Conservation, Cattle, and Commerce among the Q'eqchi' Maya Lowlanders

Liza Grandia

  • Published: February 2012
  • Subject Listing: Native American Studies, Latin American Studies, Anthropology, Environmental Studies
  • Bibliographic information: 304 pp., 38 illus., 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Series: Culture, Place, and Nature / A Capell Family Book
  • Contents

This impassioned and rigorous analysis of the territorial plight of the Q'eqchi Maya, Guatemala's second largest indigenous group, highlights an urgent problem for indigenous communities around the world - repeated displacement from their lands. Having lost most of their highland territory to foreign coffee planters at the end of the 19th century, Q'eqchi' people began migrating into the lowland forests of northern Guatemala and southern Belize. Then, pushed deeper into the frontier by cattle ranchers, lowland Q'eqchi' found themselves in conflict with biodiversity conservationists who established protected areas across this region during the 1990s.

The Q'eqchi' of the 21st century face more problems as they are swept into global markets through the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) and the Puebla to Panama Plan (PPP). Liza Grandia uses the tools of ethnography, history, cartography, and ecology to explore the waves of dispossession that unsettled these agrarian people. Understanding how they have faced and survived these challenges helps to explain what is happening in other contemporary enclosures of public "common" space.

"Liza Grandia documents the spirit of a people who have resisted extinction for five hundred years. Powerful and unsettling for all concerned with the commons." - Laura Nader, author of The Life of the Law: Anthropological Projects

"Liza Grandia connects global economics, local livelihoods, and concerns for cultural survival in a way few writers manage to do. Enclosed makes transparent the social processes underpinning tropical deforestation, entrenched poverty, and the vulnerabilities created by global capital." - Nora Haenn, author of Fields of Power, Forests of Discontent: Culture, Conservation and the State of Mexico

"A compelling read and a significant scholarly contribution to our understanding of indigenous communities dealing with the destructive but also seductive penetration of global corporate interests." - Eugene Hunn, author of A Zapotec Natural History: Trees, Herbs, and Flowers, Birds, Beasts, and Bugs in the Life of San Juan Gbee

Liza Grandia is assistant professor of international development and social change at Clark University. Since 1993, she has worked with NGOs and carried out research in the northern Maya lowlands of Guatemala and Belize.

Watch the book trailer:
Foreword by K. Sivaramakrishnan
Q'eqchi' Language and Orthography
Notes on Measurements

Introduction: Commons Past

1. Liberal Plunder: A Recurring Q'eqchi' History

2. Maya Gringos: Q'eqchi' Lowland Migration and Territorial Expansion

3. Commons, Customs, and Carrying Capacities: The Property and Population Traps of the Peten Frontier

4. Speculating: The World Bank's Market-Assisted Land Reform

5. From Colonial to Corporate Capitalism: Expanding Cattle Frontiers

6. The Neoliberal Auction: The PPP and the DR-CAFTA

Conclusion: Common Features


"The book is well crafted and clearly written…a significant contribution to environmental anthropology and as an important ethnography about the Q’eqchi’." -Sean S. Downey, Current Anthropology, June 2013

“Grandia revela cómo la historia de las luchas de los q’eqchi’s contra el cercamiento de sus tierras puede contribuir a una mayor comprensión de los cercamientos de las tierras comunales a favor de las empresas en todo el mundo.” -Kurt Holder, Mesoamerica, Winter 2013

". . . insightful, comprehensive, and authoritative . . . Grandia has made a significant contribution to environmental anthropology and to our understanding of neoliberalism and contemporary land and labor issues in Latin America." -Molly Doane, Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 86(2)

"[Grandia] insists, 'erosion of the commons is never inevitable'; it can always be defended and it can be rebuilt. This book and its Spanish version are powerful means to those ends." -Bonnie McCay, Polar Book reviews, February 2013