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4082 - From Memory or Historical Conciousness: Studying Indigenous Perceptions of the violencia in Guatemala

The period of civil war in Guatemala (1960-1996) had a devastating effect on the indigenous Maya population of the country. Local and national efforts to cope with this traumatic experience included the work of a truth commission, the construction of memorials and museums. In the terminology of Assmann (1996) these actions could be interpreted as a transformation from social to cultural memory, or - in more general terms- as the establishment of history from memory. But despite all these commemorative efforts, a survey performed by the author with 525 young Maya showed that there is little awareness about the details of this conflict among the first postwar generation. In contrast the respondents turned out to mix or relate the violencia with much earlier Spanish Conquest or even contemporary experiences of violence. Although their interpretations appear somewhat anachronistic from a scientific point of view, they should not be discounted too easily for they form an important part of the indigenous worldview. As both “memory” and “history” appear to be problematic terms in this context, I propose to use “historical consciousness” as an alternative interpretative framework. “Historical consciousness” has emerged as a core concept in German didactics of history to correlate past, present, and future. Despite its pedagogical origins and the often uncritical use of this term by social scientists I believe that this concept could become a valuable tool for future ethnographic research.

Palabras claves: Maya, Guatemala, civil war

Autores: Frühsorge, Lars (University of Hamburg, Germany / Deutschland)

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