Venture Grant: Guatemala: Quiche Indians
DEAN’S ADVISORY COMMITTEE
STUDENT VENTURE GRANT APPLICATION
DATE SUBMITTED: 11-04-02
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF INTEDED USE OF FUNDS: To explore how the Quiche Indians of western Guatemala continue their culture through the production and use of huipiles, or hand-woven women’s blouses.
PROPOSED DATE OF USE: January 5-26, 2003
FACULTY SPONSOR: Mario Montano, Anthropology Chair
HAVE YOU BEEN THE RECIPIENT OF A PREVIOUS VENTURE GRANT?: No
TOTAL AMOUNT OF VENTURE FUNDS REQUESTED: $850.00
ARE YOU SEEKING OTHER FUNDS FOR THIS PROPOSAL?: No, unless I cannot purchase a plane ticket for under $450, in which case I will seek additional funding from the President’s Fund, Anthropology Department or Latin American Studies Department. I have already found tickets through www.airfare.com and www.discountairfare.com that are priced around $550 or higher. I plan to purchase my ticket using www.priceline.com, as recommended through centromaya.org.
If this proposal is approved, I understand that it is my responsibility to notify the Dean’s Office immediately if I do not pursue my project as proposed to the Dean’s Advisory Committee. I further understand that all funds are to be used according to the proposal as submitted and approved by the Dean’s Advisory Committee. Any changes to an approved project must be submitted to the Chair of the Committee for approval.
Wearing the Huipil: How Traditional Textiles Continue Indigenous Culture in Western Guatemala
When I was little, my Godfather gave to me this doll from Central America. She had jet-black hair and dark skin. Her blouse was made from elaborate pieces of handwoven textiles, and she came with a name, Rigoberta. Because I had difficulties remembering it, I painted an "R" on the bottom of her right foot. It wasn’t until I was studying abroad in Costa Rica last fall, reading for my "After Peace, Globalization" class that it occurred to me just who this doll from my past was named after. Rigoberta Menchu Turn, a Quiche Indian from Guatemala, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, "for recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous people."1 I would have never guessed at age seven that this doll could have foreshadowed my traveling to Guatemala with the help of the Colorado College Venture Grant to study textile traditions in this heroine’s homeland. This has got to be a sign!
Purpose and Rationale.
This proposal seeks funds to study in Guatemala for three weeks in January, where I will collect data for my senior anthropology thesis. In the highlands of western Guatemala, I will study huipiles, or women’s blouses, and observe how indigenous culture is communicated through the production and wear of this traditional garment. The study itself is important because Guatemala’s indigenous populations are challenged everyday by a continued history of oppression, and more recently, by globalization. My research will contribute to the overall knowledge we have of the Quiche Indians, as well as other indigenous groups in and around the Lake Atitlan area, and also inspire other CC students to use Guatemala as a resource for similar projects in the future. For my own selfish reasons, Wearing the Huipil will allow me to get started before I graduate with my future career goal of helping indigenous groups in North America and Latin America maintain cultural autonomy through the production of traditional artisan crafts.
Guatemala has recently emerged from a thirty-six yearlong civil war that ended in December of 1996. In this time of conflict, Indian groups were targeted by the military, who identified their victims by their dress: "[The Guatemalan military] smashed thousands of weaving looms and even studied huipil design patterns to tell which villages people came from."2 As a result, there have been huge pressures to assimilate into the mainstream Ladino society, as many indigenous men havetraded in their traditional traje for blue jeans and a collared shirt. The women, however, act as the cultural mainstays, wearing the corte, faja and huipil everyday as validation of their heritage. Each huipil is a narrative piece, communicating immediately to others that the wearer is indigenous, and for this reason, cultural survival for the Quiche Indians depends largely the continued use of the huipi. Moreover, the huipil also communicates the wearer’s ethno-linguistic group, of which there are over twenty-one, and also to what village she belongs.3 Huipiles also include elements of Mayan iconography, such as the feathered serpent, Quetzalcoatl, frequently found in huipiles from Quetzaltenango and Chichicastenango. Thus, wearing the huipil involves the implicit continuation of Mayan legends and traditions. Additionally, globalization and economic pressures have led many indigenous groups to trade in their native language for Spanish and even for English in order to better compete for tourists at market. Even though the younger generations do not continue the native linguistic tradition, they continue their indigenous ways through use of the traditional traje. All of these truths combine to shape my qualitative study of how the production and wearing of huipiles enable cultural survival for the Quiche Indians.
Research Design and Methodology
With the Venture Grant, I will study huipiles produced in both Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, two towns that are home to the Quiche Indians who live on the shores of Lake Atitlan. After spending a day or two at market in Chichicastenango, I will select my informants and approach these women with an interest to study cultural significance and the process of weaving the huipiles on backstrap looms. My research will rely primarily on participant observation, since nobody is ever taught how to weave. Instead, young girls learn textile traditions through years of observing their mamas, tias and abuelas. Another fundamental research method that I will implement is semi-structured personal interviews. I will have a set of questions that I will ask, although I am certain that conversations will take off in unexpected directions. I have not yet decided if I will interview a great number of women, say twenty, or if I will focus on building a close relationship with one or two families of women weavers. A photo journal will be a significant part of the final product, since words will not be able to do complete justice to the vibrant colors and elaborate woven patterns I will encounter along the way. A photo journal will also allow me to assess how huipiles in Chichicastenango differ from those produced in Quetzaltenango. It is through personal interviews, photo images and time spent watching the artisan craft that I will be able to capture life stories of Quichean Indian women who, despite pressures to assimilate into mainstream society, continue to strengthen the fibers of their communities through weaving and wearing the huipiles.
Without this Venture Grant, I will be unable to complete my anthropology major. As a Southwest Studies / anthropology double major, I have elected to complete separate research projects for two senior papers. If my proposal to study in Guatemala is not granted, then I will drop the anthropology major, assume a minor and graduate in December. I wish to stay on at CC through May to complete my senior paper, but I need for this project to become a reality for me in order to give me reason to stay on for another semester. Aside from this technical reason, my project is socially significant because this issue of cultural survival is urgent! I must go now before Quichean women start trading in their traditional huipiles for T-shirts manufactured in the Philippines. Although the focus of my proposal is how the production and wearing of huipiles continues Quichean culture, my experience will be multi-layered. The bigger question that underlies my project is, "What is inspiring these women to continue traditional ways, despite the external forces going against them?" I’m not sure that I will be able to answer this loaded question in just three short weeks, nor do I believe that these women would necessarily be able to articulate why it is that they continue their traditions. I do know that the way only to begin to explore the answer is through spending time with the culture members and partaking in their artisan craft. Additionally, by focusing on the current challenge of preserving tradition in the face of cultural homogenization, a problem that is universal to indigenous groups all over the Americas, I will be able to provide insight on similar situations for American Indians in the Southwest.
Preparation for the Proposed Project, and how it Relates to My Academic Program
Language will not be a barrier for me during me three-week study. After years of high school Spanish classes, college courses and studying abroad in Costa Rica, I feel confident that I have achieved a notable level of Spanish that will allow me to maneuver easily in any Spanish-speaking country. Although my focus group will speak Quichean, I am certain that the majority of those I interact with will be bilingual in Spanish and their indigenous language. Much of my independence demonstrated while abroad, I think, derives from knowing that I have a good command of the host language. Knowing how to articulate my wants and wishes is such an empowering experience, and I know that being able to communicate fluidly with the people I will meet along the way is what makes this project viable. Whether it’s initiating conversation with a local woman weaver in Quetzaltenango, or asking for directions to the open-air market in Chichicastenango, I know my self-sufficiency and Spanish skills will allow me to flourish in Guatemala.
My time spent in Costa Rica made me fall in love with Latin America, the languages, the kind people, the food, music and dance. But academically speaking, my abroad experience made clear to me my desire to work with indigenous groups to help them protect their heritages. The idea for this project derived from an independent study project that I worked on in Costa Rica. The title of my project was, Como se dice: The Implications of Costa Rican Language Education in an Increasingly Global World. The highlighted aboriginal group was the Bribri Indians of the Talamanca mountain region, located on edge of Panama. The better part of my study focused on the impact of mainstream education on indigenous children. For this project, I worked with several professors of linguistic anthropology and of the Bribri language at the Universidad de San Jose. But working with non-culture members could only get me so far.
There were not many journals published on the Bribri either, and so I was prompted to create my own original research. This meant taking repeated five-hour bus rides to the Caribbean coast by myself where I would conduct personal interviews with members of the Bribri community. Once I would get there, I would wander into the nearest pulperia and start asking around for anybody that might be able to point me in the right direction. I was usually successful and would find someone who would be willing to talk to me about indigenous educational systems in exchange for lunch or bus fare. I even traded a lock of my macha hair for one toothless man’s story of how he never knew how to speak Spanish until he was fifty. Taking the initiative to design and execute my own independent study has helped cultivate in me the desire to invent a similar project with comparable research methods. Interacting with local culture while studying abroad has given me the confidence to seek out the answers to my self-imposed questions, making Wearing the Huipil a natural extension of my academic experiences provided by CC on and off campus.
Benefits for the Colorado College Community
The forum through which the results of my project will be presented to the CC community is Anthropology Day. In May, each anthropology major presents his/her senior paper in a fifteen-minute power point presentation. I plan to publish my senior paper through Kenyon College. I am also willing to prepare similar presentations for the Latin American Studies Department and for alumni in the Colorado Springs and Minneapolis areas who are willing to learn more about my topic. Additionally, I would be willing to summarize my experience for the CC Bulletin or for La Tertulia.
Roundtrip airfare from Denver International Airport to Guatemala City $450
Transportation within Guatemala $50
Film and film processing $100
Contacts for Wearing the Huipil
- Professor Dan Spencer, Drake University
- Proyecto Linguistico Francisco Marroquin
- Academia Latinoamericana Mayanese
- FLACSO, La Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales, www.flacso.org
- AVANSCO, Human Rights Action Network, American Association for the Advancement of Science. 6 Avenidad, cerca de la esquina de calle 4, Zonal, Guatemala City.
- NISGUA, Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, www.nisgua.org
- Tulane University, largest collection of Guatemalan textiles outside of Guatemala
- Fine Arts Center Library, Colorado Springs