8925 - Internet, human rights and shaman certificates: being indigenous in Todos Santos, Guatemala

The lifestyle of the indigenous people of Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Guatemala, has dramatically changed over the last fifteen years.  

Due to the evangelical proselytism and the aftermath of the civil war, the legitimacy and prestige of shamans have been in a steady decline. Those who keep the shamanic tradition alive are mostly women and they have to struggle against accusations of witchcraft and face life-threatening attacks from their fellow villagers. In order to prove their righteousness women participate to training courses which provide them with a certificate that confirms them as longstanding heirs of an ancestral mayan tradition. A neo-traditionalist “spiritual guide”, hired by the government, teaches them the secrets of the “maya cosmovision” and imparts them a basic knowledge about human rights.  

Ironically enough, it is now a license issued by the once genocidal State that decrees shamans’ legitimacy. The rhetoric of unalienable rights also gives them a powerful weapon to resist accusations and allow them to carry on their practices.  

Todos Santos has also been affected by long-term mass-migration that led one third of its people living outside of the country, revolutionizing the socio-economical life of the village as well as the cultural practices. New transnational ties with the diaspora brought about dramatic changes in the cargo system and the related sponsorship of fiestas. Mobile phones and especially the internet have become the new ways to organize such ritual events. If ceremonial mayordomos would once receive their call in a dream, they now receive it through chats and social networks, as fiesta patrons are now mostly emigrants.  
Modern material culture and contemporary political rhetoric are currently subjected to a process of indigenization. However, as Marshall Sahlins points out, the creative appropriation of cultural artifacts through native categories is not an unproblematic process and it necessarily engenders structural and ontological change.

Keywords: shaman certificate, cargo holders, internet, Guatemala

Author: Freddi, Andrea (Università di Torino, Italy / Italien)


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