In Mexico’s southeastern frontier state of Quintana Roo, game animals and other creatures that depend on old-growth forest are disappearing in the face of habitat destruction and overhunting. Traditionally, the Yucatec Maya have regarded animals as fellow members of a wider society, and in their religion animals enjoy the status of spiritual beings. But in recent years, the breakdown of cultural restraints on hunting has spiraled so far out of control that almost everything edible within easy reach of a road has become fair game.
This book combines the insights of an anthropologist with the hands-on experience of a Maya campesino with the aim of improving the management of Quintana Roo’s wild lands and animal resources. E. N. Anderson and Felix Medina Tzuc pool their knowledge to document Yucatec Maya understanding and use of animals and to address practical matters related to wider conservation issues.
Although the Yucatec Maya’s ethnobotany has been well documented, until now little has been recorded about their animal lore. Anderson and Medina Tzuc have compiled a wealth of information about traditional knowledge of animals in this corner of the Maya world. They have recorded most of the terms widely used for several hundred categories of animals in west central Quintana Roo, mapped them onto biological categories, and recorded basic information about wildlife management and uses.
The book reflects a wealth of knowledge gathered from individuals regarded as experts on particular aspects of animal management, whether hunting, herding, or beekeeping. It also offers case studies of conservation successes and failures in various communities, pointing to the need for cooperation by the Mexican government and Maya people to save wildlife. Appendixes provide an extensive animal classification and a complete list of all birds identified in the area.
Even though sustainable forestry has finally come to the Yucatán, sustainable game use is practiced by only a few communities. Animals and the Maya in Southeast Mexico is a complete ethnozoology for the region, offered in the hope that it will encourage the recognition of Quintana Roo’s forests and wildlife as no less deserving of protection than ancient Maya cities.
Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community
E. N. Anderson with Aurora Dzib Xihum de Cen, Felix Medina Tzuc, and Pastor Valdez Chale University of Arizona Press, 2005 Library of Congress F1435.3.A37P65 2005 | Dewey Decimal 305.89742
In Chunhuhub, the Conquest is not a done deal.
Unlike many small tropical towns, Chunhuhub in rural Quintana Roo, Mexico, has not been a helpless victim of international forces. Its people are descendants of heroic Mayans who stood off the Spanish invaders. People in Chunhuhub continue to live largely through subsistence farming of maize and vegetables, supplemented by commercial orchard, livestock, and field crop cultivation. They are, however, also self-consciously “modernizing” by seeking better educational and economic opportunities.
Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community tells the story of Chunhuhub at the beginning of the twenty-first century, focusing on the resource management of plants and animals. E. N. Anderson and his Maya co-authors provide a detailed overview of Maya knowledge of and relationships with the environment, describing how these relationships have been maintained over the centuries and are being transformed by modernization. They show that the Quintana Roo Mayas have been working to find ways to continue ancient and sustainable methods of making a living while also introducing modern techniques that can improve that living. For instance, traditional subsistence agriculture is broadly sustainable at current population densities, but hunting is not, and modern mechanized agriculture has an uncertain future.
Bringing the voice of contemporary Mayas to every page, the authors offer an encyclopedic overview of the region: history, environment, agriculture, medicine, social relations, and economy. Whether discussing the fine points of beekeeping or addressing the problem of deforestation, they provide a remarkably detailed account that immerses readers in the landscape.
Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula have had more than their share of successes—and some failures as well—and as a study in political and cultural ecology, Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community has much to tell us about tropical development and about the human condition. Their experience tells us that if we wish to have not only farms but also mahogany, wildlife, and ecotourism, then further efforts are needed.
As Anderson observes, traditional Maya management, with its immense knowledge base, remains the best—indeed, the only—effective system for making a living from the Yucatán’s harsh landscape. Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community is a compelling testament to the daily life practices of modern peasant farmers that can provide us with clues about more efficient management techniques for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide.