The long count of historical memory

Ixhil Maya ceremonial speech in Guatemala

by María Luz García

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Violence and death in Guatemala's recent war loom large in Ixhil Maya historical memory. Analyses of wartime memories have largely focused on overt political activism or on trauma and brokenness rather than on activities that many Maya consider crucial to community reconstruction. In the Ixhil region, where the deceased are active members of the community, one such activity is the ceremony for the reburial of war dead exhumed from clandestine graves. A close ethnography of local ways of speaking about the violent past during these ceremonies reveals that historical memory circulates and functions within Ixhil communities through new forms of speech articulated in traditional discourse patterns. This analysis has implications not only for understanding historical memory of war in Maya Guatemala but also for developing methodologies for studying memory in other postviolence contexts.