Accepted paper:

Facing Maya agency: reflections on ethnological studies of contemporary Mayan people


Motoi Suzuki (National Museum of Ethnology, JAPAN)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes how Mayan people have been expressing their agency as Maya since 1980s, referring to the ethnological studies in Yucatan and Belize. Then, it asks who can decide what is Maya culture, and what is the role of researchers in order that Mayan people construct their agency.

Paper long abstract:

Maya agency means an ability to make history as Maya. I have been studying Maya agency, through four different kinds of researches. The first research in 1980s is how Yucatec Maya express their identities. The second is the self-image of Alianza Maya, a political organization in Merida, Yucatan in 1990s. The third is the cultural revitalization movement by INDEMAYA, a Yucatan State agency for promoting Mayan culture in 2000s. And the most recent research topic is tourism development in the central and southern Belize in 2010s. These researches suggest dynamic chances of Maya agency. In 1980s, Maya never meant people's identity but their name of language. Then soon Mayan identity was politicized and asserted by political leaders. After gaining a degree of political power, Mayan elites shifted their interest to the expression of contemporary Mayan culture. And at present Mayan culture draws attention as a commodity for tourism development. Based on this variation of Maya agency, we have to pose two questions. One is who can determine Mayan culture. Although obviously Mayan political and business leaders have power to do so, what is the possibility of Mayan people in grass-root level? The other is what is the role of researchers in order that Mayan people construct their agency further. Since they utilize academic knowledge in their own way, researchers may face a frowning situation. A mutually respectful relation is indispensable to promote dialogue between Mayan people and academics.

panel P052
The future with/of Maya anthropology