Discourse, social cohesion and the politics of historical memory in the Ixhil Maya region of Guatemala



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This dissertation will examine the speech practices of collectives of Ixhil Mayas in post-war Guatemala. Specifically I analyze the way that historical memory of the recent period of violence, which culminated in genocide in the 1980s, is encoded in Ixhil ways of speaking and constitutes social action among Ixhil collectives. I propose an ethnographically situated framework within which to consider Ixhil historical memory which includes Ixhil concern for relationships with the dead, proper treatment of cornfields, innovations on community practices that were threatened during the war, and discourses about the injustice of an unarmed population confronted with armed soldiers of the government of Guatemala. Such a framework critiques views that see historic memory as externally imposed or as a manifestation of trauma and brokenness. Rather, the framework I offer allows us to see how discourses of historical memory make use of the resources of the Ixhil language and the conventions of various Ixhil ways of speaking in order to continue to constitute Ixhil communities and the collectives of political society. In this dissertation I likewise propose a broader view of the politics arising from Ixhil historical memory. In addition to the simultaneously spiritual and overtly political reburial ceremonies for the wartime dead, political rallies, and formal exhumations, the post-war politics of historical memory includes a proliferation of community-based organizations which have begun to take key positions in Ixhil communities. Ixhil genres of prayer, political speech, meeting talk, collective narratives, funeral speeches, and the talk used when visiting the sick provide the discursive tools to encode historical memory and new forms of community. In the aftermath of genocide that sought to destroy Mayas’ ability to exist as a collective, these acts of community-making among groups formed in response to the peace accords offer a version of post-war politics of historical memory.