Sticking Together While at a Distance

Today we held the first meeting (hopefully of many) of the SCRAP Virtual Reading Group. Thank you to our participants from Belize, Canada, and the US for our 2.5-hour conversation, including our special guest, Dr. Pio Saqui. We look forward to our next discussion in two weeks’ time. Email us if you would like to join.

91211651_2421091004870126_7789254556612820992_nSCRAP Reading Group, Week 1: Friday, March 27, 2020 (online, 5 pm MST), Saqui, Pio. Mopan Maya Science: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and its Transmission Among Mopan Maya Milpa Communities of Belize. PhD diss., University of Florida, 2012.

Academic reading groups are conducted for a variety of reasons, including aiming to help each other understand written materials, as well as getting a sense of personal reactions and stimulating discussion about written materials of importance to a particular topic. In our case, it is primarily the latter—we’re starting this group in order to jointly read and engage with written academic material that SCRAP team members (either individually or as a group) find relevant to our current (or even future) research at Alabama and Pearce. Additionally, we felt this would be a good way to maintain social cohesion for our team—including members from Canada, the US, and Belize—while we are not able to meet up in the field as per usual this summer. We also are very happy that we can invite guests relevant to the particular topic we are studying, who can provide external perspectives, so as not to encourage ‘group think’ within our project.

For this week, I (Meaghan) chose the 2012 dissertation written by Dr. Pio Saqui—who we met last summer for the first time and is the brother of Mr. Ernesto Saqui who is our host in Maya Centre. The topic of his dissertation—which addresses the concepts of TEK, kol, and tzik within Mopan Maya communities of Southern Belize (Toledo District)—is seen to be relevant to us as we also work in a Mopan region of Belize and the aforementioned topics were likely also of import even in the past (thus, important to our study of the ancient past as archaeologists). I would also say that I hoped that reading this document might also contextualize some of the interactions and topics we have engaged with in conversation and while working alongside Mopan crew members in Maya Mopan Village, as well as some of the general theoretical issues we have been tackling in our research at Alabama and Pearce.

Here is a brief summary of Dr. Saqui’s work (prepared by Meaghan):

This ethnographic study—conducted by an Indigenous Mopan Maya researcher from Belize—explores the persistence of Mopan Maya traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) through the study of the current role of milpa agriculture and ecological knowledge (kol) and associated sociopolitical structures of respect (tzik) within four Mopan Maya communities of Southern Belize (Toledo District). The author argues that these two interconnected concepts form the framework for the Mopan worldview as it exists today—and potentially pushed back into the ancient past. The study concludes that “being indigenous Mopan Maya requires close contact with, and traditional knowledge of, the ecosystem and the ways in which it interacts through milpa farming with daily life, community and kinship. It is this close connection with milpa farming or kol and tzik that ensures the transmission of TEK through the generations.” The study also addresses the current threats faced by both kol and tzik (and therefore the entire system of TEK) due to globalizing economic forces leading to the abandonment of personal subsistence practices in favour of commercial practices, wage labour, lack of community control over education/curriculum, and language loss. The study also brings up points of interest and contention when it comes to Indigenous researchers studying their own “peoples.”

91114373_2421198831526010_3530747530046341120_oThe main questions that directed our two-hour discussion (plus 1/2 hour introduction to our group):

  1. Do the elements/processes of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) qualify it as a “science” (does it need to be qualified), as suggested in the title of this reading?
  2. What do you think about the essence of “Mayaness” and/or “Mopaness(?)” as it is presented in this study (i.e. the essential role of kol and tzik)?
  3. How might the concept of tzik be materialized archaeologically? Is it a useful concept for us as archaeologists examining the past?
  4. How much of swidden agriculture/kol reflects very specific local knowledge versus more general understandings of the ‘world’?