Anthropology and Latin America

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Ch'orti'-Maya Survival in Eastern Guatemala: Indigeneity in Transition

Brent E. Metz

Scholars and Guatemalans have characterized eastern Guatemala as "Ladino" or non-Indian. The Ch'orti' do not exhibit the obvious indigenous markers found among the Mayas of western Guatemala, Chiapas, and the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. Few still speak Ch'orti', most no longer wear distinctive dress, and most community organizations have long been abandoned.

During the colonial period, the Ch'orti' region was adjacent to relatively vibrant economic regions of Central America that included major trade routes, mines, and dye plantations. In the twentieth century Ch'orti's directly experienced U.S.-backed dictatorships, a 36-year civil war from start to finish, and Christian evangelization campaigns, all while their population has increased exponentially. These have had tremendous impacts on Ch'orti' identities and cultures.

From 1991 to 1993, Brent Metz lived in three Ch'orti' Maya-speaking communities, learning the language, conducting household surveys, and interviewing informants. He found Ch'orti's to be ashamed of their indigeneity, and he was fortunate to be present and involved when many Ch'orti's joined the Maya Movement. He has continued to expand his ethnographic research of the Ch'orti' annually ever since and has witnessed how Ch'orti's are reformulating their history and identity.


Brent E. Metz is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Kansas.


"Metz has written an enormously important and essential book on a dwindling Maya culture; this book will be indispensable for years to come."


Hispanic American Historical Review

"This is an important contribution to Mesoamerican ehthnographic scholarship and provides an engaged and engaging account of the lives of the Ch'orti'-Maya....Metz's writing...vividly captures the personal and professional complexities of working in and writing about Guatemala in (this) period....a fluidly written ethnographic analysis..."


The Americas

"(Metz's) book is valuable reading for anyone working with rural populations in Mesoamerica..."


Journal of Anthropological Research

6 x 9 in. 360 pages 22 halftones, 2 maps, 18 charts, 6 tables