eaten
Papa,+* papaya
Carica papaya
papa
ch'onte
large cultigen hybridizes with ch1
1onte
feral, tiny fruits
301
/
is all that seems to be inhibiting much wider citrus plantings, since
the demand seems to be present0 San Benito Poite grows many oranges
which are sold in some quantity to other southern villages and to vil­
lages on the Guatemalan side of the border0
Trees are usually planted around the house, and ownership lasts
long after the house site has been abandoned and taken over by someone
else.
A few men who have lived in Aguacate a long time have- put their
orchards in their sak*ecuaj fields, where they are weeded twice a year0
Given the high inter-village mobility of most Kekchi, it is surprising
that so many fruit trees are planted at alio
Young men, in particular,
rarely plant trees because they expect to move around.
The centers of
most villages are populated with abandoned *public * trees whose owners
have long left the village and abandoned them to the voracious village
children.
Table ^5 list the percentages and quantities of some of the more
commonly planted trees in the two villages.
Given that Indian Creek is
such a new village, the number of trees planted is surprising.
Some
trees have been encouraged by subsidized sales of seedlings from the
Agriculture Department station in Toledo (mango, citrus, coconut), but
much of the new planting in Indian Creek is done with the intent of
producing for home consumption and without any external encouragement,
Minor Crops and Condiments
Kekchi women, who take little part in agriculture in the corn
and rice fields, plant condiments and spices around the house in buckets
or containers to place them out of reach of pigs (like the log gardens
described by Covich and Nickerson (1966) in Panama or Redfield and
302
Table 43o Frequency and numbers of the more common tree crops in the
two study villages0
Crop
Aguacate
% Farmers
Mean Nbo
Planting
Plants
Indian Creek
^ Farmers
Mean No 0
Planting
Plants
all Citrus
56
12
90
9
Coffee
44
28
4o
100
Pac
84
5
30
2
Soursop
4o
2
30
3
Guava
68
5
70
4
Mango
28
5
6o
4
Avocado
36
3
60
3
Coconut
16
1
70
6
Calabash
72
4
30
5
4
2
70
2
Chochoc
303
Villa Rojas (193*0 in Yucatan) and in sheltered spots which can be pro­
tected with a temporary fence*
Xayau, samat and ichaj are all important
ingredients in the ever-present caldo which graces every Kekchi meal*
Included here are some other "women's crops' such as cotton and agave,
which are used for weaving and twining net bags*
The only source of cash in this group of crops is xayau,
achiote, which is boiled down into a red paste called
recado which can
be sold for UoS* $*50 each in the Punta Gorda market*
At one time this
spice was a major part of the commerce between highlands and lowlands,
and it has been a prominent part of the landscape in Kekchi villages for
over 300 years (see the misidentification of achiote as ramon in Reina
and Hill 1980)*
Today the plant is prominently planted around every
dwelling site in the village, though much of the yield is not harvested*
Cotton and agave may also be made into bags which are then sold*
The other spices, including ginger and sesame, are sometimes
sold in the Punta Gorda market, but are more often given as gifts in­
formally between neighbors and kin*
Table k6 lists the minor crops,
their varieties, and prominent characteristics*
The most common of all these crops is xayau, which is grown by
more than 9<% of the households in both study villages*
The rest are
grown by between 20 and 50% of households each, in both study villages,
though I will not list the exact quantities here*
Many women share a
single planting with a nearby relative, so smaller percentages planted
are deceptive anyway*
The fiber crops and indigo are not planted at all
in Indian Creek, where weaving is almost entirely extinct, but the
spices and condiments seem to be more popular there than in Aguacate*
Table 46o
Identification and characteristics of 18 condiments and other minor crops0
Kekchi and
Creole Names
Scientific Binomial
Varieties
Xayau,* achiote
Bixa orellana
k* ix
t'uru
saki
red, prickly pod, spice and dye
reddish, smooth pod, spice and dye
green, prickly pod, spice and dye
Xanchib, ginger
Zingiber officinale
Renealmia spo*
coc'
ch* i
small leaves, spice
large leaf, spice and food coloring
Orek,+* oregano
Hyptis spQ
orek
possibly several species, spice
Samat,+* ?
Eryngium foetidum
samat
both wild and cultivated, spice and
greens
Ichaj,+* nightshade
Solanum nigrum
ichaj
pot herb when young, seeds boiled
Tep, basil
Ocimum basilicum
tep
grown in buckets, spice
Wangla, sesame
Sesamum indicum
wangla
seeds used to make candy
Culant, cilantro
Coriandrum sativum
culant
common spice and pot herb
Pens,* allspice
Pimenta dioica ,
pens
leaves and fruit as spice, sometimes
sold
Iskij, lemongrass
Cymbopogon citratus
iskij
leaves in drinks and other foods
Sel,* gourd
Lagenaria siceraria
sel
containers, young fruit eaten
Mai,* tobacco
Nicotiana rustica
mai
rolled into large cigars
Characteristics
Table 46— Continued
Kekchi and
Creole Names
Scientific Binomial
Varieties
Characteristics
Nok'cotton
Gossypium hirsutum
k ’ani
saki
brown pod, perennial tree cotton
green pod, perennial tree cotton
Mach palau,+ loofah
Luffa cylindrica
mach palau
small fruits eaten, sponge
Chau pim,+° indigo
Indigofera suffructicosa
chau pirn
dyestuff
Tu*tu*,+* girl*s booby
Solanum mammosum
tu* tu’
ornamental, possible medicinal
Iq'e,* agave
Agave spp0
iq'e
leaf fiber for bags and hammocks
Ch'alam,+* (?)
Lonchocarpus castillbi
ch’alam
fish poison
Summary
To summarize what I have said about cash crops; their selection
has been dictated by the food preferences of a distant urban population
rather than local ecology or a regard for the integrity of the tradi­
tional subsistence economy,.
Rice pays a low return, and it requires
labor at times which conflict with subsistence crops, but it is still
grown because the income derived from it is unfettered by traditional
social obligationsb
Its acceptance has led to an increasing partition
between cash and subsistence sectors within the agricultural economy
and ideology.
Both beans and cacao are less difficult cash crops to
integrate with the traditional corn production cycle, but the first is
hindered by technical production problems, and the latter by marketing
difficulties,
A better cash crop for the Kekchi would be one which
makes use of labor during slack times of the year and/or land which
cannot at present be used for corn production,
A heartening development has been the slow growth of a market
for minor agricultural products ift the twice-weekly municipal market at
Punta Gorda Town,'’ This has encouraged northern-zone Indians to in­
crease planting of many vegetable and root crops, which improve the diet
as well as bring in occasional cash at little expense in extra labor or
land use.
Other reasons for the increased planting of vegetables,
roots, and tree crops in the northern zone are that wild food resources
^The Punta Gorda market days are Tuesday and Saturday, Most of the
vendors are Garifuna or East Indian,'but some Kekchi and Mopan bring
whatever fruits, vegetables and eggs they may have surplus at the time.
Prices are very low, and though demand increased for a time, when the
oil companies ceased exploration work in Toledo in 1979, demand began
to fall rapidly. The local bank branch closed in 1979 too.
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there are diminishing, and the crops replace themo
The limited land
available encourages farmers to use the land more intensively through
intercropping and planting of crops which grow better in shorter fallow
(especially root crops)0 Fields tend to be closer to the village, and
can therefore be more closely supervised,.
And as fallow status declines
in a region, corn becomes both less productive and less reliable', and
other crops must be planted as a safety neto
Increased population
pressure on wild animal populations tends to eliminate the animals which
do the most damage to root crops (peccary), vegetables (deer), and tree
crops (gibnut), while the numbers of the animals which do the most
damage to corn (coatimundi, rats) tend to increase, a further impetus
in the shift away from dependency on corno
The lower corn production in
the northern zone, and in some cases intervillage agreements, have led
to a lower pig population, and a consequent lessening of pig predation
on crops.
This has also permitted plantings closer to the village,
plantings in which minor vegetable and root crops have a better chance
of reaching maturity.
In the crowded highlands of Guatemala and El Salvador, and in
some parts of the lowlands, a fenced garden close to the house, full of
a complex mixture of root-crops, vegetables and fruit trees, is an
essential and important part of the productive system (Anderson 1971s
137-140; Wagner 1958, for example). In contrast, the Kekchi farmer’s life
in Toledo rotates around the ever-shifting axis of his cornfield, where
minor crops are casually interplanted on an opportunistic basis.
The distance of the shifting cornfield from the dwelling means
that minor vegetable crops are planted with a casualness which is only
308
exceeded by their treatment as they grow0 Through neglect, few of the
plants in the cornfield (and even fewer of those planted in the houseplot) survive and bear fruit.
It is possible to make a pig-proof fence
with little effort, and to transfer the vegetable crops from bush to
village garden where they can be tended and protected (I built a fenced
garden in the village myself during my stay). The decision not to do
!
so is reflected and justified by attitudes towards minor crops (though
not caused by the attitudes), and is in many ways similar to the 'plant
it and forget it* approach to agriculture which is found among some
Amazonian horticultural groups.
That long fallow corn production and intensive gardening are in­
computable is apparent from the detailed description of Kekchi agricul­
ture above.
What should also be clear from the discussion of minor
crops is that attitudes and practices are very flexible in response both
to market opportunities and population pressure on land resources.
In
Indian Creek and other northern villages, more people grow more vege­
tables, root crops, beans, plantains and tree crops than in Aguacate and
they tend them with more care, This runs counter to the observations
made by anthropologists in some peasant societies where market involve­
ment and land shortages often lead to a progressive simplification of
agriculture, as a few cash crops displace the previous, diverse subsis­
tence economy (e=g,, Gudeman 19?8;l40-l43), and purchased foodstuffs
replace the home-grown.
One reason for the difference between the Kekchi case and some
others described is the complexity and variability of what has been
labeled a unitary process of *modernization,* Different cash crops
309
penetrate different kinds of traditional economies in different ways,
and the kind of penetration is much influenced by the nature of the mar­
ket system in a particular area and the type of core-periphery relation­
ship in which the traditional economy is placed (see Carol Smith's 1976,
1977 and 1978 articles in particular)„ We should also consider the
possibility that Kekchi agriculture has not yet reached a comparable
stage of monetarization, intensification and proletarianization0 The
Kekchi may well be in a stage of indigenous intensification and increas­
ing subsistence diversity which elsewhere precedes the process of rural
dependency and peasantization so familiar from studies of peasant agri­
culture.
CHAPTER 7
DOMESTIC ANIMAL PRODUCTION
Domestic animals are important to the Kekchio
Neither the
number of animals nor the number of pages devoted to their description
can be taken as an accurate measure of the number of roles that domestic
animals play in Kekchi productive ecology and cultural transaction0 The
Kekchi in fact live surrounded by domestic animalsc
The day begins with
shelling corn for the animals» and often ends with a check to make sure
the pigs and fowl are safely bedded down in their shelters0
In between,
it often seems that there are more animals moving around inside the home
than there are people=
I will discuss livestock in increasing order of
importance, but will give a disproportionate space to pigs because they
fill a role that is one of the most important points where the subsis­
tence economy and the national cash economy articulateo
Before considering edible and draft animals I should mention
petso
Seventy-two percent of Aguacate dwellings have one or more resi­
dent dogs, who seem to have no economic role and spend most of their day
trying to steal foodc
If they are unsuccessful in this they must live
on discarded bones, human excrement, and whatever spoiled food they can
find, because they are rarely fed®
The only purpose they seem to serve
is to raise an alarm if an intruder appears* though they are not very
reliable at this and are not averse to attacking the household's chil­
dren if they have a chance®
Maybe Marvin Harris can find some
310
311
sophisticated, complex system which explains why dogs are really bene­
ficial for most Kekchi, but I certainly cannot»
A few men keep dogs trained to hunto
Some are expert at catch­
ing the armadillo (uech, Dasypus novemcinctus), are valued for this
skill and are treated fairly wello
chase larger game.
Others work in packs to locate and
These packs are most often kept by young men*
Cats are valued as rat catchers, but are rare because they !
cannot tolerate the DDT sprayed on houses by the Malaria Eradication
Serviceo
Other wild animals found as young are reared as pets and
treated wello
Tame peccaries in particular are considered better at
protecting the house than watch-dogs =
Draft Animals
In both southern and northern zone of the Toledo district,
owning a horse or mule is one of the few visible dividing lines between
rich and poor0 A draft animal can considerably ease the labor burden
of transporting corn and rice from field to house or market, and 32$ of
Aguacate dwellings own a draft animal of some kind (though the sharing
of animals within household clusters allows about 60$ of farmers steady
access to one)0 This is one factor which young married men take into
account when they decide whether to stay in their father’s household
cluster or establish an independent household of their own0
Horses and mules are expensive (over UoSo $200) and difficult
to obtain, and can be expensive to keep0 They are fed up to a kilogram
of dried corn per day by most owners, sometimes more when they are work­
ing, and are tethered to graze in the part of the village center the
312
community work group (fagina) keeps clear= Moving the animal around
from house to graze and back is one of the major tasks for children,.
When horses get loose, which is often, a lot of time is wasted catching
them and quarrels can result if a horse escapes into someone's field.
In all likelihood, a single male in an independent household
would find that the amount of time he uses the draft animal does not
repay the amount of time spent caring for it and the quantity of corn
that it eats.
Few single independent household heads have the resources
to buy a horse anyway (only one independent household in Aguacate owns
a .draft animal)o The larger corporate unit of the household cluster has
the capital and manpower necessary, and if it has two or three active
farmers it also has the need.
This economy of scale is attested by the
fact that all but one of the household clusters in Aguacate own one or
more draft animals.
A chi-square test of presence/absence of draft
animals in independent households as opposed to household clusters is
significant at the .01 level of probability (directional hypothesis).
Fowl
Chickens and ducks are owned by women, who tend them in every
way except for building the fowl-coop, and who are entitled to keep
whatever money they may earn from selling eggs or birds.
This is one
of the very few avenues women have for acquiring money of their own, and
for this reason they devote great attention to their flocks.
A woman
must however obtain the corn for fowl from her husband, and therefore
she is not entirely independent in managing the flock.
This is why so
much of the eggs and meat produced ends up being eaten by the family
rather than sold.
313
Chickens are eaten
if pigs are not available»
at many ceremonialoccasions during the year
For feasts at AllSoul’s Day (k ’e sant) or
at ritual dances, chickens are the required foods= At these times a
woman must provide chickens from her flock but there is also a fair
amount of intra-village buying and selling of fowl, since some women do
not have big enough birds»
Feeding rates of fowl vary, but two weeks recorded for two
flocks, an average of 101 grams of shelled corn was eaten by each adult
fowl per day.
Most of thetime they are fed spoiled
or damaged corn
which is unfit for humans <>
Chickens are the preferred and most common fowlo
hold
Every house­
in Aguacate had chickens with an average of 18 large and small
animalso
In Indian Creek the average was 21 chickens per household0
Ducks are not as esteemed for food and they lay less often, but they are
better at foraging for themselves when corn is short and they grow
quicklyo
Sixty-five percent of Aguacate households kept an average of
six ducks each, slightly fewer being found in Indian Creeko
Geese and
turkeys are very rare or unknown in most villages, and the attempted
introduction of guinea fowl by the Catholic church has been unsuccessful.
All fowl are penned at night, but many are still lost to hawks, ocelots
(hix), teyra (sacol), and other predators.
Parasites and disease also
take a regular toll, and every few years cholera reduces flocks in some
part of the district.
Cattle
According to the censuses of the Kekchi villages carried out by
the forestry service in the 1930s (see Chapter 4), cattle were fairly
314
common in the villages, with as many as thirty animals per village in
the southern zone0 Today they are virtually unknown in any of the
southern villages, though cattle ranching is becoming a major industry
in the northern zone (mainly in the hands of expatriate Americans and
Salvadorans)o
In Aguacate one still finds old strands of barbed wire
in what is now high forest, the vestiges of a pasture cleared and main­
tained by a village resident between about 1935
and 1945, on which was
grazed a herd of up to five animalso
Small-scale cattle operations could perhaps be integrated into
the Kekchi subsistence system with few dislocations (see recommendations
in Romney 1959‘124-138)„
The village common grazing could be expanded
into a fenced pasture, as was done in Grique Sarco under the supervision
of the Kekchi Liaison Officer in the1950s (see
Nunes 1977)» or the
cleared area around the houseplot could be extended into private pas­
tures, as was done in Aguacate 0 There is certainly a steady demand and
market for beef, and the cattle would not have to be fed precious corn
as pigs are0
Why then, are there no cattle to be found, even in the villages
where development officers and advisors were there to help?
There are
no firm answers, and the Kekchi themselves are no help since the present
generation was not involved in the last “boomo1 My best guess is that
cows represent too large an investment for most Kekchi farmers; very
small scale cattle raising has the disadvantage that death of a few
animals can wipe out an entire investment0 With all the health problems
of cattle in the rain forest, and the constant problems with predators,
vampire bats, and continual struggles to maintain pasture, I find it
315
remarkable that even the few large and well-capitalized foreign inves­
tors are able to persist (of course the Kekchi don't need tax write­
offs) =
I obviously lack the data to back upthese doubts about the
variability of small-scale cattle
farming in Toledo= But before more
ambitious plans to encourage this sort of thing are proposed and imple­
mented, shouldn't we take a more careful look at the last time these
projects failed, and try to learn
from them?
Pigs, Cash, and Conflict
Pigs are an important means of storing and converting corn, and
they are by far the most important source of cash for villagers in the
southern part of the district*
I have already discussed some of the
ways in which pigs affect the placement and movement of agricultural
fields*
Here I discuss the mechanics of pig-rearing, the social matrix
within which pig production is embedded, and the wider economic and eco­
logical niche that pigs occupy*
Care and Feeding
Pigs Eire penned every night in substantially built thatched pig
houses which are rebuilt and roofed every three to five years*
a large herd several houses will be built*
To house
They sire let out of the
house every morning, to forage through the village and forest, consuming
all the human excrement they find,
1
many wild roots and plants, grass,
Despite the parasite and disease problems this seems to cause (most
children in the village have some kind of intestinal parasite), it is
the only practical solution at present, to human waste disposal since
there are no latrines* There is a certain circularity to the problem,
because so far the Aguacatecos have resisted the introduction of
and small animals» They help keep the undergrowth around the village
under control and reputedly kill poisonous snakes, but they also pollute
potable water supplies, turn trails into impassable wallows, steal food
from houses, eat crops, and compete with draft animals for succulent
grass.
Pigs are fed in the pen every evening, which attracts them back
for the night (usually).
If corn is short they can go for four or five
days without this feeding with no serious harm or weight loss because
of their foraging abilities, but after this interval they start to lose
weight, get sickly, and will not return to the pig house.
An average
ration for a medium sized pig of about 25 kg is about 1 kg of shelled
corn per day, though young pigs get about half that and larger sows a
bit more.
The soiled and weevil-damaged corn is divided into two grades,
the best of which goes to the chickens and the worst to the pigs.
The
pigs are also fed cassava, plantains, and even cohune palm hearts if
corn is in short supply and these foods are available, but corn is by
far the most common food.
2
The intent of feeding pigs is to achieve rapid growth but not
a particularly large overall size.
The Kekchi prefer to have many
smaller pigs instead of the huge, obese porkers which are the goal of
latrines, at least partially because they recognize that there is a
certain economy to having the pigs grow by eating excrement. They do
not show other ethnic groups’ repugnance to then eating the walking
recycling units themselves.
^Some farmers claim that they have to keep pigs, for otherwise the
spoiled corn would go to waste. In Indian Creek the men who do not
keep pigs either brew corn wine with the spoiled corn, or sell it by
the bucket at a nominal price to those who do have pigs to feed.
317
the developed world’s farmers (and which well-intentioned people are
always trying to introduce to Toledo)„ There are several reasons for
wanting many small pigs instead of a few large ones*
First is the
simple fact that accidents and disease are less of a risk with a larger
herd; several pigs may die but the farmer loses a proportionately
smaller part of his whole investment than if the same number of large
pigs die0 Smaller pigs are also preferred because there are no meat
storage facilities in the village0
If a man slaughters a pig for his
own use, he will have to sell or give away most of the large animal
because his family cannot eat all the meat before it spoils0 Pigs must
be frequently slaughtered for ceremonial meals; better to have many
small pigs for these occasions<> Numerous small pigs also form more mobile, efficient foraging herds and are therefore less dependent on stall
feedingo
The optimal size wanted at pig sales is about 35-^0 kg, but
records kept for me over an elapsed period of three years of pig rearing
by different individuals show exceptions to this and pigs may be sold
sooner or later depending on corn supplies and cash needso
growth rate depends directly on how much corn is fedo
The pig
When a sample
farmer had only one pig to feed, it grew at a rate of 0l82 kilograns per
day, but when the same man was short of corn for six months, his larger
herd averaged only =078 kg/day growth.
When fed what most men consider
a normal ration, the average pig (over 24 pig/months of recording) put
on ol25 kilograms per day.
22.5 kg in about six months.
This rate brings a pig to salable weight of
If the pig is fed an average of .7 kg of
shelled corn per day over this period, 126 kg of shelled corn will be
318
required to get the hog to 22<.5 kg selling weighto
This is a conversion
ratio of 5°6 kg of corn into 1 kg of pork, which is quite higho
If the
farmer could sell the corn directly to the marketing board instead of
feeding it to his swine, he would realize UoSo $l8027 instead of the
UoSo $12o50 he gets for 22o5 kg pig on the hoof0
This may seem to support the assertion of Romney (1959°128)
that the Kekchi farmer is a "poor mathematician" when it comes to pigs
and corn conversion ratioso
But as Romney also points out, corn doesn’t
walk to market, while pigs do0 Another factor which makes the ’loss’
of turning corn into pork seem less irrational is that most of the corn
fed to the pigs is spoiled and unsalableo
Further, if we consider Von
Thunen's (1966) modeling of distance effects on transport costs, we can
see that where the southern zone Kekchi live, at the periphery of a
trading system, it makes more sense to carry a commodity worth U 0S 0
$025 per kilogram over the many miles to market than it does to carry a
commodity worth UoSo #ol4 per kilogram, even if the more expensive kind
of good cannot walk.
More than just converting corn into pork, pigs are also storage
bankso
Storage is a major problem with all subsistence crops in the
moist climate of Toledo» A man with a surplus of corn which is by far
the most storable of crops, still cannot store it for too long before
spoilage takes a major tollo
On the other hand, he can feed the corn
to his pigs and store it in portable and convertible form on the hoof0
Pigs are always in demand and can be converted into cash or food at any
time*
319
In a highly variable and changeable economic and physical en­
vironment, a Kekchi farmer wants to stay flexible; selling a subsistence
crop like corn leaves the farmer at the mercy of shop-owners and a very
sporadic and inefficient supply system if he later needs to convert his
cash back into food to feed his family0 He may have to buy his food at
inflated priceso
As long as there is no steady and reliable market for
local subsistence foodstuffs, farmers cannot bankroll cash as a hedge
against future shortages,.
3
They must hedge their bets by converting
food surplus into pork, which lies on the boundary between subsistence
and cash economies, and gives the farmer the flexibility to move back
and forth between thenio
Herd Management
A man’s first sow is supposed to be a marriage gift from his
father, and his godfather is usually expected to provide a small animal
or two in addition,.
In practice it may be years after marriage before
he gets his own herd started, for if he stays in the natal household or
forms a household cluster with his father after marriage, he will raise'
pigs jointly with his father for some time0
It may take quite a bit of
tricky negotiation between father and son to achieve a partition of the
joint herd and this bargaining forms an important part of residence
decision-makingo
Pig herds differ in size both between households in a village
at the same time and within a single household over time,.
Most men try
^1 can attest, through hard experience, that it is often impossible to
purchase a supply of basic foodstuffs in a Kekchi villageo Most house­
holds produce just enough for their own needs0
320
to keep only one breeding sow at a time (except men with very large
herds)» because sows are expensive to feed*
They aim to sell the pigs
they raise before the animals get over 43 kg, which takes about 11 to 12
months, at which point growth slows and there will be a new generation
of piglets to feedo
Pigs are sold much sooner if the supply of corn is
low or the litter was large= Young piglets are sold or exchanged if
the farmer does not think he will have enough corn to feed them0
The average selling weight of Aguacate pigs in 1979 was about
31o3 kg, but it would be less in a bad year for corn and more in a good
year.
There is a tendency for higher pig sales in May and June when
corn stocks are at a pre-harvest low (Belize Agriculture Department
1978)o
The size of the household herd is related to the size of the
household labor force, the stage of the household's developmental cycle,
and its choice of a strategy for corn and rice production0 The complex­
ity of this balancing means that there are no simple correlations of
pig herd size with any one household or economic variable I have checked
so faro
It may be that stochastic or periodical fluctuation in herd
size obscures other variation,.
For the record, the average Aguacate
herd in June of 1979 had 9=4 animalSo
In another survey, nine men accounted for the average of 9=44
animals sold and two animals eaten per household per year, which corre­
sponds well to the herd size already given and an eight to ten month
replacement period =, At the average selling weight of 31 kilograms, the
sample households earned an average of U 0S 0 $179 per year from pig
sales, with a maximum of U=S= $304 and a minimum of U 0S 0 $57o
This is
321
significantly higher than the average of UoSo $113=5 earned by the frac­
tion of village population which grew rice as a cash crop in the same
year0
Health, Mortality and Risk
The local pigs are hardy and tough, which they must be to sur­
vive the heavy burden of parasites and chronic illness which most carry.
Of 724 pigs slaughtered in Punta Qorda in 1977» 2,2% had tuberculosis,
■1*906 pneumonia, 15=3% had lungworms, and 20,7% had other parasites.
Seventy-three percent of the livers were condemned because of disease
damage (Belize Agriculture Department 1978:3)=
The worst swine losses occur during outbreaks of swine cholera
or measles, which often destroy an entire village herd.
On a daily
basis, morbidity from parasites is a worse problem than mortality from
disease.
Like all livestock in Toledo, pigs are plagued by burrowing
parasitic fly larvae (•beefworm’), which cause pain, swelling and in­
fection,
In the southern villages there are few hog medicines avail­
able to treat this and other parasitical diseases, and it is not
uncommon to see men treat beefworm with Baygon, a strong, highly poisonous household insecticide which is available in village shops,
I do not have the data to quantify mortality or morbidity in
the swine population,
A rough guess would be about a 15% loss rate
through disease, with another few percent being lost to predators or
accident.
Marketing
The avenues by which pigs move from producers in Toledo to con\
sumers all over Belize are complex and can only be sketched here0 There
are three market spheres for Kekchi pigs, but the overriding fact in all
three is that demand is greater than supply0 Lard and salted pig tails
are imported from the
United States in some quantity, despite a minimum
of 4000 pigs annually
moving northwardfrom Toledo to meet the heavy
demand of the urban market0
Some pigs are sold locallyo
About 700=800 pigs are annually
slaughtered in the Punta Gorda market or through the lone butcher shop
in town*
In some of the large northern villages there is also regular
butchering and public sale of pork, but most village slaughtering is
done for subsistence and festive purposes and does not involve cash
sale0 These two spheres, the village and the district, are much less
important than the national urban market0
Pigs for the Belize City market are purchased, collected and
transported by between six and ten competing Mopan, East Indian, and
Creole entrepreneursoThey send messengers
announce the time and
to remote villages to
place where theywill buy hogs and to contract
with sellers to provide pigs on that dateo
In the southern zone the
farmers must then drive the pigs to either Crique Sarco, where they are
picked up by boat, or to Aguacate, where they are met with trucks owned
by the buyers0 The long walk is hard —
women and children are re­
cruited to help drive the tethered pigs down the trailso
times escape or die from heat during the driveo
The pigs some­
323
In 1979 the village price for pigs ranged from UoSo $c25 to
UoSo $=30 per pound on the hoof, while the same pigs sold by entrepre­
neurs in Belize City brought U.S. $.50 or more per pound.
After inspec­
tion the butchered animals sell for an average of U.S. $.75 per pound,
a government controlled price.
This works out to a net gain of an
average U.S. $15 per hog for the entrepreneur, each of whom carried about
20 or more per week from Toledo to Belize.
Even after deducting the
expense of maintaining a truck on the terrible roads and absorbing the
risk of periodic market gluts and lower prices, the buyers seem to make
a respectable profit from the trade.
An Indian hog-marketing cooperative was once organized and
managed by the Peace Corps and the Catholic Church, but they had oper­
ating problems and leadership conflicts, and the group eventually dis­
integrated.
At the moment, buying a truck and entering the pig trade
is still an avenue of,economic gain for the few who can accumulate the
starting capital (see Gregory 1972;271-273 for a brief biography of a
Mopan man who was successful in this).
The rest seem relatively happy
with the way the system operates and the price they get when they sell
their pigs, and village shopkeepers thrive when sellers come together
in Aguacate, sell their pigs, and celebrate afterwards.
There are however limits on the amount of cash a man can earn
by selling hogs, and as desires for cash and the things it can buy in­
crease this limit is encountered more and more often.
Both people and
pigs eat from the same granary, so both the practical limit on the
quantity of corn a man can grow in a year and family consumption re­
strict total hog numbers.
Also, farmers do not maximize the number of
324
pigs in the herd, because they want to have a surplus of corn, to work
within in ensuring the continuity of the household supply«
The quantity
of corn grown depends on household size (r = 065), and the size of the
pig herd is adjusted after the fact to the size of the surplus produced.
This strategy allows for a minimum subsistence ration under the worst
harvest case, and for any surplus above subsistence to be banked in the
form of pork until the next harvest is in the granary, when the pigs
can be sold for cash.
In an emergency pigs can be sold and corn or flour can be pur­
chased to tide the household over to the next harvest.
fore both a bank and an insurance policy.
Pigs are there­
Despite their constant damage
to crops, thieving of food from the house and fouling of water supplies,
they have too much value in risk minimization to be eliminated.
Pigs and Social Transaction
The killing of a pig marks every important rite of passage in
Kekchi life from birth to death.
When a new house is built a pig is
slaughtered and the blood is splashed on the corner posts before the
head is buried in a pit in the area of the hearth (along with cacao
beans).
Pork features prominently in the obligatory hospitality of the
communal meal served to the members of exchange labor groups which meet
to help build a house or to plant corn,
of the pig in these rites of communitas,
I feel that the important role
transition, and house-founding
springs partially from the symbolic position of the animal on the bor­
ders of many categorical systems (e,g,, subsistence/cash, house/forest,
excrement/food) rather than from a specific need for protein during
moments of ritually-provoked or marked ’stress’ (Rappaport 1968:81-85),
325
Pigs are a medium of transaction between kin and friendso
The
passing of pigs to the next generation is a symbol of the transfer of
autonomyo
A norm of behavior is that a request for a pig from a close
kinsman or friend for a legitimate purpose (i0e<,, a communal feast or
to start a herd after disease) must be honored.
Prices of sale in these
transactions are extremely low, far below the market value of the animal
in the non-village exchange system=
Pigs play a role in the agricultural changes associated with
population increase= Pigs are both cause, catalyst, and symbol for con­
flicts within the village 0 More than two-thirds of the cases adjudicated
by the alcalde during my stay in Aguacate were ostensibly originated by
a complaint about pigs destroying crops, or people destroying pigs
caught destroying crops.
In some cases it is clear that the simple
increase in pig population density does have some role in driving people
out of the village. Though I have no direct data to back it up, I
suggest that conflicts over pigs serve to regulate village populations
in the southern zone of the district.
Conflict provoked by animals
(horses in corn fields included) helps to keep the population of the
village well below the 80 household level previously described as the
maximum which can be at equilibrium with land resources.
But this
mechanism can only operate in the southern zone, where alternative
settlement sites are available, and the regional population is low in
relation to the land base.
In the southern zone, the costs of moving
are fairly low, and no village site is really far superior to any other.
In the northern zone, however, the option of moving away is not
so open or attractive, and pigs lose their homeostatic regulating role.
Access to land is more difficult to gain, and once gained settlers want
to hold on„
A roadside site and access to nearby land are not advan­
tages to be thrown away because of conflicts over pigs, and the common
solution is to have humans regulate the pig population rather than vice
versa.
The lack of corn surplus in these northern villages often means
that large pig herds cannot be kept anyway, and other sources of cash
replace them.
Food can be purchased more regularly, and the storage
function of the animal declines.
People begin to reduce pig herds spe­
cifically to avoid the ever-increasing conflicts with neighbors, or in
the case of Indian Creek, they almost stop raising pigs altogether
because the Salvadorean owner of an adjacent ranch shoots every pig
that strays onto his property.
CHAPTER 8
HUNTING AND GATHERING
This short chapter is offered in the interest of completeness
and because so little substantive information is available on hunting,
fishing, and gathering among Maya-speaking peoples (for a rare exception
see Baer and Merrifield 1971? and Pohl 1977)° This absence is odd con­
sidering the importance hunting has been given by theorists concerned
with the stability and evolution of lowland cultures in South America
(e0go, Gross 1975; Ross 1978; Carneiro 1974; Roosevelt 1980), and by
those concerned with issues of dietary diversity (e0go, Cattle 1976)»
The data offered here are incomplete and lack depth or adequate
quantification,,
This is justifiable considering the lack of anything
better in the literature and because my intent here is merely to show
in a general way that hunting and gathering are important but not vital
elements of the modern Kekchi subsistence mode0 By this I mean that
the Kekchi are at a stage in the development of an agricultural adap­
tation where wild foods are an important dietary supplement, but do not
form an essential part of subsistence0 If wild food resources dis­
appeared, there would be no major dislocation or required readaptation
in the rest of the food procurement system,.
Wild foods add variety to
the diet, variety which can also be provided by increasing the number
of cultivars or by buying imported foods in shops (Cattle 1976)„
527
This
328
theme will be developed further in the next chapter, where I discuss the
importance of wild foods in the dieto
Wild Plant Resources
The Kekchi know and use many wild foods, but few are eaten regu­
larly or in any quantityo
domestic minor crops —
Wild plant foods are very much like most
they add variety to the diet but are used spor­
adically 0 Most are opportunistically gathered while walking on trails,
working in the forest, or walking on the way to hunt or fisho
Children
devote more time and effort to gathering wild fruits, roots, and stems
than adultso
I made a beginning at documenting wild plant resources, both
foods and sources of materials, but a complete ethnobotany would require
another whole project0 Existing sources on Kekchi ethnobotany are so
]_
defective that they were of no use0
For this reason I discuss only the
more important plant foods and will not even approach the problem of
describing the plants which are daily used in construction and mainten­
ance of houses, basketry, decoration, and making tools0
By far the
majority of Kekchi material culture is made from wild plant materials,
gathered and manipulated with a knowledge and skill deserving of re­
cording before it is forgotten,.
The most important snack foods are Cohune nuts (tutz, Orbignya
cohune) and Warrie Cohune nuts (Chapay, Hexopetion mexicanum), which
are
often eaten during short breaks in field labor, especially when
^Rosales Ponce's (1965) Kekchi ethnobotany is innacurate and incomplete,
and Boater's (1973) listing of medicinal wild plants in Toledo district
has no common or Latin names alongside the Kekchi plant names, which
makes his whole exercise somewhat fruitlesso
329
clearing forest for fields= Both nuts have hard outer shells and a
small kernel which tastes like dry coconut meato
Cohune nuts are borne
in huge clusters of up to 70 kg, and each household gathers one or two
bunches a year to make cooking oilc The nuts are cracked in the home
between two stones kept in the house for this purpose, and the kernel
is boiled in water until a tasty, clear oil rises to the surface0
Two other common snack foods which can be more intensively ex­
ploited if food is short are pok, the apical shoots of the young wild
hogplum tree (Spondias mombin) and tzuc, the young leaf shoots of a
species of Chamaedora, a palm like succulento
Pok is eaten by cutting
and peeling the ends of the young shoots, which grow up from stumps in
every clearing and along every trailo
They taste strongly of anise0
Tzuc is another plant that grows rapidly and heavily in secondary forest
after clearingo
This same environment yields large quantities of a
large-leaved species of Heliconia, called mox, which is gathered as the
universal food-wrapping for storage or cooking; the local equivalent of
aluminum foilo
Each house keeps a supply of mox on hand at all times,
and they must be gathered fresh on the way back from the fields every
three or four days0
The most important wild foods in terms of bulk contribution to
the diet are those used as meat substitutes*
If there is no meat avail­
able for the daily caldo, mococh, cala* or ocox are cooked and served
in its place, to eat with the ever present corn tortillas (cua)0
Mococh is the soft heart of that most versatile of forest palms,
the Cohuneo
A single heart, gathered by chopping down the tree and
splitting the trunk with an axe, can yield more than 15 kg of food*
330
Bitter raw, it is delicious cookedo
Palm hearts are often gathered from
trees felled while clearing fields, and may be used as pig food at that
time of year if corn is short0
By tacit agreement nobody cuts them
near the village so the trees can be conserved as a source of leaf for
thatching housesc
Gala* are the soft bases of the young leaf shoots of the Panama
Hat Palm (actually a cyclanth rather than a palm), Carludovica palmatao
The shrublike palm grows densely and in almost pure stands in most fal­
lowed cornfields during the first through third years of abandonment0
Women often go to the fallows to pull these tender, white cylindrical
shoots during the weeks after the corn harvest0 They are delicious both
raw and cooked in caldoo
Ocox is the generic term for edible wild mushrooms of many
specieso
Most are gathered by women who go to the cornfield in the
weeks after the corn is planted and the rains have begun,.
The mushrooms
grow profusely on the burned tree trunks and branches in the fieldo
Some named varieties are asam, ch'urek, cuxub, silip, and mo*„
Summary
Wild plant foods can be roughly divided into snack foods and
meat substitutes, with some overlap between categorieso
Snack foods
are most often eaten by men and children in the course of work or play,
and are only occasionally brought home0 Children eat a wide variety of
foods (from unripe cotton bolls to the pulp of corn stalks) which adults
do not bother to exploit0 Meat substitutes are most often gathered by
women in new or recently abandoned fields, though palm hearts are
331
always cut with an axe by men (other palm species than the Cohune are
also exploited in this way)0
I would like to stress the symbiosis between Kekchi agriculture
and the gathering of wild foods0
A vast majority of the wild plant food
eaten comes from plants which grow in profusion only in and around areas
disturbed by man in the pursuit of agriculture0
As Harris (1969) has
pointed out, this early successional niche is the natural habitat of
many plants that have since become staple cultivarso
Clearing a tropi­
cal
forest, even without planting anything, would be a profitable strat­
egy
for hunters and gatherers, since the clearingboth attracts animals
which can be hunted (Linares 1976) and promotes the growth of many edible
wild plantso
Copal
There is one wild non-food plant resource which is of some eco­
nomic and great ritual importance, and therefore deserves mention,,
Copal, pom, and utsu.j are all names for incense derived from the dried
and hardened gum of the Protium copal tree, though sometimes the gums
of other trees are mixed in0 The gum is universally used by Kekchi and
other Maya groups for ritual and prayer, and has been an article of both
ancient and modern Maya trade=
Today there is still considerable regional commerce in lumps of
pom among Belizean Kekchi and Mopan villages, and between the Toledo
lowlands and the highlands of Guatemala0
The Cobanero traders who
travel through Toledo always buy as much pom as they can find to take
back to highland markets, paying more than IJoSo $2 a kilogram0 Because
332
the pom tree is no longer common in the forests of the northern zone of
Toledo, most of the incense in both trade networks comes from the
southern zone villages.
Also, men in the southern zone have few other
sources of cash, and pom's high value per unit of weight makes it an
ideal article of trade for remote villages.
My observations in Otoxha,
a village on the headwaters of the Temax River, showed that a single
man can gather over U*S, $2 worth of pom in a single day's work.
This
is by far the highest rate of return achievable in any enterprise in
the southern zone, especially when labor costs of transportation are
added.
The large forest trees which produce the gum grow most densely
on steep jagged limestone hills, in densities exceeding 10 trees per
hectare.
These 'groves' of pom trees are literally owned by individuals.
The right to tap the trees can be sold, exchanged, and inherited, just
like groves of cacao trees.
The land on which the trees usually grow
is so steep that it is useless for agriculture, so there are few con­
flicts in use between pom gathering and farming.
When the trees are
found on a site suitable for a field, the spot is avoided so the holy
tree will not be harmed.
The gum is
harvested no more than twice a year from a single
tree.Up to 10 small patches of bark, about 15
cm x 15 cm, are cut
from the buttresses and trunk, and over the next few weeks the gum is
scraped from the patches three or four times with a wooden spatula.
About 20 grams are
lected
collected from each tree each time.
The pom is col­
on a wooden palette, and is then wrapped in a mox or tzuc leaf
to make a package of about 1 kg for sale.
One active gatherer in Otoxha
claimed to sell about 25 kg in a year, limited only by the productivity
of his groves.
Most men produce far less than this, though others who
own prolific groves can gather more.
One limitation on yield is that
the groves are widely scattered, and the best time for tapping is during
the beginning of the dry season when everyone wants to spend as much
time as possible clearing, burning, and planting the c'at c'al. This
labor bottleneck may be one major reason why pom production is low in
the northern villages, where more time must be spent in agricultural
pursuits.
Wild Animal Resources
Like plant foods, wild animal foods are not staples but add
variety and nutrition to a diet in which both are often lacking.
The
mammals hunted are the most conspicuous in the diet, but this should not
lead us into the fallacy promoted by protein-limitation theorists who
equate wild mammals and fish with wild protein sources (e,g,, Roosevelt
1980:l85-l85)o
Small fish, crustaceans, lizards, molluscs, reptiles,
and small birds are all hunted or gathered by the Kekchi, and could be
gathered much more intensively if protein were in short supply.
These
minor protein sources are most often exploited by children, or are eaten
as snacks outside the home.
They are gathered casually, often during a
trip through the forest for some other purpose.
This does not mean they
are absent or unimportant in the diet, but it does make them hard to
record so their contribution to the diet is often missed or disregarded.
This issue is of course entirely independent of the question of whether
or not protein is really a limitation on population growth in any
334
environment at any time (see Diener, Moore, and Mutaw 1980 for a cogent
critique of protein limitation theory)„
Minor Animal Foods
Table 4? lists some of the minor sources of animal protein used
by the Kekchio
The most common are pur, small snails found in the
streams which are frequently eaten in some villages when other meat is
not availableo
In the northern zone the eating of snails seems to be
acquiring a stigma as a "bushy* and primitive Customo
It is interesting
to note that even in the southern part of the district, the abundant,
large snails of the genus Pomacea are considered inedible, while we
know from archaeological remains that these same snails were at one
time a staple of the Maya diet while pur were rarely eaten.
All Kekchi children are adept with slingshots, killing small
songbirds which are roasted and eaten on the spot.
Any hunting, gather­
ing, agricultural, or other party in the forest will keep eyes open for
small animals, especially land crabs.
Fishing
All Kekchi of both sexes and all ages are known to go fishing
at times.
Children catch small catfish and chichilids in creeks and
rivers with hook and line, using grasshoppers for bait.
do the same at times, but also use other methods.
Women and men
Women make minnow-
traps from old wine bottles by breaking a hole in the indented base.
The baited bottle fills with minnows overnight, which are then boiled
or fried whole,
335
Table 4?o
Kekchi Name
Some common minor animal foods=
Scientific Name
Description
pur
Pachychilus sp0
Ma"san
Pacifastacus sp0(?) Crayfish, caught by hand in streams
Tap
(?)
Conical river and stream snails
Land crabs, found under leaves and
in swamp
Coc
Kinosternon spp0
and others
Turtles, land and stream, caught by
hand
mulb liwan
Iguana iguana
Iguana and other lizard eggs dug up0
336
Men most often fish with hook and line in the larger rivers for
small chichilids (tuba) which weigh less than o5 kg, or the large and
tasty but bony machaca which weighs up to 4 kg*
In clear water both are
taken on floated insect bait, but during the wet season when rivers are
high and muddy a different technique is usedo
At that time of year the
fig trees drop their fruit into the river below with large splashes,
and machaca rise to the sound and eat the wasp-larva-filled fruit0 The
fisherman at this time of year ties a stout line on a cohune leaf-rib
pole, puts a ripe fig on a very large hook, and swings the bait over
his head so it splashes into the water like a fruit falling from a tree„
When the machaca attacks the fruit it is hauled onto the shore with a
single jerk of the pole*
Smaller fish (mostly lungfish and catfish, but sometimes eels),
turtles, and crabs are taken from small seasonal streams using traps
called tyucho A dam is built with sticks and cohune leaves across the
stream at a narrow point, leaving a gap for the mouth of a long (4-6
meter) conical trap made from cohune leaf-ribs and vineso
The trap is
tied into place with vines, so that any animal or fish going down the
stream will be trapped at the closed downstream endo
The whole appa­
ratus is sometimes washed away in a sudden flood, and it is usually
young men and children who have the patience to give such traps con­
stant attention.
They are sometimes built bn a trail to the corn field,
but today the favored spots for tyuch are the mouths of round metal
culverts under roads.
The seasonal frequency with which men go fishing seems to be
more dependent on the amount of time they have left over from
337
agricultural labor than tin the hunger of the fish or the condition of
rivers and streams«
The yearly peak in fishing is in June and July when
there is a slack time in the agricultural year0
One kind of fishing is very dependent on the time of year and
state of the streams —
fish poisoning*
I was unable to observe this,
activity because it is illegal and rare today*
There is some social
disapproval of the practice because it makes whole sections of the river
undrinkable for several months*
It is done with the cultivated fish
poison chalaro, as well as several other wild roots and leaves*
The
leaves of the chalam are pounded on rocks at the water's edge at the
peak of the dry season when the rivers run slowly*
Many people turn
out to participate, but even then much fish is wasted because many more
fish are killed than can be eaten before they spoil*
fish-preserving technology, fish spoils very quickly*
In the absence of
A more modern
version of poisoning, dynamiting, has wiped out fish in several long
stretches of the rivers and creeks of the northern zone *
Fishing of all types is a popular activity with men —
all of
the 12 men who kept labor records for six to eight months went fishing
at least three times during their recording periods, not counting fish­
ing done for short periods of time on the way to or from some other
activity*
The average male went fishing about once a month, devoting
4*9 hours to this piscatorial pursuit*
The maximum for one individual
was 3=2 fishing trips, or 14*4 hours per month averaged over eight
months*
The results of 35 separate fishing trips were recorded over a
six month period*
Usually only one kind of fish was caught in a single
338
trip*
Each trip yielded fish of some kind, except for one where no fish
were carried home but a 15 kg snapping turtle was caught insteado
The maximum catch was 3 machaca yielding about 5 kg of edible
meat, and the minimum was one small catfish weighing less than 100
gramso
2
Estimating average weights for each kind of fish based on
several weighed samples (admittedly a rough measure) allows us to cal­
culate an average edible meat yield of 1=7 kg per fishing trip, which
required an average of about 405 hours each*
This works out to an
edible meat yield of o3?8 kg per man hour of fishing, a figure which
cannot compare in bulk to the quantity of corn or rice yielded per hour
of worko
But the figures do not compare well, both because of the qual­
itative difference in yield and because fishing promises immediate
rather than delayed return for labor0 Fishing requires little capital
and no arduous labor, and is traditionally considered as much a form of
recreation as of work*
Today the only Aguacate men who do not fish
regularly are the shopkeepers, who substitute canned meats0
There does not seem to be any serious depletion of fish in
Aguacate Creek at present, except in the places immediately adjacent to
the bridgeo
This means the river is producing a sustained yield of
about 900 kg of fish per year from a fished distance of about 4 kilo­
meters, or from a total water area, generously figured to include creeks,
2
of about ol km o
This is far more than the figures given by Gross
(1975;528) for the fish productivity of streams of the upper Xingu in
2
It is hard to come up with a cleaned/uncleaned fish weight conversion
since this is specific for each fish species* Very little is lost in
cleaning fish; the head and the innards are favorite parts of the
fisho
339
Brazil»
He estimates that 5000 kg of fish can be dependably harvested
2
from 1 km of river, while the Kekchi are harvesting at least 9000 kg
and are not in any way pressing against some barrier of ’carrying capac­
ity, '
I think we should have a bit more data from a wider variety of
contexts before we start to count up how much protein can be produced
from hypothetical areas, and how many prospective people can be sup­
ported by the protein provided by hypothetical fish (Roosevelt 198O;
184- 185)o
Hunting
Much nonsense has also been written about the hypothetical
quantities of hunted mammal protein which can be produced in the tropi­
cal forest.
Here I will confine myself to discussing what the Kekchi
do, rather than what they could do and the possible drastic consequences.
Hunting is far less important to the Kekchi diet that I had ex­
pected, based on what has been written about other tropical forest horticulturalists (see Ross 1978) or on the importance of hunting as a
conversational topic among Kekchi men.
Part of the relative lack of
hunting may be due to the high price of modern hunting equipment.
The
price of the poorly-made 20 gauge single barrel shotguns the Kekchi buy
has risen from U,S, $35 in 1974 to U,S, $90 in 1979, and cartridges
that cost less than U,S, $,17 each in 1974 now cost UoS, $,60 each and
are often hard to find.
Very few men bother to shoot the smaller to
medium sized birds any more, and small mammals are shot only if they
are damaging crops.
Only 70$ of households in Aguacate own a shotgun
and are capable of hunting regularly.
340
Most hunting in Aguacate is done in, or en route to and from
agricultural fields (see Linares 1976 for a discussion of field hunting).
Men carry their guns to the field every day and watch carefully for game
along the trail, entering the field as quietly as possible.
Strictly,
hunting trips (with or without dogs) are mainly done on Saturdays and
Sundays after church.
the chase.
Only two men in Aguacate have dogs trained for
Parties of two to five men follow the dogs for most of the
day, until they locate and corner am animal.
Night hunting is the most common form of venture whose sole pur­
pose is hunting.
Lights, which are illegal, are used to startle the
animals and held them in place till they are shot.
The halau (Cuniculus
paca) is most often killed in this way by hunters stalking through cacao
groves or along the river banks.
Another favorite form of night hunting
is to pole slowly up or down river, shining a light on the banks.
While night, dog, and river hunting are done in groups of two
to five men, iguanas (male garoba, female uah) are shot by men hunting
alone or rarely with one other man.
Iguana are most often seen in
trees or palms along the river and creek banks, and often fall into the
water and are lost when shot.
Female iguanas are much more highly
valued than males because of the eggs they carry and the superior taste
of their meat.
Traps are known but are not presently used for catching
any mammals.
In comparison with the Yucatec Maya (Pohl 1977, n,d,), who have
very pronounced taste preferences for some kinds of meat and aversions
to others, the Kekchi eat many more animals and do not strictly rank the
quality of their flesh.
Like the Yucatec, though, the Kekchi do
341
consider some kinds of animals inedible —
the opossum (uch), skunk
(par), rat (ch'o), wild cats (hix, k'am bolai, coj), teyra (sacol), and
pygmy anteater (tsujtsun)= Only the edibility of the tapir (tax), by
far the largest of all native forest animals, is affirmed by some and
denied by otherso
Because pigs are slaughtered so rarely (and then the meat is
usually used at once in a ceremonial meal), game provides the only regu­
lar supply of salable meat in most villages in the southern zone0
Prices are not standardized, but it varies with species from U 0So $025
for a quarter of an armadillo to U„S 0 $lo00 for a quarter of a peccary<>
Men who live in a household cluster must divide their kill with other
cluster members, which usually leaves nothing to sello
On the other
hand, cluster members are assured through this practice of a more regu­
lar supply of 'bush meat' than are those who live in independent house­
holds =. Only 12% of men living in household clusters reported buying
bush meat in a one year period, while
of independent household heads
reported buying wild game from other men during the same period*
The heads of independent households (who are not obliged to give
away the bulk of their catch) make special hunting trips (as opposed to
garden hunting) more often than household cluster members*
Both of the
men with dog packs, and the one man who owned a dog trained to catch
armadillos, live in independent households*
Their incentive to hunt is
much higher because they know they will be able to make some cash from
selling meat*
This may well be the genesis of a pattern like that re­
ported by Pohl (1977, n*d*) in northern Belize, where some young men
have become part-time specialists in hunting*
Income from meat can be
342
•socially disembedded* in the same way as income from cash crops such as
rice (as described above)*
Table 48 lists the most commonly hunted animals in decreasing
order of importance, and gives the methods used to catch them in de­
creasing order with which they are practiced*
By far the majority of
animals taken are in the first three or four categories of each list*
There is a pronounced seasonality to the activity and vulnera­
bility of most animals, but the times when men are free to do a lot of
hunting do not always coincide with the best hunting times*
The dry
season is when animals are most localized near water sources and are
easiest to find, but it is also the time of heaviest agricultural labor*
Maximum time is spent in hunting trips in August, at the height of the
wet season (when there is little field labor to do), and in January
when iguanas are hunted near the sak"ecuaj fields*
Field hunting, on
the other hand, goes on all the time*
Quantitatively, special hunting trips occupy less time than
fishing trips, an average of 3o6 hours per man per month over ?4 re­
corded man/months, or less than one hunting trip per month per person*
Some idea of the returns in hunting can be derived from records kept by
five men of everything they shot during six or eight month periods in
1979*
Each man owned a shotgun and took occasional day and night hunt­
ing trips as well as regular hunts in the fields*
Table 49 shows the
results of this recording, which covered a total of 36 man months of
hunting*
The success of these men in numbers of animals procured per
month (rather than amount of time they spent hunting) seems about half
Table 480
Commonly hunted animals in Aguacate village0 -- The table lists the animals in
two sets, each in approximate decreasing order of importance0 Hunting methods
are symbolized by: 'F” = field hunting; 'D* = day and river hunting with or
without dogs; ’N* = night hunting; and 'A* = hunted with dogs and then dug from
the groundo
Kekchi Name
Scientific
Binomial
Common
Name
Hunting
Method
Comment
Mammals and Reptiles
ac
Dicotyles tayacu
peccary
F,D,N
most often in corn fields
halau
Cuniculus paca
gibnut
N,D,F
crepuscular and nocturnal
sis
Nasua narica
coatimundi
F,D
eats corn
JUC
Mazama americana
brocket
F,N
grazes young corn
uech
Dasypus novemcinctus
armadillo
A,D
fields, secondary growth
uan, garoba
Iguana iguana
iguana
D
trees near the river
quel
watus, "acam
Odocoileus virginianus
deer
F,D,N
rare in high forest
Dasyprocta punctata
agouti
N,D
common around village
chacoh
Dicotyles labiatus
warrie
F,D
now very rare
tix
Tapirus bairdii
tapir
D,N
river banks, rare
caki max
Potos flavus
kinkajou
N
nocturnal in trees
aw
Procyon lotor
racoon
F,N
rare, riverbanks
colol
Tinamus major
tinamou
D,F
common near creeks
chac mu’
Crax rubra
curasow
D,F
high forest
Birds
Table 48— continued
Kekchi Name
Scientific
Binomial
Common
Name
Hunting
Method
Comment
Birds continued
HL
jai ketso®
Penelope purpurascens
guan
D,F
high forest only
Ortalis vetula
chachalaca
F,D
near village and fields
selepan
Ramphastos sulfuratus
toucan
D,F
common, secondary forest
cho'cho*
Amazona sp o
parrot
F,D
rare, caught for pets
puyuch
Pionopsitta sp0
parrot
F,D
rare
con kolay
Aramides axillaris
rail
N,D
swamps
3h5
Table 49o Hunting success of five Aguacate men in 1979=
Species
Field
Hunting
Number of Animals Killed
Night
Day
Hunting
Hunting
Total
3
4
7
14
10
0
0
10
Iguana
2
0
3
5
Antelope
2
1
0
3
Goatimundi
2
0
1
3
Tinamou
1
0
1
2
Armadillo
0
0
1
1
Guan
1
0
0
1
Parrot
1
0
0
1
22
5
13
40,
Gibnut
Peccary
Total
346
that reported by Pohl (node;7) for seven hunters in northern Belize*
The hunters she studied were more serious and market-oriented than any
of the men in Aguacate*
If we extrapolate, using some rough estimates of meat yield for
each animal species, to a figure for the entire bulk of the animals
caught by these five men, we arrive at a figure of about 265 kilograms
of edible meat.
Sixty-nine percent of this was killed during field
hunting, which required no extra labor beyond that involved in producing
■ 1
the crops themselves* The return from night and day hunting trips was
83 kg in a total of about 80 hours hunting, a return of about one kilo­
gram of edible meat per hour of hunting*
The average hunting party had
just less than two members, giving a per-person yield of *49 kg per man
hour*
This is well above the rate of return for fishing, and also far
above the reported rate of return for hunting among the Bari in the
Amazon basin, which is given by Beckerman (1979) as *164 kilograms per
man hour*
We must, however, balance this high rate of return against
a high cost, both in initial investment for a gun and in purchasing
cartridges, some of which are inevitably wasted*
Fishing may not offer
as much return, but it also does not require much investment and is
judged to be a lot less work and trouble*
At present the consensus among Aguacatecos is that there is no
real shortage of game yet*
They acknowledge that some species, espe­
cially those of the high forest (warrie, tapir, guan, and currasow) are
getting very scarce, but other animals, especially the peccary, more
than make up in numbers for this declining species diversity*
On the
other hand, most men anticipate that the hunting will begin to decline
34?
soon, a process which has been consistently reported in other villages
where hunting pressure has effectively eliminated hunted meat from the
daily dieto
In Indian Creek the larger game animals are in effect
extinct within an hours walk of the village center= Hunting in those
circumstances requires more and more time, is no longer a by-product of
visiting the field on a daily basis, and tends to become a part-time
specialization of young men*
Summary
There is no question that gathered, hunted, and fished foods
are declining in importance in the Kekchi diet as villages become more
involved in cash economies= Population pressure on limited resources,
over-exploitation by (for example) poisoning and dynamiting streams,
and habitat destruction all take their tollo
There is also however a
certain amount of replacement of wild foods by domestic and store-bought
foodstuffso
There is some reason to suggest that the shift away from
wild foods may be an economic one, based on the fact that wild foods
are time-consuming to gather, and men in cash crop producing villages
are learning to apply cash value to their labor in a way which makes it
seem more economical to purchase items in shops to vary the dieto
The
diversification of agricultural production found in Indian Creek may
still be seen as either stimulus or response to decreasing use of wild
plant foods-
I do not have the time series necessary to answer this
kind of question.
.
Reflecting on the role of hunted and gathered foods in the over­
all subsistence strategy of Aguacate, I reiterate that this is an
348
important but not essential element0 Most men spend less than ten hours
a month in hunting, fishing, and gathering combined, and women con­
tribute even less labor than this» The rough proportion of the diet
made up by wild foods is judged in the next chapter»
I
CHAPTER 9
CHANGING SUBSISTENCE STRATEGIES
The processes of change are, as anthropologists well know, dif­
ficult to study in a short visit to the field0 In this chapter I will
take two different approaches to discussing some of the ways that the
Kekchi subsistence economy is changing into a mixed economy0
In the
first section on diet, I use some relative measures of the kinds of
foods eaten by a small sample of Aguacate men to get a quantitative grip
on the question of subsistence diversity within a single village at one
time0
I have discussed agricultural diversity within the village as it
relates to cyclic changes in household form, labor supply and village
size0 Here I will discuss changes which appear to be evolutionary and
permanent and which are caused by progressive integration into a cash
economy, rather than by short and long-term flux and variation in the
subsistence system0
In the second part of this chapter I compare present-day Indian
Creek to Aguacate to try to get an idea of the regional pattern of
change in Toledo district.
I realize that there are pitfalls and prob­
lems with inferring change from synchronic •controlled comparison* and
that there is no firm reason for expecting that Indian Creek today looks
the way Aguacate will in another ten years.
My conversations with other
anthropologists working in Toledo have convinced me that there is a
large amount of diversity in economy, custom, and practice between
349
350
villages which cannot be scaled from the bush in the south to the cosmo­
politan centers of San Antonio and San Pedro Columbia in the north in a
simple developmental framework like that of Redfield (1956)o Each place
has a unique location and history which make events there different from
events in all other villages, and results in somewhat different re­
sponses to the same economic forces of changeo
Despite these objections and problems, I am confident that com­
parison of Aguacate and Indian Creek is illuminating=
The gradual
demise of a subsistence economy is taking place all over the district
to varying degrees, and it is not a capricious or accidental process0
There is a real evolutionary change taking place here, and whatever the
local perturbations, the process is further along in Indian Creek than
in Aguacateo
I will also mention in the course of the discussion, the
short work I did in Santa Theresa, which is not as far along as Aguacate
in integration into the cash economy«
Diet in Aguacate
Johnson (1978s75-95) has defined what he calls an *input-output *
approach to cultural and ecological analysiso
As he notes, it is
usually much easier to measure the amount of time spent in *input * than
to find out the quantity of food and other produce which is "outputo’
I also found problems in trying to measure output quantities of various
minor crops in Aguacate= A dietary approach which roughly measures the
relative quantities of different foodstuffs eaten is one way to get
around this problem, and this was why I originally undertook to record
diet.
The results proved unexpectedly illuminating of nascent patterns
of social differentiation within the village0
351
I paid five literate Aguacate men to keep daily records of
everything they ate at and between meals for periods of from two to
four weekso
My choice of respondents was limited to those who had the
interest and motivation as well as ability to keep careful records^
The
two women who were induced to keep comparable records did not, for
various reasons, keep them reliably enough for me to use them here,
A
)
total of 111 days of meals were recorded adequately, mostly during the
months of September through Decembero
Obviously this limited and
seasonally specific data-base must be used with carec
Eating Habits
Most of the time the Kekehi eat three meals a day0 The morning
'
meal is eaten shortly after the men rise, though by this time the women
have,already been up for some time preparing the tortillaSo
The main
ingredients of the meal are tortillas, traditionally made from corn but
increasingly from wheat flour, perhaps because this eliminates the need
for women to rise early and grind the corn0 The tortillas are usually
accompanied by coffee with sugar and small portions of whatever meat or
vegetable might be left over from the previous night's dinner0
The midday meal is light and is often carried to the fields by
men, wrapped in a leafo
Tortillas, a piece of meat if available, and
ground chile fried with salt are the usual elements while wild fruits,
cohune nuts, or cala’ are also often added on the spoto
The evening meal, taken between 4:00 and 6:00 p 0mo, is the major
meal of the day though it is not usually a formal family event.
Men sit
in the living area of the house and their wives bring them (and their
male guests) tortillas in a gourd, china bowls (sec) of caldo, and
352
calabashes of coffee, cocoa, or corn gruel (mats or lab)„ Women then
eat separately in the kitchen while children circulate back and forthe,
When no visitors are present and if the family is small, the couple may
eat togethero
Corn tortillas or corn dumplings (poch) are the essence and
staple of the mealo
The verb H o eat' (cua'ac) is derived from the word
for corn tortilla, while eating a meal without a corn staple is usually
referred to as snacking (k'uxuc)o
This archetype of the meal is chang­
ing rapidly, as rice and wheat products make inroads on the hitherto
exclusive role of corn as the staple starch=
Caldo is a usual but not constant accompaniment to the starchy
stapleo
This is a thin stew, seasoned heavily with chile, achiote, and
onion, and often containing garlic, samat, teb, and other pot herbso
Some of the leafy greens vary in status between spice and leafy vege­
table o
Domestic meat and fish are always boiled directly in the caldo,
while game is often roasted and then hung over the fire to smoke for
several days while pieces are carved off for the caldo or for meals in
the fieldso
Quantification
Having tabulated the dietary records in several ways and by
several methods, I have found that the simplest, method is to show the
relative contribution of different foods by giving the number of days
on which they appeared on the menu,
out of the total=
I tried a tabu­
lation of how many meals out of the total a particular item appeared in,
but proportions of some foods were deceiving because of the habit of
eating small quantities of meat or fish at every meal until the supply
353
is used up 0 The count of how many days each kind of food was eaten is
given in Table 50o
Seasonal fluctuations are not taken into account by these tabu­
lations, which were composed for a time when there was a higher than
average supply of meat from hunting, the beginnings of the major vege­
table harvest, but no appreciable yield of root crops= More importantly,
the recording period does not include the times of clearing and planting
the major corn crop, which is the time when pigs are slaughtered almost
every day and fed to the work groups0 Pork is therefore much more im­
portant on a yearly basis than the figures would imply0 Another food
which is seasonally under-represented is plantains=
The general patterns of consumption shown on Table 50 are not
surprising in the light of the production data given in previous chap­
ters o The contribution of wild as opposed to domestic protein sources
is quite large = Chicken, eggs, beef, and pork were eaten during 40o5S£
of the recording days, while wild game meat, fish and river snails were
eaten on 32c4% of recorded days0 The relative contribution of domestic
animal products would be much higher at other times of year, however.
The predominance of corn and chile in the diet is overwhelmingo
The average quantity of corn tortillas eaten per day was 12*8 which, at
an average of ?8 grams each, equals a total consumption of corn in this
form of over 996 grams per day.
This is more than the average 655 grams
per day reported by Carter (1969:137) or the 771 grams reported by
Cowgill (1962s277), but my figures are based exclusively on working
adult males (the adult females in my subsample reported much lower food
354
Table 50.
The relative contributions of 29 foodstuffs to Kekchi diet.
— The figures list the number of man-days of consumption
out of a total of 111, that each kind of foodstuff was eaten.
In the second and third columns the five men are broken down
into two categories; 2 men who were part-time shopkeepers
(54 recording days) and 3 men who were full-time farmers
(57 recording days). The differences are striking.
Foodstufi
Corn Tortillas
Number of Days the Foodstuff was Eaten
5 Men Total
2 Shopkeepers
3 Farmers
(111 days)
(54 days)
(57 days)
109
52
57
Flour Tortillas*
37
30
7
Rice*
31
28
3
Wheat bread*
7
2
5
Plantain
5
5
0
Root Crops
3
0
3
15
12
3
Poch (corn dumpling)
5
1
4
Mats (corn porridge)
5
0
5
Vegetables
5
0
5
0
10
RK Beans*
Fruit
10
Chile
62
33
29
Chicken
19
13
6
Eggs
19
11
8
Beef*
2
2
0
Pork
5
0
5
45
26
19
9
1
8
14
7
7
Ac (peccary)
9
0
9
Iguana
2
0
.2
Pur (river snails)
2
0
2
Tutz (cohune nuts)
4
0
4
'
Domestic Animal Foods
Total, Domestic Animal
Wild Foods
Fish
Halau (gibnut)
355
Table 50— continued
Foodstuff*
Number of Days the Foodstuff was Eaten
5 Men Total
P. Shopkeepers
3 Farmers
(111 days)
(54 days)
(57 days)
Wild Foods— continued
Gala' (palm stems)
4
0
4
Mococh (palm heart)
6
0
6
50
8
42
Bottled soft drink*
1
1
0
Lunch meat, canned*
5
5
0
Kool-ade*
3
3
0
Packaged biscuit*
3
2
1
Hard candy*
4
4
0
Total, Store Foods
16
15
1
Total, Corn Staples
119
53
66
Total, * Items
108
89
19
29 (10 with *') 18
23
Total, Wild Foods
Store Bought Foods
Total number of items
listed
aIterns with an asterisk (*) are those which are bought from shops, or
for which ingredients must be bought in shops„ Rice is an inter­
mediate case, since many who grow rice do not buy it or eat it, while
others who do not grow rice do buy it from shops or from other individualso
356
consumption, and ate only 636 grams of corn tortillas per day over 20
days of recording)o
These rations of corn provide, from corn alone, about 36OO
calories of food energy for men and 2300 for women per diem, and 110
grams of protein for men or 70 grams for women (based on corn composi­
tion figures in Mu Leung and Flores 1961:14-15)o This is well in excess
of the "minimum' protein requirement of 50 grams per day used by Roose­
velt (1980:183) and Gross (1975?527-528) in calculating the "carrying
capacity" of Amazoniao
This surfeit of protein exists without adding
meat, eggs, or other vegetable sources, supporting my original naive
assessment that the Kekchi diet is more than nutritionally adequate0
The only problems may arise in vitamins, minerals and trace elements^
Most of the beans eaten were purchased from shops, whose owners
buy them from Poite0 This explains their relative sparseness in the
dieto
But if we add together all of the items which must be purchased
in shops, we see that store-bought foods appeared on the daily menu
during 97=3% of the days recorded for all five men0 Does this mean that
the subsistence economy has already given way to a mixed subsistence/
cash economy in Aguacate?
Should we therefore expect to see more and
more replacement of grown foods by purchased foods?
Dietary Diversification
If we break down the sample of five men into two classes, we
can answer these questions negatively0 Two of the five men sampled (who
provided
5k out of 111 recording days) own large, prosperous shopso
Both of these men grow a small c'at c'al, a few vegetables or fruits,
and a small sak'ecuaj, but put their major agricultural energies into
357
growing rice0 Both devote three or four whole working days a month to
buying and transporting goods for their shops, and many afternoons are
spent at home so customers can be served if they show up 0 While they
still farm, they do not depend on the farm for their entire livelihoods
(one shop owner not in the sample has given up farming entirely)0 When
their diets are separated from those of the three full-time farmers, as
in the second two columns of Table 50, a very clear pattern of differ­
ences emergeso
The shop owners eat most (820*$ by count of days eaten) of the
purchased foods, while the farmers eat more wild foods and gameo
The
shopkeepers make up for eating less game (they eat less of the species
which are field-hunted, while eating just as much of the species which
are hunted at night, namely gibnut) with canned meat, eggs, chicken,
beef, and beans„
There are only three major shop keeping households in the vil­
lage, while there are 27 dwelling units headed by full-time farmers=
The farmers do depend on their own produce for the vast majority of their
diet, and I think it is therefore justifiable to say that the Aguacate
economy remains a subsistence economyo
A small minority of the village
population partakes daily in meals which include purchased, or imported
foodso
This situation makes it very clear that the process of agricul­
tural and economic change in Toledo is not one in which there is a
uniform and gradual change from a subsistence to a cash economyo
Rather,
the impact of the cash economy is manifestly unequal from the very
beginningo
We should not expect a gradient from south to north in the
district, with everyone in the south providing their own subsistence
358
needs and everyone in the north mixing purchased and grown foods in ~ ,
equal proportionsc
Inequality, it seems, is the essence of the process of transi­
tion.
A few men who are at the right stage of their household develop­
mental cycle, and who have the necessary capital, can step into
entrepreneurial roles.
After setting up their shops they are not able
to profit from the flow of crops and goods out of the village since most
village farmers sell directly to the Marketing Board or to retailers in
Punta Gorda, but do profit by selling externally produced staples and
luxuries within the village.
While at first this is merely a process
of specialization and role differentiation, real differences in wealth
begin to emerge after a time as more and more farmers have cash to spend
in the village shops, shifting their purchases of tools, kerosene, salt,
and other durable goods from the shops in Punta Gorda to the village
shops.
The traditional village hierarchy is based on a differentiation
of the village into long-time settlers and recent immigrants.
This
division is bolstered both by unequal access to prime land resources and
by the old settlers' control over village decision-making offices.
This
division and hierarchy are mediated and made flexible by a cargo or
cofradia system, which inducts new immigrants into the lower levels of
the village hierarchy, and allows them to climb slowly in status over
the years.
Access to limited resources is also gained by kinship ties.
As a new migrant (who has usually arrived and settled by exploiting an
affinal tie with a long-term resident) produces marriageable children,
he can begin to create a network of affinal ties with the established
359
'core' resident families, and eventually join their ranks as an elder
and nimla cuink (big man)0
The growing cash economy can tear this established fabric to
shreds0 Access to imported goods, markets and money (as well as the
foreign knowledge these represent) is a new source of power within the
village which is not subject to control by a group of village elders
whose power is embedded in a network of kinship ties=
All efforts have
been made by the traditional polity to defuse this threat and to control
the influx of the cash economy by turning it to traditional endso
All three major shops are owned by the sons of"big men,"in fact
the heads of the two longest-established families in the village0 The
shops began as joint enterprises between .fathers and sons, in which the
father contributed starting capital in exchange for a constant supply
of food and material from the shop0
Thus the shops were integrated into
a familiar cultural mode of cooperation and exchange between father and
son in a patrilineal household cluster (the shops all remain in the
father's cluster)0
A more general, noncorporate means of controlling the new source
of power within the village has been the increasing emphasis of an ex­
plicitly egalitarian ideology*
Gregory (1975) has reported this phe­
nomenon in San Antonio, and has correctly seen it as an ideological
response to an increased potential for inequality rather than as an
innate 1image of limited good**
In several villages, entrepreneurs and
shcprowners have actually been ejected after displaying their new-found
wealth publicly by building tin-roofed houses or buying costly consumer
goods*
In Aguacate the first shopkeepers were subjected to threats of
360
witchcraft and assault, as were shopkeepers in other locales, but in
Aguacate the familial status of the shopkeepers' fathers offered some
protection,.
More importantly, the shopkeepers in Aguacate have learned
not to display their wealth in an ostentatious or public way 0 They do
not build tin-roofed houses which break cultural norms, or buy herds of
cattle, new shotguns, or stereos*
If they do own expensive radios or
cassette players, they keep them in their shop as items for sale (while
using them daily) rather than keeping them in the home as personal
possessions*
Given these very severe limitations on the directions in which
the shopkeepers can exploit their new wealth, they take two very incon­
spicuous avenues*
They work less (and hire children at times to do
household chores like gathering firewood), and they eat a more expensive,
westernized diet which is heavy on luxury canned foods, refined sugar
and wheat flour*
The data I gathered show
that shop owners do less
than half the agricultural work than full-time farmers on a yearly basis.
They can always justify this by the amount of time they must spend in
their shops*
As the dietary information in Table 50 makes clear, they
eat a very different diet from the farmers, though it is a diet which
is less diverse (18 items in 5^ days, as opposed to 23 items in 57 days
for farmers)*
The shopkeepers Eire forthright in claiming that their diet is
a better one*
The wisdom they acquire through their contacts with
Belizean society include the maxims that corn and beans are hard to
digest, that white rice is good for you and can lighten the color of
the skin, that canned meats have more nutrition than fresh, that soft
361
drinks are good for children, and that powdered milk or formula is good
for babieso
This last item of "wisdom1* remains despite the visibly
higher infant mortality in the household of the one shopkeeper who pro­
vided formula for his childrens
he lost three children in the 1979
measles epidemic, while most other families only lost one childo
The shopkeepers do however want to supplement their diets with
some village products, especially game and domestic meato
The existing
differentiation within the village between cash exchange and reciprocal
exchange spheres works against them thoughc
They would like to buy
more than they do, but because so many things (corn, beans, meat, fruit,
vegetables) circulate through the village by informal exchange between
relatives, very little is available for cash sale0
Their ideology of
the superiority of imported foods is probably a justification for an
existing situation rather than a cause of ito
Packaged, canned, and
bottled foods replace fresh because they can be reliably purchased by
a non-farmero
Based on the dietary data given above, what we have in Aguacate
is a nascent economic stratification within the community which is based
on access to and control over the flow of Western manufactured goods
into the village»
This stratification presently coexists uneasily with
the traditional hierarchy based on access to land and village offices,
but in time the two may conflict directly0 At present, however, the new
inequality is not reflected in visible material culture but only in diet.
This gives one important part of the picture of a changing subsistence
economy in Toledo, but if we exclude the growing sector of entrepreneurs
and part-time farmers, what kinds of changes are taking place in the
362
agricultural patterns of the full-time farmers who compose the majority
of the population?
For an answer to this question, the Indian Creek-
Aguacate contrast is usefulo
A Comparison of Agriculture in Aguacate
and Indian Creek
Bearing in mind the differentiation in consumption and produc­
tion mentioned above, we can now explore the ways in which production
strategies of farmers are changing as the cash crop economy spreads
southwardso
In using Indian Creek as a comparison, we must specify some
of the characteristics of that village which affect farming methods in
very specific rather than general ways0
Indian Creek
This village is a ’strip settlement' along more than 2 kilo­
meters of the Southern Highway near the archaeological site of Nimli
Punito
Houses are built only on the western side of the road because
the other side is owned by a Salvadoran firm engaged in large-scale rice
and cattle production,.
Relations between the village and the ranch are
complex and contradictory*
On one hand, most village men find regular
or intermittent employment on the ranch, and they are allowed to use
the still-forested parts of the ranch for their rice fields (in this
way the firm gets its land cleared for free)* The farm trucks regularly
carry village men and produce into town, and the cash flow is appreci­
ated both by farmers and shopkeepers*
On the other hand, the Salva­
dorans are seen as a threat to the future of the village *
Cornfields
and permanent crops must be planted on the village side of the road,
363
which is largely taken up with uncultivable steep hillso
The farmers
on these hills, where there is no levee land available for sak* ecua.j,
must look enviously down on thousands of flat, fertile acres across the
roado
Already they find it difficult or impossible to raise pigs, be­
cause they wander across the road onto the ranch where they are shot
(legally)o
How much longer, the villagers wonder, before they lose the
use of the land they presently live on and cultivate?
For Indian Creek
is a squatter settlement, using unclaimed Crown Land without benefit of
leases or reservation boundarieso
During my fieldwork in 1979 one acrimonious land dispute had
already broken out between a Kekchi settler and an East Indian entrepre­
neur who had taken out a lease on land which the Indian had already
planted and built a house upon0 The Land Officer and District Commis­
sioner in Punta Gorda gave the Kekchi man two years in which to move his
household away and harvest his crops, but the interloper burned down his
house and drove him out within a year0
Since that time I have heard
that the Salvadorans have almost succeeded in acquiring title to the
several thousands of fertile acres west of the village where most corn­
fields are presently located*
Foreign investors have access to the
highest levels of government land administration, while the Indians must
slowly work their way up from the local level*
This political and geographical situation places several direct
limitations on present Kekchi agriculture*
Since pigs are not raised in
any numbers, extra corn does not have to be grown to feed them*
The
lack of levee sites for sak* ecuaj means that dry season plantings must
be made in the low-lying areas of the wet season field after the main
harvesto
Most men prefer to spend the period from October to February
working for the ranch instead of farmingo
The insecurity of land tenure
has led many men to plant fruit trees and permanent crops in large num­
bers around their houses and in old corn fields nearby, in the hope that
these improvements will help them assert their claim to the land*
Evolutionary Change
Many of the differences between Aguacate and Indian Creek are
not ascribable to limitations imposed on Indian Creek by its foreign
neighbors.
There is, however, a great deal of supposition and conjec­
ture involved in differentiating between those changes caused by in­
creased population pressure on land resources (see Table 9) and those
which are caused by access to information and markets provided by the
highway to Punta Gorda,
As discussed in Chapter 3» market access and
population pressure tend to go hand in hand in the Toledo district,
where the road attracts people and causes local population excess,
I
believe, however, that population pressure is presently of negligible
importance in the agricultural decision-making of Indian Creek farmers,
While the village population of 60 dwellings (about 320 persons) is
large in relation to the existing land base, the population has been in
the locale for less than 11 years (the first settlers arrived in 1968,
but the bulk of the population arrived in the early 1970s),
This means
that the original reservoir of primary forest has not yet been exhausted
and high forest can still be found within an hour’s walk of the village.
Though the village is not in equilibrium with its forest resources, it
has yet to feel the squeeze of population pressure.
Whatever changes
365
we see in Indian Creek are therefore ascribable to market forces and
provide an adequate model of the direction which the southern villages
will take as the market system extends southwardso
Variety of Crops* One difference between Aguacate and Indian
Creek which has already been discussed is the increased number and quan­
tity of minor vegetable and fruit crops found in Indian Creeko
The
average Aguacate farmer grows l806 of a possible 69 censused crops and
varieties, while Indian Creek farmers grow an average of 23=5 different
varieties
(t is significant beyond the O01 level; all Indian Creek data
is based on a sample of ten farmers)0
The increase in variety of crops is probably both a means of
substituting for wild foods, which are less available, and a method of
procuring additional cash through occasional sales in the Punta Gorda
marketo
But besides this difference in the number of varieties grown
by farmers in the two villages, there is a considerable amount of vari­
ation in the number of varieties grown by individual farmers within each
village; a range of from 5 to 3^ in Aguacate and from 12 to 42 in Indian
Creeko
The reasons for this variation differ in the two villageso
In Aguacate the number of crop varieties grown by a farmer is
dependent on:
(l) the number of years he has been resident in the vil­
lage; and (2) his age0 When starting farming, either as a young man or
a new migrant he will grow few varieties at first and add more as the
years pass (at a rate of about 1 variety per year)0 Figure 12 is a
crossplot of the number of farming years resident in the village and
the number of cultigens grown0 The linear correlation coefficient is
366
40-1
30 -
N UM B E R OF
CROP
VARIETIES
20-
ID-
5
10
20
30
F AR MI NG YEARS RESIDENCE
Figure 12.
Crossplot of crop varieties and years of farming in
Aguacate. — The chart demonstrates a clear relationship
between the number of farming years a man has lived in the
village, and the number of varieties of cultigens which he
regularly grows. For men born in the village, farming
years are counted from the age of fourteen. There is a
tendency for the number of crop varieties to decrease in
old age.
40
367
2
•
—
o6$4 (r = o428, p < oOOl), but the relationship is clearly curvilinear,
with a rapid drop off as old age is reachedo
In Indian Creek, however, there is no correlation between the
number of years of residence in,the village and the number of crop
varieties, and there is no curvilinear relationship either0 Rather, the
number of varieties grown seems to depend on a number of factors, in­
cluding the amount of cash crops grown, the quantity of household labor
available^ and most important, whether or not the farmer is involved in
regular wage laboro
Of the ten sample farmers in Indian Creek, four
worked regularly for the Salvadorans during slack periods in their own
agricultural pursuits0
These four men averaged 19 crop varieties, while
four other men who did no wage labor at all averaged 30=8 varieties (two
men worked occasionally and were not included in this analysis)» The
number of varieties grown by the wage laborers was significantly lower
than the number grown by non-laborers (t = 2=66, p < =02)=
Here is in­
direct evidence that store-bought foods do, in fact, substitute for
those grown on the farm=
Crop Mixtureso A major aspect of the shift from a subsistence
economy to a mixed cash/subsistence farming system is a shift in allo­
cation of land and labor from subsistence to cash crops=
I did not
collect long-term labor records in Indian Creek, but did determine the
areas of land devoted to each major crop0
The results are listed with
comparable figures from Aguacate in Table 31, including the percentage
of the farmers in each village who grew each major crop in 1979, the
average area cultivated by each man who did grow the crop (field size).
368
Table 51°
Crop mixtures in Aguacate and Indian Creekc — The table
lists, for each major productive system, the percentage of
village farmers participating, the average area grown by
each participating farmer (field size), and the area grown
averaged over the entire village sample (area per farmer)=
Sample size is 26 for Aguacate and 10 for Indian Creeko
Aguacate
Indian Creek
Wet Season Corn
% of farmers growing
96 02
80=0
Field size (ha°)
2=15
1=88
Area per farmer
2=0?
1=51
Dry Season Corn
77=3
=995
Area per farmer
f
Field size
0
% of farmers growing
50=0
=199
=099
Rice
% of farmers growing
39=3
80 o0
Field size
=761
2=04
Area per farmer
=335
1=63
% of farmers growing RK beans
as a cash crop
0=0
40=0
Average number of pigs"per farmer
9=4
=5
Average total area planted to corn
and rice per year per farmer
. 3=33
3=24
369
and the area devoted to the crop averaged for the entire sample (area
per farmer)o
There are striking differences in the frequency with which each
crop is grown0 More men in Indian Creek dispense altogether with the
wet season c'at c'al, and for different reasons0 The Aguacate man who
skipped it did so because he was sick and unable to work, while the
Indian Creek men said that they were doing wage labor at that time (or
in one case that he was caring for a sick relative in another village
at the time of year when he would be making a c8at c'al)o
The absolute
area devoted to wet season corn was. almost 15% less in Indian Creek,
another indication that less emphasis is given to the subsistence crop,
mostly because the Indian Creek farmers need no corn for hog feeds
The time and effort saved by making smaller corn fields is
obviously spent in the rice fields, which are much larger in Indian
Creek„ In fact, Indian Creek men clear their rice fields before they
clear their corn field, a revealing reversal of priorities*
The more
fully developed cash economy in Indian Greek allows men to convert their
cash into food quite readily if they run out of corn; there is no need
to use pigs as an intermediary or storage device*
The emphasis on rice
does not pose any threat to the steady supply of food to the family the
way it might in Aguacate*
But why the emphasis on rice as a cash crop when (as demon*. "
strated above) corn is more productive in terms of cash return per man
hour of labor?
Some farmers do, in fact sell corn (see below), but
this is still negligible in terms of total cash return compared to rice*
The real answer to the question is a simple one of land availability*
370
The ranch permits Kekchi to cross the road to clear primary forest, only
about 15 minutes walk from the village= This land is flat and fertile,
but is suitable for rice, not corn, because of poor drainage» Given
that high forest on the village side of the road which is suitable for
corn is now up to an hour's walk from the village, it makes economic
sense to use the closer rice lando
The last rows on Table. 51 show clearly that the trade-offs and
differences between Aguacate and Indian Creek are balanced by an under­
lying unity0 While Aguacate farmers depend on pigs as a cash source,
Indian Creek men grow beans
(and other minor crops) for sale instead.
When the average land cultivated per year per farmer in the two villages
is totaled up the figures are almost the same0 The inference is clear;
in both villages farmers are devoting about the same amount of labor per
year to agriculture.
The time spent by the Indian Creek men in wage
labor (if it takes them away from farming at all) seems to be balanced
by the time the part-time shopkeepers in Aguacate take away from farm­
ing in order to manage their stores (I regret not having shopkeepers in
the Indian Creek sample).
Income. Differences in land use and crop mixtures between the
two villages are reflected also in the cash returns derived from sale
of agricultural produce.
Table 52 shows the percentage of farmers
selling each of the major products, and the dollar value of produce sold
in 1978-79 on a per seller and per farmer (averaged over the whole
sample) basis.
The results support the general pattern of allocation
of labor revealed in Table 51o
371
Table 520 Sources of agricultural income in Aguacate and Indian Creeko
— For each of the major income sources the table lists the
percentage of farmers deriving income from the source, the
average income derived by each participating farmer, and
the averaged income over the whole village sample including
producers and [email protected]„ Sample sizes are the same as
in Table 51° All quantities are given in U 0S 0 dollars0
Aguacate
Indian Creek
Corn
% of farmers selling
30
40
Cash return per seller
S 26=30
$ 26=00
Cash return per farmer
$
$ 10=50
7=90
Rice
•% of farmers selling
8o=o
39=3
Cash return per seller
$113=50
$298=40
Cash return per farmer
$ 35=20
$239=00
Beans
% of farmers selling
0=0
40=0
Cash return per seller
$
0=0
$117=00
Cash return per farmer
$ 0=0
$ 46=70
Pigs
% of farmers selling
0=0
100=0
Cash return per farmer
$179=00
$
0=0
Total cash return per farmer
$222=10
$296=20
.
372
The same small quantities of corn are sold in the two villages,
but the corn enters different market systernso
In Aguacate almost all
the corn sold goes to other villagers for home use, while in Indian
Creek most surplus corn is sold to the Marketing Board or to merchants
in Punta Gorda0
The totals of cash return per annum per farmer in the two vil­
lages are deceptively similaro
Not included are the extra cash earnings
gained by Indian Creek farmers through the sale of minor crops, which
averages about $20o00 per farmer0 Also not included are the cash in­
comes derived from part-time wage laborc During 1979 four of the
sampled Indian Creek farmers worked for more than a month, either for
the Salvadoran ranch at UoSo $3=50 per day or in logging camps at U 0S 0
$4o50 per day0 These men averaged $386 income for the year0
Two other
men worked intermittently for less than a month of elapsed time and
earned an average of $79°
The average earning from wage labor over a
sample of ten men was about $170=
Added all together this gives a total
average yearly cash income per farmer of about UoS0 $485, more than
double that of the Aguacate farmers0
What little cash.income there is in Aguacate seems to be more
evenly distributed than the larger incomes of the Indian Creek farmers»
The range of total incomes (including wage labor) for the ten Indian
Greek men was between $103 and $ 967, while the range for eight Aguacate
farmers (the only ones for whom a whole year’s income could be figured)
was between $28 and $357, not including income from shopkeeping0
The only comparable information on the cash income of Kekchi.
farmers are the figures given by McCaffrey (1967-55-57) for San Miguel,
373
another northern zone roadside village, in the mid-1960s = San Miguel
farmers sold at that time about U CS"0 $111 worth of beans, $90 of rice
and $31 of hogs each, per year, for a total annual cash income of about
$232o
The actual figure was probably somewhat higher because of addi­
tional income from sales of coffee and other minor crops, and from
occasional wage labor (which was rare at the time)o
Given the high
rates of inflation from 1966 to 1978, the approximate doubling of yearly
cash income in the northern zone villages during that period does not
indicate a rapid increase in the real incomes of farmerso
Rather, it
appears that the bulk of the farming population is holding to a fairly
steady real income, while shopkeepers, merchants, and other entrepre­
neurs are the ones who are making real gains0
Summary:
Patterns of Agricultural Change
Agricultural change in Toledo district Kekchi villages is pro­
ceeding through processes of differentiation and re-allocation0
In
differentiation, a homogeneous body of subsistence farmers gives way to
a mixture of full-time farmers and part-timers who derive a variable but
increasing portion of their income from shopkeeping, trading, or parttime wage laboro
The process of re-allocation of land and labor shows
a shifting emphasis from subsistence crops to cash crops0 This re­
allocation is both gradual and uneven in each particular village set­
ting, and involves progressive substitution of cultivated foods for wild
foods, and then of purchased foods for cultivated ones0
In each village, whatever the local circumstances, the bulk of
farmers seek to provide their own basic subsistence needso
The tran­
sition to a lifeway based entirely on sale of crops and purchase of
374
foodstuffs is hindered by the lack of a local market system for the
exchange of basic foods= This underdeveloped regional market in subsis­
tence products has been cited as a general phenomenon found in marginal
areas, where the market network is dominated by the demands of extraregional consumers, enforced by a colonial or neo-colonial authority
(C= Smith 1977;129)o
The retention of subsistence production as the cornerstone of
the farming strategy is also a form of long-term risk-reduction which
seems especially wise in light of historical events in Toledo0 Market
opportunities and cash crops have come and gone over the years, and the
farmer who specializes in a cash crop to the neglect of his food supply
is placing himself at the mercy of a market system over which he has no
controlo
Instead, the prudent farmer keeps as much subsistence produc­
tion as he can, and adds those cash crops which are most compatible with
existing patterns=
In this light the retention of a corn/pig economy in the south­
ern part of the district is understandable, because this strategy allows
the farmer merely to sell his surplus subsistence goods- either as corn
or porko
In villages far from the road or river transportation network,
Santa Theresa for example, virtually all cash income is derived from
sales of corn to other villages or of pigs to wholesalers.
In Aguacate
and Indian Creek, where bulkier commodities can be transported eco­
nomically to market, both rice and beans are convenient additions to
the corn/pig subsistence core.
Though these cash crops do not offer the
farmer a particularly high rate of return or low risk, they are produced
by traditional methods and technology, and they do not disrupt the
375
land-use patterns or scheduling of the subsistence crops» Whatever re=
ductions occur in the role of corn in subsistence are more than made up
for by an increased production of tree, root, and vegetable crops which
make more intensive use of limited land resources.
The processes of differentiation and re-allocation cannot be
simply explained as direct responses to either population pressure of
market demand.
As discussed in Chapter 3? Toledo district is character­
ized by a fluid, mobile population which freely balances access to
markets with access to suitably-fallowed forest land.
In moving to the
roadside, many Kekchi are clearly motivated by increasing desire for
cash income as well as more participation in the less tangible but
equally real benefits of Belizean national culture.
But once they get
to the roadside they encounter a local population density which is much
higher relative to land resources than the less accessible southern
parts of the district.
Production methods, crop mixtures, and tech­
niques must be modified to cope with this situation or the farmers must
move on to new areas of high forest when the local land fund has been
depleted.
At present the northern zone village populations can be roughly
divided into two elements, based on differing responses to local popu­
lation pressure.
Some stay in their new village location, seeking
alternative sources of income in wage labor or shopkeeping, while in­
tensifying their agriculture by shortening fallow cycles, green mulching,
interplanting, and substituting higher-yielding root crops for part of
their corn production.
In the long-settled, large Mopan and mixed
Mopan/Kekchi villages near San Antonio and on the Rio Grande, some
376
farmers are expanding into tree crop production and cattle-raising now
that suitable rice land is very limited,.
The other population element uses the traditional solution to
local depletion of forest resources; mobility0 When high secondary
forest cannot be found within a reasonable distance of the village, they
pick up and move elsewhere, to the frustration of church and stateo
Some move back to the forests of the southern zone, while others follow
the expanding road network, seeking new sites*
By 1979 numbers of Mopan
and Kekchi had moved far into Central Belize, settling in the pine
savannahs south of Starm Creek and in the fertile hills north of Middle­
sex*
Everywhere they remain as squatters, unless they can induce the
government to set aside a local reserve*
In the first part of this chapter I mentioned that the political
structure of many Kekchi villages is based on the economic and political
hegemony of the first settlers*
Those who arrive early form a tight
core of affinally related families which has the de facto power to con­
trol prime land and to decide disputes in opposition to more recent
migrants*
These people form the first element mentioned above, the
group which remains in place when faced with increasing land shortage*
They have an immaterial but real investment in the locale, and invest­
ment in a fabric of kin-ties and social bonds which provides economic
security as well as opportunity (remember who are the shop owners in
Aguacate)*
The mobile fraction of the population is not firmly affixed to
a social network of kinship ties in any one village, though they seek
to be so*
They form a fluid stratum of independent families, most of
them recent migrants from Guatemala, who flow from village to village in
rapid response to local circumstances*
With varying success they try to
establish affinal ties with the "core* population of an established
village, but such affinal bonds are fragile and easily dissolved by
divorce*
Another strategy for establishing permanent residence is to
found a village of one’s own, but this can be a difficult task because
of a shortage of suitable sites, the necessity of securing government
acquiescence, and because a fairly large labor force is needed to begin
a pioneer community*
A minimum of five adult males is required in order
to -tackle the arduous and dangerous, task of clearing the first year's
corn fields in high primary forest*
form and harder to maintain*
Such a cooperative group is hard to
In the cases of pioneer settlement on
which I have information (San Benito Poite, Marbilha, Xanilha, Corazon
Creek; all are in the southern zone), the founding group was an older
man with his married sons and daughters, or a pair of brothers with
their married children*
The exception, a group which tried to resettle
the old site of Machaca in 1972, was composed of families tied together
by their membership in a Protestant sect as well as by a variety of kin
ties*
Some families never really establish themselves in a single lo­
cation*
One man who moved to Aguacate in 1979 with his wife and un­
married daughter had lived in nine other villages since his birth in
1932 in a now-extinct village in the far southwest corner of Belize*
He came to Aguacate because he had managed to marry one of his daughters
to an Aguacate man, and he plainly hoped to marry his other daughter
within the village*
The saga of his movements carried a tragic air —
378
a series of quarrels and witchcraft accusations which drove him from
place to place and progressively stripped him of his sons6
Though the
same age as the elders of the village, he is not accorded the status and
respect due to a 'big man' (nitala cuink) because he has not passed
through the graded ranks of the cofradia system in the village„
It is
people like this who often end up gravitating towards the new settle­
ments along the roads, where they do not have to cope with a longestablished, rigid status system and a village kinship network which is
difficult to penetrateo
To summarize, the processes of agricultural change in Toledo
are
not uniform, and the Kekchi population is not a static recipient of, but
an active, mobile participant in, these changeSo
Because local circum­
stances and opportunities vary widely along the expanding front of the
market system, farmers have a choice both of how they will respond to
market and population pressures, and of where they want to live and
which circumstances they want to face*
Yet agricultural strategies are
intimately intertwined with domestic and kinship strategies, in subtle
ways not envisioned by most anthropological discussions of kinship and
mobility (eog=, papers in Piddington 1965)=
To place the present agricultural situation in, a historical
perspective, we must refer back to the kind of intermittent capitalist
exploitation and penetration of Toledo discussed in Chapter 3°
The
changes taking place Eire fundamentally different from previous logging,
banana, and oil booms because they show every sign of being permanent
rather than transitory phenomena0
Again the Kekchi find themselves in
a position of dependency, producing crops at the behest of a market
379
system over which they have no controlc But this time the market system,
the road network, and various government and institutional apparatus,
are here to stay0 The direction of future changes will depend largely
on the Belize government's initiative in settling land issues, in allow­
ing agricultural diversification to shift away from the rice/beans/pigs
complex, and in its attitude towards large foreign-owned cattle and
plantation development»
In less than a decade the district could be
either a patchwork of diversified peasant farms, or a grid of huge plan­
tations on which the Kekchi will survive as wage laborers»
Motivation and Change
In this discussion I have mentioned that the driving force be­
hind Kekchi movement to roadside locations has been the farmer’s in­
creasing demands for consumer goodsc
Important tools which must be
purchased —
can be purchased easily by southern
machete, axe and file —
zone villagers with the proceeds from sales of pigs, pom and sometimes
beans or corn0 But radios, clothing, rum, perfume, shotguns, kerosene
lamps, cassette players and other manufactured goods are harder both
to obtain and to maintain in remote areas, and incomes are rarely high
enough to sustain this kind of spendingo
This process of increasing
expectations, which often follows contact with other cultural groups
which do possess many manufactured goods, has been a subject of anthro­
pological thought from well before the time of Murphy and Steward's
(1956) cogent summary statement0
This theory of change has recently come under attack from a
group of 'strict materialist' cultural ecologists, working with data
compiled from several Amazonian Amerindian groups living on reservations
(Gross et al0 1979)=
They believe that environmental degredation caused
by population pressure is the primary cause of the shift from subsis­
tence farming to 'market participation01 This hypothesis is supported,
they think, by the finding that market participation, as measured by
the number of man-hours (presumably for adult males only?) spent per
year in procuring cash through farming or other work, increases with
greater population pressure on land resources (as measured by a complex
composite index of 'resistance to swidden^' Gross et alo 19 79:1049) o
The correlation between these two variables seems to mask momentarily
their inability to explain just how it is that wage labor and cash
cropping result from increasingly short fallow cycles in the subsistence
farming sector of the economyo
We are treated, instead to such in­
genuous statements as:
Relatively few 'luxury' items are purchased by any of the
groups but, where they are, they may be a way of conserving
capital because such items as radios, wristwatches and hand­
guns hold their value better than cash, especially in an econ­
omy like Brazil's with chronic inflation (Gross et alo 1979:
1048-1049)o
Anyone who has watched their wristwatch decay before their eyes
x
in a tropical rain forest would think twice about investing in one as a
.
subsistence strategy,.
And anyone aware of political realities of ex­
ploitation in Amazonia can think of practical functions for handguns
which have nothing to do with inflation fightingo
As critics of 'neo-functionalism' point out (e0g0, Godelier
1977)9 such explanations in their desire to depict the noble savage
making rational decisions in the face of environmental change, often
ignore political realities of exploitation and manipulation,.
As I have
demonstrated in the Kekchi case, cash crops return less per man hour of
labor, than traditional subsistence cropso
These cash crops are not
chosen by the Kekchi, but by a government and a market system over which
they have little or no control„ The neo-colonial cash economy, as
Wallenstein (1976) and Amin (1976) have pointed out, is primarily a
means of extracting surplus value from marginal people, and both primary
subsistence goods (like axes and machetes) and luxuries are means to
that endo
Gross’ explanation flies in the face of this, implying that
all is really for the best and for the benefit of the natives.,
But what
is the adaptive value of selling edible rice in order to buy coca-cola
for One's children, or of feeding them packaged formula instead of
breast milk?
The question is even more basic:
is the^ "ethnographic
and archaeological record 0 o o strewn with the wreckage of societies
which failed to commercialize» „ «, „?" (Gross et al„ 1979s1049) = Or
have those groups been eliminated —
2 —
like the Choi discussed in Chapter
because they would not fit themselves to foreign exploitation?
The discussion in this chapter has shown that population den­
sity in the Toledo district is as much a function of human decision­
making as it is a given situation to which people must adapt -themselveso
People move to the roadside and accept higher population density because
other benefits which they want are there0 This is not to say that there
are no local population surpluses in the southern part of the district
—
some of the older established southern villages do have land prob­
lems » These cases will be discussed in Chapter 12«
The essential
point however is that there are still many new sites available in virgin
forest in the southern areao
People do not make their locational de­
cisions entirely on the basis of population density and the ease of
production of subsistence crops (as Gross et alo 1979 would have us
believe)o
Rather, kinship (see Chapter 11), village politics, and
opportunities for cash cropping and communication with Belizean society
are all affecting people's residence choices —
not independently of
land resources, of course, but neither can they be reduced to a single
factor of 'resistance to swiddeno”
CHAPTER 10
THE ORGANIZATION OF PRODUCTIVE LABOR
The organization of labor links agricultural production to spe­
cific elements of social structureo
The underlying logical assumption
is that people will in general align themselves so as to accomplish pro­
ductive tasks as efficiently as possible0 Here 'efficiency'
1 must be
interpreted broadly to include social costs, for people tend to take
into account the social ramifications of their actions as well as the
practical means of accomplishing a task as quickly and smoothly as
possibleo
While some anthropologists (e.go, Nadel 19^7?5^) insist that
labor group size is merely a matter of cultural convention and prefer­
ence, the cross-cultural data seem to support the idea that people adapt
labor groups to the requirements of production (see Wilk and Netting
198l)o
In this chapter I assume that people work towards the goal of
maximum practical efficiency within a culturally-defined framework of
rules for mobilizing laboro
At the same time, in a dialectical process
which has been clearly discussed by Cohen (197*0 9 the cultural systems
of rules are themselves changeable through both active conscious manipu­
lation and gradual unconscious assimilation,.
The Question of Efficiency
If we look only at the factors of mechanical efficiency —
ways
of accomplishing a given task with the least possible effort and maximum
383
384
possible result -- we can define some relevant aspects of different
kinds of work which affect the size and composition of the group best
suited to accomplish them0
Following Erasmus" (1956s451-454) discussion, several aspects
of particular tasks by their nature impose restrictions on task group
size©
Labor intensive tasks are those which simply require more than
the power of a single pair of handso
Clear examples would be the lift­
ing of roof beams in building a house without machinery, or the thatch­
ing of a roof, which requires one person tying leaves down on each roof
beam and another person handing the leaves up to the roof0 Conversely,
there are other tasks which cannot be efficiently done with more them a
very small groupc Building a small chicken coop with more than two
workers would be a waste of labor, and only two people at a time can
thresh rice in a single threshing shed effectively, to give two Kekchi
exampleso
*
Differentiation and task specialization are two phenomena which
can affect the efficiency of a work group= Splitting a job up into com­
ponent tasks means that many hands can be applied to different phases
of the job at the same time, as with the differentiated harvesting
parties mentioned in Chapter 5 where some workers broke ears, others
carried them to the corn house, and still others stacked them0 Special­
ization allows some people to develop special proficiencies at particular
tasks, which gives a coordinated team greater overall efficiency0 Such
specialization is more often found in craft production than in agricul­
ture o
-
385
Perhaps the most important aspects of agriculture which affect
appropriate task group sizes are those which can be lumped under the
rubric of scheduling. We can break this down into timing, the place of
a task in the yearly cycle, and sequencing, the order of tasks in
relation to each other=
Timing of tasks in an agricultural year often leads to bottle­
necks , times when many tasks must be done within a short period of time,
„ and a large labor group is desired.
labor scheduling is useful.
Here the concept of elasticity of
Some agricultural tasks are elastic, and
can be scheduled with some flexibility, while other tasks are inelastic,
and therefore must be done at a particular time.
It makes little sense
to constitute a large permanent labor group if there are only one or two
peak bottlenecks in labor needs throughout the year.
A small group
makes more sense in this case, with other methods being used to supply
extra labor as needed.
This brings up the problem of sequencing different tasks so they
do not conflict.
Sometimes one task places constraints on another, as
when the clearing of a sak"ecuaj (dry season corn) field requires that
a planting group be formed within a week, so the regrowth does not com­
pete with the planted corn.
A larger work group has the flexibility to
deal with many different tasks simultaneously, and can cope with se­
quencing conflicts which could cripple a smaller work group.
Taken at a higher level of generality, we can see that entire
productive systems favor particular kinds of labor groups on the basis
of the kinds of efficiency criteria defined above.
We can scale pro­
ductive systems between extremes of linear and simultaneous labor
386
scheduling..
In a linear system, all basic productive tasks are sched­
uled one after another, with little variation in the size of the neces­
sary labor forceo
Simultaneous systems, on the other hand, require many
different tasks to be performed at the same time and/or in different
physical locations.
Both kinds of systems can be diverse, having many
component sub-systems; the difference is in the way the sub-systems are
organized.
The intensive hoe farming of the Kofyar in Nigeria, for
instance, is diverse —
many crops are grown —
but they are ordered in
a linear yearly round, one after another, with little scheduling overlap
and few sequencing conflicts.
The resulting labor demands of the system
are quite elastic» and a very small labor group consisting of nuclear
family members is capable of meeting most of them (Netting 1965)0
An example of a very diverse but simultaneously scheduled sub­
sistence system is that described by Sahlins (1957, 1962),
There each
household works fields of many different kinds at the same time, fishes,
and gathers copra in different parts of the island.
All of the crop
sequences conflict at various points, and many tasks are labor intensive
(requiring more than one person at a time).
To meet the large and often
inelastic demands of this diverse system, a large and flexible labor
group is required at all times during the year.
This discussion of labor scheduling provides a framework for
tracing the cultural and social ramifications of agriculture change
among the Kekchi,
But adaptation to changing labor requirements takes
place within a cultural framework of rules and a social context of role
differentiation and group definition.
The next section of this chapter
387
will explore this existing system, describing the kinds of labor groups
and the ways in which they operate0
Kekchi Labor Groups
The Kekchi recognize clearly demarcated types of labor groups,
each of which operates under distinct rules of exchange and reciprocityo
These rules are not inflexible, however, because the realm of labor
exchange is not completely separated from that of kinshipo
As a result,
in many labor groups there are different sets of expectations between
different pairs of members, based on the nature of the ties of real or
fictive kinship between them*
Friendship and antipathy based on past
or present quarrels can also have a very real effect on labor group
selection and operationc This overlap in cultural 1realms' should serve
to remind us of the close relationship between kinship and labor groups,
a relationship which will be explicitly considered later in this chap­
ter »
In defining different kinds of labor groups I have drawn on the
classifications made by Erasmus (1956) and Quillet (1980), both of whom
give illuminating discussions of the forms of exchange labor groupsc
However, I find Terray’s (1972) discussion of forms of cooperation to
be less typological, and more helpful in understanding process, and
many of his ideas are implicit in the way I have structured the follow­
ing discussion,,
The Sexual Division of Labor
Ascription of particular tasks to the sexes is not inflexible
among the Kekchi —
there is an area between men’s and women's work
388
where there is room for choice and negotiation,.
Still, most of the
agricultural labor is provided by men, and most food processing and
household-maintenance activities fall in the province of womeno
The
formal system of labor-exchange I will describe below is a male-only
operation in which women's labor does not enter directlyc Women do form
labor groups of their own for household labor and food processing, but
I was unable to gather the kinds of data I would have liked on these
groupso
Women do contribute agricultural labor in the course of the
year, both in the swidden and in tending plants around the house„ There
is a clear trend towards less female participation in swidden labor in
the villages in the northern zone near the highway=
In Santa Theresa,
far from the road, women visit the fields two or more times a month
during the growing season, helping to plant minor crops, gather wild
foods, and harvest0
In Aguacate there was quite a bit of variation, but
based on recall surveys the average married woman visited swidden fields
about once a month (maximum was 3 visits)o
In Indian Creek not a single
woman admitted to having visited a swidden field, and several women said
they did not even know where their husband's fields were located,,
I
will explain this change later in this chaptero
Dwelling Labor Groups
A dwelling unit is a single house, and the people who live regu­
larly within0 Personnel are usually members of a nuclear family, though
any other co-residents —
widowed parents, adopted children, married
children's families, or just visiting relatives —
are treated in the
same way as nuclear family members when it comes to labor allocation*
389
The cultural code for labor relations within the dwelling unit
is fairly simple;
the labor of any adult males within the household is
at the disposal of the male head of the dwelling unite
Children are not
a very effective part of the labor pool until they are out of school at
age l40 Before this time girls sire expected to help with household
chores during free time, and boys accompany their fathers to the fields
on weekends and vacationso
It is not unusual for parents to try to keep
their children out of school during labor bottleneck periods, especially
rice planting and corn harvesting timeso
By the time a boy is out of school the pattern has been set0
His labor is allocated by his father to the household fields, with no
renumeration besides food and lodging and an occasional small cash gift=
In practice father and son(s) usually work together at the same tasks,
except during the rice seasono
In rice, as mentioned previously, a son
can realize at least part of the cash proceeds from his labor0 At first
the boy will clear and plant a small part of his father's rice field,
but in later years he will show increasing autonomy=
In the past the labor-cooperative relationship between father
and son had more time to develop.,
Today, with schools present in most
villages, father and son work together for an average of only five years
before the son sets up his own farming enterpriseo
This, and the feel­
ings of autonomy derived from independent rice farming, may be respon­
sible for stated feelings of tension between adult sons and their
fatherso
Parents say that now sons are less cooperative in helping
with the family farm than in the paste
This may be an example of the
'things were better in the past' syndrome, but during my stay in
390
Aguacate I did see two sons who were living with their father refuse
several times to help in the c'at c'alo One ran off to join the police
forceo
The other found a wage-paying job in the next village (with a
rural development project) and stayed with his family during weekends,
when his father demanded part of his pay in exchange for room and board=
Options like these upset the traditionally authoritarian relationship
between father and son0
Household Cluster Labor
When a son or daughter marries (here referring to traditional
rather than legal marriage, since few Kekchi legally marry until years
after they have begun to cohabit and have children) the couple have a
variety of residence options open to themo
The most common practice is
for the couple to live in the groom6s parents' dwelling for one to
three years, until their first child is born0 During this time the
son's labor is still at the disposal of his father, though he generally
has a little more autonomy than before marriage« He may, for example,
be allowed to grow his own small dry-season cornfield as well as a rice
fieldo
Household clusters are most often formed when a married son
moves out of his father's dwelling and builds his own house close by —
usually within 25 meters<= Other relatives are often found in clusters
too (see next chapter), but in these cases the labor relations are
similar to those of patrilocal household clusters0
The cultural norm of labor exchange within the cluster is one
of generalized reciprocity (Sahlins 1972)»
The son now has his own
independent agricultural enterprise, though his fields are usually very
391
close or adjacent to his father’s, and the stated norm is for the two
men to work both fields together if possible0 Sons are supposed to give
days of labor to their father upon request, and fathers are supposed to
reciprocate when asked= No specific reckoning of days given or owed is
kept, and if they do not balance out, other forms of cooperation, shar­
ing, and redistribution are supposed to even out the differences^
Labor exchanges between father and in-cluster sons do not bal­
ance outo
In one household cluster in which I was able to record all
labor exchanges among a father, his son, and his son-in-law over a nine
month period, exchanges were highly, unbalanced,.
The son worked in his
father’s fields for 42 man days, while his father returned only 19 man
days (about a 45% return) „ The son-in-law gave 26 days and received 11
(42% return)o
Interestingly, the exchange between the son and his
brother-in-law balanced out exactly at 6 man days given in both direc­
tions =,
While the norm is that labor exchanges within the cluster are
not to be reckoned, tension, disagreement, and fission can result if one
party feels that he is losing out in the long runc Still, these ties
are flexible and constantly re-negotiable, and because they are so manystranded (with joint ownerships, goods, services and risk-spreading
balancing with each other) it is very hard for a man to make a simple
judgment about whether or not he is coming out ahead in the relation­
ship o
One kind of argument is frequent and seems to be getting worseo
When an elder brother has established his own dwelling in his father's
household cluster, his relationship with his younger brothers suffers*
392
What happens is that the younger son is expected to assist his father
when the father is helping his married son with his corn or rice0 The
younger son finds himself giving his labor to his older brother, with no
return.
He gets all kinds of benefits from working for his father, but
he is not party to the exchanges between his father and elder brother.
The situation is complicated further if the younger son has a rice field,
in which case he may expect his older brother to repay him for all the
days he has given, days to which the elder brother thinks he has a right
because of his age and maturity.
terms of respect —
The argument is usually phrased in
the elder says the younger should respect him by
coming to work for him with his father, while the younger says the elder
does not respect him because he is always acting •bossy,"
These ten-
sions between brothers sometimes lead to open ruptures of the relation­
ship (I saw this only in rice-producing clusters), and are responsible
for the generally low rate of labor-exchange between the sibling members
(even after all are married) of household clusters.
Above all, the labor relations within household clusters must
be seen as flexible rather than rigidly rule-guided.
from dependent —
dwelling —
They can be scaled
like those between sons and fathers within a single
to independent —
like those prevailing between non-kin in
the village.
Reciprocal Exchange Labor
I have already alluded to the common practice of forming labor
groups through reciprocal exchanges of days of labor between adult males.
The groups formed vary from two to the entire male population of the
village.
Following Erasmus (1956:449), we may distinguish permanent
393
exchange labor groups from other forms= A permanent group is one with
a fixed membership, which does a particular task in each member's field
on successive dayso
The Kekchi form these groups when all individuals
have the same task to do at the same time* as in planting corn when the
entire male population of Aguacate forms a single permanent groupo
In
other villages, like San Miguel (McCaffrey 196?), there are too many
men for a single group, and there are three or more permanent groups,
one of which a young man must join at marriage»
Circles are labor groups which convene on a temporary basis to
accomplish a single task in each member's fields
They do not have the
institutional nature of permanent groups, and are formed and reformed
for each particular taskc
An example are the groups which clear and
plant sak'ecuaj corn fields in Aguacate=
As mentioned previously, only
a few men want to do these jobs at exactly the same time each year, and
fields are only large enough to require five or six man days anyway, so
an exchange circle of five or six men is usually formedo
Both permanent groups and circles have the disadvantage of pro­
viding the same amount of work to each group member —
the group works
one day in each member's fields0 A man who wants to make a larger than
average field must provide supplementary labor after the group workcycle is overo
For older, less active men, or those who are sick or
disabled, membership in permanent groups or circles provides a form of
social security, giving them many man hours of vigorous labor in ex­
change for their less effective effortso
Kekchi men recognize this
inequity, but see it as a social duty to help the unfortunate0 Such
duty does not extend too far though, and the slower or poorer worker
394
will often find it difficult to get other men to form a small circle
with him.
Outside of the systematic exchanges of labor described above, a
less formal interpersonal labor exchange network operates,
A small
task like building a corn house or a pig pen goes much faster with an
extra pair of hands or two.
If a man lives in a cluster with other men
he will use cluster labor exchange» but if he lives by himself he may
be able to initiate an exchange with another person.
Without a specific
need for the returned labor, however, most men are reluctant to agree to
such an exchange.
Kin and fictive kin are most often asked to provide
interpersonal labor because the bond of kinship carries this obligation,
even if the members do not coreside.
More common sources of interpersonal labor are outstanding debts
left over from circles
and
permanent
groups.
Whena man is unable to
attend the labor
group for
a day, he
is
left
with an outstanding debt
to the man whose
field was
being worked
that
day.The debt is usually
called in within
a few months, as it
is
consideredunwise to allow them
to accumulate.
All forms of reciprocal exchange labor groups generate highly
valued social events.
Work groups are enjoyed by most members, and
their day's labor is always followed by a ceremonial meal given by the
day's patron, at which meat is served.
Men work hard, and there is some
competition between younger men which promotes higher work-rates.
The
good natured joking which occurs does not slow down the working pace,
Men consistently state that a job gets done faster with a group than
with a single man working the same number of days,
Foster (1942s35)
395
claims that group efficiency is the same as that of individuals in the
case he studied, but in the absence of any secure figures to the con­
trary, I sun inclined to accept the Kekchi opinion on the matter0
Work groups have other aspects which make them attractive events.
Information of many kinds is exchanged, from gossip to environmental
data.
The young are instructed in agricultural techniques, the old
discuss the marriage prospects of their children.
Attending work groups
allows a man to check, out the fallow status of prospective field loca­
tions over a wide area,
A very real consideration in explaining the Kekchi propensity
for group labor is that of safety.
Snakes, sharp tools, and falling
trees all present hazards which make the prospect of working alone far
off in the jungle quite unattractive.
Many tasks, especially the felling
of large trees, are more safely performed by groups.
Village Labor Groups
The village is sometimes conceptualized by the Kekchi as a very
large extended family, an image which both supports and is reinforced by
the practice of communal village labor (fagina), The alcalde of the
village is responsible for calling together the adult males of the vil­
lage about four times a year for one or two days of fagina, when the
village center is cleaned of brushy growth (to maintain a grassy field
for common grazing as well as to keep down insects and snakes) and paths
and trails are maintained.
The fagina is also called to build and
maintain community buildings —
the school, church, schoolteacher’s
house, and cabildo (courthouse and jail).
396
Failure to participate in the fagina is traditionally punishable
by jail, fine and eventually by ejection from the village0 For this
reason the fagina is a focus for conflicts over village membership and
communitaso
Conflicts between Protestant and Catholic factions often
revolve around the Protestant's refusal to take part in fagina groups
which build or maintain the Catholic Church buildingo
When a daughter
settlement wants to assert its independence from the parent village, its
first action is to refuse to attend the parent village's faginas, a re­
fusal which begins a graded series of increasingly serious cbnflicts0
A different form of the village labor
for the constructionof private dwellingso
group is called into being
Kekchi houses are built of
selected hardwood posts and poles tied together with vines and bark
strips, thatched with cohune leaves (see Sapper 1904 for an approxima­
tion of the framework structure), and walled with split boards« The
thatching must be replaced every five or six years, and the framework
is rebuilt entirely after ten to twelve years0
The owner of the house is responsible
the major structural members of the framework
for cutting and carrying
using household or cluster
labor, but the erection of the framing, the cutting of leaves and vines
for the roof, and the thatching are all done by a large communal village
work groupo
Two whole days of labor are usually provided by each par­
ticipant , and the entire group must be fed a meal of pork caldo at the
end of the days worko
The size of the group varies with the size of the houses
the
rule is to call one man for each main roof joist (the poles onto which
the thatching is tied) plus two to hand leaves up to the thatcherso
'397
The average for six observed occasions in Aguacate was 13 men, with a
maximum of 20o People remember to whom they have given days of labor
in house construction, but they usually do not try to call in the debt
for some other kind of work, waiting instead for the. time when they will
build their own houses*
The constant inter-village movement of people
means that labor exchanges in house building never really balance out,
and the outcome is a form of generalized reciprocity which is effec­
tively similar to the fagina (at least in smaller villages)*
In larger
villages generalized reciprocity breaks down, and housebuilding groups
more closely resemble regular reciprocal labor exchange groups, despite
the low frequency of activity*
Wage Labor
Wage labor remains a rare activity within villages, though it
is increasingly frequent in the northern zone*
In Aguacate the larger
rice-growers, who sure also often shopkeepers, sometimes hire other men
to help during the most serious labor bottlenecks of the rice producing
cycle*
The men hired had no rice fields of their own, and therefore had
no need for a returned day of labor at that particular time*
The only
other wage labor I recorded in Aguacate was the hiring by one shopkeeper
of boys to carry boxes of goods from the bridge (where they were left by
a truckdriver who wisely refused to brave the last half kilometer of
muddy road to the village) to his shop, at a nominal wage*
In Aguacate the wages for hired village labor were about half
of the going rate in the ranches and farms of the rest of the District*
This fits into a general pattern of dual-pricing of goods within the
398
village, as with pigs which sell for less than half their external mar­
ket value within the village0
In Indian Creek and other northern villages, I was told about
but did not observe cases where recent migrants to a village were unable
to get men to come and help them build a house, and had to pay them a
daily wage.
There is also a tendency in these villages for young un­
married men, who have no farm of their own yet, to hire themselves out
to other farmers in the village. Their fathers usually appropriate at
least a part of their wages.
Tasks and Labor Group Types
Having defined the kinds of labor groups which operate in Kekchi
villages, the next step is to show the occasions for which different
kinds of labor are motivated.
The correlations between tasks and labor
groups are neither fortuitous nor merely the product of cultural rules
of appropriate behavior.
As was clearly documented in Chapters 5 and
6 , sequencing and timing of various agricultural operations, as well as
social and environmental considerations, all combine to place strict
constraints on the kinds of labor which can be used in each case.
Table 53 lists most of the major agricultural tasks in the
Kekchi farming year in Aguacate, and the corresponding labor groups
used to finish those tasks.
In the columns the numbers indicate the
rough proportion of the total labor needed to finish the task which is
provided by that type of labor.
The data used to compose Table 53 was collected in Aguacate
during census interviews, the six to eight month self-labor-recording
by 13 men, and a survey with the same 13 men which recorded all of the
399
Table 53=
Types of labor used in different agricultural tasks0 — The
table shows the kinds of labor groups used to accomplish the
different agricultural tasks in the Aguacate farming yearP
In the columns the following symbols are used: 1 indicates
a labor type contributes a majority (> 5C$>) of the necessary
labor per task; 2 means a minor (3C$-5C$) but significant
labor contribution; and 3 is a minor supplementary labor
source (< 30%)o The cluster and dwelling unit figures are
together because many do not live in clusters*
Task
Reciprocal Exchange Labor Groups
Permanent Circle Interpersonal
Household Cluster
or Dwelling Unit
Wet Season Corn
Finding, marking
1
Chopping, Felling
1
2
Planting
1
3
Corn House
Harvesting
2
2
1
3
1
Transportation
1
Dry Season Corn
Clearing
1
3
2
Planting
1
3
2
2
1
Weeding
Harvesting
1
Transportation
1
Rice
Finding, marking
1
Chopping, Felling
2
3
2
Planting
2
3
Weeding
3
2
/ ■
1
Harvesting
2
1
Threshing
2
1
Transportation
3
1
Minor Crops
Planting
1
Weeding
1
Harvesting
1
400
labor groups they had called or participated in during the previous
yearo
Records of a total of 330 labor groups for 26 farmers were organ­
ized in a single computer file*
For the 13 men I am confident I have
recorded most of the labor groups they called for a year0 They averaged
17=3 labor groups involving one or more men with a maximum of 31 and a
minimum of 5=
Shopkeepers called significantly fewer labor groups
(mean of 7 )» and older men tended to call groups more often than did
younger men.
Table 54 lists the sizes of labor groups called for different
purposes for the entire sample of 26 farmers.
The wet season corn fig­
ures for group sizes are far too low because of the skewing effect of
a single aberrant case.
One farmer, who has three unmarried adult sons
living in his household (a rare and extremely fortunate circumstance),
did not use any reciprocal exchange labor during the agricultural year.
Instead he recorded some 38 labor groups consisting of himself and his
sons in various combinations.
When these many small group size figures
are removed from the totals, the average clearing group size is 6,7 and
the average felling group size is 8,7,
These low numbers reflect the
common practice of starting these jobs with several small groups com­
posed of household cluster members only, and then finishing the work
with the large, permanent reciprocal exchange labor groups.
Even with these complications the trend in Table 54 is clear.
Both dry season corn and rice cultivation require smaller labor groups
than wet season corn,
A greater amount of the labor used in these
former tasks comes from the immediate household cluster, and less of it
is provided by highly organized permanent or circle exchange groups.
401
Table 5^=
Mean group size for major agricultural tasks= — A data file
of 330 labor groups called together in Aguacate during 1978=
79 was used to calculate these figures,, Note that the listed
group sizes do not include days of individual labor when the
farmer worked alone, though they do include the labor groups
composed of immediate household members„ Size figures
include the person calling the group together0
Task
Total Number of
Groups Recorded
Mean Number of
People per Group
198
, 5=01
Clearing (with machete)
48
5=1
Felling trees
38
5=9
Planting
13
13=5
Building Corn House
27
3=6
Harvesting
70
3=2
53
4o0
Clearing
39
3=7
Planting
14
5=0
53
3=7
17
3=2
Planting
19
4=8
Harvesting
17
3=1
Wet Season Corn (all groups)
Dry Season Corn (all groups)
Rice (all groups)
Clearing
,
The relative amounts and proportions of group versus domestic
labor used in each major agricultural sector is shown more clearly on
Table 55=
Here I have taken the total annual labor expenditures by 13
men and broken them down into reciprocal exchange labor and labor pro­
vided by members of the farmer's dwelling unit and household clustero
For the entire sample, 66% of annual labor needs were met with domestic
labor and
with exchange labor, but these proportions vary consider­
ably between the major agricultural systems as well as between indi­
viduals,,
In numbers of man hours, the wet season corn production cycle
uses by far the largest quantity of exchange labor0 Rice production
uses the highest proportion of household and cluster labor, except for
the minor crops, which are tended entirely with labor from the domestic
group.
The anomalously high proportion of sak'ecuaj labor provided by
exchange is explained by the fact that the heaviest labor inputs in
clearing and planting the fields conflict with the major wet season corn
harvest.
In a large household cluster, only one member will usually
make a sak*ecuaj field, using exchange labor (in a circle with other
men who want to clear fields) and thus freeing the other males in the
household cluster to finish the corn harvest.
Given the stress I have previously placed on the importance of
the reciprocal exchange work group in wet season corn production, why
is it that such a high proportion of wet season corn labor comes from
the household cluster?
The answer is that labor exchange is very im­
portant in wet season corn fields, but only during the clearing and
planting stages.
Transportation of the corn back to the household, a
Table 55°
Exchange and domestic labor in agriculture for a sample of 13 men* — For 13
Aguacate farmers, the table divides total man hours devoted to each major produc­
tive cycle into those provided by members of the dwelling unit or household
cluster (D) and that provided through labor exchange with other members of the
community (E)0 The last column lists the percentages of the total annual labor
derived from the two sources= The bottom row gives percentages of the total
labor devoted to that productive system which were obtained from the two sources,.
Household
NOo
Wet Season Corn
D
E
Dry Season Corn
D
E
Rice
E
D
Minor Crops
D
E
D
Total
E
07
234
246
270
99
0
0
45
0
61=4
3806
15
1193
785
0
0
0
0
27
0
60o8
39=2
13
617
357
0
0
0
0
18
0
64=1
35=9
12
483
206
48
91
0
0
27
0
65=3
34=7
21
956
303
144
63,
0
0
15
0
75=0
25=0
09
0
0
129
63
432
94
18
0
78 °7
21=3
18
695
530
57
72
185
216
14
0
53=8
46=2
23
776
185
129
125
383
131
9
0
74=6
25=4
16
343
319
52
82
94
36
9
0
53=3
46=7
08
954
259
0
0
360
145
0
0
76=5
23=5
17
626
4o8
129
170
145
80
94
0
60o2
39=8
19
746
422
0
0
467
5
0
69=0
31=0
11
610
287
65
82
210
125
118
0
0
64=5
35=5
65°7
34=3
54o7
45=3
70=7
29=3
100
0
660O
34=0
Total
%
4o4
task which alone requires 2096 of all the labor devoted to wet season
Corn, is done entirely with domestic labor —
labor of any kind.
usually without borrowed
This brings total percentages way down, which should
serve as a warning that we should not confuse the quantity or proportion
of labor borrowed with the importance of that labor0 A few borrowed
hours that help one to accomplish a task at the optimum time can make
a difference in yield far larger than the small number of real hours
borrowed might lead us to expect0
If we look at the far right column of Table 559 we see that
there is much variation between farmers in the proportion of their year's
labor which is borrowed through reciprocal exchange 0 This variation can­
not be explained as a product of crop mixture, for there are no sig­
nificant differences in the proportions of borrowed exchange labor
between rice farmers and non-rice farmers, or those who grew sak'ecuaj
and those who did note
Instead, these differences result from the dif­
ferent strategies of labor group formation used by men at different
stages of the domestic cycle and in different residential and domestic
situationso
Domestic Organization and Labor Groups
Maurice Bloch (1973) is one of few anthropologists to present
a coherent general explanation for an individual's choices of labor
group composition,,
Bloch's analysis had didactic purposes beyond the
realm of labor groups, being concerned with the substance of kinship re­
lationships, yet he makes a prediction which is testable in the context
of this analysiso
He claims that in choosing members for labor groups,
individuals will select non-kin more often and will select kin less
405
often than would be expected from random selection*
This is so, he
says, because a man wants to build up a wide network of reciprocal ex­
change relations so that "in the future he would have a sufficient pool
of potential cooperators to draw upon when other perhaps unexpected
tasks came up" (Block 1975s79)o Kin do not have to be called regularly,
because generalized reciprocity is the rule in kinship labor exchange*
You know that you can count on your kin when you need them because of
the 'moral* element of kinship, so you do not need constantly to ex­
change with them in order to build and maintain a relationship you may
need in the future*
I have gone to some lengths to test this model of behavior, for
Bloch himself presents no statistics supporting the existence of the
behavior he is trying so hard to explain*
Put simply, if Bloch is right
non-kin should be chosen more often than chance would dictate, and kin
will be chosen less often*
Using my corpus of 530 labor groups drawn
up by 26 individuals, I have found that this is definitely not the case
with the Kekchi*
Using a numerical index of relatedness between kin
(see Appendix D), I figured the average relatedness between all men and
the pool of potential laborers they had available (this required a large
computer file)*
I then calculated the mean relatedness between each of
the 26 men and each of the individuals they called to form labor groups*
The Kolmogorov-Smirnov test was used to compare the relatedness of the
laborers chosen with the relatedness of the entire population of poten­
tial laborers —
the result being that there is far less than a *01
probability that group members were chosen at random*
Far larger
4o6
numbers of kin are chosen than could be explained by chance —
the
opposite of the trend predicted by Bloch0
The Kekchi themselves have an explanation for their choice of
labor group members« They say that they choose the people who live
closest to them because when they need workers they visit the closest
houses first, and that they usually have all the men they need before
they get to the most distant0 They deny that they consciously select
their kin, stating the dictum that everyone in the village is 'like a
relative* to everyone else0
The facts however contradict the Kekchi explanation too0 The
same analysis described above was performed using actual physical dis~
tance between the dwellings of each pair of men, and the distance be=
tween the actual pairs of men who worked together0 The KolmogorovSmirnov statistic does show that people who live close to the caller of
a group have a higher chance of being chosen than people who live at a
distance, but that kinship is more important in selection than is dis­
tance 0 Furthermore, there is a significant correlation (r = o39) between
relatedness and distance for all men in the village, meaning just that
kin tend to
live closer together than
non-kin0
explanation
of all this is that contrary to the
The mosteconomical
Kekchi
normative state
ment, kin are chosen preferentially for work groups, and that because
kin tend to
live closer together than
tendency for people who
live close to
non-kin there is
cooperate
astatistical
more,,
This explanation is further supported by Pearson*s R statistics
calculated for each of the 26 farmers, correlating the number of times
a person was chosen by that farmer with the index of kinship
4o?
relationship for that person, and with the physical distance to that
person's houseo
By way of clarification. Table 56 is a sample matrix
generated for a single farmer who called eight work groups together
during the recording period (this is one of the smallest sample sizes
in the group of farmers analyzed, but this makes it a clearer example)o
The first column of the table gives the identification number
of each of the 12 men who were called for the eight groups0 The next
two columns are the indices of distance and relatedness between each man
called and the one man who did the callingo
Appendix Do
Scales are explained in
The next column gives the number of times, out of the eight
occasions, that that individual was called, and the last column shows
how large a percentage of the total man days borrowed (33 in this case)
were provided by that man0
This matrix allows us to correlate distance or relatedness with
frequency chosen.
In the above case the r for distance (06l) is not
statistically significant, while the correlation between relatedness
and frequency chosen was high (092) and significanto
This pattern is
repeated in the majority of cases, and even when the r of distance and
frequency chosen is significant, the r for relatedness is always higher.
The clear indication is that relatedness is more important as a cri­
terion for group selection than simple distance between houses.
In general, the Kekchi in my sample were more strict about using
kinship connections as a basis for group selection when the labor group
was small.
To arrive at this conclusion I calculated a 'percent of
possible relatedness' figure
by dividing the mean numerical related­
ness of each of the 330 work groups by the maximum possible relatedness
408
Table 560
Sample table of labor group composition statistics for one
individualo
Laborer No 0
Distance
Relatedness
Frequency
Chosen
Percent
Contribution
12
0
0
1
3=03
16
5
2
1
3=03
17
6 .
2
2
6=06
18
7
2
1
3=03
19
6
2
2
6=06
20
2
3
1
3o03
26
8
6
7
21=21
31
3
0
1
3o03
37
7
1
1
3=03
38
8
6
7
21=21
39
8
6
8
24=24
40
6
0
1
3o03
409
that group could have had if the selector had sequentially chosen the
closest kin possible0
In other words, the real group composition was
compared with a group chosen to be the closest possible kinc
Table 57
shows how this statistic declines initially as groups get larger*
Most interesting is the rapid fall-off above a group size of
four*
This is about the maximum number of adult males who live together
in a single household cluster*
Once the group size gets larger than
that which can be provided by household cluster labor * there is less
emphasis on kinship as a criterion for group selection*
behavior seems clears
The pattern of
people use close kin for common tasks which re­
quire a small work force, but kinship is less important for larger, less
frequent labor groups*
This standsBloch on his head, allowing us to
argue that the *moral'
component of close bonds of kinship is a product
of frequent labor exchange and interaction, and that labor exchange with
distant kin or strangers is activated less frequently because it is
needed less frequently*
Bloch’s ideas have a certain elegance to them,
and I think he is right to stress the element of trust and solidarity
which can inhere to kinship through constant exchange and reciprocity
along lines of alliance or descent, but I do not think that the ’mor­
ality' of kinship tiescan stand alone as
some universal force, unless
constantly strengthened by use*
Another problem with Bloch’s proposal is that is implies that
there is a single, unitary strategic principle which all men use in
choosing labor groups*
My own data from Aguacate indicate that men in
different stages of the developmental cycle and in different residential
410
Table 57o The relatedness of work groups of increasing size0
Percent of Maximum
Possible Relatedness
Group Size
No 0 of Groups
2
79
73.7
3
64
87=9
4
85
86=5
5
28
61=8
6
18
64=2
7
19
60=6
8
10
63=9
9
6
65=8
10
3
67=5
11
3
67.0
13
4
71.1
14
5
60=7
15
3
63=9
411
situations, both use different quantities of exchange labor, and obtain
that exchange labor in different wayso
I have divided the sample of 13 Aguacate farmers into three
groupso
Group A are the heads of extended household clusters, or the
heads of households having one or more working-age male children.
These
five men have in common the availability of labor which can be used
without immediate reciprocity in kind —
generalized reciprocal labor.
Group B is composed of five younger men who are the junior members of
household clusters headed by their fathers or fathers-in-law.
They can
get some labor from the head of their cluster, but they tend to receive
much less labor than they give in this relationship.
Group C are three
heads of independent households in which there are no working-age male
children.
These men do not have generalized reciprocity relationships
with anyone in the village, though they do have kin who live in other
household clusters or independent households.
If they want to borrow
labor, it must be on the basis of balanced reciprocity.
Table 58 gives
a series of measures of labor recruitment strategies for the three
groups of farmers.
Table 38. Measures of labor recruitment strategies for 13 farmers.
% of Annual
Labor Borrowed
Diversity
Index
Gini
Index
Group
N
A.
Cluster Heads
5
31.7
.288
.510
B.
Cluster Sons
5
40.4
.394
.451
C.
Independents
3
27.4
.460
.337
412
The first figure shows the mean percentage of the total annual
labor in agriculture which was borrowed through reciprocal exchange out­
side the household cluster= The heads of clusters, who have generalized
reciprocal labor available, do not borrow nearly as much as their sons,
because they do not have to„
Their sons cannot get all the labor they
need from their father or brothers, and must often enter into reciprocal
exchanges to get what they needo
These younger men may also be attempt­
ing to build up social networks in the village through reciprocal bonds
(as suggested by Bloch), but this seems to be of minor importance, espe­
cially in light of the very low percentage of labor borrowed by inde­
pendent household heads, who we would expect to want to build up
networks as much as possible=
Instead, it appears that independent
household heads are borrowing as little labor as possible within the
limits imposed by ecological facts0 Because they have to provide labor
for many different minor tasks (such as bringing in corn, cutting fire­
wood, etc,) entirely by themselves, scheduling of agricultural tasks
tends to be very tricky for these men.
They do not have the flexibility
of men who live in a household cluster, and this restricts the number of
labor groups in which they can participate.
Calling together a labor
group Obligates one to reciprocate in the future and a man heading an
independent household does not want to have too many of these obliga­
tions hanging over his head and interfering with the scheduling of many
other jobs.
The diversity index is calculated by dividing the total number
of individuals that a man has called for all of his year's labor groups,
by the total number of days of labor he borrowed from these men,
A man
413
who only used six different men in all of the groups he called during
the year, but borrowed a total of 30 man days from those men, has a Very,
low diversity index of o20=
Another man who spread out his labor-
borrowing over a large number of individuals has a high diversity index„
In the Aguacate farmer sample, there is a clear tendency for
cluster heads to have a low diversity index —
men in their annual labor procuremento
they concentrate on a few
At the other extreme are the in­
dependent household heads, who seem to spread their labor exchanges much
more widely through the village, both because they have no close kin in
their household cluster to concentrate on and because they may be trying
to establish wider networks of reciprocity*
The Gini index is a measure of inequality based on the Lorenz
curve, used originally as a method of quantifying economic inequality
within a society (see Allison 1978 and Shyrock et al* 1973)o
In this
case it has been used to measure the inequality of contributions by dif­
ferent men to the total labor borrowed by an individual during the year*
On Table 56 we can see that there is a great deal of inequality in the
percentage of total labor contributed by each person*
Some people were
called on many times while others were called only once*
If everyone
had been called the same number of times, the Gini index would be 0*0
(for Table 56 the index is *459)» increasing towards 1*0 as inequality
increases*
In terms of labor recruitment strategy, a low Gini index indi­
cates that a person is spreading his labor demands evenly over the men
he calls, playing no favorites*
The higher this figure, the more a per­
son is concentrating his demands on a few others*
As can be seen on
Table 58, the averaged Gini figures for the three groups of men substan­
tiate the inferences made aboveo
Part of this variation can clearly be
explained by reference to the pattern of men preferring to call on rela­
tives for exchange of laboro
If we figure mean relatedness for the
three groups defined above, we find that cluster heads have larger
numbers of closer kin than either junior cluster members (who do not
yet have affines or fictive kin gained by marrying off children) or
independent householders (see Table 59)°
Table 59°
Gini index and mean relatedness for 13 men's labor groups.
Group
Mean Relatedness
Gini Index
A,
Cluster Heads
1,314
=510
B,
Cluster Sons
1,100
,451
C,
Independents
00
°337
This implies clearly that those people who do not concentrate
their labor exchanges within a small group of relatives do not do so
because they have fewer relatives to exchange witho
Here once again
divisions appear within the village which are not immediately obvious to
the observer.
Those people at the core of the village kinship system,
who have many relatives, concentrate their labor exchanges within that
kinship network as well as within their household clusters.
These
people tend of course, to be the long-established 'founding family' mem­
bers discussed previously, who also dominate the political life of the
village.
Outsiders and newcomers, who do not have extensive kinship
networks and who must often live in independent households, participate
in large reciprocal labor exchange groups (circles as well as permanent),
but do not have close bonds of kinship conducive to frequent, high den­
sity labor exchanges with small groups of other men.. I have argued in
Chapters
6 , and 7 that effective sak*ecuaj and rice farming requires
careful, continuous scheduling of small, intimate labor groups of pre­
cisely the kind which independent household members do not have0 The
clear implication is that leaders of large, extended household clusters
are able to farm more effectively, managing complex simultaneous .
schedules of agricultural labor, and ably adding cash cropping to their
subsistence farming.
I do not have the quantity or depth of data needed to securely
establish the effectiveness or efficiency of different farmer's labor
over the long term.
The figures in Table 60 taken from previous chap­
ters, are offered tentatively, as sample sizes are small (for example
only two of the Group B men grew rice)„
Table 60.
Mean productivity broken down by domestic group type.
Wet Season Corn
Mean kg/man hr
Group
Dry Season Corn
Mean kg/man hr
Rice
Mean kg/man hr
A. Cluster Heads (N=5)
2,84
1-99
2,21
Bo Cluster Sons
(N=5)
2,27
l 06l
1,07
Co Independents
(N=3)
2,57
1=96
1=59
The pattern in Table 60 is clear and its consistency should
increase confidence in the veracity of the statistics.
In each case,
cluster heads receive the highest return for their labor (this
416
tabulation counts total man hours devoted to that crop, regardless of
the source of the labor), and the junior members of clusters receive the
lowest, with the independent households in between,,
There is no simple explanation for this pattern*
I believe that
the greater efficiency of the heads of household clusters is due to
their ability to schedule effectively and to divide their labor between
several different activities at once through the use of generalized
reciprocal labor provided by the junior members of the household* The
ready availability of extra hands allows them to take full advantage of
task specialization and differentiation*
The poor performance of the junior members of household clusters
is partially a result of their subservient positions within these clus­
ters*
Their labor is very much at the disposal of their fathers, and
this interferes with the pursuit of their own farming*
They are often
willing to put up with this because they receive other benefits from
the association (see next chapter)*
Another reason for lower yields per
man hour among junior members of clusters was touched on in earlier chap­
ters in explaining why there were such wide margins between the highest
and lowest productivity figures—
the element of seriousness*
The
reader will recall that in rice farming, young men who have other
sources of income and who live in household clusters with their fathers
devote little time and attention to their rice fields and consequently
get a poor yield*
Simply put, they are not serious rice farmers, par­
tially because they have alternate incomes and partially because they
have less labor to invest in rice farming*
The same explanation may
account for lower yields per man hour in corn farming, for the young
4l?
men in this instance have an alternate source of income —
their fathers*
They are under less pressure to farm efficiently because they know that
their fathers will help them out if they have shortfalls*
This security
is one of the things that junior members of clusters get in exchange for
the labor they donate above and beyond what is reciprocated*
Conversely,
independent householders are under maximum pressure to produce as much
as possible with their limited labor, because they are not involved in
any reciprocal relationships which would offer great security in case
of shortfall or failure*
To briefly summarize the discussion so far; I have demonstrated
that different crops require different amounts of exchange labor groups.
Rice, the cash crop, is farmed mostly with household or cluster labor,
as are minor vegetable and tree crops*
Next, I demonstrated that close
kin are the most preferred source of additional labor during all phases
of the agricultural year, and that the continual, generalized reciproc­
ity of labor exchange between close kin is advantageous in scheduling
and sequencing the many different agricultural operations of the pro­
ductive cycle*
After establishing this general argument, I was able to demon­
strate that it did not hold with equal strength for all the members of
the community*
Kinship varies in strength as an organizing principle,
depending on domestic group type, position within the domestic group,
and position within the community*
Finally, I developed a contrast
between the effectiveness or productivity of labor in different domestic
roles, making the point that independent household heads have some
trouble coping with the diverse labor demands of the subsistence/cash
418
production cycle, and that membership in a household cluster is a kind
of risk-reduction strategy for young men who would otherwise have to
form independent households»
So far, however, this has been a synchron­
ic discussion, treating the village subsistence system, labor group
formation, and domestic groupings as static elements, when.in fact all
are changing in concert with each other0
The cyclic changes which
occur as part of the developmental cycle of domestic groups can be
studied in a single village setting, but to understand evolutionary and
developmental changes we must draw on data from other villages=
Agricultural Change and Labor Groups
Until recently, anthropological discussions of labor groups
among agriculturalists were fit into a perspective on 'modernization1
and acculturation which seems highly outmoded todayo
As part of a
straight-line development from traditional to modern economies, it was
thought that primitive forms of reciprocal labor exchange gave way
gradually to a modern system of wage-labor relations (Erasmus 1956, 196l;
Moore 1975; Howard 1974)o The decline of reciprocal labor exchange
practices was seen as inevitably following "the commercialization of
agriculture, monetization, increased specialization and division of
labor, 'individualization,8 and the emergence of an agricultural pro­
letariat" (Quillet 1980:157)0
Recently, as the unitary, unilineal model of development has
been attacked (Frank 1969), so too this simplictic model of the decline
of reciprocal labor has been rejectedo
Netting (1965) and Abrams
(1973) among others have pointed out examples in which the monetarization of traditional economies and the commercialization of agriculture
419
have led to increase in the importance and frequency of reciprocal labor
exchange,
Guillet (1980) has argued that the persistence of reciprocal
labor in the Andes occurs because of a general lack of cash in peripheralized peasant economies, and because in local ecological situations the
use of reciprocal labor makes economic sense to peasant farmers.
In this discussion I follow this latter point of view, and will
demonstrate that agricultural changes in the direction of more cash
cropping lead to changes in the sizes and types of labor exchange groups
but not to any decrease in their importance.
The ramifications of these
changes for domestic group economies and organization will be explored
in the next chapter,
Let us consider the agricultural year in Santa Theresa as rep­
resentative of villages which do not, as yet, market a significant pro­
portion of their crops.
As in most of the southern zone villages, pigs
are the single most important source of cash, and the pigs are fed on
corn produced mostly in the wet season c'at c'al. The general schedule
of tasks is linear, as the entire year is taken up with two distinct
corn production cycles which do not conflict in any major way.
Minor
quantities of vegetable and tree crops are planted during the wet season
slack period after the corn is planted.
Hunting and gathering activi­
ties are flexibly scheduled to fill in the other slack periods.
The main c'at c'al in Santa Theresa is always cut in primary
forest, which is still abundant within an hour's walk of the village
because the size of the village has remained small for many years.
Each
farmer is therefore on very much the same schedule for the bulk of the
agricultural year, and this uniformity allows labor groups of
420
considerable size to be planned quite easily.
The high, reliable yields
offered by the primary forest fields close to the village make it un­
necessary for most men to grow a sak"ecuaj of any great size in most
years.
Men with small households to feed or few pigs often dispense
with the sak*ecuaj and further simplify their agricultural schedule.
This allows the farmer more time to hunt and fish during the
dry season, which is the best time of year for these pursuits.
In the
past this was also a time of year when other sources of income —
log­
ging, banana growing, cattle raising or working with oil exploration —
could be exploited.
This kind of agricultural cycle has few timing bottlenecks.
Felling trees (there is little or no chopping underbrush in high forest),
planting, and harvesting are the only activities in the c'at c'al which
require a labor group.
Most men in Santa Theresa have c'at c*al fields
of about the same size, so it is feasible for almost all clearing,
planting, and harvesting labor to be provided by a single permanent
group composed of the entire male farming population.
clears, plants, and harvests each field in succession.
must provide one member each day —
This group
Each household
this allows a household with an
unmarried adult son to enlarge its field by sending one laborer each day
to the permanent exchange group, while the other laborer works in the
household field,
Sak*ecuaj cultivation in Santa Theresa is usually done with
reciprocal exchange labor in the form of circle groups.
Those men who
are going to clear dry season fields group together to cope with the
421
smaller bottlenecks of clearing and planting,.
In a bad harvest year
when many men make sak'ecuaj fields, two circles may form*
Outside those tasks which are performed by permanent or circle
labor groups, most of the tasks required in the rest of the agricultural
year can be done by a single individual with no loss of efficiencyo
The
linear scheduling of tasks, many of which are elastic in their timing,
allows the individual farmer to operate as effectively as a farmer who
has a large fund of domestic group labor to call upon,,
Aguacate
The situation in Aguacate contrasts quite thoroughly with that
which I have just described.
Aguacate farmers, both because of the
difficulty of finding primary forest land close to the village and be­
cause of the variety of different strategies for making cash, pursue a
diversity of strategies and schedules during the agricultural cycle.
Some farmers use primary forest while others cultivate secondary forest
for their c 1at c'al, and the timing of clearing is different.
Permanent
labor groups are harder to form for this task, and a larger proportion
of labor must be provided by the domestic group or through interpersonal
exchanges.
Scheduling conflicts also occur because of the greater impor­
tance of the sak'ecuaj crop.
Cultivating in secondary forest leads to
higher variation in yields, and lower yields must be made up with
greater areas of sak'ecuaj, which must be cleared earlier, during the
wet season harvest.
This is why the wet season corn harvest is no
longer performed by a permanent labor group in Aguacate, and why it is
becoming increasingly difficult to form even a circle group at that
422
time of year0 At the same time that the individual farmer *s labor se­
quencing is becoming more complex and difficult, the diversity of activ­
ities within the village make it harder and harder to coordinate
exchange labor groups which would otherwise help the farmer through his
individual bottlenecks0
When the farmer's sequencing of corn production becomes more
complex, less time is available for hunting, fishing, and gathering at
prime times of year, and the same population density which makes primary
forest so hard to find also makes game less available0 More minor crops
and tree crops are planted, partly in compensation for this loss, and
partly because these crops can be scheduled more flexibly and do not
require exchange labor=
Added to these effects of local population pressure are the
parallel results of the addition of rice as a cash crop to the yearly
cycleo
More scheduling conflicts, sequencing problems, and bottlenecks
crop up in the farmer's year, and more difficulties are encountered in
recruiting circles or interpersonal exchange groups because of the di­
versity of activities going on in the village at the same time0
The response to increased diversity and simultaneity of labor
demands in production is an increase in the use of domestic group labor,
which can be more flexibly allocated,,
Household clusters, as opposed
to independent households, are able to carry on different enterprises
at the same time with their larger work force0
It is common for the
members of a household cluster to make fields in both primary forest and
secondary forest in the same year, thus taking advantage of both riskreduction and yield-maximizing strategies at the same time,,
The group
423
is better able to coordinate both subsistence cropping and the growing
Cash crop system so that there will be fewer conflicts and less overall
risk that cash crop production will cut into the subsistence base*
Be­
sides the restraints of sequencing and timing, many of the physical
operations involved in rice and sak'ecuaj farming are most efficiently
performed by small rather than large groups (see Chapters 5 and 6), and
can be effectively performed by the staff of a household cluster without
having to call on exchange labor at alio
Despite these advantages for household clusters (the social
effects of which will be discussed in the next chapter), permanent and
circle labor groups continue to operate for those tasks which require
large simultaneous labor inputs, though the household picks up a larger
part of the burden for these tasks too0 This leads to the perception
on the part of both villagers and anthropologists (see Howard 1974 and
McCaffrey 196?) that labor groups are declining in importance0
In fact
what is happening is that the types of labor groups which are smaller
and more flexible than the corporate permanent village-wide group are
burgeoning in importance, while the permanent group is being curtailed
slightlyo
This does lead to a reduction in feelings of village soli­
darity, but there is a corresponding increase in the solidity of ties
within household clusters0
In villages more involved in cash cropping than Aguacate the
trends just discussed are more exaggeratedo
Clearing smaller corn
fields in lower forest can be done quickly with smaller labor groups,
and in some villages the permanent group or large circle convenes only
to plant the corno
On the other hand, larger rice fields cut in high
424
forest, as are found in Indian Creek, do require large groups, and there
are permanent groups formed for this task (though not for rice planting,
which is done bit by bit so the rice does not all mature at once)*
The
large size of many of the northern villages requires that more than one
permanent group be formed:
three existed in San Miguel in the 1960s,
four exist today in Indian Creek*
At the same time, the increase in
diversity of lifeways in these villages —
wage labor become viable options —
as commercial activities and
makes it harder to convene circles
or even interpersonal exchange groups for other than the most inelastic
tasks (clearing and planting)*
The upswing in the frequency of plant­
ing vegetable and tree crops may take place partly because these crops
do not require exchange labor and can be handled entirely by an indi­
vidual or a domestic group*
Though I do not have enough data to make crop by crop contrasts
between labor group behavior in Indian Creek and Aguacate, it has been
possible to estimate the mean annual participation in exchange labor
groups in Indian Creek*
The average Indian Creek farmer borrowed about
320 man hours from outside his household cluster during one annual
cycle, compared with about 470 man hours per annum in Aguacate*
This
reflects the increasing importance of domestic labor obtained through
generalized exchange, as opposed to labor obtained through balanced
reciprocal exchange outside the domestic group*
Though it may seem that I have confirmed, in this chapter, the
points made by earlier development theorists about monetarization and
cash cropping leading to the breakdown of communal labor groups, I
think my argument does differ on two important points*
First, I have
425
shown that labor exchange itself does not really decline= Rather, there
is a transition from heavy emphasis on the permanent village exchange
group toward a more diversified (and perhaps sophisticated) system in
which generalized reciprocal labor exchange within household clusters
becomes increasingly important*
If village solidarity suffers here,
kin group solidarity also increases*
Second, I have demonstrated that it is not abstract ideological
forces like ’individualization' or monetization of interpersonal rela­
tions which lead to changes in labor group formation and labor exchange
practices*
Concrete, measurable changes in agricultural practices —
in the direction of increased diversity, simultaneous scheduling, and
complex timing -— lie at the root of changing labor organization*
Fur­
thermore, there is nothing inherent in the development process which
invariably causes this kind of agricultural change *
imagine (and document —
It is easy to
see Netting 1965) commercializing changes in a
subsistence economy leading to decreased diversity and therefore to
increased frequency of large reciprocal exchange groups*
Just as it is hard conceptually to separate labor group dy­
namics from the formation and structure of domestic groups, so it has
been hard to separate this chapter from the one which follows*
core of my argument has ended up in this chapter*
The
Next I will briefly
discuss the ways in which the changing organization of labor is struc­
turally expressed through domestic group formation, interpersonal
relationships and kinship behavior*
CHAPTER 11
HOUSEHOLDS AS ADAPTIVE GROUPS
A long tradition in anthropology has viewed domestic groups as
the simple products of the operation of kinship systemso
If households
are not all identical, the variation must be due to their being at dif­
ferent stages of the developmental cycle (Goody 1958), or because there
are alternative rule systems for residence within a single society
(Goodenough 1956? Korn 1975)°
From this point of view, it makes the
most sense to classify and analyze households on the basis of the kin­
ship connections between members (e0go, Keesing 1958; Bohannan 1963?
Laslett 1972; Harter and Bertrand 1977)°
Yet the classifications and
lists presented in the standard ethnographic report, which generally
show genealogical "types' of households and their relative frequency
within the study community, are almost always uninformative and trivial.
What do they tell us about the economic and social significance of do­
mestic groups and how households will respond to economic change?
Very
little (see Clark 1957; Otterbein 1975? for example)0
Another element of this kinship-based, normative approach to
domestic groups is a de-emphasis of the importance of the household as
an analytical unit.
The household is considered to be merely those
people who happen to live under a single roof, while the family formed
of related persons is held to be more important and central°
426
427
An alternative to this point of view has emerged in the work of
both economic historians and anthropologists (see Wilk and Netting 198l)0
In this view, households are adaptive groups, composed of a variety of
kin and non-kin, within which a large number of different economic, re­
productive and social activities are performed (see Barth 1967)0
What
households do is considered to be logically prior to what they look like
(a version of 'form follows function’), and while kinship relations may
provide a framework for the composition of household groups, kinship
does not determine who will live in what householdo
Viewed as activity groups, the household becomes a more flexible
and versatile analytical unite
Living under a single roof is no longer
the single defining characteristic of the household, rather, the house­
hold is seen as the unit with the most overlap of different spheres of
activity within a society, or as Hammel (1980:251) puts it, "the
smallest grouping with the maximum corporate functiono"
This kind of definition allows us to specify what it is that the
household does in each society, and at the same time to retain the
cross-cultural comparability of terms which is necessary for synthesis=
The Kekchi are a good example of a group that does not fit well into a
single-criterion approach to defining the householdo
Sometimes the sig­
nificant economic and social unit does live within a single building
(or dwelling unit), but at other times there is a sharing, cooperating
unit which lives in two dr more adjacent or nearby dwellingso
Others
who have found similar large units have called them "domestic groups"
(Ashcraft 1966), "mutual aid clusters" (Brown 1977) or "nonresidential
extended families" (Nutini 1968), but I do not see why I should not
428
call them households, even though they do not share a single roofc
The
practical, physical problem of building large structures of perishable
materials on rough terrain may be more responsible for the presence of
multiple dwellings than are any social or ecological forces0
Throughout this dissertation I have referred to these multiple
dwelling units as household clusters, and have differentiated them from
independent households which are composed entirely of a single dwelling
unit’s occupantso
The activities found within these two kinds of units,
and their social and economic significance, are different and must be
specifiedo
In line with the new viewpoint on household form and func­
tion which I have mentioned above, I will next proceed to describing
the activities which are performed within the contexts of the two main
kinds of household units before I go on to consider their genealogical
compositions*
For reasons of brevity, I will not go into very much
detail about domestic, cycles, demography, or the ideology of kinship*
Household Functions
So far I have said much about the role of the household labor
group in agricultural production*
Households have many other important
functions in Kekchi society, including rearing and socialization of
children, provision of meals on a daily basis, maintenance Of the dwel­
ling, redistribution of goods and products between members, and trans­
mission of goods, rights, and property between generations through
marriage settlements, inheritance, or contract*
429
Transmission
Inheritance is an important organizing principle and a basic
factor in residence decisions in many societies (see Wheaton 1975; Goody
1973» 1976; Collier 1975) where access to land or other basic productive
means is limited*
Given the reservation system in Belize, however,
village membership rather than inheritance or household membership is
the major avenue for access to land*
There are other limited goods which
are owned and transmitted through ties of kinship in Kekchi villages,
even on the reservations*
The best sak'ecuaj land, cacao groves,
orchards, and stands of pom trees are all individually owned-productive
resources which can be inherited by children through gifts from their
parents or at a parent's death (women can own cacao groves, but do not
use or possess the rest)* Other movable goods such as draft animals,
shotguns, radios, musical instruments, and pigs are also transmitted
along lines of kinship between generations*
There are no strict rules or norms of transmission or inheri­
tance in Kekchi society, perhaps an indication of the relatively low
value placed on inheritable goods in a mobile society*
The normative
statements I was able to elicit were consistent on only two points:
that a child who remains behind to take care of the aged parents after
all the others had left should inherit the bulk of the parents' goods,
and that several children who have stayed in their parents' household
cluster should share evenly when the parents die*
There was also a
general consensus (at least among the younger folk) that parents should
pass on some property —
household goods —
a couple of pigs, a few chickens, and basic
to a couple when they marry*
Older men felt that
430
this kind of transmission should take place in the years following mar­
riage, JLf the couple remains in the parents’ household cluster=
Clearly, the norms in themselves do not account for behavior in this
case; bestowal of property upon marriage, like the inheritance of prop­
erty at death, is a matter of negotiation and cannot be separated from
a whole series of other exchanges and transactions which take place
between individuals,,
A son may get a pig after marriage _if he is a
dutiful son who gives his father days of labor when called upon0 A
son or daughter may inherit a grove of cacao trees if they have paid
proper respect to their parents over the years and have offered them
material help0
In practice, inheritance at death does progress in a fairly
orderly pattern, the product of circumstances and rational choice more
than just normative rules=
If one of a couple dies, the surviving
spouse has rights to dispose of the property however (s)he wants0 The
survivor will bring the possessions into whatever household is willing
to offer supporto
Aged widowed persons of either sex often have a hard
time finding a child who will take them in, even with this incentiveo
If a man or woman dies while residing in a multiple household cluster,
the goods are often held in common by the heirs for some time,,
Only
later, when the household cluster breaks up (as they usually do if the
head dies), can the property be divided, and here is where quarrels
occur as part of the general ill-will which the occasion generates0
did not observe any of these inheritance quarrels, and so cannot say
anything about the way the division is finally made, but in the three
cases I was told about the eldest of the children ended up with the
I
431
lion’s shareo
One suspects that the pattern of uncooperative and
borderline-hostile relations between male siblings has its genesis in
the unbalanced labor reciprocity described in the preceding chaptero
So long as the resources transmitted through gifts or inheri­
tance are not very scarce, the prospect of gaining access to them Can­
not have a very strong influence on the residential decisions of young
coupleSo
But when sak* ecuaj land is hard to find, cacao groves of
increasing value, and rights to house-sites or even wet season c’at c'al
sites are limited, people begin to take these things into account when
they decide whether or not to live with parents, and then must, work out
a daily set of transactions with one set of parents or the other0 The
growing pattern of joint-ownership of mercantile or entrepreneurial
enterprises between fathers and sons will also have a strong effect on
kinship and residence behavior, changing the balance in kinship rela­
tionships in often subtle ways c
What we may expect to see, based on the work of Collier (1976),
Klapisch (1972), To Smith (1959) and others, is an increased tendency
for those parents who possess scarce goods to be able to keep one or
more of their children attached to their households after marriage„
Simply put, parents have a means of attracting and holding their chil­
dren by offering the use of, and holding out the prospect of eventually
inheriting, land and resourceso
There is no a priori reason why male children should be held in
their natal households after marriage more than female childreno
In
practice, however, males hold and transmit the goods of increasing value
and scarcity while women can give or transmit household goods and
432
chickens to their daughters or daughters-in-law, men can offer pigs,
land rights, and draft animals to their sons or sons-in-law0
In this
competition for the father's goods, a son who has grown up in the house­
hold has a head start over a son-in-law who comes in at age 18 or later
(average age of first marriage is l408 years for women, l? o 8 for men in
Aguacate)0
A son-in-law is therefore at a disadvantage, and may have
to give more labor in exchange for access to property than would a son0
Fathers-in-law are in fact notorious for placing heavy labor demands on
sons-in-law who want to live in their household clusterso
The only
cases I observed where a son-in-law lived in a household cluster
occurred when the father had no living or co-residing sons of his own,
or when the son-in-law's natural father had diedo
So the effect of
increasing value of land and goods is to impart a certain patrilocal
bias to residence, though there is no statable or conscious rule of
patrilocalityc
I will return to the theme of property, inheritance,
and residence towards the end of this chapter0
Reproduction
The rearing of children is cross-culturally one of the most
constant activities performed primarily within the household group0
Fosterage, child-sharing, and forms of day care are the major excep­
tions, and seem to be confined to cases in which there are serious con­
flicts between household labor schedules and the constant care which
children require (Jo Brown 1970; Gonzalez 1961; Pasternak et alo 1976)»
Membership in a multiple-family household can however serve to ease the
burden of constant child care by spreading out those duties among a
group.
433
Among the Kekchi, early marriage and a high birth rate have tra­
ditionally been balanced by very high infant mortality.,
The problem of
caring for many children of closely-spaced ages was also mitigated in
the past by placing a large part of the burden of child care on older
children within the family0 Though infant mortality remains very high
(more than 200 per 1000 in the first two years), it has decreased in
the last decade and today the population pyramid in Aguacate shows the
bottom-heaviness typical of the developing world (see Figo 13)o Mean­
while the provision of mandatory primary education in almost all vil­
lages has removed a major source of child-care assistance for households.,
These two factors have increased the child-care burden on
mothers, and have perhaps contributed to the tendency for women to spend
less time participating in agriculture= The only means Kekchi women
have to reduce this constant work load is to share child care with other
women.
Women living in independent households do not have easy oppor­
tunities for child sharing though.
The demands of cooking and house
care require that they spend much of their day in their own dwellings,
and also make them reluctant to take on the burden of harboring someone
else’s children for the day.
Under these circumstances, women in inde­
pendent households rarely exchange children with each other, the major
exception being older women who park their children with younger sisters
or older mothers, who have few children of their own.
Women who live in household clusters have greater opportunities
to share children and ease their overall labor burden than do women in
independent households.
Cooking does not become a proportionately more
time consuming task when a larger group is to be fed; it does not take
434
66-70
61-65
56-60
51-55
46-50
41-45
36-40
31-35
26-30
21-25
16-20
11-15
6-10
0-5
15%
10
d 1
5
5
AGUACATE
Figure 13.
10
1979
Population pyramid for Aguacate, 1979.
15%
9
k35
three times as long to cook for three times as many people0
Three women
living in a single household cluster can divide the cooking and child­
care duties among them in a way which results in less labor for alio
In
practice most of the women in household clusters arrange things so that
cooking duties are rotated if they are not done in a single convivial
groupo
These economies of scale account for the expressed preferences
of most women for living in a household clustero
Close bonds often
develop between women and their mothers-in-law9 though some women state
that they prefer to live close to their mothers and sisters, and would
like their husbands to move into their fathers’ household clusters =,
Women do sometimes get along badly with their mothers-in-law and want ,
to return to their mothers, and the classic Kekchi marital problem is
between a husband who wants to reside patrilocally and a wife who wants
to live uxorilocally0
It is hard to tell to what extent this conflict
causes the dissolution of a marriage, as opposed to merely serving as
a convenient focus for argument 0
Distribution
For convenience I use the term distribution to cover the trans­
mission of material items between individuals, including their final
consumption or usec Use of the term in this way makes us focus on ex­
change and on transactions within and between households, which tend to
be ignored if we just oppose production with consumption0 Members of
households own many material goods in common, and often have very dif­
ferent rules for exchange among themselves than for exchange with
members of other households»
436
Households are usually characterized by pooling, the creation of
a common fund of goods and foodstuffs from which all members can freely
draw in a form of generalized reciprocity*
usually so complex and multi-stranded —
The household economy is
including exchanges of like
and unlike goods and services over very long periods of time —
attempt to balance reciprocal exchanges would be fruitless*
that any
This is not
to say that members do not try to achieve some kind of long-term equity,
but that this equity will always be subject to negotiation, doubt, and
interpretation, as immaterial factors are weighed against those which
are visible and measurable*
Kekchi households pool,in different ways, and as with many sub­
sistence agriculturalist groups, foodstuffs are one of the most impor­
tant pooled items*
In independent households all members eat from the
same pot, to which the women and children as well as men make a con­
tribution*
All of the cash income of members, except part of that which
unmarried males derive from their rice farming and most of what the
women get from selling chickens or eggs, goes into a single fund managed
by the male head*
Pooling in a household cluster is more complex and variable,
and it is possible to scale clusters between two extremes which I label
•loose" and "tight*"
In a tight household cluster the corn produced by
each adult male dwelling unit head in his own corn fields is stored in
separate granaries, but each member has fairly free access to the
granaries of the others*
Corn is freely loaned and borrowed between
members according to need, reflecting the close cooperation in corn pro­
duction among the males and the fact that the fields are often adjacent*
*♦37
In tight clusters, pigs are often penned communally and fed with
corn provided by all the members in turn0 Profits from the sale of pigs
are divided among members, though when the younger cluster members get
to be in their mid-20s there is often a division of the cluster's herdo
There is continual sharing of food among the cluster members„ When a
domestic animal is slaughtered or a wild animal is shot, the meat is
evenly distributed to, each kitchen,.
Gathered foods and minor crop
yields are similarly shared, reflecting the fact that the whole cluster
may keep a single plot for orchard and vegetable crops at any one time,,
Sharing also takes place through the practice of communal meal prepara­
tion,,
More than half the meals in a week are taken in one kitchen by
all the cluster members, the meal having been prepared by all the women
togethero
In loose household clusters there is still a great deal of
sharing, but it tends to be more formalized and more attention is paid
to balancing the reciprocity on a shorter time-scale0 The corn fields
of the male heads are not adjacent, and a count is kept by each member
of the number of ears loaned to others from his granary, with eventual
repayment expected,,
Pigs are tended, penned, fed and sold separatelyo
Fewer meals are taken communally (the minimum counted in a one month
recall survey was five shared meals in a month)„ Garden crops and fruit
trees are not planted in a single location, and their distribution seems
to be less evenhandedo
These pooling activities have obvious advantages for all the
participating households, which are cushioned from shortages by the
common corn fund (both for human and porcine consumption)„
Risks of
starvation from illness or injury are reduced.
The dietary diversity
offered to each member household is greater than that which an inde­
pendent household could provide.
The converse of these advantages has
been, perhaps unjustly, the prevailing theme of most anthropological
discussions of extended family groups (see Pasternak et al, 1976, and
Shah 197*0, namely the possibilities for inequities in distribution to
lead to quarreling and eventually to fission of the group.
From my
limited and unsystematic survey of cases of Kekchi cluster fission, it
is rarely a difference over distribution which lies at the core of the
quarrel.
Instead, it is by far more common to find lingering dissatis­
faction with labor exchange balances preceding the dissolution of a
household cluster into component units.
The importance of pooling tends to increase along the 1develop­
ment gradient* in Toledo District,
As the subsistence activities of
cluster members increase in diversity (with more cash cropping and more
growth of minor crops), pooling allows household cluster members access
to a wider range of subsistence and manufactured goods, especially
through the sharing of use of radios, shotguns, tools, and luxury foods
which is so common in these units.
Pooling also allows access to some
entrepreneurial activities for which an independent householder rarely
has the capital.
All the shops in Aguacate are owned and operated by
household cluster members, and in Indian Creek four men in a cluster
have pooled their money to purchase an old light truck which they use
to haul pigs and produce for others.
439
Co-residence
The size and distribution of residences within villages will be
discussed more fully in the next chapter, but I wish to make some points
here about the close relationship between settlement patterns and the
economic and social relationships which exist within and among domestic
groupso
There has been a tendency, especially among archaeologists, to
regard settlements as simple products of large-scale economic or politi­
cal formations (e=,go, Plog 1974; Marcus 1973, 1976) or as merely in­
variant parts of a subsistence system (MacNeish 1964; Sanders 1956,
1965, and numerous others)«, Among the Kekchi, however, it is clear that
patterns of dwellings on the landscape are first and foremost to be
understood as the products of patterned choices in residence and as
symbolic statements of the relationships between kin (see Sutlive 1978
and Jo Brown 1977 for examples from ethnography)=
Household clusters in which there is a high frequency of re­
ciprocal exchange and interaction, those I have designated 'tight,' tend
to be physically more densely clustered, with the individual buildings
sometimes touchingo
Distance between houses increases in loose clus­
ters, and the rebuilding of houses every five years (because of decay
processes) allows rapid realignment of dwellings in response to changes
in interpersonal relationships (as described among the Mbuti by Turnbull
1962)o
The head of a multiple-household cluster in Aguacate quarreled
with his two sons over their lack of 'respect* for him in 1974, and
rebuilt his new house on top of a steep hill over 60 meters from his
sons' houseso
By 1979, with his advancing age and the burden of the
village alcalde office, he had patched up his differences with his sons
440
and so built his new house down at the bottom of the slope less than
10 meters from his eldest son’s house =
Cases like this are common.
Close clustering of houses offers a few practical advantages,
not least of which is the greater ease of minding each others’ children.
Given the permeable nature of the walls of Kekchi houses, proximity
means that each member of a household cluster knows exactly what goes
on in the other dwellings.
This may be viewed as either an advantage
or a disadvantage depending on whether or not the prevalence of sexual
jealousy and mistrust between spouses is based on reality or is just a
fear (obviously a topic on which little objective information is avail­
able).
Dense clustering of houses also makes it easier to care for and
protect livestock from predators, and considerably eases the monthly
task of clearing weeds and undergrowth around the houses to keep down
snakes and insects.
These practical matters seem fairly irrelevant compared with the
expressive elements of residence choice".
When a young married man has
lived with his father or father-in-law for a year or more after marriage,
moving out to set up an independent dwelling is an integral part of the
process of increasing autonomy in other matters.
This is the time when
a major decision must be made about future economic relationships with
the parental household, and everyone in the village keeps a close eye
on the distance between the new house and the parent's house. A dis­
tance of more than about 60 meters means that the new dwelling is an
independent one, rather than a member of a household cluster.
441
Production and Decision-making
There is little need to discuss the role of the household in
production here, considering the focus of the previous chapter=
I have
stressed many times the increased ability of a household cluster to cope
with a diversified subsistence system,,
The larger cluster labor group
can both concentrate on a single task when extra labor is needed and
separate to pursue different tasks at the same time, later pooling the
productso
There is one aspect of household cluster production, however,
which I have not yet discussed clearly at any point —
coordination*
In Sahlins" (1957, 1962) discussion of the large extended family
households on the island of Moala, he stresses that a strong leadership
role is needed to coordinate and apportion the many different produc­
tive tasks, and then redistribute the goods produced among the members0
While in Moala the leadership of the household head is complemented by
a system of ranking of junior members, the overall argument holds just
as well for the Kekchi in Toledo * A large labor group can be more effec­
tive for many tasks than a small group, as I have argued above, but most
of us are also familiar with times when *too many cooks" or "all chiefs
and no Indians' make a large group very inefficient (see Taggart 1975)o
Sahlins seems to argue that the emergence of a status hierarchy
and leader is inevitable, given the need for coordinating widely spaced
activities and planning activities in advance * There is a question in
my mind about just how inevitable this is*
Younger members, those on
the bottom of the hierarchy, must perceive that the rewards (present or
future) of their acceptance of this position will outweigh the disad­
vantages*
They must also be convinced that their security and
442
opportunities in the large group are better than they would be if they
went off and set up house on their own0
The system of roles, rights, and duties within the household
social system is not necessarily a given structure into which people
mechanically fit themselves or face the consequences of their 'deviance,*
It is usually the product of negotiation within a context of economic
rationality, in which notions like ’proper behavior' or 'respect' are
as much in dispute as they are labels to be avoided or usedo
The strength of the authority of the heads of Kekchi household
clusters is directly related to the balance of costs and benefits they
can offer to younger members, and to the amount of advantage to be
gained from membership in a household cluster as opposed to an indepen­
dent household.
This balance changes drastically when the subsistence/
cash procurement system changes from being like that of Santa Theresa to
one like that of Indian Creek,
In Santa Theresa there is no great disadvantage to living in an
independent household.
Most productive tasks in the course of the year
can be accomplished with the village labor group or by the single house­
hold head.
There are some advantages to sharing in child care and
distribution, even in Santa Theresa, but these are not particularly
strong attractions for young men, and males have little on which to base
an authority relationship with their sons after their marriage.
For
this reason, relations between men and their sons tend to be brittle and
unsatisfactory after the sons are married.
Most young men are happy to
be free of the burden of their fathers' authority, and fathers are angry
because their sons no longer pay them the respect they think they should,
443
despite the drastic economic change in their relationship0 Motherdaughter diads are not nearly as brittle, and the benefits of continued
cooperation in child care, cooking, and distribution tend to be more
directly perceived by women in southern villageso
It should not sur­
prise. Us to hear that uxorilocal residence is common, as husbands agree
to set up residence in the village, if not the residence cluster of
their wife's parents»
In Aguacate and the northern zone villages, the balance of power
between parents and children is more complex, and has very different
results.
Young men see more clearly the benefits of being able to do
more cash crop production cooperatively with their fathers, as well as
the advantages of having flexible work groups for coping with subsis­
tence production.
They also see that independent households must work
harder for the same return and have a difficult time managing a diverse
mixture of productive activities.
Other benefits —
the prospect of
setting up a business or the status of being allied with one of the
political 'big men' of the community —
membership.
also accrue to household cluster
This means that older men have something real to offer their
grown sons, something to bargain with.
This is not to say that there
is less conflict between fathers and sons in these circumstances.
Fathers still ask too much at times, and sons decide fairly often that
they can make better bargains elsewhere.
This is why we begin to find
household clusters formed on models other than fathers and sons or sonsin-law:
in some circumstances the authority relationship is too strong,
and members leave for a cluster in which decision-making is less cen­
tralized and exchanges more equitable.
444
An Ernie Model of Decision-making
in Residence
This discussion has gone about as far as possible without get­
ting down to a discussion of household types, but as a complement to
the above discussion of decision-making, I would like to offer an emic
perspective on the problem before passing to the abstract level of
typologyo
In a long series of discussions about household economics
with a young Aguacateco who was living in a cluster with his father and
brother-in-law, we touched on many of the advantages and disadvantages
of living in a cluster0
In our last conversation on the topic, I asked
him to list for me all of the reasons why a man might want to move away
from his father’s cluster, and then all the reasons why he might want
to stay0
I think the results are worth reproducing here, loosely trans­
lated and in the same order in which they were originally listed,,
The
following are reasons for moving away„
lo
If your wife’s father doesn’t have anyone to help him, maybe he
will give you more respect than your father does0
2=
You want to go live with your friends in another village (see
below), or maybe you have compadres there who you want to be witho
3°
Your wife does not get along with her mother-in-law orsister-
in-law or wants to be with her mother0 Maybe you can justmove
away
from your father but stay in the same village then0
40
If a man argues with his brothers0
5o
If a man's father is always drunk, and he gets tired of thato
60 Maybe a man wants to get his wife away from other men who
might want her0
44$
These are the reasons given for wanting to stay in the father’s
clustero
lo
You help each other with your work —
father anytime you want*
you can call on your
A friend may be busy, but your father will
help you when you need it0
20
It’s better for growing rice or beans, because he always helps you
and you split up the money with hinio
If he gives you a lot of help then
you give him half or a quarter of the rice0
5=
He might give you things from his house, like comal, coxtal
(woven bag), ka (mano and metate), sec (bowls), things to help you
start your home, and pigs*
This makes you close with him and shows he
loves you, but some men leave their father as soon as he stops giving
them thingso
40 You can share corn for food and hogs with him, and take from
each other’s field0 This is good if your own corn is not so good that
year0 You also share meat with him0
5=
Its easier to start a shop if your father has money, as long as
he doesn’t want the money back right away0
The same man told me that sometimes a man moves away from his
father just because he wants to live in another village0
This is when
it first became clear to me that processes of household formation and
fission (mobility) could not be separated entirely from regional pro­
cesses of movement in response to political, economic and environmental
forces (migration) <. Pressed further, my informant was able to give me
another list of reasons for moving to a new village —
though he
446
cautioned me that these reasons only became important if you began to
have troubles with your fathero
lo
They are:
If you want to be somewhere closer to the road so you can sell
your crops better0
2=
Maybe if you are sick you may want to be near the road so you
can go to town to see the doctor (older people sometimes do this, and
try to drag their children"s families along with them ~
this had just
happened in an adjacent village)o
3o
It is easier to buy things if you live close to the roado
40 You may want to move someplace where you can live
closer to
your plantation,,
5o
To get better hunting or fishingo
6c
Because you quarrel with someone in the village, from stealing,
fighting, hurting someone's animals or fooling around with their wife
—
things that happen if you drink too mucho
There are several important things to note in this small corpus
of explanationo
First is that the Kekchi themselves differentiate be­
tween movements motivated by the domestic economic and interpersonal
sphere, and those motivated by regional differences in access to mar­
kets, land and other resources0 They recognize that the two are linked,
but that the effects are sometimes different, as the domestic motiva­
tions can often be satisfied by a change of residence location within
a single villageo
It is also interesting that in view of this individual, it is
mostly negative factors which can make you leave your father (things go
wrong or you don't like it), while it is usually positive forces which
44?
make one stay0 This, indicates to me that while there is as yet no
strong normative system in Aguacate which codifies patrilocal residence
as normal, and independent residence as wrong, we are seeing the begin­
ning of such a system in the form of a set of beliefs about what social
configurations are the result of positive forces and decisions (house­
hold cluster) and which result from problems, discords and social
pathology (independent households)o
According to the older village
residents, the common pattern of household clustering seen today in
Aguacate has had its origins in the last 20 years, and this is therefore
the length of time it has taken for the household cluster to become in
some senses ideologically *normalo1 This has also been the length of
time in which, for economic and ecological reasons, the household clus­
ter has become an advantageous unite
The Etic Results of Decision-making
in Residence
By now the reader should have a clear idea of why the household
cluster is a unit which should increase in frequency as we move from the
isolated southern zone to the northern roadside villageSo
Table 6l pro­
vides some statistical substantiation that this tendency does indeed
existo
Between Santa Theresa and Indian Creek there is a clear trend
for fewer independent households, a greater frequency of household
clusters, and larger dwelling units«
villages is not conclusiveo
I realize that a sample of three
My impression from visiting other villages
is that wherever there is population pressure on land and/or direct
access to markets by road or river, there are more household clusters,
but this is only an impression0
448
Table 6lo
Frequencies of different household types in three study
villageSo
Santa
Theresa
Aguacate
Indian
Creek
101
159
54
21
30
10
4=81
5=30
5=40
17
10
1
81=00
33=30
10=00
5=00
5=70
Number of Independent Households
with Multiple Nuclear Families
0
2
0
Number of Household Clusters
2
8
5
2 Dwelling Household Clusters®
2
5
4
3 Dwelling Household Clusters
0
2
1
4 Dwelling Household Clusters
0
1
0
Mean Dwellings per Cluster
2=00
2=50
Mean Cluster Size (persons)
8=00
11=90
Total Population6
Number of Dwelling Units*1
Mean Dwelling Unit Size (persons)
Number Independent Households
% Independent
Households0
Mean Size of Independent Households
8=ood
2 =20
_f
^The actual total population of Indian Creek is about 3200 The listed
figure is the total for the 10 censused households=
^Dwelling units
are individual houses, whether clustered ornot0
°This figure is merely the
number of independent
by the number of dwelling units0
^This figure
is based on a
householdsdivided
single case0
®This figure is the number
of household clusters
which are composed of
2 dwelling units0 Thus Indian Creek figures are inconsistent with
the total number of dwelling units because in that village I censused
only one dwelling unit in several household clusters0
f0nly one cluster in Indian Creek was entirely censused, so I have no
meaningful figures for this columno
449
Table 6l deals specifically with the simple division between
the independent and clustered households9 and their relative sizeso
There is also quite a bit of variation in the kinship relationships be­
tween members, and this will be the topic of the next section of this
chaptero
Table 62 shows the relationship between these three key vari­
ables in the three study villageso
/
Table 62=
Cash cropping, population pressure and household form0
Measure
% Independent Households
% Farmers Growing Rice
Ha of usable soil per household
in catchment
Santa
Theresa
Aguacate
Indian
Creek
8lo0
33o3
10o0
OoO
39.3
8o ©0
218 02
110*6
70*6
Here is demonstrated a clear decrease in land availability and an in­
crease in the major cash crop which parallels the decrease in the
relative frequency of independent households0
Morphological Variation in Households
Independent households are usually staffed by a nuclear family
consisting of a married couple and their childreno
A widowed parent is
sometimes taken into the household, though never in the role of house­
hold heado
The high rate of divorce and death lead to a fair number of
children who must live either with one parent and the -parent’s new
spouse, or with other relatives0
In cases of divorce it is usual for
450
young and female children to stay with their mothers, but in some cases
a woman's new husband refuses to allow the step-children to live in the
household, and the children are sent to live with their mother's parents
if they are still living0 More distant relatives may be called upon to
care for a child if no grandparents are living,.
In Indian Creek I found
one case where a child was living with his godparents, after being
thrown out of the house by his step-father=
Two types of special circumstance lead to more than one nuclear
family group living in a single dwelling, both of which are temporary
situations.
The first is the practice of bride service,
In bride ser­
vice a girl's father requires a young man who wants to marry her to
spend a year or more living in his house and working for him, in ex­
change for the right to marry„ This custom is no longer practiced in
any of the northern villages, and is very rare even in the southern
villages, though it was reputedly much more common in all villages in
the past.
This decline has probably come about because men can now more
easily persuade their sons to stay and form household clusters, so there
is no longer as great a need to force prospective sons-in-law to stay
and work for a year or twoo
Today, post-marital residence of one or two years in the house
of the groom's father is the prevailing pattern0 The couple stays until
they have their first child, when the groom's father is then willing to
help them set up their own household and help build them a house of
their own.
One young married man in Aguacate, who was living in his
father's house when I first moved into the village, had a first child
after 18 months of patrilocal residence, but every time the subject of
451
building a house came up his father put him offo
Finally» when the
child was six months old and the young man’s wife was voicing frequent
complaints about not having a house and kitchen of her own, the husband
took a week-long trip to San Pedro Columbia (a northern zone village)
and announced on his return that his compadre there was going to help
him build a house and move there o
A week later his father began to
build him a house in Aguacate,
Multiple nuclear families also live together in one house if
they are recent immigrants to a village and have not yet had time to
build more than a single dwellingo
In a newly settled village it is
common to find what would normally be an entire household cluster living
uncomfortably in a single house (recall the huge houses mentioned by
early travelers through Choi and Lacandon country as mentioned in Chap­
ter 2)0
In the new village of Xanilha, for example, I found in my
census that 19 people, comprising four nuclear units, were living in a
single house a year after the village was founded0 Much more work must
be devoted to starting fields in the first few years in a location, so
less time is available for building houseso
The developmental cycle of independent households is quite
simple, starting with a couple and young children, undergoing temporary
expansions when sons marry and bring in their wives for a year or two,
and then becoming denuded as the children leaveo
If one of the couple
dies in the later stages, the remaining member must either seek to join
another household or try to find another person in a similar situation
to remarryo
Remarriage seems the more common alternative —
one .
452
Aguacate woman who was widowed in her late 40s went all the way to
Otoxha to find a recently widowed man in his 50s who would marry her0
When I speak of marriage I am not referring to legal or Catholic
practice, but to traditional marriage forms which are more flexible0
Traditional betrothal remains the most common form in most villages,
especially in the south of the district0 Church and legal weddings are
considered luxuries, and most couples live together for some time and
have children before they seek the priest to make it legalo
The Morphology of Household Clusters
So far in this discussion I have mentioned two types of house­
hold cluster, those formed patrilocally by the addition of a married
son's dwelling to that of his parents, and those formed uxorilocally
through the addition of a married daughter's dwelling unite
other kinds which occur less frequently.
There are
Including all the variations
I observed in visits to nine villages, we can label the following;
lo
Patri-uxorilocal;
A married couple, their married son's dwel­
ling and their married daughter's dwellingo
2o
Fraternal; Two brothers and their wives in adjacent dwelling
units, sometimes two half-brothers0
3o
Sororal;
Two sisters and their husbands in adjacent dwellings,
4,
Extended Sororal;
A sororal cluster which also contains the
dwelling of one husband's mother and step-father (1 case observed),
5,
Unrelated or Compadrazgo; Two or more dwellings of people
connected by friendship, very distant kinship ties, or fictive kinship.
This list by no means exhausts the possibilities, many of which
may be realized in villages I did not visit.
After all, the composition
>53
of these groups is a matter of pragmatics and circumstance rather than
some uniform conception of social norms=
The domestic cycle of household clusters is considerably more
complex than that of independent households, though the two are closely
interrelated*
Membership in an independent household is a common stage
in the life cycle of most domestic units, and high rates of personal
mobility make it common for a single person to be involved in different
types of household clusters at different stages of his life*
One
Aguacate man of 25 years age had already lived in an uxorilocal cluster,
an independent household of his own, an unrelated cluster, and when I
met him was living in a patri-uxorilocal cluster but was planning on
moving out soon to form a cluster with his mother's brother*
This is admittedly an extreme case, but it should cast doubt on
any attempt to define a single, normative developmental cycle for all
clusters*
Flexibility of composition and membership is perhaps a more
constant characteristic of cluster cycles than is any particular se­
quence of structural development*
Given the high mobility of the popu­
lation and the speed with which economic changes are taking place in the
district, developmental cycles must also be somewhat hypothetical*
Given all these misgivings, I still feel it worthwhile to de­
scribe a normative cycle of patrilocal household cluster formation and
development, because at least half the household clusters in Aguacate
may be ordered conveniently into stages by such a scheme*
The cycle
begins with an independent household containing a nuclear family*
In­
ternal expansion begins when a son marries and brings his spouse into
the house with him, a stage followed by external expansion, when the
4^4
same son builds his house nearby to form a household cluster0 External
expansion is regulated by the sex ratio of the household-head's chil­
dren and their birth spacingo
The head's dwelling unit will expand and
contract as more children are born, daughters leave, sons bring in wives
and sons leave to set up their own dwelling units0 The dwelling units
of the sons will expand as children are born0
Early marriage means that women have long reproductive lives,
and it is not unusual for 20 years or more to separate a woman's oldest
from her youngest childo
This could lead to multi-generational house­
hold clusters of considerable complexity, if extension of the kind
described above was continued indefinitely<, A stage of fission, however,
interferes with this process, and the generally short life span is also
a limitation0
When the sons in a household cluster have sons who are old
enough to work in the fields regularly, they are no longer dependent on
their father or brothers for labor exchange»
Instead they can exploit
their1 sons' labor without the burden of reciprocity which characterizes
exchanges with other cluster memberso
For a variety of other reasons,
the relationships between brothers become increasingly strained as the
phase of expansion continues, but usually the eldest brother leaves
first to start his own independent household0 The largest patrilocal
cluster I recorded in any village had three married sons, and seemed to
retain its stability because it was extremely 'loose' •—
gation and shared ownership were minimal —
ties of obli­
and because the head was
exceptionally rich in cacao groves, political power, cash, and posses­
sions =
The clear indication is that property and the prospect of its
455
inheritance are effective glues for binding clusters together past the
point where elder sons have their own household labor to draw upon0
In
the absence of significant property, clusters do not endure nearly as
longo
When the eldest son departs (often following a quarrel with his
father), a phase of decline begins0
If the household head dies before
this decline has gone very far, a fraternal cluster is left, though
these clusters do not often last more than a few yearso
The end result
of the decline phase may be a single household, as the parents are left
behind by all of their sons, but I did not observe any such households,
as the household head had died by the time his youngest son had workingage children in every case I censusedo
The phase of decline is thereby
terminated before the cycle is completed=
Given that a proportion of all household clusters are involved
in this patrilocal cycle, what then of the other households organized
on other principles?
Table 63 gives some clues to the reasons for their
formation by breaking down cluster types within the three study vil­
lages =
It is clear that while the majority of Aguacate clusters can
be fit into the patrilocal cycle (and the presence of uxorilocal clus­
tering in Santa Theresa is explained above), the clusters found in
Indian Creek are much more varied in their composition0
Part of the explanation for this pattern is simply that Indian
Creek is a new village composed of distantly related or unrelated house­
holds drawn from all over the district, which joined with whomever they
could to form a cluster0
howevero
A more fundamental explanation is also likely,
Patrilocal clusters tend to be quite tight, involving
Table 63° Household cluster types in three study villages,,
Cluster Type
Santa
Theresa
Aguacate
Indian
Creek
Patrilocal
1
7
1
Uxorilocal
1
0
0
Patri-uxorilocal
O
Fraternal and unrelated
0
i
l
0
3
457
considerable reciprocity in distribution as well as production and reproduction0 Clusters organized by other means —
especially those
formed around distant kin, non-kin or brothers —
tend to be quite loose,
and involve little common property-holding and less distribution of
crops and money0
In the villages close to the road, where cash crops
make up a larger part of the years production, a loose household clus­
ter is more attractive to many people than a tight cluster= The balance
of labor reciprocity is more even, and there is less pooling in distri­
bution, allowing the farmer to keep his cash and accumulate it rather
than share it with other cluster members= The advantages of sharing in
child care, a larger labor group, and an ensured fund of labor when
needed are still there, but the loose cluster allows more autonomy0
Because Indian Creek is a new, expanding settlement, there is
yet little real differential in access to land, and there are few estab­
lished groves of economic trees, so transmission has not yet become a
major organizing principle for household clusters0 Given time, and the
acquisition of rights and property which are worth enough, there should
be an increasing tendency for patrilocal, tight clusters to become more
common, and for loose clusters organized on other principles to decline
in frequencyo
This is clearly what has happened in the Kekchi/Mopan
village of Pueblo Viejo, where lineal groups have progressively in­
creased in importance over the years (Howard 1977b;4?-75)o
Clusters and Mobility
At several points in the above discussion I have pointed out
that the developmental cycles of domestic groups cannot be understood
in isolation from regional patterns of mobility and migration0
Just as
458
there are regularities in the growth and development of domestic groups,
patterns exist in the timing of movements between villages in the
course of individual life cycles.
I collected residence histories for
every person in the villages of Aguacate and Santa Theresa, and asked
for explanations for each move.
in most cases the answers were not
informative ("I wanted to,” "I didn't like it there”), but viewed in
the aggregate it became clear that many moves took place at particular
stages of the life cycle.
The movements of children are a reflection of those of the
parents.
The first point in the life cycle where mobility becomes a
matter of choice is at marriage.
While there is no rule of exogamy in
Kekchi villages, the small size and high interrelatedness of most
settlements requires that a person seek a mate outside the village most
of the time, given an incest prohibition extended to all who share a
grandparent with ego.
For most then, at marriage a residence decision
must be made between living in the husband's or wife's native village.
But opportunities are not equal in all villages.
from Aguacate and his wife is from Santa Theresa.
Suppose the man is
In Santa Theresa
membership in a household cluster is not particularly important or vital
to agriculture (see above), and the couple could easily set up as an in­
dependent household, while in Aguacate the couple would have strong
incentive for living in the groom's household cluster.
The choice is
not just between forms of residence, but between economic contexts for
those residential arrangements.
Most men in Aguacate would be reluctant
to give up the security and access to resources they enjoy in order to
set up independent households in their wives' villages.
In a marriage
459
between two southern zone villages, on the other hand, the couple would
not have regional economic decisions to make at the same time, and
residence in the wife's village might be a much more viable alternative„
In practice, none of these residence decisions are irrevocable,
and it is because of the complexity of balances in each case that there
are no regional or even community-specific patterns of residence choice
that are statistically evident in my census data, over a long period of
time0
Only in the last ten years in Aguacate has there been a strong
tendency for women to leave the village at marriage and for men to stay0
In Santa Theresa the balance ,is even, and Indian Greek has not been in
existence long enough for my data to be conclusive0
Another 'mobility point' in the domestic cycle is when bride
service ends, at the birth of a couple's first child0 Here the couple
must choose between joining the husband's father's household cluster,
setting up an independent household in the father's village, or joining
another household cluster = Again, the choice is both between different
domestic situations and between different villages with different oppor­
tunities for access to land and roadsc Yet in both this stage and in
the preceding stage of marriage, the couple's resources are few and
their needs are great=
They therefore tend to place the interpersonal
above the regional, opting to live in the cluster or village where they
have the most kin and the most secure network of aid and support0 Most
of the couple's kin ties are limited to their parental networks, and
their choice is therefore between one set of parents or the othero
When a nuclear family has produced adult children who have eco­
nomic value as producers, the range of residence choices changes
460
drastically because the group is no longer solely dependent on other
households for labor and aid0 By this point in the domestic cycle the
household has accumulated property and resources of its own, and has a
wider choice= This is why families which have adult children are by far
the most mobile, and form the most common element in new villages0 By
this time they have established ties of compadrazgo in other villages,
and can actively try to extend networks of affinal kin to other villages
by marrying out.their children.
The ideal move for a household which
wants to be closer to the road or further in the forest, is to marry a
son into the target village and then follow and set up a patrilocal
household cluster with that son.
A daughter may also be used in this
way if the son-in-law can be persuaded to join a household cluster.
When multiple children have been married, the household again
becomes more stable in residence.
Here political power and community
responsibility become important considerations.
The cultural ideal is
to become so enmeshed in kinship ties within the village that one
acquires the status of nimla cuink, 'big person,' or tixil cuink, 'old
one.' One is surrounded by a social net, a fabric of relationships, so
tight and interconnected as to provide both security and power, estab­
lishing the respect of the community so the community will make returns
is old age.
There is little reason to move to a new locale once one
has begun this process.
As mentioned previously, there are households which do not con­
form to this pattern of sedentism which form a 'mobile fraction' of the
population.
Divorce, and early deaths which lead to mixtures of step­
children or foster children seem to be the major source of this pool of
unattached and mobile households.
Three of the independent households
in Aguacate were headed by men who had no close male kin to whom they
could affiliate to form a household cluster, and all three had moved to
Aguacate because they had affinal kin there.
They were not taken into
their wives' sisters' household clusters, but they did reside nearby
and cooperate closely with their affinal male kin in labor exchanges.
For these men the range of domestic choice of residence is limited and
curtailed, and they are therefore more free to respond to regional
factors in their residence choice.
Many of the households which gravi­
tated to the new roadside villages did not have any strong kinship ties
in the village from which they came, or members had quarreled with the
kin they did have,
A good part of the problems encountered by these
households were due to simple accidents—
premature deaths of parents,
few living affines or consanguines, or skewed sex-ratios among kindred.
Ties of fictive kinship are inadequate substitutes (see Howard 1977b;
76-81)0
Where economy and polity is built on the fabric of kinship,
those without kin find in the economic frontier of the roadside village
a cloth as yet unwoven.
Summary
This chapter has not been directly concerned with kinship as it
has been interpreted by many anthropologists, Rather than beginning
with a basic universal social unit to which other kin are attached by
universally-defined social relationships consisting of 'rights and
duties' (Goodenough 1970:38), I have started by discussing economic
facts, people's goals and activities, and have then proceeded to
describe some of the social groups which have been formed to achieve
those ends and means« My discussion has however been incomplete, in
that I have not taken the further step of explicitly stating the ideol­
ogy of kinship —
the rights and duties, the terminology, or the rela­
tionship 'principles' —
and showing how they are derived from and
affected by the practice of kinship in economic life*
Part of the
problem is that the Kekchi are a society with a cognatic kinship system«
Like the New Guinea highlanders, they do not take kindly to having
African models imposed on their social structure (Barnes 1962), nor are
they candidates for receiving the model of civil-religious hierarchy
which has substituted for kinship theory in discussions of highland Maya
groups (Vogt 1969, 1961; Cancian 1965)0
I must also plead a simple lack
of space and time, noting that the economic underpinnings of domestic
behavior are quite complex enough to occupy most of this work, and that
I have adequately demonstrated in this chapter that there is a relation­
ship between economic factors and domestic organization,,
How changes in
households will affect kinship categories, marriage customs and norma­
tive expectations between kin have only been touched upon here, and must
await further study0
One element of traditional kinship study deserves a brief com­
ment here; the question of lineality0 In this work I have described
patrilocal household clusters without considering their possible role
in the formation of true patrilineageso
There are certainly many Maya
groups in which pa triline age-like groups are found (see Wagley 194-1;
Collier 1975; Bunzel 1952), and there has been a good deal of specula­
tion about the role and importance of lineage organization in the social
structure of the ancient Maya (Haviland 1968; Colby 1976; Edmonson 1979),
Collier (1975) has recently suggested, based on a study of several Maya
groups, that the strength and degree of generational continuity among
patrilineages can be directly tied to land availability.
He argues that
when land becomes increasingly scarce, membership in a patrilineage be­
comes an important means of getting access to land.
Multi-generational
groups of patrilineally-related males cluster near the family land, and
true lineages emerge.
My work with the Kekchi does not disprove Collier’s hypothesis,
and I have in fact pointed out several ways in which transmission of
property between generations seems to strengthen the tendency towards
patrilocal residence clustering.
But this work has also shown that
production, as well as transmission of property, can be very important
in causing the same kind of patrilocal residence groups to form, even
in situations like that in AgUacate where land is definitely not a
scarce good the way it is in the highland areas Collier studied.
The
political hegemony of the ’old settlers' which I have described could
well, with time, lead to a form of patrilineal control of both land and
local politics.
This seems to have happened already in the Mopan/Kekchi
village studied by Howard (1977b:55-57), where there are recognizable
patrilocal neighborhoods of the village composed of many patrilineallyrelated household clusters and independent households.
Here, again,
economic cooperation to cope with new cash crops and entrepreneurial
opportunities seem to be prior to land pressure as a cause of patrilocal
clustering.
464
This is not however meant as an argument in favor of labor group
formation and cooperation as an invariant element in the formation of
lineal kin groups,.
In the Kekchi case there is a very specific set of
environmental, regional, economic, and historical circumstances which
have made household clusters of various morphological types an effective
adaptation*
But it is certainly possible for other circumstances to
arise in which the optimal productive group is quite small, and the
balance of decision-making leads to the formation of very small inde­
pendent household groups*
The case I want to make is both more general
and more specific than an equation of cash crop agriculture with large
households*
The specific point is that there are aspects of all pro­
ductive systems which can favor enlarged or minimized productive groups;
these aspects are quite clearly shown to be the sequencing and timing of
tasks, the relative advantages to be gained by specialization and dif­
ferentiation, and the elasticity of labor demands in production*
This
principle seems to apply to cottage craft producers (Medick 1976; Loucky
1979) and merchants (Hunt 1965? Hughes 1975) as well as farmers*
A more general point is that production is only one activity to
which households adapt themselves*.
In the Kekchi case, transmission,
reproduction and distribution all seem to favor a large group as most
effective, compounding and increasing the effects of labor group or­
ganization on the formation of domestic groups*
But this is not
necessarily the case in other times and settings ■— highly fragmented
land holdings, for instance, can favor very restricted, small domestic
groups so the group of possible inheritors is narrowed*
In every indi­
vidual household a different accommodation must be reached, a balance
465
between the functional requirements of all of the many different activi­
ties which the household performs and the membership available for
performing them0 In some cases the household proves incapable of
achieving everything at once —
as in hunting and gathering bands where
production and distribution fall almost completely outside the house­
hold’s sphere of activities,.
In each society, the prevailing household form must, therefore,
represent a variety of attempted solutions to common economic and social
problemso
The solutions will always be imperfect, and this lends a
dynamism and tension to social forms which ensure that they will never
become entirely uniform and will always be capable of change and adap­
tation to new circumstanceso
household activities —
The complexity of interactions between
the incredible intricacy of the exchanges and
interactions which take place within the domestic group — seems daunting
and can lead to a certain hopelessness about the prospect of ever under­
standing historical patterns or evolutionary trendso
The antidote
offered in this case is the simplicity and order offered by my division
of household activities into five basic spheres, and the prospect, held
out and supported in this and the last chapters, that in each sphere
there are regular aspects of productive systems which lead to general­
izations about how and why households will adapt to eacho
CHAPTER 12
A SUBSTANTIVE SUMMARY
My argument has followed a fairly direct line to this point,
with detours only to present basic geographical and ecological data and
to provide fairly complete descriptions of the components of the Kekchi
subsistence systemo
Much of this information on production has an in­
trinsic merit as documentation of a unique and poorly known agro­
ecosystem, and it adds to a small but growing body of information on the
energetics and efficiency of production in swidden agriculture=
The details of Kekchi production are also directly relevant to
my arguments about changing labor groups and the transformation of
householdso
Previous functional studies of domestic groups have tended
to postulate the adaptive advantages of different types of household,
without ever providing supporting evidence0 The arguments seem to make
sense, but they are not bolstered by fact, and this is why our under­
standing of domestic adaptation remains vague and difficult to apply to
new situationso
I have, on the other hand, demonstrated how the many
small details of production, transmission, reproduction, and distribu­
tion in the changing Kekchi economy have combined in subtle and even
contradictory ways to affect specific aspects of Kekchi household
organization*
The remaining task is to put this discussion of households and
ecology into a larger topical and theoretical framework*
466
While the
467
body of this dissertation has drawn on many theoretical sources, its
general subject matter and mode of presentation have followed a model
familiar in cultural ecology0 Especially in the last few chapters, I
have, following Julian Steward, tried to show that "the realm of social
action involved in material production, i 0e0, work, underlies the entire,
o o o social system" (Murphy 1970s157, discussing Steward's work)„
Towards this end I have described the Toledo environment, the Kekchi
productive system, the organization of labor in that system, and some
of the social consequences of the organization of labor, very much the
content of what Steward (1955s57) called the 'culture coreo'
I believe this causal paradigm is correct but incomplete0 One
problem, the tendency towards determinism inherent in Steward's (1949)
concept of causality is remedied by an emphasis on human decision-making
and choice, and the complementary idea that people may arrive at differ­
ent solutions to the same set of economic problemso
A more fundamental
difficulty with Steward's cultural-ecological paradigm is that it tends
to view cultures as isolated in time and place= Real cultures do not
exist independently of other cultures, other economies, or their own
history, and their adaptation to the local environment must be placed
in these contexts to be understood0 While I have at many points
attempted to put Kekchi life in regional and historical context, this
final chapter will offer a synthesis of the interaction between local
and regional, present and past, in lieu of the usual recapitulation of
what has been written0
External and Historical Forces
Cultural ecological studies have often been bedeviled by the
interference of external political and economic systems with what might
otherwise be a straight forward pattern of local adaptation,.
Even
archaeologists are caught by this problem, and end up searching for
•pristine9 state formation, unpolluted by the influence of other com­
peting political entities (prompted by Fried 196?, and Service 1962,
1975)o
(
Collier9s (1975) study of the Tzotzil Maya provides a good ex­
ample of how causality can be lost when the horizons of a local adap­
tation are widened*
He began with a study of how population pressure
on land resources leads to environmental degradation and a particular
set of social adaptations, but when it came to explaining the population
pressure, he had to take recourse in quite abstract notions of ethnicity,
political identity and economic refuge regions*
In the end he was un­
happy with materialist/ecological explanation, and spoke wistfully of
systems theory as a solution (Collier 1975sxii-xiv)*
Ironically, he
was later criticized for ignoring the role of colonialism and peripheral
capitalism in causing the ethnic, political, and ecological circum­
stances he discussed (Wasserstrom 1978)*
How much of the modern Kekchi cultural and agricultural adaptation is a response to economic and political pressures from external
entities?
The reservation system is perhaps the most uniform and per­
vasive influence, but is one which has allowed Kekchi life to continue
with little outside interference, by keeping land speculators and nonIndian farmers out of direct competition for Indian lands*
With the
reserve system, however, came a legal status for village alcaldes which
served to increase their power to impose fines, regulate local land use,
and distribute whatever largess the government had to offer in the form
of medicines, seeds or loans0 The village alcalde became more and more
caught in the dual role of the representative of his village to the
government, and representative of the government to his village (when
\
taxes or regulations were imposed)o
The alcalde office became both more
powerful and more difficult for the holder, who now had sole responsi­
bility for calling the fagina, settling land and pig disputes, and
collecting taxes (see Howard 1977b and McCaffrey 1967)0
For most Kekchi the strengthening of a traditional office in
this way had both positive and negative effects0 Many objected to the
taxation and regulation, and did not like being called to do fagina»
On the other hand, the alcalde's role in settling disputes could be
important in a society which has few other means of adjudication (and
where witchcraft is universally feared)« The alcalde can also be seen
as a spokesman in villagers' dealings with a largely unknown and feared
central governmento
Education has long been another contribution of the external
world to that of the Toledo Kekchi, and has been quite evenly distrib­
uted through the district„ First run entirely by the Catholic Church
and now jointly funded by church and government, village schools have
also been perceived equivocally by the Kekchi as sources of both prob­
lems and benefits*
The loss of childrens' labor is a constant source
of complaint, and older Kekchi speak positively of small and new vil­
lages because there is no school in such places*
Balancing the loss
4yo
of labor, most Kekchi recognize today that a speaking knowledge of
English is an advantage in dealing with outsiders and officials,.
They
also tend to feel that it is better that their children know something
of the rest of the world so they won't be 'ashamed' of their ignorance
when they interact with non-Indians, an attitude which is often tinged
with the fear that their children will learn to look on them, their
parents, with contempt=
Religion has increasingly become a part of Kekchi life which is
influenced by non-Kekchi0 The church was traditionally a focus for
syncretic-Catholic observances of rituals that emphasize community
solidarity and the relationship between people and their environment
conceptualized as under the power of the tzultacaj (see Cabarrus 1974)0
The construction and maintenance of the church was in the hands of a
hierarchy of village officers —
of these offices
the Mayordomos —
and the performance
conferred status within the village<,
Today the nativistic Catholic Church has been weakened all over
the district by an influx of Protestant evangelical sects, and by a
Catholic reform movement which has grown in reaction to them<>
There are
now 14 Evangelical, 3 Pentecostal, 2 Mennonite, and 1 Nazarene churches
or missions in the Kekchi villages, with three different sects repre­
sented in some villages (see Appendix E for a history of the Evangelical
Church)o
The Catholic priests based in San Antonio continue a monthly
visitation-round to all village churches and have succeeded in starting
active reform movements in three or four villages.
All the new religious movements, including the Catholic, offer
benefits to which Kekchi are attracted.
Younger men who would
4?1
traditionally have to pass through years of gradual rise in the village
hierarchy to achieve prominence and power in the community can move
more rapidly by becoming sacrisants and lay preachers=
Sect members are
taught to read and write Kekchi, are given money and other kinds of aid
in emergencies, and are given medical help at times= New social groups,
formed for prayer meetings, education, or hymn singing, provide a focus
for new feelings of community within villages which have often become
too large for the traditional labor groups to integrate0
All is not truth and light, howevero
Religious tolerance is not
an indigenous virtue of the Kekchi, nor are they encouraged to develop
it by the exhortations of their ministers,.
Religious pluralism univer­
sally focuses existing village factionalism, and religious differences
have become a new idiom for expressing various conflicts,,
A common
theme of complaint among members of all sects is that the unity of
village life has suffered,,
As one man put it, "We all used to pull
together, but now it's each man against his neighboro"
This kind of
friction has led to a lot of movement between villages, as people leave
villages where they are in a religious minority and feel persecuted,,
Aguacate, a Catholic village, ostracized its one evangelical household
head, excluding him from village work groups= He had to get co­
religionists from an adjacent village to come help him clear and plant
his fieldso
While these political, educational, and religious innovations
have been distributed quite evenly over the Kekchi area in Belize, eco­
nomic influences from outside the district have had a very uneven effecto
I have already discussed the importance of roads in offering access to
markets for crops, and the effect that proximity to the road has on
selection of cash crops0
I have also briefly discussed the differences
within the district in access to shops and retail outlets where supplies
and foods can be purchased.
An important advantage of living in a
village near the road is the proximity of shops, allowing the household
to purchase commodities in small quantities as needed.
Those who live
far from shops must accumulate a fair amount of cash, then take a long
trip to buy in bulk.
In their attitudes about access to markets and shops, however,
the Kekchi take more than economic factors into account.
Older men who
depend on the labor of their grown sons often voice a dislike for the
roadside villages, because men have a harder time holding on to their
sons under conditions where wage labor is frequently available.
The
roadside villages are also frequently involved in marketing a form of
agricultural produce which can give both high yields and high risks:
marijuana (‘thing* in Belizean Creole),
Production is not yet large
(though its volume is hard to gauge), but violence and crop theft seem
common, and many Kekchi lament the influence of the drug trade on those
young men who participate.
Two drug-related murders occurred in Indian
villages during 1978-79»
Having a shop in a village is also a mixed blessing.
Host
village shops sell a great deal of rum, and small knots of loud or
morose drunks often congregate around them.
Quarrels, fights and even
assaults occur, and many Kekchi have come to view shops as disruptive
to the life of the community.
Community members are also usually
473
concerned that the shopkeepers may be enriching themselves at the ex­
pense of their neighbors (Howard 1977b)o
To the Kekchi the major drawbacks of life in a northern zone
roadside village can be traced directly to increased village size and
population densities in these areas„ Land is harder to find and is
shorter-fallowed, tenure is insecure if the village has no reservation,
village factionalism tends to be more serious, quarrels and fights over
animals and crop damage more common, and the unknown forces of govern­
ment are everywhere0
I will return to these various positive and nega­
tive attributes of external influences on Kekchi life below*
The Presence of the Past
Here I will attempt to define the parts of modern Kekchi life
which are a product of historical events and condition present responses
to change.
The history of the Kekchi departure from the highlands has
been recounted in Chapters 2 and 3, but it is worth recapitulating the
social and cultural effects of the diaspora here0
Much has been written on the social effects of the Spanish con­
quest and reduqcion policies on the highland Maya groups which stayed
in place.
It appears that local ethnic group boundaries became more
clearly defined, and village life coalesced around closed corporate
communities centered upon and organized by elaborate civil-religious
hierarchies.
More recent work on the post-conquest period has also
found evidence for a rapid increase in personal mobility,
Wasserstrom
(1978) for example, finds that the economic burden placed on indigenous
highland communities quickly gave rise to seasonal labor-migration.
groups of traveling traders and peddlers, and escape migration to the
lowlandso
Watson (1981) has documented the spatial dispersion of popu­
lation into small settlements where they could not be easily taxed or
regulatedo
Farriss (1978;202) defined three kinds of mobility which
occurred in Yucatan following the conquest;
Flight is the escape of Indians from colonial rule across the
frontier to unpacified territory; drift the movement to other
towns within the Spanish colonial system; and dispersal, the
settlement of nearby satellite communities from nucleated or
congregated "parent" townso None of these were dramatic exam­
ples of mass movements except in the aggregate0 = o 0 Most
commonly, the movements were a scarcely perceptible but steady
trickle of nuclear or extended families (emphasis mine)0
The same circumstances provoked the same kinds of response among
the Kekchi, who left the colonial towns in droves, becoming temporary
labor-migrants, peddlers and permanent settlers of new communities on
the margins of the highlands and beyond0
If we accept that migration
and mobility were a direct consequence of the political and economic
patterns imposed in the post-conquest era, what were the other social
ramifications of this mobility on Kekchi social and cultural patterns?
The fluidity of community social organization in Kekchi villages
can be seen as a consequence of high mobility among community members0
Those few institutions found are characterized by a constantly changing
membership, as in the civil and religious hierarchies in which members
serve in offices for one year and are then exempt for one or two years
thereaftero
Lineage or neighborhood (barrio) organizations like those
found in stable highland Maya communities never have the chance to form0
I
Instead, ties of affinity and consanguinity or of fictive kinship
475
within a contemporary group of kindred are the most important forms of
community.integrations
The tacit organization of most Kekchi communities around the
original settlers of a village is another consequence of mobility and
continual group fissioning*
First settlers are able to control politi­
cal power positions and prime land, and can also decide who to allow
into the new community0 The power of early pioneers is balanced, how­
ever, by residential mobility, which allows people to leave a village
if someone or some group is imposing too much of a monopoly on power or
resources*
The fiercely egalitarian ethic of Kekchi culture has devel­
oped in this way, as a balance to the growth of petty tyrants in small
isolated settlements*
Because of the fluidity of Kekchi village and social organiza­
tion, the household has become the single most important institution in
Kekchi society and has taken on almost every social and economic func­
tion as its own*
The village labor group, of fluid and changing member­
ship, is the only other important economic group*
I have argued that
this economic partitioning into household and labor group is a product
of a specific adaptation to the labor needs and ecology of swidden
agriculture in the lowland forest, but if we step back it becomes clear
that swidden agriculture itself is possible only because of the high
mobility of Kekchi population, a historical pattern*
I want to argue here that once mobility became established as
a response to external domination (in the colonial period), it tended
to replicate itself in a kind of feedback cycle*
Once society had
been decomposed into largely autonomous household units, highly
476
structured social groups and communities could not be reformed easily=
Households that are not firmly embedded in a social network in any
location find few social or economic costs in continued movement —
do not give up anything important by leaving,.
they
Only a household tied
into a firm supporting network of social relations will be reluctant to
departo
This .'drifter* phenomenon should be familiar to North Americans
from our own. westward expansion in the last century=
In the Kekchi case
the ecological response is swidden agriculture rather than cattle or
sheep ranchingo
Political conflicts, government regulation or taxation,
increased competition for land, and the imposition of an educational
system are all hardships or problems which a settled, socially embedded
household is willing to accept, while a ’decomposed,' mobile household
picks up and moves elsewhere to avoid them.
Given natural population
increase and continued in-migration, long-fallow swidden agriculture
will slowly make the transition to more intensive forms of cultivation
unless, like the Kekchi, there is a historically mobile population
which can move on to new forests rather than intensify,.
Historical patterns are not immutable, and it is clear that in
the last few decades the Kekchi in Toledo have been becoming less
mobile all the time*
As in Aguacate, many northern zone villages are
now composed of a core majority of villagers who have settled there
for more than just a few years» In 1979,44„2$ of the adults living in
Aguacate had been born there„ Around these settled 'cores,1 and between
many of the southern villages, flows a more mobile group of people and
households, but this fraction is diminishing in size,.
The cause is not
477
that new places for new settlements have been "used up’ —
the Kekchi
have not reached the end of the line in their frontier expansion.
Rather, the cause of increased sedentarism seems to be the 'external
forces’ discussed above.
To demonstrate this I will present a more
explicit model of the processes of nucleation and dispersal.
Settlement Patterns and
Decision-making
Anthropological discussion of settlement patterns and mobility
have often fallen into the province of archaeology.
Prompted by a very
limited cultural ecological paradigm of the kind I criticized in the
opening of this chapter, many archaeologists have tended to see settle­
ment and village patterns as simple consequences of agricultural sys­
tems, like Sanders' (1962) equation of shifting agriculture with
dispersed village patterns.
More recently, several ecological anthro­
pologists have pointed out that people take into account more than just
exigencies of agricultural production when they make residence decisions,
and that there are no simple cross-cultural correlations between produc­
tive systems and settlement (Linares 1980; Flannery 1972; Farriss 1978),
Religion, trade, territorial control, and defense are prominent factors
influencing settlement and in this new paradigm the prevailing view is
that,"The physical environment merely defines the possibilities and
influences the choices but does not by itself dictate how people will
dispose themselves over the earth's surface" (Farriss 1978:191)<>
Popu­
lation pressure and agricultural change can be as much a consequence as
a cause of a particular pattern of settlement distribution, as is
clearly illustrated by the case of the northern zone Kekchi villages
4?8
where population pressure results from in-migration from more sparsely
populated areaso
The unequal distribution of population and land, both
between social strata and among areas is the proximate cause of most
population pressure on land resources (see Durham 1979•1-21)0
The Ecological Basis
Farriss' (1978) discussion of population distribution, mobility,
and settlement patterns in colonial Yucatan is directly applicable to
the Kekchi caseo
She sees residence choices as a balance between forces
which attract people to dense, nucleated settlements, and those which
tend to disperse them more evenly over the landscape=
In her view, the
high1productivity of swidden agriculture is a constant force towards
dispersal into the forest:
"dispersed settlement is clearly more con­
venient for the high-acreage requirements of a rotating-field system"
(Farriss 1978:190)o
While I think she is basically correct, the Kekchi example
proves more complex0
If swidden cultivators truly tended towards maxi­
mum spatial dispersion, they would live in single households located
adjacent to each year's field —
a situation rarely, if ever found (see
Harrison 1976 for clear detailed explanation why it is not)0
Instead, ^
people form villages or hamlets so that labor pooling may increase each
individual household's flexibility and efficiency0 The larger community
is able to establish and maintain territorial boundaries, to ensure a
fund of future swidden land, in a way which individual households cannot
duplicateo
Possibly it is also more efficient, in terms of labor in
construction and travel time, to locate one's house centrally within a
479
territory and then annually choose field locations along trails radi­
ating out from the center»
The figures on Kekehi corn production given in Chapter 5 allowed
me to estimate that a village of more than seven or eight households
would use up all the primary forest land within a 45-minute travel
radius of the village before that forest could return to a latesuccessional stage, and so would have to shift to cultivating less pro­
ductive and more risky secondary forest=
In other words, declining
returns per man-hour begin above this settlement size, though they are
by no means drastic declines and would not be felt for some years after
the community was foundedo
A village with ample levee lands for
sak1ecuaj has an extra productive and risk-reducing "cushion1 which
would mitigate the effects of declining fallow status in the surrounding
forestso
Even though the land base would allow villages of up to 40
households to exist for long periods with only moderate declines in
yield, other agriculturally-related problems seem to intervene and pre­
vent villages from reaching this sizeo
As Forge (1972) and Flannery
(1972) suggest, intra-village conflict often serves to keep community
size well below the maximum *carrying capacity" of a particular subsis­
tence systemo
I have repeatedly stressed the ways by which increasing
village size leads to a higher frequency of inter-personal conflict,
and that these conflicts are rarely mediated or settled successfully=
The density of pigs (cf<, Rappaport's 1968) can have a qualitative effect
on interpersonal relationships=
480
How do the Kekchi balance all these contradictory pluses and
minuses and what kind of settlement pattern results from the purely
'ecological* elements of their agriculture and environment?
A certain
amount of conjecture is involved here for there has been no time or
place when Kekchi residence decisions were made solely on the basis of
agricultureo
The 1921 listing of southern zone settlements given in
Table 6 is perhaps the best starting point, since that was a time when
external forces had little impact on Kekchi life, though immigration
from Guatemala was higho
If we eliminate from this list the villages which were main
centers for immigration (the termini
on the routes defined in Chapter
3; Dolores, San Pedro Columbia, Machaca, and Aguacate), we are left with
11 villages or alquilos in the southern part of the district, ranging in
size from two to about 18 households (using a figure of five per house­
hold derived from,present Santa Theresa), with a low mean size of about
9 households.
What I see happening here is a process of hiving-off by
small groups of new immigrants (and escapees from the defunct Cramer
plantation settlements) who attempt to found new villages of their own
—
the alquiloso
The typical group which would start such a settlement
might consist of an older couple and one or more of their married chil­
dren,
With a small work group, and little ability to define or defend
a territory, those proto-villages would not be viable for long unless
they attracted new migrants, usually compadres or affines.
Those which
could not attract new members and grow rapidly to the point where an
effective community labor group could be fielded, died out and do not
481
appear on the 1931 census (six of the ten died onto
Not coincidentally,
at least three of these six were located away from river levees)0
'Those new settlements that did attract additional farmers, or
which were founded by viable groups of five or six households, did not
thereby ensure their survivalo
If conflicts between households or
factional rivalry could not be mediated or settled, households or groups
of households could leave for another settlement where they felt they
would be better treated or more firmly embedded in a social and kinship
networko
Accounts of factional strife and the fission of villages
during this period are still part of Kekchi folk=history in the Toledo
District*
Much of the contemporary fragility of these communities must
be due to the historically-based pattern of free movement and mobility
discussed above*
Those villages which succeeded in maintaining an intact group,
usually because of the strong leadership role and mediation abilities
of the village leader, tended to attract still more settlers and in­
crease in size to a maximum of about 30 households*
In examining the
population trends in several villages between 1911 and the present, it
appears that southern zone villages that were not involved in cash crop
production tended to peak at about 30 households, and then to decline
gradually thereafter*
This population decline was probably due to a
decline in fallow status in surrounding forests and to depletion of
game near the village*
Single households or household clusters would
drift away to smaller villages where primary forest beckoned*
Many of the causes of household cluster formation discussed in
the previous chapter are simple products of increased population
482
pressure on land, of the kind which would be felt in villages near the
maximum size of 30 households=
The spatial arrangement of a village
changes as avillage grows and household clusters form0 A small settle­
ment of four to six households
is usually quite nucleated, reflecting
>
the close kin ties which usually exist between members (Aguacate was
nucleated in this way in the mid-1950s, with all six households packed
in an area about "200 meters on a side; the present village soccer field
adjacent to the village church)o
As the village grows, independent
households tend to disperse a bit more widely, as in present Santa
Theresa (see Figo 14), perhaps reflecting increases in intra-village
tension and conflict=
When the shift to mixed strategies of primary forest, secondary
forest, and dry season cultivation occurs following increased village
size and pressure on forest fallow, household clusters tend to emerge;
as described in previous chapters, and this has additional effects on
the spatial organization of villagesc When a household cluster comes
into being through the addition of a son's dwelling to that of his
father, the entire cluster tends to relocate at the margins of the vil­
lage o
They find and claim a new location (usually a hilltop), to mark
their new corporate identity, cluster their dwellings there to emphasize
their social and economic solidarity, and move away from the village
center to demonstrate their differentiation from the rest of the village
polityo
The result is a dispersed but clustered village plan, like that
of Aguacate in Figure 15<> With cash cropping and other factors which
strengthen the economic basis of household clusters, this tendency
towards 'place making' and clustering of patrilineal kin is increased
SANTA THERESA,
BELIZE
1979
25m
Figure 14.
Map of Santa Theresa village. — Dispersed dwellings are marked as black rectangles.
The stippled area is the village common, in which the church, school, cabildo and
teacher's residence are shown as empty rectangles. Trails are shown as solid lines.
Map was made using aerial photographs.
£
VJ
484
to
Sta. Teresa
Machaca
50
AGUACATE-BELIZE
Figure 15.
Map of Aguacate village. — Houses are shown by large black
rectangles, pig and chicken nens by smaller ones. Solid
lines are 10 meter contours, dotted lines are trails, and
lines with arrows are creeks. The church, surrounded by
school, cabildo and teacher's house, is marked with a
white cross.
JUNE 1979
100m
485
and more than one generation may stay in the same specific location for
their life spans„
Only when this degree of residential stability has
been reached does it become practical for households to devote time and
effort to permanent improvements of houses and house plots.
In Aguacate,
for example, only three men in the village have built earth and stone
terraces around their houses to prevent erosion, and all three were
junior members of strong household clusters having good prospects of
lasting for some time.
All three planned to stay in that location for
their entire lives.
If this fluctuating pattern of new village formation followed
by growth and then gradual decline is the consequence of agricultural
methods and the environment, how do other external forces affect the
pattern?
A Balancing Model of Settlement
Decisions
Farriss (1978) proposes that the dispersing effect of swidden
agriculture on settlement is balanced by factors which promote nucleatioh into larger communities —
religion, trade, territorial control,
and mutual protection, not to mention the efforts of colonial officials
to collect Indians into settlements where they could be easily taxed
and controlled.
She sees alternating patterns of settlement as the
result of the shifting value and importance of nucleating and dispersing
forces.
In the first part of this chapter I show that "external forces*
on Kekchi life —
administration, education, religion and trade —
are
not uniformly perceived by the Kekchi as benefits which would make life
486
in a large settlement worthwhile=
And swidden agriculture is not a
uniform incentive towards maximum dispersal either0 Farriss' basic
idea of balance is sound but the decision-making in residence is more
complex than she has envisioned,.
Table 64 summarizes and details the balancing of the different
forces of nucleation and dispersal discussed so far in this chapter.
This gives us a basis for understanding the ways in which a growing
external influence on Kekchi life has led to changes in settlement pat­
tern,
There is no way to judge the results, in terms of decision­
making and settlement, a priori.
It is possible to look at present
settlement and draw some conclusions about the ways in which the balance
works out.
Table 65 lists present Kekchi and Kekchi-majority villages
in Toledo, based on composites of the several different census listings
collected by myself and others between 1974 and 1979®
If we compare only the southern zone in the 1970s with the
southern zone in 1921, an interesting pattern emerges.
In 1921 there
were 14 villages, with an average size of 13®7 dwellings, for a total of
192 dwellings.
Today there are 12 villages, with an average size of
21,3 dwellings for a total of 255®
Population has increased by 68
dwellings, but that population is also more densely nucleated in fewer
settlements of larger size.
In 1921 there were seven alquilos of less
than 10 dwellings, while today there are only four.
Clearly, even in
the absence of roads, other external elements like education, religion,
and government authority have led to increased nucleation of the popu­
lation, in the absence of any drastic or even significant increase in
regional population density.
The process of settlement fission has
48?
Table 64c Forces of dispersion and aggregation in Kekchi settlement,, —
The table opposes the often-contradictory effects of both
indigenous agriculture and external influences on Kekchi
settlemento Under dispersion are listed the elements which
the Kekchi perceive as negative aspects of life in larger,
established villages, and which would tend to lead people to
leave these settlements to establish new, smaller villages
in remote areas» Forces of aggregation are those which are
perceived in positive aspects of life in larger and more
accessible settlementso
Institutional
Elements
Forces of Dispersion
Forces of Aggregation
Swidden agriculture
Lower competition for
lando Higher yields=
Cooperation in labor
groups. Control of
village territory.
Levee agriculture
Lower competition for
land.
Availability of labor
groups.
Hunting and fishing
Availability of game
-
Livestock
Plenty of corn for pigs,
forage plentiful
Conflicts over pig
damage to crops, less
corn for feed
Village shops
Alcohol sales, fighting
Easy access to staples
and luxury goods.
Roads and transport
to markets for crops
Possible loss of child
labor
Can add new cash crops,
increase productivity,
find wage labor in
slack season.
Education
Loss of.child labor
Learning English to
deal with outsiders
and government.
Religion
Factional disputes
New focus for group
solidarity, economic
incentives, avenues to
leadership roles.
Government regula­
tion
Enforced taxation, fagina
and possible legal
penalties for infractions
Support of alcalde’s
efforts to settle quar­
rels and conflicts.
Kinship
Village integrated by
close ties of kinship
and compadrazgo
Founding families can
use kinship ties to
dominate politics and
control some resources
Table 65=
Size of Toledo Kekchi villages between 1974 to 1979= — The figures in this table are
based on my own censuses or from interviews with village members, priests or schools
teachers, but if this kind of data was unavailable 1 have used censuses conducted by
the Toledo Rural Development Project in 1978, or surveys done by the Toledo Agricul­
ture Department in 1977 and 197^= All of these sources are unpublished, and I was
allowed to use the raw data sheets by theorganizations concernedo All counts list
the number of dwelling units (houses) in the village0 The number of people in the
average dwelling varies from about 405 to6o0 between villages, but few reliable total
population figures are available0 * Indicates a village founded by immigrants in the
last 5 yearso Mixed Mopan/Kekchi villages are marked with @ 0
o
0
S
Southern Zone
Villages
Dwellings
Northern Zone,
Villages
Noo of
Dwellings
Aguacate
31
San Pedro Columbia
Santa Theresa
21
San Miguel
58
Dolores
37
Big Falls'®
59
Otoxha
40
35
San Benito Poite
30
Silver Creek
@
Blue Creek
Crique Sarco
37
Laguna
51
San Lucas
17
60
128
24
Machaca
7
Go to Hell (Gorazon Greek)
7
Pueblo Viejo®
@
Santa Cruz
@
Santa Elena
Marbilha
8
Moho River (Santa Anna)®
21
Conejo Creek
6
Wetchilha (Hamadilli Creek)*
10
Jalacte Abajo (Tuulamil)*
14
Xanilha*
72
30
5
Northern Zone
No 0 of
Strip Settlements Dwello
Hicatee*
10
Indian Creek
59
489
slowed down, despite the fact that several villages are now well over
the old "flash point" of 30 dwellings0 The balance of residence de­
cision-making has shiftedo
Changes in the northern zone have also been dramatic, and here
increased nucleation has been caused by economic as well as cultural
and political influences from outside<> Increase in cash crop production
places a premium on household cluster membership and on larger, flexible,
labor exchange groups, and in other ways it also seems to tip the bal­
ance of residence decision-making in favor of larger settlements —
an
average size of 4404 dwellings in 14 villages0
A major factor in larger village sizes in the northern zone is
the greater ability of a large village to establish a territory and
pressure the government to set aside land as a reserve,, ' The government
does respond to concerted pressure from a corporate group which can
mobilize many votes= Less nucleated strip settlements along the high­
way, like Indian Creek, have had no success in establishing village
territories or in getting the government to recognize their corporate­
ness and grant them lando
The long strip settlement of Indian Creek has
not been recognized as an official village, and as yet has no governmentsanctioned alcalde or village governmento
Big Falls began in this way
in the 1960s, but when the government legitimized its existence and
built a school and community center in the late 1960s the settlement
quickly coalesced into a more nucleated village0
Indian Creek will have
difficulty duplicating this pattern because it must compete with power­
ful foreign neighbors for its land base and territory0
It seems .
unlikely that they will ever be granted a reservation of their own, and
the village may well decline0
To summarize, agricultural patterns, household organization, and
settlement among the modern Kekchi are not solely determined by popula­
tion pressure, but by a combination of historical patterns, new cultural
and economic forces, and the man/land subsistence relationships which
have traditionally been the province of cultural ecology,,
A discussion
of settlement patterns provides a useful focus for bringing together all
these disparate elements and showing how they affect behavior in the
presento
Some Final Conclusions
The Toledo Kekchi have gone through a long process, beginning
in the colonial era, by which they left behind most of the economic and
social structure of their highland home communities,,
Their society be­
came decomposed into individual households and loose aggregations of
kin in temporary villages,.
They developed a way of life based on con­
stant mobility and long-fallow agriculture, with a very fluid and fragile
social structure based on horizontal ties of affinity and consanguinity
between householdso
Much of this pattern can be seen as a means of
retaining flexibility, both social and economic, so that rapid changes
could be made when economic and political pressures from colonial and
then republican society intrudedo
When oppression in Guatemala occurred
they moved to Belize and adapted to conditions there= When mahogany
and then bananas provided opportunities for making cash, they again
realigned their economy and settlementso
Through all, their pattern of
491
mobility and flexibility allowed continuous response to a rapidly chang­
ing environmento
At any one time households could choose a variety of
strategies, and some have always gravitated towards more permanent
northern settlements, while others chose to pioneer the southern
forests.
Today the balance of internal and external forces, of past and
present patterns, continues, but more and more Kekchi are choosing
settled life in larger communities in the northern zone, where they can
participate in the national economy, polity, and culture, Only by con­
trast does the southern zone appear increasingly backward and isolated,
like a *refuge region,*
Given slow population growth and a stable
frontier, the dual pattern of developed north and underpopulated
subsistence-farming south might continue in a stable way for many more
years, continuing to allow the Kekchi some choice in balancing regional
differences through personal mobility back and forth.
All signs, however, suggest that many of the changes in present
Kekchi life will end up being a one-way street, an evolutionary change
than some pattern of oscillating equilibrium.
With the added impetus
of politics, market participation, religion, and education, the course
towards settled village life becomes harder and harder to reverse
through fission and movement across the frontier.
At the same time the
road network inches slowly southwards, diminishing the area on the other
side of that frontier,
I am tempted to close with a lament which is almost becoming
ritual for studies of tropical subsistence farmers, a warning cry that
soon this pristine way of life will sink under the weight of large-scale
492
capitalist development projects» While I was doing my fieldwork I per­
sistently felt that the Kekchi were an endangered species, doomed to
political powerlessness, land expropriation, and the progressive cul­
tural impoverishment to which many rural proletariats succumb0 Now,
after writing this dissertation, I am no longer so sure that the future
will be so bleako
Much will depend on the policies the Belize government pursues
following independence, which now appears to be due in September of
1981o Neither the patronizing ’protectionism* of the post-colonial
Guatemalan conservatives nor the passion for development at the cost of
Indian land and labor which characterized the Guatemalan ’liberals’
will doo
By all indications the Kekchi themselves are plotting a
course which will gradually bring them more fully into the national
polity and economy, and hopefully the government will plot a course
between holding this back and pushing it too hardo
The toughness,
flexibility and pragmatism of the Kekchi may well take care of the rest0
APPENDIX A
GRANT PROPOSAL SUBMITTED TO THE NATIONAL
SCIENCE FOUNDATION, MARCH 1, 1978
494
Description of Proposed Research
Background
It is widely recognized that the modernization process involves
drastic changes in the composition and function of domestic groups (ego
Durkheim 1949» Smelsner 19659 Goode 1963)0 While many have observed
and recorded domestic group change, within the literature on develop­
ment there is a surprising lack of general principals concerning the
reasons for this change 0
An applicable body of theory has been developing in recent years
among historical demographers (ego Laslett and Wall 1972) and ecologi­
cally oriented anthropologists (Netting 1969, Reyna 1976, Lofgren 1974)o
Within a framework which recognizes the importance of individual
decision making processes in the formation of domestic groups (Barth
1967), specific causal factors in subsistence and economic systems have
been isolatedo
The proposed research will investigate variation in domestic group
structure among the Kekchi Maya of southern Belize, a group in the pro­
cess of rapid modernization» Change and variation in domestic groups
will be related directly and indirectly to specific elements of the
modernization process, both utilizing and testing the general models of
domestic adaptation which have been proposedo
Model and Hypotheses
A general model which relates the form of household groups to the
diversity of productive activities in subsistence production was origi­
nally proposed by Sahlins (1957, 1962), and has since been amplified by
Befu (1968), Netting (1965, 1969), Lofgren (1974) and Pasternack, Ember
and Ember (1976)= Broadly stated, large households (extended in various
ways) are seen as an adaptation to the labor demands of diverse produc­
tion » For example, when each household must carry on a complex mix of
crafts, gathering, fishing and agriculture, as in some parts of Scan­
dinavia, the greater flexibility of large household units gives them a
clear advantage (Lofgren 1974:21-23)o The cultivation of a large number
of small scattered plots, a common means of reducing the.risks of crop
failure among settled farmers, also seems to give an advantage to large
cooperative households (McCloskey 1975, node? Befu 1968)0 In a similar
way, the large households of some merchant classes have been related to
the diversity and spatial separation of the required production and
distribution activities (Hughes 1975)° A related hypothesis offered by
both Sahlins (1962) and Befu (1968) is that a position of strong leader­
ship must be vested in the household head in order to coordinate diverse
production and allocate the products0
495
Before such an hypothesis can be utilized we must define diversity
more rigorously and clarify the nature of the advantage which large
households have in coping with it0
Productive diversity has both temporal and spatial components.
Temporal overlap of productive tasks will be measured in the field using
labor schedules, with supplementary interviews on the temporal limits
within which each task must be performed without serious loss in produc­
tion. Distance of travel to task-sites has been shown to be an impor­
tant influence on work group composition, and this spatial factor will
be measured by mapping of all fields (Reina 1967).
In the particular research setting, large cooperative exchangelabor groups are formed to carry out many agricultural tasks (Howard
1974). While this practice has been related by some to the need for
community solidarity (Erasmus 1956; McCaffrey 1967), it is possible
that the groups serve to temporarily enable small households to cope
with diverse production. An hypothesis to be tested in the field is
that exchange-labor groups provide economies of scale to all members,
which serves to minimize the variability in productivity between house­
holds which would otherwise result from stochastic fluctuation in the
size of household labor forces.
While it is clear that the diversity of subsistence production
influences the formation of household groups, it is also clear that
households often adjust their production to the labor resources at their
command. Chayanov demonstrated that as the size of the household changed
in the course of the domestic cycle, the area cultivated varied accord­
ingly (1966)o The effects of this stochastic fluctuation on the pro­
ductive regime can be isolated from other forces which affect production
by correlating household labor size with area cultivated at each stage
of the domestic cycle, and finding out how much variation is accounted
for.
What are some of the forces of modernization which affect produc­
tive diversity and thereby the structure of households? Carol Smith
has argued that network market systems (typical of frontier situations
like that of the Kekchi) act to decrease the diversity of native agri­
cultural production by favoring concentration on a small number of cash
crops and dependence on imported foodstuffs (1976s32-44, 1977:129-134).
We would expect a corresponding reduction in the utility of large house­
hold groups.
Improved food storage techniques, free circulation of cash, and the
presence: of credit institutions may serve to replace diversified pro­
duction as a primary means of coping with an uncertain environment. On
the other hand, large fluctuations in the market prices of cash crop
commodities seem to act to maintain the diversity of production, since
farmers are unwilling to concentrate all of their resources on a single
commodity (McCloskey n.d.; Johnson 1972).
496
Agricultural intensification can also be expected to have effects
on household composition,, Both small (ego Netting 1968) and large (eg*
To Smith 1959) households are reported for intensive agriculturalists,
perhaps because labor demands and diversity of production can vary
widely between labor intensive systems, Loucky (n,do) hypothesizes that
the decreasing returns to marginal labor input which are a characteristic
of intensive agriculture (Boserup 1965) would militate against large
households among intensive agriculturalists. Data gathered during the
proposed fieldwork will permit the assessment of (l) the effects of
agricultural intensification on the diversity of production and (2) per
capita productivity in large versus small households under intensive
agricultural regimes.
Population pressure on land resources leads to the emergence of
private land tenure systems where communal tenure had previously pre­
vailed (Netting 1974; Morgan 1955; Udo 1965)° This process is currently
taking place among the Kekchi, and as many researchers have noted, in­
heritance strategies become increasingly important determinants of
household structure when land becomes a scarce, privately owned com­
modity (Berkner 1972; Lofgren 1974; Wheaton 1975; Collier 1975)° When
alternatives to farming are limited, household partitioning is often
delayed in order to maintain the household landholding intact, producing
a large household unit which may not function at optimum efficiency in
production. Collier suggests that this aggregation continues until
alternatives to farming emerge, and the desire to inherit land is no
longer strong enough to keep married children within the natal house
hold (1975:49-108; also Netting 1977:328-9),
While both increasing market participation and increasing popula­
tion pressure on land resources have been discussed above as agents of
change in modernization, the relationships between these two factors
are as yet unclear (see C, Smith 1975)° Boserup (1965) emphasizes the
role of population pressure in the process of agricultural change, while
Von Thunen (1966) and more recently Carol Smith (1976, 1977) have
stressed relationships to markets (especially the distance to markets)
as determinants of agricultural techniques. In the Kekchi case, it
should prove possible to define the relationship between market partici­
pation and population pressure, and define the ways in which each factor
independently affects agriculture. Data on agricultural techniques,
land availability and market production will be gathered in a variety of
settings in which the two causative factors vary in their relative
effects.
Figure 1 formalizes the various interactions discussed above as a
working model of the modernization process. Wage labor is not included
as a factor in this model, not because it has not been shown to affect
household organization (see Helms n,d, for a recent re-evaluation of
these affects), but because wage labor does not exist as a viable op­
tion for the Kekchi, There are no jobs to be had.
497
Figure 1.
Regional variables
Market
Structure
Local variables
Social Variables
Agricultural
Cycle
Household Size
and Structure
Demographic
Structure
Land Tenure
System
Research Setting
There are presently 13 Kekchi villages scattered through the
southern portion of the Toledo District of Belize. Kekchi also comprise
minorities in 5 Mopan Maya communities (Mopan and Kekchi are mutually
unintelligible) for a total of about 3500 persons (McCaffrey 1967:42).
The Kekchi first entered Belize in the l890's, and some immigration
has continued to the present. The parent population in the Alta Verapaz
of Guatemala numbers over 250,000, yet remains one of the most poorly
documented native groups in Latin America (King 1974 and Turner 1957 are
the only major ethnographic works).
Until the 1950's the Kekchi remained essentially outside of the
Belizean economy. Villagers pursued subsistence swidden agriculture on
abundant fertile lands in the far southern portion of the district, in­
sulated from the more progressive Mopan villages to the north by often
impassable trails (see Thompson 1930 for early Mopan ethnohistory). A
road built in the northern part of the Toledo district in the late
1950's led many Kekchi to abandon their villages and relocate up to 60km
to the northeast. Here they formed new villages adjacent to the road
network or moved into existing Mopan villages.
498
In the northern villages along the roads the Kekchi have access to
schools, clinics, markets and other agents of modernization (see
McCaffrey 196?, Rambo 1962 and Gregory 1972, 1976, for inconsistent
ethnographic descriptions of this zone), but they have also been faced
with increasing shortage of well-fallowed land for their crops. Produc­
tion has become increasingly oriented towards the few staple grains
purchased by the government marketing board, and cultivation is becoming
both more labor intensive and capitalized.
The development of Kekchi villages has proceeded very unevenly
however, constrained mostly by the lack of roads or other means of
transport in the southern portion of the district. Six villages in the
far south are still accessable only by long forest trails and canoes;
traditional agricultural and social patterns continue unchanged. Govern­
ment and religious institutions have had very little impact (McCaffrey
1967:28),
Between the far southern villages and those on the road to the
north, there are three villages on the Moho river. Land here is more
plentiful than to the north, and access to markets is far better than
to the south. It appears that there is considerable movement of popula­
tion between these villages and those in the other zones, perhaps due
to the efforts of individual cultivators to find the best balance of
land and market factors.
The gradient of change from north to south in the Toledo district
provides an excellent setting for the, proposed research. The Kekchi
are reputed to be very friendly and open to outsiders, and many of them
in the northern villages speak English,
Research Methodology
Long term study is the best method to study social change, but
documentation on subsistence and demographic trends in the Kekchi area
is very poor. The investigator will visit Belize City in June, 1978
(before the period for which funds are requested) and collect the rele­
vant census information from the Belizean government. Depending on the
quality of recording, this data may be useful in tracing long-term
demographic trends in Kekchi villages, and perhaps in reconstructing
patterns of household change (the numerous problems of reconstructing
household composition from census data are covered in Laslett and Wall
1972)0 While in Belize the investigator will also obtain aerial photo­
graphic coverage for the Kekchi area. This coverage is available for
several dates over the last 15 years (N, Hammond, personal communication)
and will be used to locate the map present agricultural plots in the
field, and to reconstruct past land-use patterns in conjunction with
interviews of informants.
Patterns of household change and adaptation will be reconstructed
with data gathered by the method of controlled comparison. Three tar­
get villages will be selected during the first two months of fieldwork;
one from each of the three major zones defined above (numbered 1-3 from
north to south on figure 2)0 Mr, D» Owen-Lewis, who resided in many
Kekchi villages during his 15 year tenure as Kekchi Liason Officer, has
offered his assistance in this initial fieldwork stage0
The next two months (see attached schedule) will be spent in de­
tailed house to house censusing of each target village0 The censuses
will provide basic comparative data on household size and composition,
man/land ratios, and an age-sex pyramid for each villageo
Households will be stratified by size and structural complexity in
each village, and a sample will be selected for detailed interviews on
household history, domestic cycles, and the causes Of household fission,.
These same sample households will be introduced to.household budget
forms on which they will record each household member's daily activities,
all harvesting, income, and expenditures0 A local assistant will be
hired and trained to help in this operation, as frequent visits to
sampled households in several locations will be necessary*
Sample household fields will be visited and mapped by the investi­
gator over a four month period, at the beginning of which dry season
harvests can be measured in the field granaries*
At intervals throughout the research period, visits will be made
to the government marketing board near San Antonio in order to gather
data on the quantity of agricultural produce being sold by the members
of each target village* This aggregate figure will provide independent
confirmation for the village sales figure extrapolated from the sample
household budgets*
Funding is requested for eight months of data analysis and report
writing following the end of field research* Village census sheets and
household structure questionnaires will be directly computer-compatable,
while other data will have to be manually reduced for computer pro­
cessing*
Contribution and Significance
As Selby points out, unexpected insights into the culture of a
group often result from a detailed investigation of their household
economics (1976)= On a more general level, the formulation and testing
of hypotheses about the causes of domestic change has relevance in a
variety of contexts;
Development planners are in urgent need of a body of theory which
will allow them to predict the social consequences of change and innova­
tion (see Dalton 1971*283)° Resistance to change may sometimes be due
to a reluctance to reorganize domestic economies, rather than to ideo­
logical or psychological factors*
500
Reconstructions of cultural evolution often draw upon proposed re­
lationships between .subsistence adaptations and social and political
structures. The role of the domestic group in cultural evolution has
been underemphasized in many current theoretical frameworks, even though
the domestic group has been more firmly related to subsistence adapta­
tion than any political, social or religious structure.
Archaeologists are just beginning to develop theoretical constructs
for interpreting household remains (see Netting 1977)° A knowledge of
the agricultural correlates of specific household structures and sizes
would allow the archaeologists to make inferences about past agricul­
tural patterns from domestic remains0
The Belizean Government does not require a permit or other special
approval for anthropological research. The investigator has corres­
ponded with several local scholars and government officials and has
obtained their support in pursuing the research described in this pro­
posal.
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On the Study of Social Change.
69 s661-669°
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Berkner, Lutz
1972 Rural Family Organization in Europe; A Problem in Comparative
History. PEASANT STUDIES NEWSLETTER, 1:145-154.
Boserup, Esther
1965 THE CONDITIONS OF AGRICULTURAL GROWTH.
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1966 THE THEORY OF PEASANT ECONOMY.
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D. Thorner, B. Kerblay and
Collier, George A.
1975 FIELDS OF THE TZOTZILs THE ECOLOGICAL BASES OF TRADITION
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Dalton, George
1971 ECONOMIC ANTHROPOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT. Basic Books
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Erasmus, Charles
1956 The Occurence and Disapearance of Reciprocal Farm Labor in
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Goode, William
1963 WORLD REVOLUTION AND FAMILY PATTERNS.
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Gregory, James R.
. 1972 PIONEERS ON A CULTURAL FRONTIER: THE MOPAN MAYA OF BRITISH
HONDURAS. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh.
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The Modification of an Interethnic Boundary in Belize.
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n.d. HOUSEHOLD ORGANIZATION IN EASTERN CENTRAL AMERICA: A COM­
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Howard, Michael C.
1974 Agricultural Labour Among the Indians of the Toledo District.
NATIONAL STUDIES, 2(4):1-13.
Hughes, Diane
1975 Urban Growth and Family Structure in Medieval Genoa.
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1972 Individuality and Experimentation in Traditional Agriculture.
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1974 COBAN AND THE VERAPAZ: HISTORY AND CULTURE PROCESS IN NORTH­
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1972 HOUSEHOLD AND FAMILY IN PAST TIME.
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1974 Family and Household Among Scandinavian Peasants: An Ex­
ploratory Essay. ETHNOLOGlA SCANDINAVICA, 1974, 1-54.
Loucky, James P.
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McCaffrey, Colin
1967 POTENTIALITIES FOR COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT IN A KEKCHI INDIAN
VILLAGE IN BRITISH HONDURAS0 Ph=D0 dissertation, University
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1976 On the Conditions Favoring Extended Family Households,
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1962 The Kekchi Indians of British Honduras; An Ethnographic
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Regional Economic Systems: Linking Geographical Models and
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1957 ETNOLOGIA Y ETNOGRAPHIA DE GUATEMALA, Seminario de Integracion Social Guatemalteca. Guatemala City.
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1930 ETHNOLOGY OF THE MAYAS OF SOUTHERN AND CENTRAL BRITISH
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1965
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APPENDIX B
DOCUMENTS ON THE ETHNOHISTORY OF TOLEDO DISTRICT
Minute Paper 1685-13 (1913)
Extracts from a letter by Reverend Ho J 0 Tenk to the Colonial Secretary;
At present the Indians = 0 0 are living in the bush, scattered about
and isolated, like wild animals0 We and your excellency also, I am
sure, are desirous to have them learn at least a few of the most rudi­
mentary sanitary laws and some of the first duties of persons living in
a civilized community0 They will have to be forced to learn these laws
and duties and this forced-education can only be obtained in the school0
Now, if they are allowed to continue to live as they do at present,
wild, scattered and hidden away in the forests, their children cannot
be forced to attend school, but will grow up wild and know less, if
possible, than their parents knowo
505
-■
.
.
506
Minute Paper 1237-14
Text of a typed petition purporting to be from the Indians of San Antonio
to the Colonial Secretary, forwarded by Reverend Ho J c Tenko
March 15, 1914
TheS'e are many Indians in the District surrounding our village who
live hidden away in the bush like so many wild animals0
These men
simply refuse to obey the summons of the Alcalde, who seems to be unable
to enforce his orders=
They respect no authority0 The undersigned,
therefore, humbly beg that some steps be taken by the government of the
colony to force all the men of the vicinity, whether they live in the
town or not, to obey the Alcalde and to do their share in keeping the
roads and streams in proper condition0
It would be a great benefit to- those ignorant people as to those
who now live in the villages, and ultimately to the colony itself, if
by some scheme these isolated individuals, - there are many of them could be induced to live in the towns0 Once in the town, they could
easily be made to respect some authority, and to bear their just share
in works affecting the public good, and their children could be made to
attend school - no small advantage o
To bring this about, we suggest that some financial favour be shown
to those living in villages or towns, and we think that many would very
soon give up their present manner of living in the bush if they were re­
quired to pay twice as much per acre for their rented land as those who
live in the town0
Signed (in one handwriting) by 51 men from San Antonio0
507
Bryce, William Gordon, 1963° THE SUBSIDIARY LAWS OF BRITISH HONDURAS
IN FORCE ON THE 31st DAY OF DECEMBER, 1963. Government Printer, Belize
City0
Volume 3; 1463-5
•'Crown Land" Sections 18, 19 and 20
Toledo Indian Reserve Rules (Date 7th May, 1924)
lo These rules may be cited as the TOLEDO INDIAN RESERVE RULES0
2o The land reserved for occupation by Indians shall be shown coloured
red on a planfin the office of the Surveyor General, and a copy of such
plan shall be kept in the court house or other suitable place at each
of the principal villages0
3o(l) Any Indian who wishes to occupy land in the reserve may do so and
may build his house thereon, by the written permission of the Surveyor
General and the District Comissioner, and on payment of an occupancy
. fee of $5=00 for every year or part of a year of his occupation0
Provided that any Indian who may be incapacitated for cultivation
may, at the discretion of the Surveyor General and the District Commis­
sioner, be permitted to occupy land in the Reserve, for purposes of
habitation only, on payment of an occupancy fee of $lo00 for every year
) or part of a year of his occupationo
Provided further that any Indian certified by the Assistant Con­
servator, Toledo District as being employed to his satisfaction and
under the control of the forest trust in shifting cultivation combined
with the planting or sowing of forest crops on any crown land or forest
reserve shall be permitted to occupy land in the Reserve for purposes of
habitation on payment of an occupancy fee of $lo00 for every year or
part of a year instead of $5o00 as aforesaido
(2) Each year shall be deemed to end on the 31st day of December
thereofo
(3) The written permit shall be produced by the occupier, for the in­
spection of any officer of the Surveyor-General's department or the
District Commissioner's office or of any police officerc
40(l) Occupancy fees shall be payable on the first day of April of each
year and shall be recoverable in accordance with the provisions of any
law in force governing the collection of Crown Rents0
(2) On dates of which the alcaldes will be notified, an officer will
attend at the villages for the purpose of collecting the fees for which
receipts on official forms will be given0 Occupancy fees may, however,
be paid to the District Commissioner at any time of the year before the
visit of the collectoro Alcaldes shall be responsible that all persons
who occupy land in the reserve, and who have not paid their fees, are
present on the appointed days to make payment0
(3) Any occupier' who fails to pay his fee on or before the appointed
date may be dealt with in accordance with rule 5 of these ruleso
5°
The Surveyor General shall have the power to refuse to permit any
Indian to occupy land in the Reserve, and may withdraw any permission
which-may be given. If any Indian, after such refusal or withdrawal,
persists in occupying land, he may be prosecuted for unlawful occupation
in accordance with section 46 of the Crown Lands Ordinances,
508
60
Any dispute between occupiers as to the boundaries of their hold­
ings shall be decided by the alcaldes, whose decisions shall be final
and binding on the disputants.
7<>
The Boundaries of the Reserve shall be marked on the ground by
the Surveyor General* s Department, and shall be kept open at all times
by the occupiers of the Reserve as a whole <, The alcaldes shall be
responsible for the enforcement of this rule*
80
When clearing land which is adjacent to a boundary line, occupiers
shall leave uncleared a strip of land 6 feet in width between the clear­
ing and the boundary line0
9o
Any person who occupies Crown Land without permission inside or
outside the Reserve will be prosecuted®
10o
The Government reserves the right to sell, lease, grant license
over or in any other way deal with any Crown Land within the reserve
which is not occupied at the time when such right is exercised® No com­
pensation shall be payable to any Indian in respect of the exercise of
this right®
11®
Any Grantee, Lessee or licensee of the Crown who may be entitled
to occupy any Crown Land in the Reserve at the date when these Rules
came into force shall be permitted to occupy such land without molesta­
tion by any person so long as his occupation remains lawfull®
12®
Government reservesthe right to complete, by issue of a fiat or
otherwise, any purchase, lease or license made or agreed to be made
before the coming into force of these Rules in respect of any Crown Land
comprised in the Reserve, and may at any time thereafter renew or extend
the period of any such lease or license on the same terms of the old
lease or license or on new terms® No compensation shall be payable to
any Indian in respect of the exercise of this right®
Henriques, Cyril G® X® i960 THE LAWS OF BRITISH HONDURAS IN FORCE ON
THE 15th DAY OF SEPTEMBER, 1958® Waterloo and Sons, London®
Crown Lands,
'
18®
(l) Such Land as may be selected as Indian or Carib Reserves may
be duly surveyed into lots and numbered on the plan thereof®
(2) All such lots shall be held during good behavior only, subject
to such rules and regulations as shall be made from time to time by the
Minister (Governor in Council in the original edition)®
19®
(1) The Minister may, in consideration of any person or persons
surrendering any right or rights which he or they may have acquired
under any rules or regulations made by the Minister to cultivate land
in the Stann Creek Carib Reserve or any other Indian or Carib Reserve
established under the provisions of section six of this ordinance, make
free grants or conditional freehold titles to such person or persons or
give free leases of land to such person or persons®
(2)
The onus of proving that he or they have acquired such right,
or rights shall lie upon the person or persons claiming such right or
rights®
20®
It shall be lawfull for the minister under the provisions of sec­
tion eighteen, to make rules repealing all rules made by the Minister
in relation to any Indian or Carib Reserve, and providing that all land
509
in such reserve not already appropriated in accordance with section
nineteen of this ordinance may be dealt with or disposed of in the man­
ner in which other Crown Lands are dealt with or disposed of under the
provisions of this ordinance and any rules and regulations from time to
time in force under any provisions of this Ordinance 0
60
(1) Nothing herein contained shall prevent the Minister from
excepting from sale in the ordinary way and reserving to Her Majesty
the right of disposing of, in such a manner as for the public interests
may seem best, such land as may be required as Indian or Carib reserves
(3)
All reserves shall be notified in the Gazette and set forth
on plans in the Office of the Lands Commissionero
510
Minute Paper 508-52
Extracts from a letter from the Alcalde at San Antonio, Toledo, to the
.1
'
District Commissioner, Toledo, dated 6th February, 1932=
From a report by the District Commissioner, Toledo, to the Colonial
Secretary, dated 19th February, 1932o
We the poor and industrious farmers of this village get our income and
living chiefly through or from the sale of our pigs and commoditieso
From the last June to the present time, we could not have demand for
cur market /sic/, and consequently we are unable to meet our obligation
in paying our rents in due time = = o we have our pigs, beans and corn
here in abundance, and no buyers would come and buy in great quantity
as before, and no place where to go and sello
(The Colonial secretary’s reply was that the Indians were obviously
charging too high a price for their produce, having been ’spoiled’ by
the high prices paid by an oil development project that had been working
in the area0)
'
Minute Paper 2021-25» 1925°
511
Founding of San Pedro Columbia,,
Extracts from a report by the District Commissioner, Toledo, on road
construction in the district,,
J° Taylor, the D 0C 0, had held the same
office from 1914-1920, and thus speaks from his own experienceo
In August of 1914, at the request of the San Pedro Columbia
Indians, I officially opened that village (which had not long been
settled) - and gave it its present name,.
There was no road to that
place, visits being made by river= „ „ o Subsequently, at the first
opportunity, I ordered the road overseer to open up the road from West­
moreland Gate to Mafredi Creek about 15 miles, 40 feet wide, this was
done, and up to 1920 was kept open that width,-with the result that
the road surface, would drain off and dry up much quicker*
512
Minute Paper 1237-14, 1918
Description of San Pedro Columbiao
Extracts from a report by the District Commissioner, J0 Taylor, on his
visit to the village„
Taking first the village on the Columbia River - it is prettily
situated on high undulating land on the bank of the river, and lends
itself to quick drainage after heavy rains<, I found 29 houses inhabited,
and one or two others in course of erection, and bush being cleared for
others in a portion of the reserve laid out by the survey department
Besides the houses, there was also a church, the whole only
needs a school to complete a very nice little settlement, but then the
place is a new settlement=
With regard to its history, so far as I could gather one Mateo
Cruz was the first to settle there about 3 or 4 years ago, and the
others gradually came in from various places, there are still a few
families who live outside, chiefly on their own land leased from the
governmento
The population I found as follows:
Men
Women
Boys
Girls
Total
within the village
42
40
23
19
124
within one mile
10
11
3
6
30
total
52
51
26"
25
154
(He later discusses father Tenk's petition from the men of San Antonio,
stating that there is no typewriter in the District except in Punta
Gorda, and therefore implying that the petition is a forgery0)
APPENDIX C
FARM SURVEY FORM
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER
HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD__________ _____
FARMER'S NA M E _________ |
_________________(’same' if head)
INVENTORY OF FIELDS AND PLOWS:
1
lo
Houseplot (Chirix Cab) _____ ___
2o
Last Year’s Cornfield
3o
Matahambro Fields
____
SIZE_________
QTYoSIZE___ ____
40 Present Cornfields
_________ QTY=
SIZE_________
5=
_ _ _ _ _ _ QTY,
SIZE _ _ _ _ _
Ricefields
OTHER FIELDS OR LOCALES:
LIST AND DESCRIBE
60
7°
'
____________________
8.
9o
;
_____ !
__________
____
________ ^
_________________________________
COMMENTS OR ADDITIONAL INFO:
PIGS
Count Large
__________
CHICKENS
Count Large ___________
DUCKS
Count _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
HORSE
Count___________
Count Small _________
Count Small _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
513
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER
FARMER'S NAME
MULE
Count __________
TURKEY
Count _________
Other;
Comments;
CROP INVENTORY
CROP
lo
Guineo (Banana)
2o
Sac e Tulo
3°
Tul li Tyaj
LOCALE NO*.
4 0 Cac e Tul
5o
Parashk
60 Ts'ul Tul
7o
A La Ban
80
Cac e Sac e Tul
9o
Met' Tul
10o
Other Plantain _______
11 o Cak i Kenk (RoKoBean)
12o
Er' i Kenk (Black beans)
13°
Car a Bans
l4 0 Kenk a Ch'o (Ch'o Kenk)
15o Tap a Cal (vine bean)
l6o
Tch'oosh
"
17 o Other bean________ ____
l8o Osh (coco)
19=
Piyak' (yam)
20o
Is (Camote)
21o Ts'in (Cassava)
22o Yampa
23 o Yama Cheen
24o Baloo
25o
Other Ground Food _____
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER
FARMER'S NAME
CROP INVENTORY CONTINUED:
26o
Locale No 0
Cocowac (peanuts)__________ _________
27o Tchop (pineapple)__________ _________
280
Pixp (Small tomato)________ __________
29o Okr (Okra)_________________ __________
30o
Sehl (squash)
-
31=
Ch’ima (Cho Cho)___________ __________
32o K'um (Pumpkin)_____________ _______ _
33o
Ceboy (Onion)______________ _________
34c
Ik (Chile)_________________ _________
35o
Ichaj (Greens')_____________ _________
360
Uts'aj (Sugar cane)________ _________
37o Shayau (achiote)___________ __ _______
380
Teb (a spice)______________ _________
39o Pens (Black pepper)________ ________ _
40o Iskij (Lemon Grass).________ _________
4lo
Culant
__________ _
42o Samat_____________________ _________
43o Orek______________________ _________
44o Shanehib (ginger)__________ _______
45o Match Palau .
_________________________
46o Cotton (K „?)_______________ _________
47=
Ik'e (agave)_______________ _________ _
48o ^Other spice _________
_________
49o Sentee (Melon)_____________ _________ _
50o Papaya____________________ _________
31o
Cape (coffee)_____________ ________
52 o Cacao_____________________ _________
53°
Baal am____________________ __________
54 o Pac_______________________ _________
55 o Anap______________________ _________
560
Pataj_____________________ __________
57o Mank (mango)_______________ _________ _
516
-HOUSEHOLD NUMBER
'
FARMER’S NAME
CROP INVENTORY.CONTINUED;
58=
Locale No.
QTY=
Oh
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ ___ _______
59o Coc (coconut)______________ _________
_________
60o Jom (Calabash)_____________ _________
_________
6l o Mas a Pan_________________ __________
62.
Date
Leem (lime)________________ _________
63o Lamoosh (Lemon)
.
_______
_________
______
;
____
_____ ____
______
64.
Cheen (Orange)
-___ _________
__________
______
65c.
Toronj____________________ _________
_________
______
66.
Other fruit tree*_____
6?.
Other:
68.
Other:__________________
_____ ___
.
______ _________
__________
_______
___ ______
______
______ ________________
69 o Other:______________________________
_______
___
Comments:
AGRICULTURAL HISTORY:
SIZES IN MANZANAS(MZ), TASKS(TK), OR ACRES(AC)
SIZE OF LAST YEAR’S MATAHAMBRE (SAC I GWAJ) FIELD(S)
1.
2
3=
SIZE OF LAST YEARS K'AL (NIM LA K ’AL, MAIN CROP)
.
DISTANCE OF TRAVEL TO LAST YEAR’S NIM LA K ’AL, IN HOURS
MINUTES
TYPE OF BUSH CUT FOR LAST YEARS NIM LA K ’AL
______ Low Bush, Koc Pirn
High secondary bush, A1 K ’al
High Bush, Nimk Che
"Other
How much Rice was sold last Year?
How much Corn was sold?
To Whom?
How much Beans were sold?
To Whom?
What other crops were sold?______ ____________How much?___
How many Pigs have been sold since the first of this year?_
About how much money was received for the pigs?___________
517
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER
FARMER'S NAME
Labor;
These questions can be asked several ways* Answers should be names of
people, but any explanations should also be noted. If the respondent
is confused by the questions, take the time to explain them, till they
sure understood.
Is there someone who you work with almost every week, who helps you
with all kinds of jobs in your K'al? What are their names? This should
be the name of someone close who works with the respondent more often
than anyone else.
Who else helps you often with work in your K'al?
Who have you lended or borrowed corn to or from in the last year?
518
HOUSEHOLD NUMBER _ _ _ _ _
FARMER'S NAME .
_____________________
NOTE: ONE OF THESE FORMS MUST BE FILLED OUT FOR EACH FIELD PRESENTLY
UNDER CULTIVATIONo RICE FIELDS, BEAN FIELDS AND CORN FIELDS ARE ALL
POSSIBLE SUBJECTSo
FIELD NOo_________ (FROM PAGE 1 of FARM SURVEY FORM)
HOW MANY QUARTS OF SEED PLANTED?_________ .
______ '
___ ______
VARIETIES OF CORN OR RICE PLANTED
WHAT IS THE SIZE OF THE FIELD?
____________________
WHAT KIND OF BUSH WAS THE FIELD MADE IN?__________________ _
WHO OWNS OR PLANTS FIELDS VERY CLOSE OR ADJOINING THIS FIELD?
THIS NEXT SECTION SHOULD INCLUDE ALL THE LABOR GROUPS OR INDIVIDUAL
DAYS SPENT IN EACH LISTED OPERATION. WE WANT TO KNOW THE TOTAL MAN
DAYS TAKEN TO BRING IN THE CORN CROP, THE RICE CROP OR THE BEANS. WE
ALSO WANT TO KNOW HOW LARGE THE LABOR GROUPS WERE AND WHAT TASKS THE
GROUPS WERE CALLED FOR.
FINDING AND MARKING THE FIELD:
Who?
How Many Days?
CHOPPING THE BUSH:
Who?
How Many Days?
FALLING THE TREES:
Who?
How Many Days?
PLANTING:
Who?
How Many Days?
HARVESTING:
Who?
How Many Days?
APPENDIX D
RELATIONSHIP AND DISTANCE CODING USED IN
CHAPTER 10
For the purposes of computer analysis of labor group composition
<
it was necessary to devise a method of coding the relationships between
individual workers =, The indices, for the sake of convenience, were
integers between 0 and 10, with the highest number indicating the
closest relationshipo
Physical distance between each pair of workers was measured from
the master 1:100 map of Aguacate village surveyed by myself and Laura
Kosakowsky in 1979o Direct-line distance between dwellings was coded
using the following numerical index:
9
8
7
6
5
4
3
2
1
0
- no distance (same dwelling)
= 0 - 100 meters
= 101- 200 meters
= 201- 300 meters
= 301- 400 meters
= 401- 500 meters
= 501- 600 meters
= 601- 700 meters
= 701- 800 meters
= greater than 801 meters (maximum was 970 meters)
Using these measures for the sample of 26 men in the labor
survey, the average distance index for all men was 5=18, meaning that
the average distance between all pairs of men in the sample was about
380 meterso
The range of variation was between 3o84, for a man who
lived at the very edge of the village, and 6<,21 for an individual
519
520
who lived in the center of the village surrounded by a dense household
cluster=
The index of kinship distance (relatedness) was more difficult
to compose, because the intent was to measure the perceived closeness
of different kinds of relatives, rather than the simple number of kin­
ship links.
As Goodenough (1970;74-85) points out, different kinds of
kin linkages vary in their strength and importance, and there is no
universal measure of kinship distance which can be applied in all cases
with equal meaning.
In Kekchi society, consanguineal links tend to be.more impor­
tant and are felt to be stronger than affinal linkages.
Fictive kinship
(compadrazgo) is also important, and compadres are felt to be closer .
than most of the more distant kin, who are lumped together as either
classificatory brothers and sisters (cuas, cuitz*in, as or chac* depend­
ing on sex and birth order) or as cousins (cuech'alal) depending on the
strength of interpersonal relationships.
It was not unusual to find
people denying any kinship relationship at all with people separated by
only three kinship links (second cousins for example) if they did not
like those people.
ous kinship links —
On the other hand, some people separated by numer­
the most tenuous possible connections —
frequently
refer to each other as brothers or sisters, as a means of emphasizing
the closeness of their friendship.
All of these complications meant that simple kin terminology
would have been perhaps the best index of closeness I could have used,
but it would have entailed collecting terminological schedules for
every man in the village.
Instead, I chose the more economical route
521
of interviewing six men in depth, collecting their kinship schedules,
and asking them to rank order the different categories of kin in
1closenesso'
To amplify what I meant by closeness, I emphasized the
phrase *those who you can depend on the besto '
While there was not perfect agreement the ranking disclosed a
clear tendency for lumping certain classes of kin together, and a con­
sensus on the relative strength of relationship with these classes0
These classes formed the basis for the following grouping and rank
ordering which was used in the computer analysis®
From closest to most
distant these groups are (for males only):
Immediate lineals: Father(Fa), Brother(Br), Son(So)
Coded:
S
Close Consanguines: Mother's brother(MoBr), Sister's son (SiSo),
Brother's son(BrSo), Father's brother(FaBr) and Mother's son
(step-brother, MoSo)
Coded: 5
Close Affines: Wife's father(WiFa), Wife's brother(V/iBr), Sister's
husband(SiHu), Daughter's husband(DaHu), Mother's husband(MoHu)
and Wife's son(WiSo)o
Coded: 4
Cbmpadres: bonds of fictive kin include both those between parents
and their children's godfather, and between the child and godparentc
Coded: 3
Intermediate Affines and Consanguines: WiSiHu, WiSiSo,.BrWiBr,
FaBrSo, WiMoBr, FaMoHu, MoSiSo, MoSiHu, MoMoHu, MoBrSo, FaMoSo,
SiHuBr,. SiHuFa, MoDaSo, FaSiSo, MoSoSo, WiDaSo, WiDaHu®
Coded:
2
Distant Affines and Consanguines: WiBrDaHu, WiBrWiBr, SiHuMoBr,
WiSiSoSo, WiMoBrSo, WiSiDaHu, WiFaSiHu, BrWiSiHU, WiSiDaSo,
WiSiHuBr, SiHuDaHu, etc®
Coded: 1
Unrelated persons were coded as 0®
522
Though this coding system is not strictly an interval scale,
for the purpose of the analysis it was treated as sucho
The mean re­
latedness for all 26 men (1017 indexed relationships total), was lo10o
The range was from a minimum of <A4 to a maximum for one individual of
2®03o
Interestingly, the men with the highest mean relatedness index
were all older men who lived in large household clusters, and the four
highest indices were produced for the last four holders of the office
of village alcalde» Very young unmarried men tended to have low indices,
and the lowest of all were held by the most recent immigrants to the
villageo
\
APPENDIX E
A BRIEF HISTORY OF PROTESTANT EVANGELISM
IN TOLEDO DISTRICT
This history is derived directly from a transcript of. an inter­
view with Larry Smith, the Pastor and adviser to the Evangelical Church,
during a revival meeting in the village of Laguna on April 12, 1979o
I have edited the taped interview somewhat, but preserve as much of the
original language as possible0 Shortly after this interview Mr= Smith
returned to the United States (he was replaced by another preacher from
the UoSo) where he died a few months later0
Mateo Coc and Pedro Shul were the first converts among the local
people.
After this first start in Laguna, Mateo went to Crique Sarco as
a pastor, showing the local people how to grow rice and using his dory
and motor to bring the produce to market in PG,
After this first start,
Mateo moved up to Otoxha and again got people to start producing rice
with the converts in CS bringing the rice to market with an outboard
engine bought with rice profits.
This start in Otoxha was in about
1975 o
Pedro Shul was the first local convert, 8 years ago.
An un­
affiliated preacher from the states, coming back through Belize from
Panama, was the man who made this first convert,
523
Pedro at the time was
524
a drunkard, and had a business hauling pigs to Belize City in a pickup
trucko
Besides converting him, the preacher taught him to read better
and improved his English with the help of a dictionary.
Next Pedro's
uncle was converted, and more missionaries arrived as more and more
people in the village converted.
On their own, the converts in Laguna village began to bicycle
over to San Felipe village to hold meetings and try to make converts,.
About this time, Leo Travis, an independent pentecostalist, began his
missionary work in Laguna.
Like the other missionaries, Leo tried to
maintain a non-denominational stance.
Leo arrived in September of 1973»
joining Jimmy Littleton who had begun work in 1972.
Following Larry's
arrival, converts were made in Santa Cruz and Santa Elena villages.
In 1974, Larry and Pedro Shul began to take trips up the Moho
River and down to Crique Sarco.
First, one man from Moho River walked
over to San Felipe and was converted there, this was followed by the
conversion of the entire village of Santa Anna.
They have a Catholic-
run school there in Santa‘Anna, and there is some conflict over the
administration of this school.
The school in Laguna is independent of
the Catholic Church and the conflict has been avoided.
The method of conversion and proselytizing was fairly regular;
a Kekchi convert would go to a village first and locate a family who
want to listen, which is not hard because a few years ago many of these
people had not been exposed to the gospel in any form.
Next a group
including a missionary would go to this contact family with a guitar,
and sing some songs in Kekchi, which always got a good reception even
if the message was rejected.
Several months of such meetings would go
525
by in p e o p l e 1s houses before the first convert was made, but in the
following three or four months more and more converts would be m a d e «
Soon, with a few suggestions from the missionary, the group would decide
to build themselves a church instead of continuing to meet in people’s
houseso
The churches became focuses of group pride=
Larry himself
continues to visit these groups until they find themselves a leader to
take over the ministry*
Local village leaders are now being helped by
the church in buying pickups so they can travel around to the villages
themselves*
People have not as yet learned to tithe to the degree which
Larry would l i k e , so the church must support this missionary activity
more than the local people do*
Six or seven local men now have these
trucks and have taken up full time work for the church*
Pedro Shul is now something of a patriarch; his father, son and
brother are all preachers too*
Mateo Coe's sister married S h u l ’s son,
forming a core of related converts in Laguna village*
S h u l ’s brother
John was the pastor at the Moho River church, but is now a traveling
evangelist*
'
The churches are now incorporated as the Maya and Kekchi
Churches of B e l i z e , and are legally able to marry, bury, and ordain
their own priests, they have their own seal and a president (Pedro
Shul)*
They are independent of outside missionaries and are self-
sufficient*
One of the problems which sometimes leads a village to reject
missionary presence, is if a convert they know has backslid, committed
adultery or otherwise offended the morals of the community*
Pretty soon
everyone hears about such incidents and they set up a wall against
526
further conversion0
ous indirect ways*
wife beatingo
The Catholics also oppose the Protestants in vari­
They encourage drinking and allow such things as
In Catholic villages there is a lot of drunkedness and
a lot of people’s money goes on drinko
There are now a total of over 1000 Protestant, converts in the
Churcho
Today is a 'festival d a y,' and the Village of Santa Cruz has
come to Laguna for a morning of preaching, followed by a communal lunch„
On April first they had a festival day in Indian Creek attended by over
2000 people, at which the newly published Maya Bible was dedicated, and
copies were presented to the P r e m i e r 0
This was one of the largest
gatherings ever in the Districto
Different villages come to Laguna for festivals, and sometimes
Laguna goes to other villages also,.
Villages with churches are Laguna, San Felipe (from which many
people have departed for Santa Anna, or the far northern settlements of
M aya Mopan and Maya C e n t e r ) , Indian Creek, Hicatee 2 (which is close by
Indian Creek and Hicatee 1), San Miguel, San Jose, Santa C r u z , San
Antonio, San Pedro Columbia, Santa Elena, Crique Sarco, San Benito Poite
(Co 10 families), Otoxha, Santa Anna, Moho Rivero
church at 1? mile, or Crique Ar ena=
There used to be a
The church there was on private
land, and there were all kinds of problems with the landowner0
Many of
the congregation backslid and got in a lot of trouble, and many are now
in the Nazarene churcho
to Hicatee 2o
The church at Missouri Farm has now transferred
527
There are problems between the evangelical group and the
Mennonites in Blue Greek and Crique Sarcoo
Irwin Yoder there has, in
a way, taken over children who do not belong to him0
\
LIST OF REFERENCES
ABRAMS, IRA
1973
Cash Crop Farming and Social and Economic Change in a Yucatec
Maya Community in Northern British Honduras» Unpublished
Doctoral Dissertation, Harvard University.
ADAMS, Ro Eo Wo
1972
Maya Highland Prehistory: New Data and Implications* In
Studies in the Archaeology of Mexico and Guatemala, edited by
John A* Graham. Contributions of the University of California
Archaeological Facility, Vol* 16, ppo 1-23°
ADAMS, RICHARD N*
1965
Migraciones Internas en Guatemala: Expansion Agraria de los
Indigenas Kekchies Hacia el Paten* Centro Editorial "Jose
de Pineda Ibarra," Ministerio de Educacion, Guatemala*
ALDRICH,
1975
S* Ro, W* 0* SCOTT and E, R. LENG
Modern Corn Production*A* and L* Publications, Champaign,
Illinois*
ALLISON, PAUL
1978
Measures of Inequality* American Sociological Review, Vol*
43, pp* 865=880*
AMIN, SAMIR
1976
Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of
Peripheral Capitalism* Monthly Review Press, New York*
ANDERSON, EDGAR
1971
Plants, Man and Life* University of California,Berkeley*
ARCHIVES OF BELIZE
I869
Document 15=>3» Message Number 11 from Legislative Assembly
to the Lieutenant Governor, 15 March l869o
528
529
ARCHIVES OF BELIZE
1903
Minute Paper 246-1903o Mr? Ho Jo Cramer requests permission
to excavate Indian ruins on the Columbia River0 January 16 ,
1903c
1913
Minute Paper l685-13o Letter from H c Jo Tenk, S 0J 09 April
30, 1913 to the Colonial Secretary,,
1916a Minute Paper 1454-160 Teodoro Andrada applies to lease 20
acres on the Temash River0 Undated*
1916b Minute Paper 1472-16„ Pedro Sholl applies to lease 5 acres
of land at Machaca, Moho River* November 27, 1915o
1918
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