Tuesday, May 11, 2021

 ‘It’s Our Tradition to Maintain the Forest’: Indigenous  Water Management in 

San Miguel Totonicapán

Speaker: Dr. Matthew Krystal
May 23, 2021 • 3:30pm • Zoom!

Dr. Matthew Krystal, Professor of Anthropology at North Central College, closes out our formal presentations for this year on Sunday, May 23 at 3:30pm, on Zoom.

His talk will explore contemporary analogs to ancient practices in water management and conservation efforts in the K’iche’ Maya Highlands.

Based on continuing ethnographic field research, he will look at four indigenous institutions operating in San Miguel Totonicapán, Guatemala: the parcialidad; the cantón government; the water comité; and the indigenous nonprofit, nongovernmental organization/NGO. 

The cantón and parcialidad are colonial-era institutions that likely evolved from territorial lineages.  A cantón refers to a small administrative division. The rural indigenous communities surrounding the urban center of Totonicapán are identified as cantónes.

Parcialidad is a form of land tenure.  Essentially, parcialidad is a self-governing, legally-recognized, forest-holding, natural resource management group based on kinship.

A comité de agua is a sort of user-run water management group. Members acquire springs and build and maintain the infrastructure necessary to deliver water to their homes.

Together and overlapping, these institutions effect indigenous governance of water procurement and watershed protection. 

The presentation will conclude by contemplating these institutions from multiple perspectives:

    • Are they evidence of cultural continuity?
    • Or are they better understood as accumulated responses to centuries of inept and corrupt kaxlan (outsider) governance? 
    • Do they fill a void left by neoliberal governance, or do they act as bulwarks against the involvement of central authority in local affairs?

The answer, which will emerge only with further fieldwork according to Dr. Krystal, likely will be some version of “all of the above.”

 A native of Chicago, Matthew Krystal received his BA in Anthropology from Washington University in Saint Louis in 1990.  Supported by a Fulbright grant, Krystal conducted dissertation field research in the K’iche’ Maya community of San Miguel Totonicapán, Guatemala.  In 2001 he was awarded a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from Tulane University. 

A faculty member of North Central College, Krystal lists his interests as Mesoamerica; Native North American; Ethnographic Film; Indigenous peoples’ rights, issues, and self-representation; Applied Anthropology; Cultural Ecology; and Anthropology of Religion.

Beginning in 2005, he has worked as faculty advisor and cultural consultant to the North Central College Enactus direct trade coffee and craft project.  In this work, he makes twice-annual visits to Highland Guatemala.  These trips combine direct trade functions, undergraduate student learning, and ethnographic field research.

Join us for our final talk of the lecture season.  We expect to hold informal virtual lectures over the Summer for members (instead of our usual “safaris”) – and hold out the hope of being in person in the Fall.

Each meeting has a unique Zoom address so be sure to use the link from our website. 

Members sign on early at 3:15pm for an informal period before we open to the public at 3:30pm. This lecture will also be recorded and on our Facebook Live site.

Topic: Dr. Matthew Krystal - 'It's Our Tradition to Maintain the Forest': Indigenous Water Management in San Miguel Totonicapán
Time: May 23, 2021 03:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 924 3242 4726
Passcode: 999709

Friday, May 7, 2021

 Mike Ruggeri Reports


 New and Dynamic Research
on the Peopling of the Caribbean

Previous non-genetic studies of the ancient settlers of the Caribbean Islands pointed to perhaps a single immigration of the Caribbean by people from either Central or South America. Since earlier research depended on non-genetic study of artifacts like tools, pottery, bone and shell fragments, these studies did not have the advantage of the more sophisticated genetic and DNA analysis. Now these techniques have been applied to this question for the first time, and the results are far reaching and dynamic in answering the questions of who the first Caribbean peoples were.

Two new studies using advanced genetics in Copenhagen, Leiden, and Harvard Medical School have been published recently in the journal Nature, and in the journal Science. While both papers differ in only one important aspect which I will discuss, both have reached the same overall conclusions independent of each other.

The two groups of researchers studied the genomes of 263 individuals. The genomes researched were of people in the Caribbean and Venezuela. The genome study revealed that the Caribbean was populated in two waves from Venezuela and Central America, and the first wave came into the Caribbean 3,100 years before the second wave. They extracted DNA from the bone protecting the inner ears of these individuals since the humid weather decayed the rest of the DNA in their systems.

The first people to enter the Caribbean were a stone tool using tribe that entered Cuba 6,000 years ago and expanded eastward to other islands, probably originating in Belize because their artifacts look like Belize artifacts. 

The second wave entered 2,500-3,000 years ago and were farmers and potters related to the Arawak of northeast South America who traveled to the Venezuelan coast and then to Puerto Rico and westward starting in what is called the Ceramic Age.

Traces of the oldest inhabitants from the first wave can be found in western Cuba. These two groups rarely mixed, the genetic record shows. The settlers spread to some 700 islands in the Caribbean. And although European diseases and conquest wiped out the small populations on these islands, researchers found 4% of their genes in Cuba, 6% in the Dominican Republic and 14% in Puerto Rico.

The researchers who published their paper in Science found genetic traces of Channel Islanders off the coast of California, which has a record of settlement going far back in history to at least 12,000 years ago. They would have traveled south in the Pacific and then their tribe would have traversed Venezuela to the Caribbean.

The group that published their paper in Nature did not find these genetic materials. The full Nature research paper is published online for free here: <https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-03053-2>.  The dense genetic science in that paper gives you an idea how complex these genetic studies are. 

So just with the publication of these papers recently, we now have a much more complete and detailed history of the first migrations into the Caribbean and exactly who these people were over time. We see that the migrants were a mosaic of cultures spreading out over 1,000,000 square miles and 700 islands going back 6,000 years or maybe even earlier; the genetic research continues using lab equipment that only those who study in Eurasia had before.

There are sixteen archaeological sites in Cuba, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and St. Lucia — classified as ‘Archaic’ or ‘Ceramic.’  The later Arawak-related people settled in the Bahamas, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, St. Lucia, Curaçao, and Venezuela.

Some archaeologists pointed to dramatic shifts in Caribbean pottery styles as evidence of new migrations.  But the Caribbean DNA study shows all of the styles were created by one group of people over time.  Pictured: These effigy vessels belong to the Saladoid pottery type, ornate and difficult to shape. Source: Corinne Hofman and Menno Hoogland/Florida Museum of Natural History


Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Past for the Future?

Pfannkuche Explores the Pecatonica River Valley

~ “Field Notes” by James Meierhoff, PhD Candidate UIC ~

Required reading during my early graduate school curriculum included selections from Charles Lyell’s 1830 Principles of Geology, a book that popularized many of the concepts previously developed by fellow geologist James Hutton (most noted for his 1788 work Theory of the Earth), including the concept of Uniformitarianism. Arguably the corner stone of modern archaeological dating techniques and understanding, Uniformitarianism, as applied to archaeology, is the supposition that the natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations are the same that have operated to form the Earth in the past. 

In the nineteenth century this concept was used to counter the notion of a biblical reckoning of the earth (Creationism), and allowed archaeologists to begin dating archaeological deposits using scientific principles (such as the various laws of superposition) and push mankind’s achievements past the 4,000 BCE  threshold established by biblical scholars using genealogy from Old Testament texts.

Thus, science could then begin to use the present to understand the past. At the time, however,  I never really thought about how these same principles could be applied to the future (that is, using the past to understand the future).

April’s CAS hosted presentation Where People Lived on the Pecatonica River Valley During the Middle Holocene (5000-500 BCE) by Sara Pfannkuche (recorded and on Facebook Live), showed how this could be done. Her research is centered on an event known as the Hypsithermal (or Holocene climatic optimum), a period of dramatic climatic change characterized by increased temperatures (2° C rise in summer months) and decreased precipitation. Pfannkuche’s research is seeking GIS models to determine how such environmental issues might have influenced the decision-making processes of those who had been living along the Pecatonica River drainage for generations.

Unlike other river systems in the region, the Pecatonica River meanders through numerous glaciated and non-glaciated landscapes. Thus, those who lived among these various ecotones were able to better maintain their lifestyles during the changing fortunes of the Hypsithermal by exploiting the natural diversity around them rather than adapting to radical new means of survival. It was the diverse landscape that helped overcome the change. 

 Sara Pfannkuche: What Will the GIS Models Tell Us?

How will we react to the ongoing climatic variations before us? Like cultures in the past, societies in the present, and future, will have to choose how to confront this inevitable phenomenon. Perhaps we can take a cue from the past and come to understand diversity may be our strongest tool. Diverse foodways, energy and water systems, and yes, even diverse cultural viewpoints will be the only way we can overcome the changing storm ahead.