• TABLE OF CONTENTS
HIDE
 Front Cover
 Half Title
 Frontispiece
 Title Page
 Preface
 Table of Contents
 Section I: Pioneers in the...
 Section II: The Milpa cycle
 Section III: Shifting cultivation...
 Epilogue
 Reference
 Advertising
 Back Cover






Title: New lands and old traditions
Publisher: University Press of Florida
CITATION PAGE IMAGE ZOOMABLE
Full Citation
STANDARD VIEW MARC VIEW
External Link: http://www.upf.com
 Material Information
Title: New lands and old traditions Kekchi cultivators in the Guatemalan lowlands
Series Title: Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida. Latin American monographs 2d ser., no. 6
Physical Description: 153 p. : illus., maps. ; 23 cm.
Language: English
Creator: Carter, William E
Snedaker, Samuel C ( joint author )
Publisher: University of Florida Press
Place of Publication: Gainesville
Publication Date: 1969
 Subjects
Subject: Shifting cultivation -- Guatemala   ( lcsh )
Kekchi Indians   ( lcsh )
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
 Notes
Bibliography: Bibliography: p. 149-153.
Funding: Latin American monographs (Gainesville, Fla.) ;
Statement of Responsibility: by William E. Carter, with the assistance of Samuel C. Snedaker.
 Record Information
Bibliographic ID: UF00056198
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University Press of Florida
Rights Management: Copyright 1969 by the Board of Commissioners of State Institutions of Florida. This work is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/. You are free to electronically copy, distribute, and transmit this work if you attribute authorship. However, all printing rights are reserved by the University Press of Florida (http://www.upf.com). Please contact UPF for information about how to obtain copies of the work for print distribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor (but not in any way that suggests that they endorse you or your use of the work). For any reuse or distribution, you must make clear to others the license terms of this work. Any of the above conditions can be waived if you get permission from the University Press of Florida. Nothing in this license impairs or restricts the author's moral rights.
Resource Identifier: aleph - 001521396
oclc - 00051902
notis - AHD4568
lccn - 79625422 //r86
isbn - 0813002672

Table of Contents
    Front Cover
        Front Cover 1
        Front Cover 2
    Half Title
        Half Title
    Frontispiece
        Frontispiece
    Title Page
        Title Page 1
        Title Page 2
    Preface
        Preface 1
        Preface 2
        Preface 3
        Preface 4
    Table of Contents
        Table of Contents 1
        Table of Contents 2
    Section I: Pioneers in the tropics
        Page 1
        Page 2
        Page 3
        Page 4
        Page 5
        Page 6
        Page 7
        Page 8
        Page 9
        Page 10
        Page 11
        Page 12
    Section II: The Milpa cycle
        Page 13
        Page 14
        Page 15
        Page 16
        Site selection
            Page 17
            Page 18
            Freedom of action
                Page 19
            Previous use of land
                Page 19
            Types of soil
                Page 20
                Page 21
                Page 22
                Page 23
                Page 24
                Page 25
                Page 26
                Page 27
                Page 28
                Page 29
                Page 30
            Types of vegetation
                Page 31
                Page 32
                Page 33
            Distance from human settlement
                Page 34
            Terrain
                Page 35
            Religious considerations
                Page 36
            Discussion for site selection
                Page 37
            Timing
                Page 38
            Ritual
                Page 38
                Page 39
                Page 40
                Page 41
            Measuring and marking
                Page 42
        Cutting
            Page 43
            Slashing
                Page 43
                Page 44
            Spreading
                Page 45
            Protective clearing
                Page 46
            Milpa labor
                Page 47
                Page 48
            Time and labor in the clearing process
                Page 49
            Care of slashing equipment
                Page 49
            Tools for felling
                Page 50
            Felling
                Page 51
                Page 52
            Trimming and pollarding
                Page 53
        Burning
            Page 54
            Preparatory activities
                Page 55
            Firebreaks
                Page 56
            Timing
                Page 57
            Firing techniques
                Page 58
            Refiring
                Page 59
            Hardy survivals
                Page 60
            Labor requirements
                Page 60
        Cropping
            Page 61
            Crop identification
                Page 61
            Crop usage
                Page 62
            Planting usage
                Page 62
                Page 63
                Page 64
                Page 65
                Page 66
                Page 67
            Summary of tabulation
                Page 68
                Page 69
                Page 70
            C'at c'al making
                Page 71
                Maize planting ritual
                    Page 71
                    Page 72
                    Page 73
                    Page 74
                    Page 75
                Preparation of seed
                    Page 76
                Planting equipment
                    Page 77
                    Page 78
                    Page 79
                Planting labor groups
                    Page 80
                Dibbling and seeding
                    Page 81
                    Page 82
                    Page 83
                    Page 84
                    Page 85
                Intercropping
                    Page 86
                    Page 87
                    Page 88
                Fencing
                    Page 89
                Types of fencing
                    Page 90
                Watching
                    Page 91
                    Page 92
                Weeding
                    Page 93
                Weeding techniques
                    Page 94
                    Page 95
                Disease and insect pests
                    Page 96
                Growing ritual
                    Page 97
                    Page 98
                House yard gardens
                    Page 99
                Harvest (k'olbil)
                    Page 99
                    Page 100
                Harvest ritual
                    Page 101
                    Page 102
                    Page 103
                Granary building
                    Page 104
                    Page 105
                Harvesting procedure
                    Page 106
                    Page 107
                Carrying and storing
                    Page 108
                    Page 109
                Shelling (tenoc ixim--literally "beating maize")
                    Page 110
                Related activities
                    Page 111
                    Page 112
            Dry season Milpas (sak'icuaj)
                Page 113
                Page 114
                Page 115
                Page 116
                Page 117
                Page 118
                Dry season intercropping
                    Page 119
                Gleaning and cleaning
                    Page 120
            Wet season recultivation
                Page 121
            Succession to grassland
                Page 122
                Page 123
            Fallowing
                Page 124
                Page 125
                Page 126
                Page 127
                Succession to mature secondary growth
                    Page 128
                    Page 129
                Shifting cultivation
                    Page 130
                    Page 131
    Section III: Shifting cultivation and Guatemalan development
        Page 132
        Page 133
        Page 134
        Page 135
        Page 136
        Page 137
        Page 138
        Page 139
        Page 140
        Page 141
        Page 142
        Page 143
        Page 144
        Page 145
        Page 146
    Epilogue
        Page 147
        Page 148
    Reference
        Page 149
        Page 150
        Page 151
        Page 152
        Page 153
    Advertising
        Page 154
    Back Cover
        Back Cover 1
        Back Cover 2
Full Text























New Lands and Old Traditions












BAHIA DE


Polochic River, Lake Izabal, and the municipio of El Estor (only
selected settlements are shown).


i,;














NEW LANDS and OLD TRADITIONS
Kekchi Cultivators in the
Guatemalan Lowlands



WILLIAM E. CARTER
With the assistance of
SAMUEL C. SNEDAKER









UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA PRESS
GAINESVILLE/1969









LATIN AMERICAN MONOGRAPHS-SECOND SERIES
NUMBER 6


Committee on Publications

W. W. McPHERSON, Chairman
Graduate Research Professor
of Agricultural Economics
R. W. BRADBURY
Professor of Economics
EDMUND E. HEGEN
Assistant Professor
of Geography
T. LYNN SMITH
Graduate Research Professor
of Sociology
FELICITY TRUEBLOOD
Assistant Professor
of Comprehensive English
















A University of Florida Press Publication
SPONSORED BY THE
CENTER FOR LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES

COPYRIGHT 1969 BY THE BOARD OF
COMMISSIONERS OF STATE INSTITUTIONS
OF FLORIDA
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
CATALOG CARD No. 75-625422
SBN 8130-0267-2
PRINTED FOR THE PUBLISHER BY CONVENTION PRESS
JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA




















Preface


F OR SOME TEN YEARS various individuals from the Univer-
sity of Florida's College of Agriculture have been involved
in research on the municipio of El Estor in the Izabal
region of northern Guatemala. Stimulated by the original
interest of Hugh Popenoe, a soils scientist, they have done
work in general ecology, palynology, meteorology, archaeology,
zoology, botany, and geography.
In 1964 I was approached by Dr. Popenoe concerning the need
for supplementary work in cultural anthropology, particularly with
regard to land-use practices of Kekchi migrants who were flooding
into the region from Alta Verapaz. United States Office of Educa-
tion research grant No. FH 5-148 enabled me to spend three
months in Guatemala in the summer of 1965, and two years later
additional support from the University of Florida's Center for Latin
American Studies permitted me to revisit the country and to set
aside the needed time for completion of the manuscript.
At Lake Izabal, a fishing cottage belonging to Mr. Chris Hemp-
stead served as ongoing headquarters for researchers from the uni-
versity. Most of their work was being conducted on a nearby Hemp-
stead estate, Murcielagos, and it was initially suggested that I work
there as well. Since my basic interest was in the land-use patterns








of independent Kekchi migrant colonies, however, the small popu-
lation and the controlled estate conditions of Murcielagos dis-
couraged me. Instead of working there, I turned my attention to the
largest and fastest growing spontaneous rural settlement in the
municipio-Chichipate.
The pinpointing of such a settlement was made possible by access
to original 1964 census sheets, ceded to me through the kind services
of the National Director of the Census in Guatemala City. In
addition to helping in the selection of the community, these census
sheets provided general background material for it. This was later
supplemented by data from the National Observatory and the
Registro de Propiedad.
Upon my arrival in Chichipate, I was allowed to share the hut
occupied by the local school teacher. From time to time I would
return to research headquarters on Lake Izabal and there would
exchange notes and experiences with Samuel Snedaker, a Ph.D.
candidate in the Department of Botany, who was involved in an
ecological project at Murcielagos. On Sam's suggestion, I began to
collect botanical specimens, soil samples, and insect pests.
In working through my materials, I came to feel the need for aid
in translation and in the reduction of Kekchi terms and texts to
some sort of standardized form. On my return to Guatemala in
1967, the Seminario de Integraci6n Social in Guatemala City
helped me locate a pair of linguists who had been working with
Kekchi for many years. These two persons, Ruth Carlson and
Francis Eachus, were more than generous with their time and
talents. Following their usage, x has been employed for the s sound,
and all accents have been omitted since Kekchi terms are universally
accented on the last syllable.
The process of final analysis involved many people. Mr. Snedaker
did an analysis of soil texture, checked many botanical identifica-
tions, and prepared the land-use projection which is found in
Section III. Daniel B. Ward of the University of Florida herbarium
did an initial identification of plant materials; Howard V. Weems
of the Florida State Museum, with the aid of Nell B. Causey of
Louisiana State University, identified insect specimens; and the
soils laboratory of the College of Agriculture, under the direction
of James Nesmith, analyzed soil samples for available nutrients.
Velva R. Rudd and Jos6 Cuatrecasas of the Smithsonian Institution
identified certain plant materials not identifiable at the university
herbarium. Jacques Barrau of Yale University identified other








plants, and Paul C. Mangelsdorf of Harvard University gave identi-
fications for maize samples. Barbara Denton of the Department of
Anthropology at Yale generously shared insights gained from a
prolonged archaeological reconnaissance of the Izabal region.
One is always primarily indebted to persons who first stimulate
interest in his field of inquiry. In the present case, Harold Conklin,
during my student days at Columbia University, introduced me to
some of the basic concepts and methods of research in systems of
cultivation. To a considerable extent, I have used his pioneer study
on Hanun6o agriculture as a conscious model. The use of such a
model helps overcome one of the major problems in comparative
anthropology, i.e., the fact that seldom do two different investigators
look at the same things in separate cultures. It does not eliminate the
problem entirely, however. My report is much less comprehensive
than was Conklin's, due in part to the fact that I spent less time in
Chichipate than he did with the Hanun6o, in part to the fact that
my background has been in the humanities rather than in the
natural sciences, and, in part, I am convinced, to the fact that
slash and burn agriculture in Chichipate is a decidedly less complex
system than is slash and bur agriculture among the Hanun6o.
Ideally I should have spent a minimum of twelve months in
Chichipate in order to observe a complete yearly agricultural cycle.
However, responsibilities at the university made this impossible,
and the best I could do to remedy the situation was to employ a
variety of data-gathering techniques in an attempt to do some test-
ing for accuracy. These techniques involved informational sources
of varying types, and they should be clarified in order to insure the
reader's accurate evaluation.
Original data sheets from the 1964 Guatemalan census provided
basic information regarding the number of households in the com-
munity, the municipality from which individuals had migrated, the
period of time each individual had lived in the municipio, his age,
sex, and birthplace, and his relationships to other people in his
household. This material was updated in 1965 when, by actual
count of dwellings, the number of households was expanded and
the specific locale, or finca, from which each person had migrated
was ascertained.
My core source of data, however, consisted of ten household
heads with whom I worked during the entire summer period. In-
formation supplied by them includes data on agricultural stages,
type of land used for milpa sites, typology of soils, clearing tech-








niques, burning procedures, planting techniques, labor group mem-
bership, indigenous measures, weeding techniques, insect and ani-
mal pests, harvest procedures, granary building, storage, inter-
cropping, dry season extension milpa cultivation, and the succession
of specific plant types in secondary growth. Crude sketch maps
prepared by these informants formed the basis for my updating of
the 1964 census data. Similar sketches they made of surrounding
milpas helped me to estimate average milpa size, as well as to arrive
at percentage estimates of the various types of sites in which 1965
wet season milpas were located.
For purposes of obtaining information on patterns of land access,
and the relationship between labor input, production, and consump-
tion, I expanded my informant base to thirty household heads
during the last two weeks spent in the field in 1965. This expansion
allowed me to simultaneously cross-check many types of information
I had already obtained from the core sources of data.
In my work with informants, I took great care to follow the
open-ended approach, and basic cross-checking occurred in this
fashion. Additional checks came from participant observation and
from the fact that when the first draft of the manuscript was com-
pleted, I again traveled to Guatemala to go over spelling and
translation of linguistic items, take more soil samples, and review
the manuscript word-for-word with key informants.
When I first undertook this study, I had hoped that the reports
of other investigators who have recently worked in the Izabal region
would precede mine. Unfortunately, this has not proven to be so.
Rather than being the last of a series of reports, mine turns out to
be one of the first. As other material emerges, it may alter a number
of my assumptions and conclusions. In the end, however, our
knowledge of the agricultural potential around Lake Izabal should
be as complete as that which exists for any humid, lowland, tropical
region in the world.
WILLIAM E. CARTER
University of Florida, Gainesville



























Contents







Section I. Pioneers in the Tropics . . .... 1
Section II. The Milpa Cycle . . .... 13
Site Selection . . . .. ... 17
Freedom of Action . . . ... .19
Previous Use of Land . ... . .... .19
Types of Soil .................... 20
Types of Vegetation. . . . 31
Distance from Human Settlement . . ... .34
Terrain ....... .............. .35
Religious Considerations .. . ... . 36
Discussion for Site Selection .... . .. 37
Timing . . . 38
Ritual . . ... . .. 38
Measuring and Marking . . . ... 42
Cutting . ..... .. . .. 43
Slashing .. . . . . 43
Spreading ... ....................45
Protective Clearing .. ... . .46
M ilpa Labor . . . . 47
Time and Labor in the Clearing Process . . .. 49
Care of Slashing Equipment . ... . . 49
Tools for Felling .................. .....50
Felling ..... . .... . .. 51
Trimming and Pollarding . ... .... 53









Burning . . . .. 54
Preparatory Activities . .. .55
Firebreaks ..... ... .. 56
Timing .. ... ..... ..... ....... .57
Firing Techniques ......... ........ .58
Retiring ... ................ .59
Hardy Survivals . .. .. . 60
Labor Requirements . ... ..... 60
Cropping .... ............... ... 61
Crop Identification . . . .. 61
Crop Usage ... ............... 62
Planting Data .......... .... .... 62
Summary of Tabulation ... .. . . .. 68
C'at Cal Making ..... .......... 71
Maize planting ritual. ... . . 71
Preparation of seed ... . .. .76
Planting equipment . .. . 77
Planting labor groups . . .. .80
Dibbling and seeding. .. . . . 81
Intercropping . .. . .. 86
Fencing ....... .... ... ..... 89
Types of fencing .... .. ... ...... .90
Watching .. ......... ......... 91
Weeding . . 93
Weeding techniques . . 94
Disease and insect pests .. .. . . .. 96
Growing ritual .. . . .. 97
House yard gardens . . . . 99
Harvest (k olbil) .. ............... 99
Harvest ritual . . 101
Granary building .. ... .. . .. 104
Harvesting procedure . .... . .. .106
Carrying and storing . . . . 108
Shelling (tenoc ixim-literally "beating maize") . .. .110
Related activities . .. ... .111
Dry Season Milpas (Sak icuaj) .. . .... 113
Dry season intercropping ... . . .119
Gleaning and cleaning . . . .120
Wet Season Recultivation . .. . 121
Succession to Grassland . .. . 122
Fallowing . . . . 124
Succession to mature secondary growth . . 128
Shifting cultivation . . 130
Section III. Shifting Cultivation and Guatemalan Development 132
Epilogue . . . .... .. .. .147
References Cited ..... . 149

















Section I.


Pioneers in the Tropics




F OM ALL THE HIGHLANDS of tropical America, small groups
of people are today migrating to the lowlands. This migra-
tion, stimulated by population pressure and encouraged by
modern transportation, has steadily grown during the last
decade. Migrants, on arriving at their destination, find that
they must change a number of traditional ways. Climate, soils, vege-
tation, and even supernaturals differ from what they knew in the
highlands. Crops and cropping techniques, dress, diet, religion, and
social structure must all be adjusted accordingly.
This is an account of the adjustment one group of migrants has
made, particularly with regard to crops and cropping techniques.
More by accretion than by preconceived design, during the past
six years the members of this group have carved a small but viable
hamlet out of the Guatemalan rain forest. They chose their site,
Chichipate, because it appeared to be in the public domain, it had
an adequate water supply, it had both elevated lands and flatlands,
and it was serviced by a main road which had just been opened
between the lowland town of El Estor and the highland provincial
capital of CobAn. The first pole and thatch huts were built at the
point where a sizeable underground stream breaks out of the base of
a hill and crosses the road. As the hamlet grew, it stretched along








2 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


that road until today it has the form of a line town. The population
has grown from zero in the 1950 census to 3461 in the 1964 census,
and this growth continues, making it one of the two largest, and
certainly the fastest growing, of all rural settlements in the municipio
of El Estor.
Migrants to Chichipate all speak Kekchi. Most of them come
from Alta Verapaz, one of the largest but least densely populated
departments of the Guatemalan highlands.2 In moving to the low-
lands they have reinstituted a migratory process that appears to
have long historic precedent for the Maya region. However, the
utopian hopes which most of them bring are quickly shattered by
reality. They find the climate more demanding than they antici-
pated; temperatures climb to 1000F. or more any month of the
year, and humidity is consistently high. The accompanying chart
should supply sufficient background for understanding certain prob-
lems faced by the migrants, as well as the general timing of the
agricultural cycle. Malaria-bearing mosquitos are ubiquitous, and in
1965 a malaria control unit found all but one member of the hamlet
suffering from the disease. Drainage in large parts of the hamlet site
is poor. Some house plots become quagmires in the rainy season. A
few houses have been relocated to higher ground, but the residents
of others have simply learned to tolerate muddy house floors.
Strong internal cohesiveness has never developed. A sizeable
portion (37 per cent) of the migrants come from a single highland
estate, but these people are so internally divided that they seldom
present a united front. Inter-familial cooperation, where it exists,
tends to follow previous lines of kinship or personal friendship, and
thus to be limited in scope.3 The teacher at the government school
1. All 346 were migrants or the offspring of migrants. No information is
available on the number of persons who, after settling, have deserted the
hamlet, though the general flow is into rather than out of it. By 1965 con-
tinued migration had swollen the population to 432, and by 1967 to 604.
2. Alta Verapaz shows both a lower population density and a lower rate
of growth than does Guatemala as a whole. The country's population density
in 1964 was 39 persons per square kilometer; that of Alta Verapaz was only
30. The country's rate of population growth between 1950 and 1964 was
3.1 per cent per annum; that for Alta Verapaz was only 2.4 per cent (De-
partamento de Censos, 1966: 14, 19). A factor accounting for this differential
may possibly be a relatively higher rate of emigration from Alta Verapaz than
from other highland departments. Kekchi peasants regularly leave Alta
Verapaz to settle in Izabal and the Peten. For a detailed picture of the num-
bers involved, cf. Adams, 1965.
3. Forty-six per cent of the 346 migrants censused in 1964 had con-









Pioneers in the Tropics 3
finds such apathy on the part of parents that he must threaten to
resign or denounce them to authorities in order to obtain needed
repairs on the school plant. The two annually appointed auxiliary
mayors encounter constant resistance to their orders.4 Distrust and
hostility are perpetuated through perennial malicious gossip, and
social cleavages become particularly evident during the celebration
of saints' days. Hamlet officials stand at the entrance to the fiesta
grounds and collect machetes. They know that the men will try to
outdo one another in drinking and inviting to drink, and they fear
that if they do not collect the knives, several homicides will result
from the inevitable bitter quarreling that ensues.5
The greatest sense of disappointment has come, though, from the
fact that private absentee owners suddenly appeared after Chichi-
patefios had cleared and settled the land. What the migrants had
not known was that their site was part of a vast tract that was in
litigation because of the bankruptcy of the Tinajas agricultural co-
operative. They had mistakenly believed the land to be government-
owned and thus open to squatters. Because of the litigation, during
the first few years of settlement, no claimant appeared on the scene.
Unbeknownst to Chichipatefios, the litigation was finally resolved,
and the land put up for sale. All that lay to the north of the El
Estor-Coban road was purchased by the International Nickel Com-
pany, while that to the south was purchased by the absentee owner

sanguineal relatives in the hamlet, and 62 per cent had affinal relatives. The
preponderance of the latter type may reflect the custom of post-marital bride
service, whereby a male is expected to live with and work for his wife's father
for a variable period after taking her as a bride.
4. It may be that a lack of cohesiveness is characteristic of many agricul-
tural settlements in the lowland Maya area. Reina, in writing of the Petin
town of San Jos6, suggests that the phenomenon is related to the nature of
lowland subsistence activities: "The high degree of corporateness found in
the highland Maya pueblos of Guatemala does not exist in San Jose. During
the day the population of the town is composed mainly of women and chil-
dren. During most of the year only 31 men (of 79 full time milperos) return
daily from the fields to be with their families at night, and they depart
before the sun rises It is evident that an elaborate cofradia organization
[religious brotherhood: cf. Reina, 1966], if enforced in San Jose, would
conflict with primary subsistence activities" (Reina, 1967: 10, 11).
5. It is striking how similar modem drinking patterns in Chichipate are
to those described for the prehistoric Maya by Thompson: "After the meal
the cupbearers served honeywine to the guests until they were helpless, when
their wives appeared on the scene and conducted them home The Mayas
when drunk were and still are a quarrelsome lot" (Thompson, 1927: 73).









4 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

of a neighboring estate, YuscarAn, on the banks of the Polochic
River.
The demands made by the new absentee owners have been con-
siderably lighter than they might have been. One common arrange-
ment on estates in the Izabal region is to require the squatter to give


TEMPERATURE: CENTIGRADE RAINFALL: CENTIMETERS
ABSOLUTE MAXIMUM ................. MONTHLY AMOUNTS -
AVERAGE MAXIMUM ---
AVERAGE MINIMUM --.......
ABSOLUTE MINIMUM
Temperature and rainfall measurements based on data collected ip Yus-
carAn, an estate immediately adjacent to Chichipate.

two weeks of free labor per month during the periods of planting
and harvest. Another is to require him to clear and cultivate ap-
proximately 60 per cent as much for the landowner as he clears and
cultivates for himself. In the case of Chichipate, the man who took
over the land to the south of the road was interested mainly in se-
curing labor for his neighboring estate of YuscarAn, and clearing








Pioneers in the Tropics 5
land so that he might eventually begin cattle raising around Chichi-
pate itself. He therefore entered into an agreement whereby
Chichipatefios living on his property would work for him at their
discretion, in return for which they could make milpa on the
Chichipate land and would receive cash payment of fifty cents6 per
man-day of labor.
To the north of the road, the International Nickel Company
made its purchase as part of a large-scale plan to begin extensive
mining operations in this part of Guatemala. According to its locally
stationed technicians and engineers, the company was disinterested
in agriculture, except inasmuch as it threatened to lower the value
of the purchase or to inhibit projected mining activities. It therefore
turned over the administration of the squatters to the municipal
government of El Estor in exchange for payment of a minimal fee
by the municipality, a guarantee that slash and bur activities
would be held within certain bounds, and an assurance that no
more families would be permitted to settle in the hamlet. The mu-
nicipal government appears to have seen this as an important new
potential for revenue, and began to request a one-quetzal monthly
rental fee from each family living on the company's land. When the
fee was not paid, they began to conscript labor for some of the
estates in the municipio that sorely needed it, but could not recruit
it on a voluntary basis. The wages from such labor, instead of going
to the conscripted laborer, were to go directly into the coffers of the
municipality, until all back rental fees were paid.
Such an arrangement greatly displeased the Chichipatefios. Many
of them had migrated from the highlands for the very purpose of
escaping from such obligatory services. So violent was their reaction
to the situation that they temporarily overcame internal differences
of opinion, solicited the aid of the school teacher, and wrote an
appeal directly to the President of the Republic. The end result was
that they were able to freely negotiate a yearly contract with the
municipal government and, in 1965, were paying only fifty cents a
month for fairly free use of land.7 There was little indication that
default of payment was bringing about any serious sanctions.
Certainly in the case of Chichipate, and probably in the case of
6. In 1965 the official rate of exchange between the Guatemalan quetzal
and the United States dollar was one to one.
7. Substantially the same arrangements and course of events were
described to the investigator by municipal authorities, mining company
officials, and peasants.









6 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


all Guatemalan pioneer lowland settlements today, the rural com-
munity cannot be understood without taking into account its rela-
tionship with urban centers. The El Estor-CobAn road, finished in
the early 1950's, now offers daily motorized transport to these two
major centers of distribution for the Republic. Chichipatefios living
along the road collect and produce both agricultural and forest


7--

The CobAn-El Estor road along which Chichipate has developed.
goods, in part, for the urban market. For both types of goods, prices
are fixed by trends and events outside of the rural community.8
The fact that there is constant interplay between Chichipate and
towns like El Estor and Panz6s does not mean that Chichipatefios
will soon cease to be bearers of their own "little tradition." In spite
of long and close contact with urbanized society, folk cultures tend
to retain their distinct character and to resist change (Borhegyi,
1956: 352). George Foster has called them "half societies," parts
of larger social units (usually nations) which are both vertically
and horizontally structured (Foster, 1953: 163). Borhegyi has
emphasized their symbiotic nature: "The folk component bears
a symbiotic spatial-temporal relationship to the more complex
8. Reina points out that even chicle must be sold at a price set by the
agencies of the national government (Reina, 1964: 275).








Pioneers in the Tropics 7
component, which is formed by the upper classes of the preindustrial
urban center. In this sense folk and urban are not polar concepts;
rather they are both integral parts of the definition of a certain type
of socio-cultural unit in which the preindustrial city is a focal point.
Far from threatening the folk society, this type of urban unit is a
precondition for its existence" (Borhegyi, 1956: 352).
In this light a comment revealing the world view of a Chichi-
patefio in 1965 becomes particularly significant. During that year
there had been violent guerrilla activity throughout the Department
of Izabal. Rumors of massacres were frequent, and there was an
uneasy quiet in the cities. When asked what he thought about all
these events, the Chichipatefio simply replied: "It doesn't really
make any difference to me who is president, or whether the com-
munists or the capitalists are in power. I live by my machete. As
long as I have it, life, and some free land, I will get by." Yet this
man long had been involved in national level institutions. Twenty
years before he had migrated from Alta Verapaz to the Petin.
There he had worked as a chicle gatherer and sold his products to
government supervised agents. Later he had been employed by a
mining engineer, and had journeyed throughout the highlands.
Finally he began to gather chicle in the Chichipate area and, when
the road was finished and squatters began to clear the forest, he
settled down to milpa farming. A sizeable portion of his crop goes
off every year to urban markets.
The open question, of course, is whether the lowlands will de-
velop basically according to the traditional Guatemalan pattern
represented by the case of Chichipate, or along the lines of modern,
industrialized agriculture with peasants9 being forced, in effect, into
the position of a rural and urban proletariat. As the situation stands
now, the peasants hold control over labor, and the elite hold control
over land. Chichipate is a living example of the conflicts and stale-
mates which can ensue from such a situation.
The lowlands hold considerable potential for agriculture. Cer-
tainly in the past they were far more densely populated than they
are at present, and debate is still going on as to whether aboriginal
9. The term peasant is used in the sense of cultivators who produce
sufficient goods to meet practically all of their own subsistence needs, plus a
small surplus which is siphoned off into regional and national markets. They
are dominated by national institutions such as the government, the market
economy, and the Church, though they exercise practically no control over
any of these.








8 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
Maya culture originated there or in the highlands.10 We do know
that during pre-Classic times, small, more or less autonomous villages
had developed throughout the lowland area. As the land was filled,
ties between related villages appear to have become stronger, and
ceremonial relationships were elaborated. From this came the cen-
tralization of Classic times (Dumond, 1961: 312).
The demographic profile accompanying this development is
perhaps unique in the history of civilizations. At first only slightly
settled by slash and burn agriculturalists, the lowland Maya region
witnessed a spectacular population explosion during the Classic
Period that resulted in a denser population than that of any part
of Mesoamerica except certain highland regions where intensive
agriculture was practiced. Within a century of the population peak,
however, there was a sudden decline, and this decline persisted until
the sixteenth century. Since then malaria and other European-intro-
duced diseases have affected the region, and it has been nearly
without population since Conquest (Sanders, 1962: 110-11).
The system of slash and burn agriculture is a strongly centrifugal
one. Ordinarily it is argued that the inherent mobility of its com-
ponent units will not lead to a strong state, based on tribute and
labor drafts (Wolf, 1959: 60). Yet it was just such a system that
seems to have produced the elaborate priestly centers of Classic
times.
Many attempts have been made to explain the process of Classic
development. Most authorities agree that the principal settlement
pattern of Classic times was one with few or no congested centers of
population, but with a scattering of dwellings almost anywhere that
the land was not too swampy for habitation (G. Cowgill, 1964:
147). Some have pointed out that repressive authority seems not to
have been a characteristic of the Classic Maya (Brainerd, 1954:
41, 70-75). On this basis, others have argued that Maya temples
must have been the results of long series of accretions and that they
are thus unlike the temples in highland Mexican centers such as
Teotihuacin (Erasmus, 1965: 298).
A number of theories have been proposed to explain why the
elaborate system of temple centers collapsed. One of the most ex-
treme has attributed the collapse to severe earthquakes (MacKie,
1961: 216), though few have taken this seriously. More common
10. Reina has recently written: (there is an) "accumulation of archae-
ological evidence suggesting that the Maya culture originated in its tropical
forest environment" (Reina, 1967: 1).








Pioneers in the Tropics 9
have been explanations related to the encroachment of grass on
lands of cultivation. Recently, however, Ursula Cowgill's strati-
graphic work in the Peten convinced her that grasslands there are
clearly natural and not man-made. She found that soils in the
savannas are quite different from those in the regions covered by
forest and that, while forest areas are generally hilly and well-
drained, savannas are flat and poorly drained. She also observed
that, while there is probably no district in all the Peten which has
been more continuously under cultivation than the areas near Lake
Petin, and while these areas are being most heavily used at present,
there is no tendency for grass to be a problem on them (U. Cowgill,
1962: 278).
As an alternative hypothesis to explain the end of the Classic,
Ursula Cowgill suggests that a growth in population during that
period could have led to temporary overstrain of agricultural re-
sources which might then have been a factor in initial population
decline, if not in its persistence (U. Cowgill, 1962: 279). Another
explanation she offers is that population may have declined in part
because of the evolution of a tradition tending to rejection, and
hence less careful nurture and higher death rate, of female children.
Yet another is that expansion of population and farmed areas may
have meant a relative shortage of wild food rich in protein, possibly
having a significant effect on Maya nutrition, physiology, and
demography (Cowgill and Hutchinson, 1963c: 90-103). She
concludes that the collapse of the Classic "may ultimately be solved
in terms of a multiplicity of small and often non-obvious causes
rather than a single dramatic catastrophe" (Cowgill and Hutchin-
son, 1963c: 101).
Even during the period of intensive Classic development, the
territory immediately adjacent to Lake Izabal was never heavily
settled. Ceramic remains indicate that the southeastern end of the
lake served as a direct channel of communication between Copan
and QuiriguA to the south, and Pet6n sites such as Tikal to the
north. But recent archaeological reconnaissance has failed to uncover
any indications of intensive settlement around that or any other part
of the lake (personal communication from Barbara Denton, 1966).
The lack of settlement in this fertile and well-watered region
remains a mystery. Obviously, with the decline of the Classic Maya
centers, travel around the lake region either disappeared entirely or
was seriously curtailed. The territory became one of the least popu-
lated of any in the New World.








10 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
During the colonial period, Lake Izabal came into play as the
major Guatemalan port of entry for merchandise and passengers
arriving from and departing to Spain. A fort was built at the point
where the Rio Dulce drains the lake, and at one time a heavy chain
was strung across this stretch of water in a fruitless effort to protect
Guatemalan commerce from pirateers (Brigham, 1887: 34-35).
Population clusters began to form on the coast, but hardly pene-
trated inland. Highland peoples of the period showed no inclination
to migrate into the Izabal basin.
With the development of Puerto Barrios, some miles to the south
of the Rio Dulce, and the building of a railway from Barrios to
Guatemala City, the importance of the lake again decreased. United
Fruit Company operations in this century have resulted in con-
siderable agricultural development to the south of the lake, but to
the north and west the territory continues to be one of the least de-
veloped and most lightly settled of any in Central America. Accord-
ing to the 1964 census, the Department of Izabal had only 13 in-
habitants per square kilometer, while the country as a whole had
39. The municipality in which Chichipate is located, El Estor, had
only 1.9 inhabitants per square kilometer. In Guatemala, only the
Peten, with 0.8 inhabitants per square kilometer, had a lower popu-
lation density (Departamento de Censos, 1966: 14).
Both the Peten and Izabal, however, are currently growing at a
more rapid rate than the nation as a whole. From 1950 to 1964, the
average annual population increase for Izabal was 5.1 per cent, and
for the Peten it was 4.0 per cent, whereas for Guatemala as a whole,
it was only 3.1 per cent (Departamento de Censos, 1966: 19).
This indicates that the northern lowlands will soon be of more im-
portance than they have been at any time since the Classic Maya
period. George Cowgill has calculated that at the present rate of
growth the Peten should reach a population of a quarter of a mil-
lion in another seventy years (G. Cowgill, 1963: 500).
It may be said, then, that northern Guatemala today stands as a
prime example of the resettlement of aboriginally occupied areas
(Sauer, 1958: 106) of comparatively high subsistence potential
(Ferdon, 1959). With all their potential, when unpopulated these
areas have not been very strategic either economically or politically.
Land shortage elsewhere may be what led to their occupation by
cultivators in the first place (G. Cowgill, 1964: 154-55). It cer-
tainly is what is driving the Kekchi into the areas today.
It was once the fashion to accuse shifting cultivators of destroying








Pioneers in the Tropics 11
vegetation and soils, and to blame poor returns on the method em-
ployed. Now it is fashionable to blame poor returns on the soils and
to describe shifting cultivation as a wise adjustment to environ-
mental conditions (Morgan, 1957: 9). Critics who have dis-


MALES AGE FEMALES
I I I I I a
30 1 20 10 0 0 10 20 30
Age-sex pyramid, Chichipate.
missed shifting cultivation as a wasteful method have based their
judgment on the destruction of timber and the dangers of deforesta-
tion and erosion (Leach, 1959: 64). That it does destroy forest
cover is, to a certain extent, indisputable. In its better examples,
however, it can be a conservative tool (Dumond, 1961: 305).








12 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
Popenoe has suggested that parts of the Polochic Valley, in which
Chichipate is located, serve as just such an example; after consider-
able use, the soil continues to exhibit comparatively high levels of
fertility (Popenoe, 1960: 76).11
Chichipate's age-sex pyramid indicates the futuristic orientation
of modern migrants to the region. In 1964, 56 per cent of the popu-
lation was under 20 years of age, 23 per cent was from 20 to 35
years old, and only 21 per cent was over 35. The fact that this youth-
ful population has elected to remain in spite of difficulties of climate,
disease, land tenure, and social hostility indicates that the lowlands
do represent hope for highlanders living at the margin of their
society. A detailed study of the adjustment these people have made
should go far in helping to assess the developmental potentialities of
the region. Much as the Guatemalan government should like to do
so, it simply lacks the capital to promote large-scale, industrialized
agriculture in the lowlands. The opening of new lands in the future
is likely to follow rather closely a pattern similar to that set down
in Chichipate.
11. The reader is referred to Popenoe's Ph.D. dissertation (Popenoe,
1960) for both an excellent introduction to the geology and geography of the
Polochic Valley and a thorough discussion of differing views on the functions
and merits of shifting cultivation.
















Section II.


The Milpa Cycle




S INCE THE HAMLET OF CHICHIPATE iS a new one, agriculture
is still in many ways in the experimental stage. A few of
Chichipate's residents have lived in the lowlands as many
as twenty years, though most came from higher regions
during only the past six years. The earliest arrived before
the El Estor-CobAn road was built, and were engaged in the collec-
tion of chicle. Others came when the road was being put through,
and were, in effect, road workers. Because of their years of experi-
ence, these older residents are sought by the newcomers as experts
on regional agriculture. It is they who carry on the greatest plant
experimentation and grow the widest variety of cultigens.
All residents, new or old, produce agricultural goods for both
subsistence and the national market. Maize is the crop par excel-
lence, and sizeable amounts of it are sold at the end of each growing
season. With proceeds from these sales, Chichipatefios purchase
foodstuffs, such as beans, to which they are accustomed but which
they can grow only with great difficulty in their new environment.
Middlemen who purchase their produce and who bring in outside
items tend to be Ladinos from municipal or departmental capitals.
Some live permanently in El Estor, the nearest of such capitals.
Others come from as far away as Cobin, or even Guatemala City.
The dry season crop, harvestable in March and April, is in par-








14 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
ticularly high demand. Its harvest comes at a time when supplies of
maize in highland Guatemala are low. Whereas wet season maize
will sell for from Q1.50 to Q2.00 a quintal, dry season maize oc-
casionally brings Q6.00.
Production for sale and trade is decidedly secondary to the mil-
peros' interest in obtaining food for themselves and their families.
Chichipatefios are anything but omnivorous. They grow and eat
rice and different types of squash, and they regularly import a num-
ber of fruits. But these items are marginal. Indeed, some families
never plant bananas, even though they live in an excellent banana-
producing area. The real staples of the diet are corn and beans.'
During my stay in Chichipate, I made a habit of asking people
what they had for breakfast or lunch or dinner. In almost every case
they would reply: "I had chili" or "I ate squash leaves" or "I had
manioc." Hardly ever did they mention the fact that, along with
their squash, or their manioc, or their greens, they ate quantities of
maize tortillas, tamales, and gruel-like atole. These maize dishes are,
apparently, so omnipresent in their diet that they do not ordinarily
think about them. They are not the delights of life; they are the
essence of life.2
1. The nutritive qualities of maize are impressive. Hester has written: "It
is high in carbohydrates, but relatively low in proteins and fats. Souza-Novelo
(1950: 165-166) provides the following general analysis of dry Yucatan
maize: moisture, 1.40 percent; ash, 1.41 percent; protein, 9.90 percent; fats,
4.4 percent; crude fiber, 1.97 percent; total assimilable carbohydrates, 71.92
percent. Deficient or lacking in some of the more important vitamins and
minerals, maize alone would not suffice to support an individual through a
normal human life cycle. But supplemented by animal and other plant
products, the desirable qualities which maize offered to the Maya diet far
offset its dietary deficits" (Hester, 1954: 152).
2. Nutritional studies are still lacking for this part of Guatemala. Nutri-
tional experts working in Yucatan, however, have found that maize prepared
in various ways accounts for an average of 73 per cent of the daily energy
intake, and in some instances supplies as much as 86 per cent of the total
(Benedict and Steggerda, 1937: 184, 188). Hester has hypothesized that it
is probably safe to assume that maize products provide a minimum of 50 per
cent of all food consumed in the lowlands (Hester, 1954: 72-73). After his
years of work with the Yucatecan Maya, Morley was so impressed by the
potentialities of maize that he described it eloquently as "nature's richest gift
to man-the Maya staff of life-without which they never could have devel-
oped their highly distinctive culture, the most brilliant aboriginal civilization
in the New World Their agriculture was based directly upon, and derives
straight from, agriculture as applied to the cultivation of corn. [This is] ..
the most basic fact about Maya civilization" (Morley, 1947: 158).








The Milpa Cycle 15
In homes of the Chichipate Kekchi, families seldom sit and eat
together. Each individual eats as he feels the urge, and this may be
at any hour of the day or evening. Men often sit alone in a ham-
mock drinking fish soup, or eating corn on the cob, or scooping up
beans with maize tortillas. Occasionally people are seen eating in
the doorway of their house, especially if this is shaded from the hot
tropical sun. The woman of the family may announce that food is


Occasionally people are seen eating in the doorway.
ready. There is, however, never any rush to the table. One eats
according to his own desires and needs.
Relatively few utensils are used in eating. Most families have
spoons, but much food is simply picked up with the fingers. Women
do not exert great efforts in preparing elaborate dishes, and much
Kekchi food would be considered by us as tasteless and without
seasoning.
The primacy of the maize staple contrasts sharply with the con-
cept of a meal among less vegetarian people like ourselves. Maize is
the most important real food. It is indispensable for rites, offerings,
and for both large feasts and small meals. Individuals may experi-








16 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


ment with other plants, but it is their success with maize that de-
termines their standing in the community. Many milpas are planted
to this and only this crop. The entire agricultural cycle is geared
to maize cultivation. Yet only five varieties of this plant are culti-
vated in the community,3 and of these only two are anything like
common; the others are cultivated by only scattered individuals.
Some varieties, black for example, are grown mainly for ceremonial
purposes.
In comparing foods grown in Chichipate with those grown in a
region like the upland Philippines, one cannot but be impressed by
the lack of variety of the former. This may be due in part to the fact
that Chichipate is a pioneer hamlet, though there is the distinct
possibility that slash and burn agriculture, as practiced by the
Maya, was never as complex as it is in other parts of the world. One
thing that makes it difficult to judge whether this is so is that we
know the lowland Maya have, since Conquest, lost specific cultural
attributes, such as, for example, sailing.
The system of slash and burn, or shifting cultivation, is commonly
known in Mesoamerica as milpa agriculture. The term seems to
come from Nahuatl, and simply means "cornfield" (Morley, 1947:
141). In Kekchi, the word for cornfield is cal, and similar terms
exist in all the Maya languages. Chichipatefios, however, recognize
and use the word "milpa" when conversing with Spanish speakers.
This system of cultivation, variously called milpa agriculture,
swidden farming, digging stick or hoe agriculture, slash and burn,
and shifting cultivation, is worldwide in distribution, being found
especially in forested tropical lowlands (Lundell, 1937: 11).4 No
matter how limited the variety of crops grown under the system,
when distance, acreage, nature of help, type of soil, slope, weather
conditions, and beliefs are considered together with age, health, or
personal preferences, the milpa system emerges as a highly complex
economic and sociological phenomenon (Reina, 1967: 14). For
analytical purposes, this phenomenon can always be broken down,
3. In highland Guatemala, many more varieties of maize are commonly
grown than in the lowlands. The difference may be due to the fact that the
Izabal region presents a much more extreme environment for maize, to which
very few varieties are well adapted.
4. For good descriptions of the Middle American system, see Cook
(1921), Lundell (1937), Steggerda (1941), and Kelly and Palerm (1950).
For an exhaustive bibliography of published references of shifting cultivation
in general, see Conklin (1961).








The Milpa Cycle 17

however, into a limited number of phases and processes. In his study
of Hanun6o agriculture, Conklin has argued that the phases are
basically two: removal of old vegetation and control of new vegeta-
tion. Within these two basic phases, he sees five general processes
(Conklin, 1957: 31): site selection, cutting, burning, cropping,
and fallowing. Conklin's two basic phases, being mere analytical
categories, are relevant to though not overtly recognized by the
Kekchi of Chichipate. In contrast, the five general processes are
discussed in daily conversation, though not designated with the
terminological specificity he encountered with his Hanun6o. Within
these five general processes, the Kekchi recognize a number of
specific stages which they identify by small descriptive phrases
(Table 1).
In the Chichipate system, greatest emphasis is placed on wet
season cultivation in fields freshly cleared from land that had pre-
viously been either in fallow or high forest. Dry season plots tend to
be smaller, less productive, and hence of minor importance. Wet
season fields are often intercropped with isolated plantings of mar-
ginal foods such as manioc, malanga, bananas, sweet potatoes, sugar-
cane, and pineapple. But these are seldom weeded after the second
or dry season extension maize crop has been harvested. Under these
conditions, seldom do intercropped items last more than two to
three years. The single exception is pineapple, small plots of which
may hopefully be kept productive for as long as ten to fifteen years.
Population pressure has not yet pushed people to realize the full
potentialities of intercropped materials.
Within each normal wet season stage, Chichipatefios recognize
different substages of development related mostly to the cycle of
maize maturation. These will be discussed when the actual proce-
dures of cropping are considered.
SITE SELECTION
Chichipate, in 1965, had ninety separate households whose mem-
bers loaned and borrowed labor regularly among themselves. How-
ever, it was the household unit, the core of which was the nuclear
family, that formed the basic work group. There appears to have
been no insistence that each adult male have his own milpa, and a
number of young married men simply made milpa with their
fathers and/or brothers. There was concern, however, that each
family produce enough for sale as well as for food. Older settlers of
the community had already preempted much of the land. As a









18 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

TABLE 1
MILPA STAGES
SPECIFIC NORMAL STAGES


Kekchi
Al c'al
C'alenbil c'al
Ak'inbil czal
Inc Pa c atbil li c al
C'atbil li cPal
Aubil li c al
Xmok li c~al

Mas li pim sa c al
Ak'inc li cal
Xk ano' li cOal

Xchakic li c al
Chamal pim
CocP che ru
Nink al c al
Nink li q uiche



C alenbil sak icuaj


Sak Picuaj

Cuan li acunmk sa li
rok cuaj


English
Milpa resting
Slashed milpa
Cleaned milpa
Felled but unburned milpa
Burned milpa
Seeded milpa
Plants broken through the ground
("milpa is pointed")
Weedy milpa
Weeded milpa
Mature milpa, silk dry,
stalks green
Dry milpa (ready for harvest)
Low fallow milpa (thick)
Sapling stage of secondary growth
High fallow milpa
High forest

SUBSIDIARY STAGES*
Slashed for dry season extension
milpa (slashed for corn of the
sunny season)
Dry season extension milpa (corn of
the sunny season)
A few productive plants in the fallow
(there are productive plants in
the old corn stalks)


DISJUNCTIVE STAGES
X'oso? li cuaj Ruined (young plants are finished,
e.g., because of wind, weeds, or
insects)
Pach 'ayaP Grassland


*More intensive seasonal cropping has recently been reported for the Petin.
In San Jos6, milperos may sow three crops in one year, that is, a regular crop
of first or second year milpa and two emergency crops: San Jose, a dry season
crop seeded in low lying sites; and Yaxkin, seeded during the rainy season on
higher terrain (Reina, 1967: 1).








The Milpa Cycle 19
result, a number of households cultivated two or three small plots,
rather than one large one. For ninety households there were one
hundred and thirty wet season milpas.
A number of variables enter into the selection of a site for conver-
sion to milpa. These will be considered in the order that the Kekchi
perceive them.

Freedom of Action
The biggest single attraction that the lowland tropics hold for
the highland Kekchi is freedom of action. If they moved into the
Chichipate area, it was because when they did so they believed it
to be government land. The fact that it really belonged to the
Tinajas cooperative, and that it was recently split and sold, one part
to a mining company and the other to a Guatemalan entrepreneur,
has proved to be a bitter disappointment. Some families have left,
and others are threatening to do so. The only reason they stay is
that the mining company, through the administration of the munic-
ipal government, has made the rental fee minimal, and the Guate-
malan entrepreneur has proven to be benign. It may be safely as-
sumed that had the owners of the Chichipate area been as active in
1961 as they are today, the hamlet would never have been estab-
lished. As soon as undue pressure is exerted by either of the present
owners, the place will undoubtedly be deserted, and the inhabitants
will migrate elsewhere, likely squatting on what they presume to be
other government lands.

Previous Use of Land
Migrants coming to Chichipate carry with them the belief that
the best lands are those which have never previously been farmed.5
Were they to follow this ideal, they would use a great deal of mature
forest land for their wet season milpas. However, the mandates of
the new landlords forced them to compromise and, in 1965, they
were using principally plots that had been farmed previously. Sixty-
eight per cent of their wet season milpas was in lands that had been
allowed to lie fallow not more than three years, 21 per cent in lands
that had lain idle for four to ten years, and only 11 per cent in lands
that had just been cleared from mature forest growth-the last
5. This ideal of searching for virgin lands for cultivation is unusual. In
Yucatan the best milpa lands are thought to be the opposite-former village
sites and previously farmed areas (personal communication from Roland
Chardon, 1968).








The Milpa Cycle 19
result, a number of households cultivated two or three small plots,
rather than one large one. For ninety households there were one
hundred and thirty wet season milpas.
A number of variables enter into the selection of a site for conver-
sion to milpa. These will be considered in the order that the Kekchi
perceive them.

Freedom of Action
The biggest single attraction that the lowland tropics hold for
the highland Kekchi is freedom of action. If they moved into the
Chichipate area, it was because when they did so they believed it
to be government land. The fact that it really belonged to the
Tinajas cooperative, and that it was recently split and sold, one part
to a mining company and the other to a Guatemalan entrepreneur,
has proved to be a bitter disappointment. Some families have left,
and others are threatening to do so. The only reason they stay is
that the mining company, through the administration of the munic-
ipal government, has made the rental fee minimal, and the Guate-
malan entrepreneur has proven to be benign. It may be safely as-
sumed that had the owners of the Chichipate area been as active in
1961 as they are today, the hamlet would never have been estab-
lished. As soon as undue pressure is exerted by either of the present
owners, the place will undoubtedly be deserted, and the inhabitants
will migrate elsewhere, likely squatting on what they presume to be
other government lands.

Previous Use of Land
Migrants coming to Chichipate carry with them the belief that
the best lands are those which have never previously been farmed.5
Were they to follow this ideal, they would use a great deal of mature
forest land for their wet season milpas. However, the mandates of
the new landlords forced them to compromise and, in 1965, they
were using principally plots that had been farmed previously. Sixty-
eight per cent of their wet season milpas was in lands that had been
allowed to lie fallow not more than three years, 21 per cent in lands
that had lain idle for four to ten years, and only 11 per cent in lands
that had just been cleared from mature forest growth-the last
5. This ideal of searching for virgin lands for cultivation is unusual. In
Yucatan the best milpa lands are thought to be the opposite-former village
sites and previously farmed areas (personal communication from Roland
Chardon, 1968).








20 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
often in direct opposition to mandates from the landlords. There
was considerable complaint on the part of the residents over the
dictum that no more virgin timber be felled, and many saw this as
the toll of doom for the community.
Though intercropping is practiced and results in small stands of
manioc, sweet potatoes, chili peppers, malanga, pineapple, and
sugarcane that can survive for several years after the initial milpa
harvest, these crops are considered relatively unimportant. They
seldom cause a person to hesitate before slashing or burning a field,
particularly after the second year of fallow growth. With the excep-
tion of pineapple, no intercrop is thought to be worth even desultory
weeding after the third year.
Because of a national law prohibiting the destruction of mahog-
any, Chichipatefios insist that they never use lands where these trees
stand.6 Observation, however, indicates that such lands are actually
used, the trees sometimes being destroyed and other times being left
as lone specimens in the middle of the milpa. A second national law
which prohibits the felling of trees of more than 6 inches in diame-
ter for milpa is disregarded entirely.
Though tenure is by usufruct, once an individual has cut and
burned over virgin land, he establishes a claim to it in perpetuity.
More recent arrivals to Chichipate thus are forced to request per-
mission from older residents before entering areas of secondary
growth. Since these older residents settled at a time when there
were no restrictions on land use, they have extensive fallow holdings
and, in 1965, gave access quite readily. A substantial increase in
population would rapidly make the continuance of this practice
difficult, however.

Types of Soil
The fact that Maya lowland soils are not particularly poor has
been suggested by the anthropologist Ferdon (1959: 13). He is
supported by various soil studies which have been made in the
region (e.g., Wright et al., 1959; Cowgill and Hutchinson, 1963a;
Popenoe, 1959). Simmons, TArano, and Pinto's soil maps (1959)
6. The same regulations affect all land clearing in lowland Guatemala. In
San Jose, Reina found that municipal authorities enforce the forestry regula-
tions. If there are large trees in the field that can be used for building canoes
or houses or for chicle gathering, a milpero must secure official permission to
use them, he must be certain that he does not exceed his quota, and he must
pay the set tax for each tree (Reina, 1967: 4).








The Milpa Cycle 21
indicate that, for the Chichipate area, Sebach soils predominate,
though Setal and Semuc soils are also present in spots. Sebach soils
are described as dark brown, friable clays approximately 30 cm in
depth, deriving from and overlying serpentine. Setal soils are derived
from alluvium, are considerably deeper (50-60 cm), and may be
classed as reddish brown, friable clays. Perhaps because they occur
on flatlands, they tend to present more drainage problems than do
Setal soils. Semuc soils are also reddish brown, derive from and
overlie serpentine, are 60-80 cm deep, and have an excellent clay
base structure (Simmons, TArano, and Pinto, 1959: 545-52).
Chichipatefios are very aware of soil quality; they consider it pri-
mary in the production of good crops. Their criteria for classifica-
tion are mainly four: color, texture, drainage, and root content. On
this basis they devise eight major categories for color, ten for tex-
ture, five for drainage, and one for root content. In Tables 2 and 3,
these are set down in the Kekchi's own descending order of quality,
going from the best and most productive to the worst and least
productive. The eight color categories are often combined with
categories of texture and condition in describing specific soils. How-
ever, just as frequently, they are considered independently as diag-
nostic signs of soil quality.
The categories for texture are anything but mutually exclusive.
SamahP, mu?, pec, and pok ch~ochP are almost always soft-sur-
faced soils and so fall into the generalized textural category of k un,
or soft. Melb ru li choch? may be considered either soft (k un) or
hard (cau), depending on whether the hardened clay has been frag-
mented or not. Seb, saclun, and cudcab ru li choch? are usually
typed as cau, especially when they lie on the surface of the ground.
In addition to falling into general textural categories, the eight
specific soil textures tend to be associated with specific soil colors.
Thus, pec ru li chochP may be shades of black (kVek), yellow
(kVan), or red (cak), but it cannot be white (sak). SamahiP ru li
choch? is found only in shades of black (kek), and especially in
brownish-black (mero k'ek). Mu? ru li ch~och? is found in all four
basic colors: black (kek), white (sak), yellow (kVan), and red
(cak). Hardened clay (melb ru) comes in yellow (kVan), light
brown (mero kVan), red (cak), and white (sak), but not in tones
of black. Saclun may be found only in white (sak) and yellow
(kVan); seb comes only in red (cak) and yellow (kan). Cudcab
comes only in dark browns and brownish-blacks (mero kVek and
kVek), and pok comes only in white (sak).









22 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

Kekchi classifications of texture, though they do not closely cor-
respond to those established by modern soils scientists, seem per-
fectly adequate for milpa farming. The important thing the milpero
is interested in, with regard to texture, is how coarse or fine the soil
might be. He prefers the coarse, well-aerated type. This he can
select quite skillfully by surface examination alone.

TABLE 2
SOIL COLORS


Kekchi type
K ek li ch~ochJ

Mero k ek li ch ochP


Mero k an li ch'och



K an li ch och



Sak li ch och



Mero cak li ch och


Cak li ch'och


Tzakal cak li ch och


English designation and usability
Black soil. Very good. The most
widely distributed of good soils.
Brownish-black soil (half black).
Good for both wet and dry season
milpa. Widely distributed.
Brownish-yellow soil (half yellow).
If soft (k un), good for both wet
and dry season milpa. Limited dis-
tribution.
Yellow soil. If soft (k'un), good for
both wet and dry season milpa.
Often, however, it is hard (cau).
Limited distribution.
White soil. If soft (kzun), good for
both wet and dry season milpa. If
hard (cau), it is very poor for
milpa. Limited distribution.
Reddish-brown soil (half red). Fair
for milpa, especially if soft
(k un). Very widely distributed.
Red soil. Fair for milpa, especially
if soft (k un). Very widely dis-
tributed.
Very red soil. Poor for milpa. Fairly
widely distributed.


The textural categories most common in Chichipate are: samahP
ru, melb ru, muP ru, seb ru, pec ru, and cudcab. In an attempt to
gain some insight into the semantic fields of these categories, six soil
samples were taken for each of them, all being selected on the basis
of surface texture alone, with the exception of a seb sample which
was chosen because it bordered on a well-known source of clay.
Informants who helped collect the samples classed those of samahiP
ru, melb ru, and mu? ru as soft (kVun) and the rest as hard (cau).












Kekchi type
K'un ru li chPoch


Samahi? ru li chPoch'



Mu' ru li ch'och






Melb ru li ch och'




Pec ru li ch och?







Saclun ch och


Seb ru li ch'och'







Cuacab li ch och'



Pok ch och


Cau ru li ch och


TABLE 3
SOIL TEXTURE
English designation and usability
Soft surfaced soil. Good for both wet
and dry season milpa. Widely dis-
tributed.
Sandy, silty loam. Excellent for wet
season milpa if well drained. Good
for dry season milpa. Limited dis-
tribution.
Very soft surfaced soil. The top layer
of this soil tends to be partially de-
cayed organic material. It is the
best soil for dry season milpa,
especially if it lies on low, flat
land. Less productive for wet sea-
son milpa. Limited distribution.
Surface covered by pieces of hard-
ened clay. Good for both wet and
dry season milpa. Especially pro-
ductive for beans. Limited distri-
bution.
Stony surfaced soil. Usable for wet
season milpa if the stones are
whitish or bluish and if covered
with ligneous growth. Stony soils
which produce only sparse her-
baceous growth or grasses are elim-
inated from consideration. Com-
mon on hilly sites.
Yellow and grey clays, usable for
dry season milpa if near water.
Rare in Chichipate.
Yellow and red clay surface. Exces-
sively hard in the dry season and
sticky in the wet season. Poor for
milpa if the surface of the ground
is seb. Seb may lie under softer,
surface soils, however, and in this
case produce good milpa. Fairly
common in Chichipate.
Black and brownish-black clay. Simi-
lar to seb, and presenting many of
the same problems. Rare in Chi-
chipate.
Partially decomposed limestone, used
as a cleanser. Poor for milpa,
though rare in Chichipate.
Hard surfaced soil. Poor for both
wet and dry season milpa. Fairly
widely distributed.









24 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

It will be remembered that this may not always be the case, particu-
larly with melb and pec soils, which may be either hard or soft.
However, the results of a laboratory analysis using the hydrometer
method (Bouyoucos, 1936) clearly illustrate why the informants so
classified these samples (Table 4). The melb soils contained sizeable


KEKCHI TEXTURE


TABLE 4
CLASSIFICATION AND ANALYSIS


Depth Per cent Per cent Per cent
Kekchi type (inches) of sand of silt of clay English type


SamahiP ru
li ch och'


Mean all levels
Mu ru
li ch och

Mean all levels
Melb ru
li ch'ochP

Mean all levels
Seb ru
li ch och'

Mean all levels
Pec ru
li ch'och'

Mean all levels
Cuacab
li ch'och'

Mean all levels


0-2 63.1
2-6 57.2
6-10 59.9
60.1
0-2 51.6
2-6 52.7
6-10 35.9
46.7
0-2 48.9
2-6 32.1
6-10 37.2
39.4
0-2 30.1
2-6 8.4
6-10 0.0
15.4
0-2 18.9
2-6 19.4
6-10 13.8
21.0
0-2 18.5
2-6 11.6
6-10 11.9
14.2


Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Sandy clay loam
Clay loam
Clay loam
Clay loam
Clay loam
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay
Clay


portions of both sand and silt, while the pec soils, taken from a lime-
stone-covered hill, turned out to have a very high clay content.
Overriding the importance of soil color and texture are the mat-
ters of drainage and root content (Table 5). A soil which may meet
basic criteria for being of top productive capacity, i.e., black and









The Milpa Cycle 25

soft, can nevertheless fail because of flooding or a root problem, and
soils that are highly productive in the rainy season may dry or
crack in the dry season and thus become worthless.
Since Kekchi designations for drainage are flexible depending on
the moisture content of the soil at the time of observation, it is im-
possible to estimate the percentage of Chichipate soils that fall into

TABLE 5
DRAINAGE


Kekchi type
Chaki ch och'

Sulul li ch'och'


Xjore' li ch'och'





HaP ru li ch och





Sab ru li chPoch'



Tzatzalum


English designation and usability


Dry soil. Good for wet season milpa;
poor for dry season milpa.
Muddy soil. If the condition is only
temporary, soil may be usable for
either wet or dry season milpa. It
is inferior, however, to soils having
soft, granular surfaces. In general,
sulul is more usable for dry than
for wet season milpa.

Cracked soil. Cracks appear only
during the dry season. Soils that
crack are usually found on high
ground or hillsides, and so are
usable only for wet season milpa.

Soil covered by water. Very poor for
wet season milpa, though possibly
good to excellent for dry season
milpa. These soils are commonly
derived from clays (seb).

Perpetual swamp. Useless for both
dry and wet season milpa.

ROOT CONTENT
Root-bound soil. Found almost ex-
clusively in recently slashed and
felled milpas, especially when they
have been carved out of mature
forest (nink li q uicheP). These
soils generally are poor the first
year but, as the roots slowly rot
away, become good to excellent by
the second year of use.








26 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
each category. Furthermore, drainage and root content overlap
color and texture in such a way that a lengthy series of soil types
becomes possible: e.g., muddy white soil (saki sulul li ch>och?);
black, root-bound soil (tzatzalum kPek li ch och ); and stony,
yellow soil (pec ru kPan li chochP). Judgments as to the merits of
a specific soil depend on an astute evaluation of its various, some-
times contradictory, qualities, and social pressure encourages care
in this evaluation. As Reina has indicated, the poor selection of a
piece of land and the spending of one's energy for little or no profit
are considered socially embarrassing; they are signs of poverty and
stupidity (Reina, 1967: 3).
Independent from the already mentioned analysis, for texture,
a separate one was made to determine the relationship of specific
Kekchi soil classifications to mineral nutrient content. This was
based on 125 samples taken in 21 different milpas. Each of these
milpas was sampled at two points, the control being that the soils at
both points be given the same terminological designation by the
Kekchi cultivator. At each of these points, subsamples were taken
from three depths: 0 to 2 inches, 2 to 6 inches, and 6 to 10 inches.
There resulted thirteen composite Kekchi soil types. In Table 6,
presenting data from the laboratory report, these types have been
ranked in a descending order of quality, as judged by Kekchi
standards.7
The range in chemical content for the various samples represent-
ing any one soil type was small, and content figures have therefore
been presented in averages. In general, the analysis indicates that
Chichipate has fairly fertile soils. Other than questions of drainage,
what problems do exist seem limited mainly to the fact that some
soils are low in phosphorus, some low in nitrogen, and some have a
high ratio of magnesium to calcium.
The rank ordering of soil types characteristic of the Chichipate
system corresponds roughly to that Reina obtained from San Jos6
natives (Reina, 1967: 1-2). Chichipate informants place black
7. To arrive at the figures on chemical content, several techniques were
employed. A Sargent pH meter, general purpose glass electrodes, and a 1:2
soil-water ratio were used to determine pH. Soils were extracted with IN
ammonium acetate buffered to pH 4.8. Calcium and potassium were deter-
mined on the extract by the use of the Beckman B spectrophotometer with
flame attachment and photomultiplier. The phosphorous determination em-
ployed the use of a photovolt colorimeter, using the molybdenum blue pro-
cedure. Nitrate nitrogen was determined qualitatively by the diphenylamine
method.







TABLE 6
CHEMICAL ANALYSIS OF SOIL NUTRIENTS
(Oxides in pounds per acre)

Rank in
Soil name pH CaO MgO KO P20O NO3* Harvestt harvest
I


1. K'ek li chioch?
2. K'an li ch'och?
3. K'an li ch'och>
X (black surface with brown un-
derneath) :
I
1. K'ek li choch?
2. K'ek li ch och' seb ru
3. Seb ru
X (black earth with clay under-
neath)
I
1. Samahi' li ch'och'
2. Samahiz li ch och'
3. Samahi' li ch'och'
X (sandy loam)
/
1. Melb ru
2. Melb ru
3. Melb ru
X (hardened, fragmented clay)


3597

7578
3367
2740

4562

4191
2448
1721
2787

5762
4550
3939
4751


7101
5621
7426

6716

2979
1745
1883

2202

6312
6899
6453
6555

2640
3696
3850
3395


45.5
0.75
0.25


491 15.5


30 1


49.8
0.63
trace


327 16.81


3.8
6.3
0.75
3.6

25.5
7.5
1.75
11.52


30 1




30 1




25 4











TABLE 6-Continued
Rank in
Soil name pH CaO MgO K20 PO25 N03* Harvestt harvest

V


1. MuP ru
2. Mu' ru
3. Mu' ru
X (trashy soil)


1. K'ek li ch'ochz
2. Cak li ch och
3. K'an li chzoch?
X (black earth with red and
brown underneath)
I
1. Sak li ch'och'
2. Sak li ch'och'
3. Sak li ch och'
X (grey or whitish earth)
C
1. Cak li ch'och'
2. K'an li ch'och?


1924
1890
2572
2129


2560
1106
640
1435

5932
3081
2961

3991

4774
1616
1319
2570


1047
560
283
630

1042
411
337


25 4




24 6


7.5
0.5
0.5
2.8

13.3
0.5
.66


597 4.82


37.5
1.5
.75
13.2


6.50 3496 2025 668
6.13 854 1681 364


20 7




20 7


2.00 2.00
trace 1.00


1.I K'an li ch'och'
2. K K'un li ch'och?
3.1 Chak li ch'och'
X (soft, dry yellow earth)









3. K'an li ch och>
X (red earth with yellowish-
brown underneath)


XIII


K'ek li ch'ochP tzatzalum
K'ek li ch'ochP tzatzalum
K ek li ch'och? tzatzalum
(root-bound black soil)

Mero cak li ch'och'
Mero cak li ch och'
Mero cak li ch och?
(half reddish soil)

K'an li ch'och' ha' ru sulul
K'an li ch'och' sulul
K'an li ch'och' sulul
(yellow earth; muddy,
covered by water)

Seb ru ha? ru
Seb ru
Seb ru
(clay, covered by water)


5.40

6.01

7.45
6.52
5.63
6.53

6.59
6.31
5.94
6.28

7.08
6.44
5.98

6.50

9.29
7.90
7.56
8.25


364 0.5 1.00


1602

6848
1151
986
2995

7902
1249
441
3197

5738
2427
2126

3430

3797
3564
3046
3468


1721

5674
6453
8009
6712

3571
1721
1684
2325

2491
2491
4364

3115

44,766
6497
5279
18,847


465

2038
560
392
997

932
412
324
556

1196
560
358

705

1347
2043
1198
1529


.83 1.33


142.8
1.5
.5
48.3

22.5
1.00
0.3
7.9

26.0
3.0
trace

9.66

31.0
11.8
9.0
17.3


*1.00-very low; 2.00-low; 3.00-medium; 4.00-high.
tQuintales per manzana.
$Words in parentheses indicate a rough English equivalent of the three Kekchi soil
equivalent represent averages for all three soil levels.


levels. Numbers to the right of this English


20 7




17.5 10




15 11


5 12




0 13


476 1458








30 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


porous soils at the top and poorly drained soils, regardless of color,
at the bottom. Next in preference after black soils are yellow, fol-
lowed by white and red. Of the soils having no drainage or root
problems, mero cak li ch och (very dusky red on the Munsell color
chart) is ranked as the poorest.
The overriding importance of drainage is illustrated by the fact
that, of the four lowest ranked soil types, all but one (No. XI-
mero cak li ch och ) have serious drainage problems. The composite






4L












Maize in sulul Ii ch och. Maize in k'ek li ch)och .
types ranked twelfth and thirteenth are regularly covered by water
(haP ru), and that ranked tenth is root-bound (tzatzalum). Such
conditions negate any positive merits soils may have from the stand-
point of available nutrients. Thus it is that the type ranked lowest
by informants (No. XIII) has the highest available nutrient con-
tent, that ranked third from the lowest (No. X) has the second
highest, and that ranked next to the lowest (No. XII) has the fifth
highest of all types sampled.
That soil texture is also an important consideration seems in-
disputable from the analysis. While those soil types ranked in first
and second place by Chichipatefios are high in available nutrients,
that ranked in third place is decidedly low. However, the third
ranking soil type, samahi' li chochP, is sandy, silty loam. In a
similar manner, fourth, fifth, and sixth ranked soil types are soft and








The Milpa Cycle 31
grainy, allowing for excellent percolation, and apparently giving
good yields, though the latter two are also very low in available
nutrients. In final analysis, the most desirable soil types would seem
to be those that are black, porous, soft, and well drained. The least
desirable would be those that are red, hard, and poorly drained.
All Chichipate soils are known as k'ixnal ch'ochP, or warm soils,
due to their location in the lowland tropics. Over half of them are
reddish (cak li ch och2) and, by Kekchi standards, hold limited
promise for agriculture. According to local classification, about one-
fourth of the soils possess a high clay content (seb ru li ch'och?),
as many as one-half are periodically covered by water (ha' ru), one-
fourth are black (kPek li ch'och?), and a little more than one-tenth
are designated as root-bound (tzatzalum). The overlapping of these
classifications seems obvious by the percentages involved.
Only isolated spots are rocky, and these are near the hills on the
side of the community owned by the International Nickel Company.
A distinction is made between soil with blue stones (rax pec), white
stones (sak pec), and red stones (cak li pec). In the words of one
informant: "Blue and white stones keep cool, but the red stones get
hot." The blue and white are considered good for wet season
milpa; the red, poor. Soils choked with stones, if the stones are not
red, are thought to be adequate and, in certain circumstances, even
good for milpa. Neither are boulder strewn soils scorned, for, with
digging sticks, certain problems associated with plow agriculture
do not arise.
Types of Vegetation
Kekchi who migrate to the Izabal area rapidly acquire a minimal
working knowledge of the complex forms of local plant life. Because
these plants are looked upon as primary variables in the selection of
productive milpa sites, the value of a particular piece of land is
usually judged as much in terms of vegetative cover as in terms of
soil type. Such cover not only reflects soil type and drainage, but
seems to offer the principal basis for fertility, crops being main-
tained more by decaying vegetation than by the soil per se. Under
highly leached conditions, the soil itself may serve as more of a
holding agent than anything else (Geertz, 1963: 20-22).
The migrant Kekchi have brought with them the terms they use
to designate principal types of vegetative cover. The most general
ones are guamil, a Spanish derived term, which simply means "low
secondary growth," and guatal, another Spanish derived term, which








32 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
could be glossed as "higher secondary growth." In addition, there
are a number of more specific Kekchi terms, though they are general
enough to serve the need for classification as well in the lowlands
as they do in the highlands (Table 7).
In speaking of ideal lands for preparing wet season milpa, Chi-
chipatefios emphasize those covered with high forest (nfnk li
q uiche?). The buttresses of many mature trees present the worker
with very special problems. However, though clearing is difficult,
burning is easy, and once large timber has been cut and burned, the
soil is well-supplied with readily available nutrients in the ash.
Weeding is usually not required during the first growing season on
land just cleared from high forest.
TABLE 7
MAJOR TYPES OF VEGETATION
Kekchi term English gloss
Rok cuaj A field covered with small plants
which appear in the first few
months after harvest (literally,
dried corn stalks)
Coc pim Low weeds
Pim ru Thick, low weeds
Mas pim ru Very thick brush
Ichaj ru High grass, e.g., pasture grass
Coc' che' ru Sapling stage of secondary growth
Q uix ru Thorny vegetation
Nfnki al c al High secondary growth
Mac a' xpimal Higher secondary growth, character-
ized by sparse undergrowth
Nink li q ?uiche Mature forest growth*
*By the very nature of things, nink li q 'uiche P is an indefinite category. It
literally means "big the forest," and so cannot be used with the preciseness
that Ursula Cowgill employs when she arbitrarily calls "climax" forest any-
thing that has rested at least 25 years (U. Cowgill, 1962: 281).

In selecting a high forest site, no distinction is made between
primary and secondary growth. This may be due to the fact that
the Kekchi of Chichipate have lived in the region so few years as
to be unaware of any lands cut over formerly, if, indeed, such lands
exist. There certainly seems to be no awareness of the differential
burning qualities or pest problems of primary over mature secon-
dary growth. Simple observation confirmed informants' claims that
milpas planted in places that were in mature forest the previous









The Milpa Cycle 33

year are freer from weeds than those planted in lands where saplings
(cocP cheP) or bush (chamal pim) had stood.
According to local theory, when mature forest growth is not
available for milpa preparation, preference is given to those lands
covered by tall though not mature forest. Next in line come lands
covered by saplings, and finally those covered by low, ligneous
growth. Herbaceous fallow is thought not to be conducive to suc-
cessful milpa, and grasslands are looked upon as useless, though

TABLE 8
PLANT INDICATORS FOR SITE SELECTION
WET SEASON MILPA DRY SEASON MILPA
Kekchi type Botanical species Kekchi type Botanical species
Yaxte' Brunfelsia sp. QuenkP caballo Stizolobium sp.
Tz Puyuy Cochlospermum sp. Tz iimaj Momordica
charantia L.
Tz Pukl Pithecolobium sp. K erk Heliconia
latispatha
Benth.
Hu Virola Yaxte Brunfelsia sp.
guatemalensis
(Hemsl.) Warb.
Cuachil Dialium guianense AkPl Moraceae
(Aubl.) Sandw.
Muy Lucuma durdlandii
Standl.
Pok Spondias purpurea L.
Chahib Trema sp.
Puj Ochroma lagopus
Swartz
Yaxhab Unidentified
Kinam Vatairea lundellii
(Standl.) Killip ex
Record

redeemable through the planting of legumes, especially quenkP
caballo, or velvet bean.
A whole series of specific plants, rather than plant associations,
are believed to hold clues for the selection of a milpa site (Table 8).
Some are used as diagnostic criteria for determining where to plant
wet season milpa, while others are used for selecting parcels for dry
season milpa. Plants indicative of good wet season land are those
which have a relatively low tolerance for poor drainage conditions;








34 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


those indicative of good dry season land have a high tolerance for
such conditions. Only one plant is considered promising for both
types of cultivation, and this is yaxte (Brunfelsia sp.).
For both dry and wet season milpa, land covered with soft-
wooded timber is considered generally good, especially when the
soil texture is loose and humid.8 This soft-wood growth is exempli-
fied by hu ((Virola guatemalensis (Hemsl.) Warb.)) and puj
(Ochroma lagopus Swartz).
The proliferation of three types of plant life is thought to invali-
date a piece of land as a milpa site. All of these types are grasses:
pachkaya? (Paspalum conjugatum Bergius), cak pachaya? ((Ax-
onopus compressus (Swartz) Beauv.)), and acP (unidentified).
The first two are stoloniferous. The third is a type of bush grass used
for thatching.

Distance from Human Settlement
Except for a few house yard plants, few crops are sown in close
proximity to houses in Chichipate. Practically all milpas are at least
a fifteen-minute walk from the hamlet, and many are an hour's walk
or more away. The constant search for more productive land ac-
counts for this scattering to some extent, but the coercive forces of
the two new landlords seem also to be powerful determinants.
Perhaps the single most important factor, however, is the presence
of hundreds of pigs in the hamlet. Since they act as scavengers,
these animals are never penned in. Allowed to run loose, they raid
and completely destroy any unfenced corn fields that are near the
hamlet.
Roads and paths invariably take precedence over milpa planting.
Major roads, such as the one running between CobAn and El Estor,
cannot, of course, be used for cropping, even if one would wish to
try. But even minor roads, such as the one leading from Chichipate
to the YuscarAn finca, are considered inviolable. Footpaths, of
course, run all over the region. Milpa can be planted to either side
of these, and seldom is the path diverted for the sake of milpa unity.
As people walk along these paths, they gather grass seeds on their
clothing. Damage to growing crops results not only from direct
tramping, therefore, but also from the sizeable mats of grass that
spread on either side of the path. Yet land is still abundant enough
8. Soft woods are generally found in early succession, hard in later. For
further discussion of this matter, cf. Budowski, 1963.








The Milpa Cycle 35
so that walkers are not forced to skirt fields. Given more demo-
graphic pressure, this laissez-faire attitude may well be expected to
change.

Terrain
The half of Chichipate lying south of the El Estor-CobAn road
consists of even land which gradually drops to the flood plain of the
Polochic River. Most of this land floods in the rainy season and thus
is of only marginal use for wet season milpa. To the north of the
road the plain gradually slopes upward until it brusquely meets
steep foothills, some of which intrude into the hamlet site itself.
The portion of the plain lying north of the road offers the best sites
for wet season milpa, and, until the dissolution of the Tinajas co-
operative and the subsequent partitioning of the community (cf. p.
3), farmers tended to plant on the north side of the road in the wet
season and on the south side in the dry season. Partitioning upset a
neat ecological balance that had existed ever since the first colonists
settled in Chichipate.
Lands that easily flood (ha? ru) are considered unpromising,
particularly for wet season milpa.9 Flooding, in fact, accounted for
more crop failure in 1965 than any other single factor. Beyond a
general tendency to avoid depressions, however, there is little con-
sideration given to terrain as such. Well-drained valley (ru tak a)
or level lands (helho ru li choch?) are highly desirable types. But
sloping land, whether slightly sloping (mero salso), moderately
sloping (mas salso or mero tzuil), or extremely steep (mas tziil),
is often preferred to level land because of the greater ease milperos
claim it offers for slashing and felling. An additional initial ad-
vantage may lie in the possibility that rapid exposure of the subsoil
through erosion brings to the surface mineral nutrients previously
leached.
In no case is terrain the only consideration for the selection of a
milpa site. Soil color, soil texture, soil condition, and vegetative
cover all loom as much more important. The slower replenishment
of secondary growth on badly eroded slopes leads the Chichipatefio
9. The reluctance to use bajo land seems widespread throughout the
lowlands. In San Jos6, Reina found that several milperos were very happy
with their sites because they were not in a bajo, the soil was uniform and of
the best type, and the location was in a wide space, high and open to sun
and air, and on a slight slope, oriented so that the heaviest winds could cause
little damage (Reina, 1967: 3).








36 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
to implicitly recognize the effects of the erosion process over time.
This recognition, however, does not restrain him from cutting over
the steepest of these slopes, nor from planting in an up and down
direction rather than on the contour.
Irregular terrain is described by the Kekchi according to its
specific features rather than in general terms. Digging stick tech-
nology makes the use of such terrain feasible, though depressions
between small slopes where flooding is likely to occur are usually
left to grow up in weeds and small shrubs.
The base of a hill or mountain is known as xton tzi'l and the
middle as xyitoc tzil. Both the base and the middle are commonly
used for milpa sites. A number of hills around Chichipate have
rather level summits. These, known as coc? tak a or little plains,
may be used for milpa and, except for their relative inaccessability,
are considered to be especially good sites for wet season cropping.10
However, because of distance from the village, they are seldom used.

Religious Considerations

One of the effects of migration from Alta Verapaz to Chichipate
seems to have been the lessening of supernatural sanctions. In the
Coban area, hills are commonly associated with various saints. At
the time of site selection, should one have a dream about any of
these hills, or any of the associated saints, he cannot make milpa
there.
In Chichipate there is less respect for the saints. Most hills have
not yet been given supernatural associations, and so people make
milpa wherever they desire, so long as this desire does not run
counter to the mandates of the present landowners.
The spirits of hills in general must be placated, however, at the
time of boundary marking, planting, and harvest. Theoretically,
milpa may not be made in a site if the spirits of the surrounding
hills have not given permission. Yet the general attitude of the
Chichipatefios is pragmatic in the extreme. As one informant put
it: "Everyone has to eat, so we make milpa anyplace we wish as
long as we ask permission first. God would not have us die of
hunger. Where could we go? After all, we are all children of God."

10. Reina, in speaking of site selection in San Jose, indicates that these
small plains, along with their immediately adjacent slopes, constitute the
core of milpa concentration for that community (Reina, 1967: 3).








The Milpa Cycle 37
Discussion for Site Selection
Milperos do not like to waste their time on land they consider
unpromising. Site selection is often a difficult task, for there are
relatively few large tracts of land that display entirely positive fea-
tures. In the selection, older colonists of Chichipate have a distinct
advantage over those who have come into the community more
recently. They may have as many as ten to twenty manzanas (ap-
proximately 28 to 56 acres) in cleared-over lands, most of which are
in various stages of secondary growth. With such extensive reserves,
these men plan from three to five years ahead which plots they will
submit to recultivation. Newer arrivals to the community, however,
may not decide on a milpa site until January or February, i.e., three
or four months before burning for wet season milpa should occur.
As they walk through the bush, they constantly search for a piece of
land that seems to meet best the various requisites of soil color and
texture, vegetative cover, accessibility, and terrain. If they see a
likely spot, they tell their friends, brothers, fathers, or fathers-in-law,
and invite them to inspect the find. The first person who locates such
a site opens a swath about a yard wide around its perimeter to indi-
cate that it has been taken. Should the site have been formerly used
by an individual still resident in the community, that person may
appear and claim it as his own. At times such rival claims lead to
open fights. At other times, the auxiliary mayor, a local resident
appointed by authorities in El Estor, intervenes and decides who
has prior claim. If the site is unusually large, the auxiliary mayor
may opt to divide it into two parts. Only on rare occasions is the
former occupant left without any rights whatsoever.
Generally, a milpero tries to have productive plots in several
places at the same time. This custom of scattering was recorded by
Bishop Landa for YucatAn in the early Colonial period,11 and was
attributed by him to a desire to insure a minimum harvest, no mat-
ter what the seasonal conditions. The ideal pattern dictates that
once a person has cleared over land, he has primary access rights to
it as long as he remains in the community, with the exception, of
course, of intervening rights on the part of the absentee landowner.
Rights to land can be passed on to a relative. Proper behavior de-
mands that newcomers, if they cannot find adequate sites covered
by high forest, go to older residents and beg for the loan of lands
11. Landa's words are: "Siembran en muchas parties, por si una faltare
supla la otra" (Landa, 1938: 111).








38 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
which are not immediately needed. Such requests are usually di-
rected to relatives, though occasionally to unrelated friends. Per-
mission to use a site is given for but one season at a time, and
recompense is purely in the form of social loyalty, including partici-
pation in work parties of the lender.
The fact that the absentee owners of Chichipate today prohibit
indiscriminate cutting over of virgin timber means that in-migration
may soon be stopped by the milperos themselves. The older residents
of Chichipate claim to have loaned about as many milpa sites as
they can afford to, and, as a result, some of the newer ones find ac-
cess restrictions so tight that they must constantly supplement milpa
activity with wage labor in order to maintain even a minimal level
of subsistence. These wages are usually earned while working as day
laborers in surrounding fincas. It is understandable that the ties
these newcomers have to the community are loose indeed.

Timing
Kekchi migrants who have settled in Chichipate are sufficiently
involved in the dominant European culture of Guatemala to follow
the European calendar in determining the time for planting. Formal
selection for wet season milpa sites usually takes place in February,
though mental notes may be made for one-half to five years in
advance. Slashing and burning must occur before the first rains
begin (habal kVe), the best burns being obtained in the hot dry
days toward the end of April and the beginning of May. A thorough
burn is impossible once the first heavy rain has fallen, and rain is a
certainty by the last weeks of May.
Phases of the moon determine the time for planting of a number
of items, particularly those which are intercropped. Malanga,
manioc, and sugarcane should be planted in the week immediately
following the full moon, i.e., when the moon rises from 8:00 to
9:00 in the evening. Bananas and plantains are ideally planted
when the moon is in the middle of the sky at 6:00 or 7:00 in the
afternoon.

Ritual
There exist excellent descriptions of agricultural ritual for parts of
the lowland Maya area. That presented by Redfield for Chan Kom
is immensely more complex than anything which today can be
observed in Chichipate (Redfield and Rojas, 1962: 127-47). The
same may be said for Gann's descriptions of ceremonies reported








38 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
which are not immediately needed. Such requests are usually di-
rected to relatives, though occasionally to unrelated friends. Per-
mission to use a site is given for but one season at a time, and
recompense is purely in the form of social loyalty, including partici-
pation in work parties of the lender.
The fact that the absentee owners of Chichipate today prohibit
indiscriminate cutting over of virgin timber means that in-migration
may soon be stopped by the milperos themselves. The older residents
of Chichipate claim to have loaned about as many milpa sites as
they can afford to, and, as a result, some of the newer ones find ac-
cess restrictions so tight that they must constantly supplement milpa
activity with wage labor in order to maintain even a minimal level
of subsistence. These wages are usually earned while working as day
laborers in surrounding fincas. It is understandable that the ties
these newcomers have to the community are loose indeed.

Timing
Kekchi migrants who have settled in Chichipate are sufficiently
involved in the dominant European culture of Guatemala to follow
the European calendar in determining the time for planting. Formal
selection for wet season milpa sites usually takes place in February,
though mental notes may be made for one-half to five years in
advance. Slashing and burning must occur before the first rains
begin (habal kVe), the best burns being obtained in the hot dry
days toward the end of April and the beginning of May. A thorough
burn is impossible once the first heavy rain has fallen, and rain is a
certainty by the last weeks of May.
Phases of the moon determine the time for planting of a number
of items, particularly those which are intercropped. Malanga,
manioc, and sugarcane should be planted in the week immediately
following the full moon, i.e., when the moon rises from 8:00 to
9:00 in the evening. Bananas and plantains are ideally planted
when the moon is in the middle of the sky at 6:00 or 7:00 in the
afternoon.

Ritual
There exist excellent descriptions of agricultural ritual for parts of
the lowland Maya area. That presented by Redfield for Chan Kom
is immensely more complex than anything which today can be
observed in Chichipate (Redfield and Rojas, 1962: 127-47). The
same may be said for Gann's descriptions of ceremonies reported








The Milpa Cycle 39
in his work on the Maya of Yucatan and northern British Honduras
(Gann, 1918: 40-48), and for Thompson's observations on the
Kekchi of southern British Honduras (Thompson, 1930: 56-118).
In all these works, the main ceremonies are described as occurring
at the cutting of the bush, planting, ripening, and harvest. These
are still the major ceremonial points in the agricultural cycle of
Chichipate.
Simplification of ritual forms might be expected as normal for a
small migrant population. The fact that Reina has recently reported
the same phenomenon for San Jos6, a long established lowland
settlement, suggests, however, that secularization may be a growing
trend for all lowland groups. In his article on the abandonment of
primicias, he cites fear of performing poorly because of inadequate
knowledge as a principal factor in the trend.12 He likewise points
out that though in the past San Josefios practiced private rituals in
their fields to protect their corn from thieves, they have abandoned
that practice as well. The reason given is that the ritual might en-
danger the lives of relatives and friends who might enter the milpas
without proper permission (Reina, 1967: 16).
Fear of supernatural reprisals, should ritual not be carried out
properly was found to be ubiquitous in Chichipate. In the absence
of ah-men, the traditional Maya part-time religious specialists, mil-
peros were forced to rely upon what little they could remember from
their fathers and grandfathers. Two young men in the community
had memorized some Catholic canticles, and were called upon for
saints' days celebrations and life crisis ceremonies. But these young
men were next to worthless for the milpa cycle. Here the most re-
spected were the aged of the community, and these were frequently
consulted as to proper procedures for selecting, planting, caring for,
and harvesting the milpa.
At the upper end of Chichipate, near the El Estor-CobAn road,
stands a simple structure, open on three sides and thatched with
palm. This building, the ermita, corresponds to the aboriginal
Dolores hut, a structure which was set aside as combined temple
and men's house (Thompson, 1938: 596). In aboriginal times,
these structures housed the idols. Today, in Chichipate, the ermita
12. In the words of one informant, "It is preferable to take a minor
damage, one death, rather than expose ourselves to much danger because of
failure of participants to observe the things prescribed in the ritual. The
ah-men, who are few nowadays, are afraid to undertake the responsibility of
the primicias, and we cannot afford to lose them" (Reina, 1963: 223).








40 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
houses the images of Saint Dominic and Saint George. These stand
on a table against the northeast wall, and are set off from the
"nave" by a low picket fence. The ancient Maya made sacrifices to
woods, very high and rough mountains, dangerous passes, cross-
roads, and great whirlpools in rivers, believing that from these came
everything needed in life. Sacrifices generally took the form of copal
incense and turkey blood sprinkled on pieces of pine (Thompson,
1938: 594). Such practices still form the heart of ritual in
Chichipate.
The second evening before selecting his wet season milpa site,
each household head goes to the ermita to formally ask permission
and blessing from various spirits. He sets the date for this visit some
two or three days in advance. In order to carry out the proper cere-
monies, he buys from two to twenty-five candles, each of which costs
one cent. These offerings he supplements with copal that he has
collected during summer forays through the bush.
As he enters the ermita with his wife, they step inside the picket
enclosure and kneel. Then the milpero prays:

Lord Jesus, I beg to come before you. I wish to ask permission.
I am about to begin preparing my fields. The day after to-
morrow. I want you to free my way, and to help me reach my
fields, Lord Jesus Christ. Here I am to beg you.

At this point both the milpero and his wife place burning candles on
the table before the saints. Then the copal brazier is lit, and the
woman shakes the incense toward each of the saints. She turns,
walks to the edge of the chapel, and shakes the brazier in the direc-
tion of the milpa site. She again offers incense to the saints, repeats
her homage to the milpa site, and for a third time propitiates both
saints and site.
Prayers are offered by the household head to all important hills
and mountains of the region, up to sixteen in number. To them, as
well as to the saints and the spirit of the site, the milpero lifts the
petition:

I beg for my milpa, for my business. I beg you to grant me my
request, for I humble myself beneath your feet.

More incense is burned and, when it and the candles have been ex-
hausted, the couple return to their home. There they retire and rest
the entire next day. On the following morning, at 2:00 or 3:00








The Milpa Cycle 41
A.M., they rise and burn copal and candles before the saint of the
house, often merely a colored print taken from a religious calendar
or magazine. On making these offerings, they repeat the prayers
they had uttered a day and a half before in the chapel. A chicken
is then brought in, and its neck wrung by hand. The bird is opened
and washed in cold water, and the bloody water is saved in two
empty wine bottles.
At about 5:00 A.M. the milpero and his wife go to their milpa
site. In its very center he places a small cross made from sapling
branches. This cross (ka cua2-god cross) is built to stand about
1 foot high. The milpero takes one of the bottles of bloody water
and shakes its contents around the foot of the cross. The contents
of the other bottle he scatters toward all sides of the site. A candle
is then lit and placed at the foot of the cross. Finally, the brazier
filled with burning copal is shaken, by the household head rather
than by his wife, toward the corners of the milpa site.
Accompanying prayers vary with the individual. Their content,
however, centers around the need for protection from natural and
supernatural threats. One is as follows:

In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Be
with me, free me, give me your blessing. Help me in my
struggle to make milpa.
Keep all serpents from me, all animals. Keep me from harm.
May no trees fall upon my body. Free me. Be with me through
the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Since ritual is but a small part of the marking process, the couple
and their helpers usually stay at the milpa site until nearly noon.
Upon arriving home, they give food to the household saint. This is
customarily boiled chicken and broth, tortillas, tamales, and
whipped bitter chocolate. The offerings are left in gourd dishes
either on a small table or on the ground in front of the saint's image.
They are presented together with burning candles and copal in-
cense. As was done in the chapel two days before, the incense
brazier is finally shaken alternately before the saint and in the direc-
tion of the milpa site three times, and this concludes the ceremony
for site selection.
Chichipateiios tell of divination practices which are used in con-
junction with site selection in Alta Verapaz, but apparently these
were lost in the move to the lowland tropics.







42 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
Measuring and Marking

A man and his wife may be accompanied by one or more male
helpers when they go into the bush to mark their milpa site. These
helpers are commonly kinsmen. The first thing done upon arrival at
the site is to make a path about 1 foot wide to the center of the
milpa, and there to make a small clearing around the ritual cross
(ka cuaP). An arm's length of vegetation is slashed on all sides of
the cross, and the trash is pushed back into the surrounding bush so
as to leave the ground around the cross completely bare. Offerings
of blood, incense, and candles are given, and prayers are said. Only
then does the actual measurement of the site proceed.13 Reflecting
its role in the ritual protection of the milpa, the clearing around the
cross is known as the heart of the milpa, ram li c al-rdmr coming
from the Spanish dnima, or soul.
The basis for measurement is the tarea, or task. This term refers
to the amount of land a mature male may realistically expect to slash
in one working day; how extensive this is depends on the density of
vegetation with which he has to cope. A wet season tarea in Chi-
chipate comes to 30 varas square, though in Murcidlagos, the
Hempstead estate on Lake Izabal, it comes to only 25.14 The
vara is also variable. Theoretically averaging 2.8 feet, it comes
to about 35 inches (89.4 cm) in Chichipate. It is determined by
stretching, with the arm fully extended, a string from a man's middle
finger to the center of his breastbone.
Measuring is carried out by using a rope or cord. A pair of stakes
from 3 to 5 feet high is placed at the end of each 30 varas

13. Redfield described the marking ritual of Chan Kom as follows: "If
the field is being cleared for the first harvest (chacben), the agriculturalist
is ordinarily careful to measure off for his milpa no more land than he is
sure he will be able to clear. He cuts a narrow swathe around the proposed
field, and by this act serves notice on the kuilob kaaxob that he proposes to
make use of so much of the 'virgin bush' (zuhuy kaax). Then when the trees
ask the kuilob kaaxob if they may not do injury to the man when he begins
to cut them down, the deities say no and explain to the trees that they are
old and that it is good for them to be cut so that new growth may come up"
(Redfield and Rojas, 1962: 132).
14. Bishop Landa described a measure similar to the tarea in colonial
Yucatin when he wrote his Relacidn. The unit appears to have been con-
siderably smaller than that used in Chichipate today: "Suelen, de costumbre,
sembrar para cada casado con su mujer media de 400 pies lo cual llaman
hum uinic, media con vara de 20 pies, 20 en ancho y 20 en largo" (Landa,
1938: 111).









The Milpa Cycle 43
(i.e., at each tarea division marking). The stakes are slashed
obliquely across the top and set about 3 inches apart. From 1
foot to 18 inches of growth is cleared around them, and a path is
then made to the next pair of stakes.
Milpas larger than a single tarea are customarily calculated in
terms of manzanas, a unit made up of 16 tareas (2.81 acres
in the English system). Not all milpas are square or four-sided
(cdxucit). They may also be long and narrow (ca ch in ru), wide
(nim ru), curved (kPotk~o), or circular (sursu). Irregular forms
are subsumed under one of these five basic categories.
From the standpoint of size, a milpa under 1 manzana is con-
sidered small (ch ina c al); from 1 to 3 manzanas, medium-sized
(mero yu'yu li c al); and above 3 manzanas, large (nimla csal).
Division of labor for the measuring and marking process is
relatively simple. If more than two men are involved, the older,
especially if he is an affinal relative of the household head, conducts
the ritual. Men alone slash, measure, and mark. Women say prayers
and bur incense, but do little more.

CUTTING
When highlanders move into Chichipate they are forced to learn
different techniques of field preparation from those they knew. First
of all, the omnipresent highland hoe is seldom needed in lowland
cultivation; second, the lowlands permit two crops of maize per year
whereas in the highlands one is normal; third, secondary tropical
moist forest characteristics require coping with very dense low vege-
tation, as well as with heavily buttressed trees. Clearing such cover
consists of three distinct stages: the cutting and slashing of her-
baceous and sapling growth (c alec), the felling of heavy arboreal
growth (tOanoc), and the burning of the resulting slash (catoc).15
Slashing (cOalec)
Slashing must begin several months before the planting season.
The first milpa cut in 1965 was begun on February 1, and the last
was finished by May 1. The early part of March is generally con-

15. With the exception of the substitution of metal for stone tools, clear-
ing techniques seem to have changed little in the lowland Maya area since
colonial days. Landa's Relacidn puts it simply: "En labrar la tierra no hacen
sino coger la basura y quemarla para despuds sembrar, y desde mediados de
enero hasta abril labran y entonces con las lluvias siembran" (Landa, 1938:
111).









The Milpa Cycle 43
(i.e., at each tarea division marking). The stakes are slashed
obliquely across the top and set about 3 inches apart. From 1
foot to 18 inches of growth is cleared around them, and a path is
then made to the next pair of stakes.
Milpas larger than a single tarea are customarily calculated in
terms of manzanas, a unit made up of 16 tareas (2.81 acres
in the English system). Not all milpas are square or four-sided
(cdxucit). They may also be long and narrow (ca ch in ru), wide
(nim ru), curved (kPotk~o), or circular (sursu). Irregular forms
are subsumed under one of these five basic categories.
From the standpoint of size, a milpa under 1 manzana is con-
sidered small (ch ina c al); from 1 to 3 manzanas, medium-sized
(mero yu'yu li c al); and above 3 manzanas, large (nimla csal).
Division of labor for the measuring and marking process is
relatively simple. If more than two men are involved, the older,
especially if he is an affinal relative of the household head, conducts
the ritual. Men alone slash, measure, and mark. Women say prayers
and bur incense, but do little more.

CUTTING
When highlanders move into Chichipate they are forced to learn
different techniques of field preparation from those they knew. First
of all, the omnipresent highland hoe is seldom needed in lowland
cultivation; second, the lowlands permit two crops of maize per year
whereas in the highlands one is normal; third, secondary tropical
moist forest characteristics require coping with very dense low vege-
tation, as well as with heavily buttressed trees. Clearing such cover
consists of three distinct stages: the cutting and slashing of her-
baceous and sapling growth (c alec), the felling of heavy arboreal
growth (tOanoc), and the burning of the resulting slash (catoc).15
Slashing (cOalec)
Slashing must begin several months before the planting season.
The first milpa cut in 1965 was begun on February 1, and the last
was finished by May 1. The early part of March is generally con-

15. With the exception of the substitution of metal for stone tools, clear-
ing techniques seem to have changed little in the lowland Maya area since
colonial days. Landa's Relacidn puts it simply: "En labrar la tierra no hacen
sino coger la basura y quemarla para despuds sembrar, y desde mediados de
enero hasta abril labran y entonces con las lluvias siembran" (Landa, 1938:
111).








44 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
sidered to be the latest possible time for selecting and marking a site.
The fixing of a date for beginning slashing correlates directly
with the size of growth that must be cleared. Mature forest growth
(nink li q uiche?) must be attacked by February 15, if for no other
reason than that a manzana of such growth will have from twenty
to thirty buttressed trees. Cutting of relatively high secondary
growth (ninki al c ?al) can be postponed no later than March. Clear-
ing of sapling growth (coc cheek ru) must begin by April, and only
low herbaceous growth (coc? pim li ru) can be left for the first
of May, i.e., approximately two weeks before the latest time for
planting wet season milpa.
Milperos may slash during any phase of the moon. For three
days before initiating slashing, however, they cannot sleep with
women nor eat fruit. Before beginning to cut, prayers of the same
type that were used for the selection ritual are said in the chapel
and in front of the cross that lies at the milpa's heart. No offerings
need accompany these prayers.
Clearing of sloping land is considered easier than clearing of level
land. The preferred method is to go from the bottom up (taksinc),
for if one should proceed from the top down the slashed material
would have no place to fall, and spreading would be quite difficult.
Ease in slashing a hillside is countered, however, by increased diffi-
culty with control of fire at the time of burning. The measure usually
taken to ameliorate this difficulty is to fire the hillside from the
top down. Soil quality, drainage, and vegetation, rather than slope,
thus remain the primary criteria for the selection of milpa sites.
Small bushes, weeds, vines, and other herbaceous growth are the
first things attacked. For this broad clearing work, a long, straight
machete (ahin chich ) with a blade of 27 inches (68.58 cm) and
handle of about 5V2 inches (13.97 cm) is preferred. The work is
done with wide, sweeping strokes near the ground, and there is little
concern for obtaining an even cut. Milperos believe that fire will
level things off anyway. Termites (c ams) are known to be a prob-
lem in slash that sits for more than six weeks, though they are most
active after the rains begin; by that time most milpas have already
been burned. There seems to be little intentional saving of low
vegetation for a later slashing date in order to cope with this prob-
lem; rather the ideal is to let no more than one month pass between
final clearing and the initiation of burning.
Usually all small growth is cut at one time, bringing down every-,
thing that can be easily cut with a machete. Even saplings are felled








The Milpa Cycle 45
in this manner, their stumps being left from a foot to a foot and a
half above the ground. Leaving such stumps makes cutting easier,
and some Kekchi say that it also promotes sprouting for quicker re-
generation of second growth. Once the sapling has fallen, its
branches are lopped off with the machete and tossed around the
milpa so that the surface will be relatively level. In clearing sapling-
type growth, the short curved machete (colima ch 2ich ) is preferred.
It has a blade about 23 inches (58.42 cm) long and a 5-inch (12.7
cm) handle.
When a large tree (more than 27 inches in diameter) is felled,
it is hoped that smaller trees will be taken in its path, though pre-
liminary notching of the smaller growth is seldom practiced.16 For
heavy timber to be most effective in clearing away the growth that
lies in its path, herbaceous material should first be slashed away
from around smaller trees of the area. It is surprising how devastat-
ing the felling of a forest giant can be even without such prepara-
tion, however. In 1965 one man felled large trees onto another's
milpa before the latter could even begin to clear out underbrush.
The second individual simply left the area as he found it; he did not
even bother to lop off the branches of the largest trees. Yet his fire
swept the field so clean that the site later produced some of the best
maize in the community.
When the milpa floor has been completely slashed, taller palms
are felled with an axe. The fronds of smaller palms that are within
reach are sheared off with a machete. The trunks are left intact,
however, in the hope that these trees will survive the fire. The
thatching palm ((Orbignya cohune (Mart.) Dahlgren ex Standl.))
is not only a very serviceable plant for the milpero; it is protected by
Guatemalan law.
Spreading
In Alta Verapaz, the ideal in clearing is to cover all the ground
evenly with slash. Unless this is done, the burn is imperfect, the soil
is left subject to erosion, and the milpa crop becomes uneven and
poor. With the much heavier vegetation of the Chichipate region,
however, less care is needed. Indeed, where there has been a dense

16. In his report on Hanun6o agriculture, Harold Conklin has given a
detailed account of just such preliminary notching. In this respect, as well
as in many others, the pioneer agriculture of Chichipate is far less complex
than the well-established system practiced by the Hanun6o (cf. Conklin,
1957).








46 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


stand of vegetation, spots of bare earth may be left throughout the
milpa in the belief that the intensity of the fire in the rest of the
field will produce sufficient ash to cover them anyway. Only when
dealing with spotty low or medium fallow is any effort made to
spread herbaceous growth, and this is done with a stick.
What spreading does take place is carried out simultaneously
with slashing. The general procedure is for the worker to slash with
a downward, diagonal stroke, holding the machete in his right
hand. With his other hand, he steadies the plant. Herbaceous and
small ligneous growth are cut together. Only large trees are left for
felling at a later date.
Land is still abundant enough in Chichipate to permit relatively
casual clearing. The general attitude prevails that if a plot burns
well, fine; if not, it is best to leave well enough alone.
Protective Clearing
Protective clearing has probably been practiced in the Maya low-
lands for many centuries. Lundell, for example, found that every
southern lowland ruin he visited had abundant stands of breadnut
(Brosimum alicastrum Swartz). This, he felt, was no coincidence,
for elsewhere in the tropical forest these trees are rare (Lundell,
1933: 72).
Today in Chichipate, occasional firebreaks (mak~oc) are made
around trees thought worthy of saving. To protect trees in this
manner, the firebreaks are usually made early, preferably in Janu-
ary. Not only is low trash cleared from around their bases, but large,
nearby trees are cut in such a manner as to fall away from the ones
to be preserved. Only first quality, vigorous growth is so protected,
and then only a few species such as copal (pom cheP), mahogany
(sutzuujl), cedar (rutzutz), zapote (saltul), rubber (quicP cheP),
chicle (chiquibul), and young, first-rate thatching palm (mococh).
At the time of burning, the fire is started at the edge of the clearing
that has been made around these trees, so that it will burn away
from rather than toward them.
Milpa sites may contain a number of other useful plants which
are given no special protection whatsoever. Balsa wood (puj)
constitutes the hamlet's primary building material; however, when
green, it is extremely difficult to handle and peel. Most milperos
prefer to fell it along with other trees in their plot and to risk the
possibility of the fire consuming it entirely. The amount of balsa
timber left more or less intact after burning is still sufficient to meet








The Milpa Cycle 47
building needs, and it is easier to drag the logs out of the field once
underbrush has been eliminated. Scorching, furthermore, eliminates
the problem of peeling the green logs.
A number of food plants may still live on in a milpa site after it
has been left fallow and neglected for many years. Of these, sweet
potato, malanga, plantain, chili, and manioc seem fairly resistant
to the effects of fire and often sprout anew once the rains have
begun. They are given no protection whatsoever. Other food crops,
if present in the site, are destroyed through either the slashing or the
burning process. The abundance of the natural environment would
appear to make their protection more costly than it is worth.

Milpa Labor

In the process of slashing, most men work by themselves or in
very small labor groups. These groups generally correspond to the
basic kin unit which shares a common storehouse and lives either in
the same or in contiguous houses. The most common grouping of
this kind is composed of a father and his son or sons. Second in
order of frequency are groups composed of a man and his son-in-
law, the latter cooperating because of his responsibilities for post-
marital bride service. Occasionally brothers or brothers-in-law may
form a labor group and, if so, share granaries and residences.
Other labor arrangements include reciprocity (sachoc rekaj li
cutan-"to owe the day") and wage labor (tojbil-"paid" or
xtojbal li cutan-"payment for the day"). Both of these arrange-
ments may be established among all types of people, though they
exist most frequently among affinal relatives and long-established
friends. If reciprocal labor is recruited, an equal return is expected
at some near future date. Wages for hired help are standard: 50
cents or 100 ears of corn per man-day of labor.17
Though a businesslike attitude prevails during cutting, felling,
and burning, a festive air is evident during seed time. Then groups
of ten to fifteen individuals organize for even small milpas, and in-
tersperse planting labors with feasting on pig, turkey, and chicken.

17. Bishop Landa has given us a description of reciprocal labor for
colonial Yucatin: "Que los indios tienen la buena costitmbre de ayudarse unos
a otros en todos sus trabajos. En tiempo de sus sementeras, los que no tienen
gente suya para hacerlas, jzintanse de 20 en 20 o mdis o menos, y hacen todos
juntos por su media y tasa la labor de todos y no la dejan hasta cumplir
con todos" (Landa, 1938: 111).








48 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
The host provides the food and also assumes the responsibility of
reciprocating when his helpers initiate their own planting en-
deavors. The ideal in planting is to complete an entire milpa in a
single day.
For harvest, labor exchange is rare. On an emergency basis, one
may hire five to six (rarely more than seven or eight) men, the
advantage being to complete one's harvest before kernels begin to
loosen on the ears and before rats and other pests make major dep-
redations on the crop. Such group endeavor is usually limited to a
single day, however, because of the need each person has to take
care of his own milpa. After the first day of group activity, if one
is to continue harvesting, he must do so alone.
For all milpa effort, boundary lines are strictly drawn. The only
cases in which there are no distinguishing marks are those where
father and son or son-in-law make their milpas side by side (lak -
loqueb). But since these two also share a single granary, and divide
up the proceeds from any sale of maize, they may be considered to
form a single milpa group. This type of sharing arrangement has
been noted in the vicinity of Lake Pet6n by Reina: "Both the smaller
and larger milpas may be worked by a man alone or with the aid of
sons or brothers. Interestingly enough, when larger milpas located
at equal distances from the town are visited daily instead of by the
week, or by the week instead of on a temporada basis, milperos al-
ways employ the aid of sons or brothers" (Reina, 1967: 11).
No evidence was collected in Chichipate on the relationship
Reina notes between the distance the milpa lies from the hamlet
and the establishment of this type of arrangement. However, in
both San Jos6 and Chichipate such close cooperation seems never
to develop among distant relatives, and certainly never among mere
friends.
It may be said, then, that there are four major types of labor in
the Chichipate milpa cycle: (1) a man working alone (mac-
anjelac xjunes); (2) close cooperation by members of the same
labor group who farm milpas side by side (lakloqueb); (3) re-
ciprocal labor, related as well as unrelated to feasting (sachoc recaj
li cutan); and (4) paid labor (xtojbal li cutan). Of these four
types, the most common by far is that of a man working alone. Ex-
cept for planting activity, milpa labor groups, when they exist, tend
to be composed of the male members of a single household, and
these, in turn, tend all to belong to a single nuclear family.








The Milpa Cycle 49
Time and Labor in the Clearing Process
Slashing, felling, and burning the heavy tropical growth of Chi-
chipate is a time-consuming process. For cutting over a 1-man-
zana field (2.8 acres) covered with saplings, milperos worked an
average of 113 hours in 1965. The clearing of dense, low under-
growth requires fewer man-hours. On the average, milperos spent
84 hours in clearing 1 manzana of such growth in 1965. Clearing
of climax forest requires the greatest expenditure of all. Milperos
averaged 368 hours per manzana of nink li quiche? in 1965. At the
low end of the scale then, a man working alone needs about eight
days for clearing a manzana of land. At the high end, he needs
about thirty-six.
Intervening factors prevent men from working consecutively until
their milpas are entirely cleared. On the south side of Chichipate, the
lure of paid finca labor draws the men away periodically during the
clearing season. And all over the community the concept of the
week (xamdn) and Sunday (domingo) exists. Though there are no
special religious observances on Sunday, on that day clearing
activity is suspended. Fuel is stored, houses are cleaned, and men go
off to hunt and fish. The only agricultural activities generally prac-
ticed on Sundays are the more urgent ones of seeding and har-
vesting; burning and slashing are, at least ideally, limited to week-
days. Nor are all of these ordinarily available. Even if a man takes
on no wage or reciprocal labor, three to four days a month must be
taken off to weed intercropped items that are carryovers from the
previous season, and a not inconsiderable number of days are lost
to illness, in particular malaria.
Care of Slashing Equipment
Both curved (colima ch ich ) and straight (ahin ch Tch ) ma-
chetes are commonly used by left- as well as right-handed men.
Each worker carries with him to the milpas a small hand file to
sharpen his instrument. He stops about once an hour, places the
machete in his left hand, and strokes the file outward from the body
until both faces of the blade reach razor sharpness. The procedure
is generally carried out more easily with the heavier and straighter
than with the lighter and more curved machetes. Light instruments
tend to be made of harder metal and are 'thought to ruin files
quickly.
Machetes are commercially manufactured. They sell for from
Q2.00 to Q2.50 in one of Chichipate's two stores. If the instrument








The Milpa Cycle 49
Time and Labor in the Clearing Process
Slashing, felling, and burning the heavy tropical growth of Chi-
chipate is a time-consuming process. For cutting over a 1-man-
zana field (2.8 acres) covered with saplings, milperos worked an
average of 113 hours in 1965. The clearing of dense, low under-
growth requires fewer man-hours. On the average, milperos spent
84 hours in clearing 1 manzana of such growth in 1965. Clearing
of climax forest requires the greatest expenditure of all. Milperos
averaged 368 hours per manzana of nink li quiche? in 1965. At the
low end of the scale then, a man working alone needs about eight
days for clearing a manzana of land. At the high end, he needs
about thirty-six.
Intervening factors prevent men from working consecutively until
their milpas are entirely cleared. On the south side of Chichipate, the
lure of paid finca labor draws the men away periodically during the
clearing season. And all over the community the concept of the
week (xamdn) and Sunday (domingo) exists. Though there are no
special religious observances on Sunday, on that day clearing
activity is suspended. Fuel is stored, houses are cleaned, and men go
off to hunt and fish. The only agricultural activities generally prac-
ticed on Sundays are the more urgent ones of seeding and har-
vesting; burning and slashing are, at least ideally, limited to week-
days. Nor are all of these ordinarily available. Even if a man takes
on no wage or reciprocal labor, three to four days a month must be
taken off to weed intercropped items that are carryovers from the
previous season, and a not inconsiderable number of days are lost
to illness, in particular malaria.
Care of Slashing Equipment
Both curved (colima ch ich ) and straight (ahin ch Tch ) ma-
chetes are commonly used by left- as well as right-handed men.
Each worker carries with him to the milpas a small hand file to
sharpen his instrument. He stops about once an hour, places the
machete in his left hand, and strokes the file outward from the body
until both faces of the blade reach razor sharpness. The procedure
is generally carried out more easily with the heavier and straighter
than with the lighter and more curved machetes. Light instruments
tend to be made of harder metal and are 'thought to ruin files
quickly.
Machetes are commercially manufactured. They sell for from
Q2.00 to Q2.50 in one of Chichipate's two stores. If the instrument








50 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
breaks off near the tip, it may be repaired by filing. If it breaks off
across the blade, however, it must be sent to Panz6s, for there are
no forging facilities in Chichipate. Forging charges come to about
one quetzal. Should the blade break off near the handle, the handle
is simply reset lower on the blade.
Children use small machetes with mahogany handles. These sell
for only sixty cents. Both children and adults, when they slash, keep
the beveled side of their instrument down, facing the ground.
Tools for Felling
Once the underbrush has been cleared away, preparations begin
for felling tall growth. Store-bought axes (mal) are used for this
purpose. Though they all have but a single bit, they fall into two
basic types: bolbo mdl is an axe with a round eye, and patzpo mal
an axe with a square eye.
Only the axe head is purchased, and this comes from stores in
Panz6s, El Estor, CobAn, or from a little store located across the
road from the Chichipate school and owned by a Kekchi man. The
handle is carved from local hardwoods by the milperos themselves.
The smaller end of the handle is fitted through the eye of the head
from the top and is always secured with a tight fitting wooden
wedge. In spite of such care, accidents still occasionally occur,
when the axe head goes flying off its handle.
To fell any hardwoods with trunks larger than 3 to 4 inches
in diameter, the milpero must use his axe. Large, buttressed trees,
characteristic of climax and old second growth (nink li q uiche?),
take up to two man-days to fell. As a result, unless they have a
broad canopy, large trees are allowed to stand. A full manzana
of virgin land may have from twenty to thirty large, buttressed
trees, of which as few as six may be felled. The rest, having but
light canopies, are left to be seared by fire; this is usually sufficient
to kill the tree.'s Milpas are dotted by the remains of such standing,
dead giants. Rot and termites quickly take their toll, however, so
that by the end of the rainy season these large trees have begun to
fall of their own accord.
Because felling proceeds better when several men are working

18. The practice of leaving some of the large trees has been reported by
Redfield for Yucatin: "Everything is cut down except a few of the largest
trees; these are left 'because a little shade is good for the growing corn in a
time of drought, and because too much ash would result if they should be
burned' (Redfield and Rojas, 1962: 43).








The Milpa Cycle 51
together, most Chichipate milperos keep enough axes to supply a
work party of three or four men. As the instruments grow dull, they
sharpen them anew, using the same files that they keep for sharp-
ening machetes.
Felling (t'anoc li che?)
Straight-trunked trees with little above-ground root development
present no real problem for felling. But heavily buttressed speci-
mens, common in tropical woodlands, offer the greatest challenge
and excitement of the whole clearing process. Many of the but-
tresses (xe--"root") rise to over 10 feet above the ground.
Coping with them, particularly when the trunk is leaning, requires
highly developed skill.
Buttresses tend to be so thin and flat that the widest and smooth-
est of them are sometimes saved for tabletops. The worker must get
above them to effectively attack the bole of the tree. Only one type
of scaffolding is used for this purpose, no matter how high the
buttresses reach. This is an extremely crude apparatus, built by
setting two long poles into the ground and leaning them against the
trunk of the tree. Against these are lashed two other poles to provide
a forked support for a platform. On top of this rest the two poles
that constitute the platform itself. The whole is held securely with
vines.
Scaffolds (xtaklebal-"instrument for going up") are built in
such a way that the platform lies some 3 feet below the spot where
the worker plans to begin chopping. They may rise as high as 9
feet above the ground.
The decision as to the direction in which to fell the tree is a criti-
cal one for which numerous factors come into play. The first side
attacked is that toward which the tree is intended to fall (xnat? bal
-"landing place"). The felling notches on this side, known as nim
xsa xyoc lal ("the big cut"), are made deeper than those on the
other side (c ach in xsa xyoc lal-"the small cut"). In general the
easiest technique is to fell the tree in the direction that it is leaning
(arin ta ilok). However, this is not always practicable. Entangling
vines, neighboring plots, nearby paths, and vegetation that the
milpero wants to preserve may force him to decide to bring the tree
down in a different direction. In this case, he constructs his scaffold
on the side opposite to the direction in which the tree is leaning,
and, if he is right-handed, places the nim xsa? xyoc lal to the right;
if he is left-handed, it goes to the left.







52 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
The most common practice is for two men to work at the same
time. These are often joined by another pair, with whom they take
turns. If there is a strong wind, it is hard to predict whether the


Scaffolding apparatus constructed by milperos to reach the bole of the tree.

tree will fall on the side of the big or the small cut, but it rarely
falls in the direction of the workmen. As a precautionary measure,
however, as soon as a crack is heard, the men run quickly away and
shout "cuan aran li che?" ("there's the tree"), or "t anoc? re li
che'" ("the tree is falling"), as a warning to anyone else in the
vicinity.








The Milpa Cycle 53
Accidents do occasionally occur. The three most common ones
result from inadequate shaping of the cuts.
1. Xmichee'li che-- "The tree is uprooted" because the large
cut was made too deeply and broadly for the shallow cut.
2. Xjol coc chiru lix tonal-"The trunk jumps back" because:
(a) it is caught up with entangling vines, (b) it falls into the crotch
of another tree, (c) the large cut has been made too low on the
trunk, or (d) a combination of these factors.
3. XjacheP lix tonal-"The trunk splits" because the large cut
has been made too high. As the tree falls a diagonal split opens up
between the large cut and the small cut, and it is impossible to
predict the direction in which the tree will fall. This is one of the
most dangerous of the abnormal falls.
Still another type of accident that terrifies milperos occurs when
venomous serpents drop out of trees where they have been nesting.'9
In just the few years that they have lived in Chichipate, the
milperos have witnessed several deaths from this cause alone. One
who survived this experience is still badly crippled.
Occasionally cuts are made so badly that the tree fails to fall.
This occurs especially when the small cut has been made too deep.
"Inc al us lix xyoc~bal" say the workers-"The cut was no good."
Though entangling vines may result in a dangerous and uncon-
trolled fall, they are seldom cut away. By leaving them, much of
the work of clearing out surrounding growth is eliminated, for large,
vine-covered trees clear a wide, clean swath as they fall.
The scaffolding is not dismantled when a fall is made. If not
destroyed by kickback or by the action of entangling vines, it is
simply abandoned. A rickety structure to begin with and built from
fragile soft woods (usually hu or xc ot tzic), it is believed not worth
bothering about.
Trimming and Pollarding
An example of the relatively low level of sophistication present in
Chichipate agriculture is the fact that trimming and pollarding are
19. Several species of Bothrops found in the northeastern Guatemalan
lowlands are arboreal: B. undulatus (Jan.), B. bicolor Bocourt, B. nigroviridis
aurifer Salvin, and B. schlegeli Berthold. Perhaps the most likely which could
be a common threat in Chichipate is B. schlegeli Berthold. Of this species,
Dunn (1944: 216) has written: "Su cola es prensil y la usa frecuentemente
para descolgarse por las ramas de los arbustos." Smith (1945) and Duellman
(1963) may be consulted for additional information on arboreal venomous
serpents of the area.







54 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


practically never practiced. Unlike Conklin's Hanun6o who were
quite aware of the benefits in gradually spreading canopies during
the growing season (Conklin, 1957: 62), when the milperos of
Chichipate clear the land, their major interest is limited only to the
desire for removal of obtrusive vegetation. Among the larger speci-
mens, only those trees with broad, heavy canopies are removed.
Others are left to stand and be burned. No effort is expended in
attempting to preserve saplings, either for their intrinsic value or as
climbing poles. Beans and sweet potatoes are about the only two
cultigens which would benefit from climbing, and maize stalks
provide all the support that is needed for them.
Once slashing and felling have been completed, a lull appears
in the activity of the hamlet. "Xinchoy rak inquil linc al" says the
milpero: "I have finished cleaning my milpa." He lies in his ham-
mock, plays his marimba, gossips with his neighbors, makes a
trip to El Estor, Panz6s, or CobAn to purchase seed, works on a
neighboring estate, hunts, fishes, builds fences, or collects chicle.
BURNING
In the words of Carl Sauer, "The mastery of the forest by man
requires no axe" (Sauer, 1958: 108). Fire may be used to fell a
tree, cut it to desired lengths, and even crudely shape it. The thin-
barked and hence poorly insulated trees of the humid tropics, par-
ticularly when young, are easily killed by burning. Extensive use of
fire is frequent in those humid tropical lowlands where, as in
Chichipate, a long dry season alternates with a relatively heavy
rainy season. Such regions are very extensive and, regarding the
tropical lowlands, the most heavily populated (Budowski, 1956).
Since burning selects for certain plant species over others, most
tropical lowland flora today is probably what it is because of periodic
man-made fires (Denevan, 1961: 300).
The Chichipate milpero, as does his counterpart in lowland tropi-
cal slash and burn systems across the world, seeks five principal re-
sults from the firing process. First, he wishes to clear away the slash
that litters his field. Given the simplicity of his tools, once he has
cut low growth and felled buttressed trees, burning is the only
means at his disposal. Second, he wants to loosen the soil so that
dibble planting may be easier. Third, he wants to lower the rate of
regrowth of herbaceous and ligneous plants. Fourth, he wants to
reduce the number of animal and insect pests. And fifth, he desires
to cover the ground with a fairly even layer of ash and thus provide








The Milpa Cycle 55
readily accessible nutrients for his growing crops. Though he has no
technical understanding of the nutrient needs of plants for which
the ash may provide, he does clearly recognize that there is a direct
correlation between the fertility of the soil and the depth of the ash
layer.
Ash is broken down into two basic types by Chichipatefios: white
and black. The black is preferred'by far because, in the words of
one milpero, "it enters the soil." In contrast, white ash tends to
form a dry, spongy layer on top of the soil. Ursula Cowgill, ob-
serving the same preference for dark ashes in the Pet6n, has pointed
out that since organic matter, nitrogen, phosphorus, and exchange-
able calcium all decrease with burning, their decrease would be
greater for hotter fires than for cooler ones. In the Peten, as well as
in Chichipate, fires used to clear fields generally leave black to gray
ashes, indicating lower temperatures than those at which white
ashes are produced (U. Cowgill, 1962: 282). Parts of Chichipate
contain latosols which, when exposed to very high temperatures,
develop a bright orange color from the oxidation of iron com-
pounds; if this color penetrates very deeply, the soil is considered
useless for milpa.
Several plant types are specifically named as conducive to pro-
ducing one or the other of the ash deposits. The eye of the palm
(mococh), for example, is believed to yield black ash. Tamarind
(cudchil) yields white ash. Heavy stumps that burn for days are
known to be particularly productive of white ash and may leave
deposits as much as 10 inches thick. Maize planted in such spots,
if it germinates at all, withers before it ever reaches maturity.
Preparatory Activities
In order to obtain an adequate burn there should be a thick layer
of debris distributed more or less evenly over the entire milpa. This
debris (cOalem), the result of slashing activity (c alec), varies
from 1 foot in depth for low growth to 3 feet or more in depth
for high, dense growth. It is imperative that most of this deposit be
laid down by the middle of March, for burning usually commences
the third week in April.
Perhaps due to the fact that Chichipate has been settled for such
a short period of time, relatively little care is taken to secure an even
thickness of debris. Where vegetative cover is poor, a man may at
the time of slashing take a long stick and casually level the deposit;
and once a tree has been felled, the branches may be lopped off and








56 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


tossed around the milpa. This, however, constitutes the maximum
of the rearranging process.
With hot, dry weather, debris turns brown in about one week,
the first indication that it will soon be ready for firing. When it has
completely shriveled, after four to five weeks, the firing time has
9 19V 746iYeb I ---


Drying slashed and felled material in preparation for burning.


arrived. If left for more than six weeks, debris begins to suffer from
infestations of termites (c ams). Most slashing is therefore com-
pleted approximately a month before anticipated firing time.

Firebreaks
Three basic types of protective clearing are practiced. The first
is carried out at the beginning of the slashing process and is aimed
at protecting semidomesticates such as copal, mahogany, cedar,
chicle, and rubber. All trash is removed in a broad circle around
the tree in question and the ground is left bare. When other trees
are felled in the immediate vicinity, they are cut in such a manner
as to fall away from the one to be preserved.
The second type of protective clearing may be carried out either
at the finish of the slashing and felling activities or on the day of
firing itself. This consists of the clearing of three to four yards on








The Milpa Cycle 57
those sides of the milpa that are surrounded by low, secondary
growth. All vegetative cover is removed until the earth remains
bare, and the resulting debris is tossed back on the milpa. One
exception to the need for such a firebreak comes when the milpa is
surrounded by tall timber. In such a case, only underbrush is
cleared away. When climax forest surrounds a milpa, no firebreaks
are made at all. Theoretically, the fire will not penetrate such
growth. In actual fact, however, it occasionally does, though it has
never been known to get completely out of control in a climax
situation.20 A second exception to the clearing of firebreaks occurs
when one milpa borders on another. Here it is of no importance
if the fire spreads, and so firebreaks are considered superfluous.
Protection of the hamlet is the third consideration in con-
structing firebreaks. Though all milpa fields lie a brisk ten-minute
walk or more from Chichipate, and the hamlet is surrounded by
a ring of mature forest, sparks have been known to ignite houses
in the past. Furthermore, the ring of mature forest has proved
hospitable to marauding animals such as mountain lions, and so
the women of the hamlet have recently been exerting pressure on
their husbands to have it cleared away. In 1965, men went out
at 8:00 A.M. on the day of burning and opened up a 30- to
40-foot firebreak in back of their houses, leaving the large trees, but
removing all undergrowth.
One of the reasons firebreaks are used under only certain
circumstances appears to be the fact that so much cultivation is
carried out on the Polochic plain. Informants claim that fire is
much easier to control on level than on sloping land. On a hill-
side, firebreaks are placed on all sides of the milpa and tend to be
broader than those on flat land.

Timing

Though there is one main firing day for the entire community,
individual burning occurs over a two- to five-week period. It
begins some three days after the first thunder of the year has
been heard in the hills.
Ideal burning conditions are those in which a bright, hot sun

20. The same has been noted by Steggerda in Yucatan. He writes: "In
the Chichen ItzA area, fires die out at the edge of the cut bush and uncon-
trolled forest fires seldom occur ." (Steggerda, 1941: 95).








58 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


sears the ground, and wind is either absent or very gentle.21 Noon
is the best time of day for firing, for then the sun is at its hottest, and
the gradually increasing afternoon breezes make for thoroughness of
the burn.22 The best burns occur when the wind comes from the
southeast, the prevailing direction for winds up to the month of
July.
If burning is not carried out at the proper time, the milpero en-
counters difficulties in cropping. In 1965, one man procrastinated
until after the rains had begun, at which time he had severe prob-
lems in attempting to obtain a thorough burn. Some parts of his
milpa never could be used.
Though milperos are very concerned about starting to bum be-
fore the beginning of the rains, firing milpas too soon can also cause
problems. Planting may be so early that a good portion of the seed
is lost, or weeds may get a head start on the crops and finally choke
them out. The situation calls for careful reading of weather signs
and swift action at the appropriate time. Even a successful burn
does not guarantee a successful crop. Some milpas that did burn
well in 1965 later flooded so badly that the yield came to less than
8 quintales per manzana.
Firing Techniques
Because of the danger uncontrolled fire represents to valuable
woodlands, the Guatemalan government has set up a forestry service
which, among other things, supervises firing for slash and burn agri-
culture and collects a 25-cent fee for each milpa that is so cleared.
The agent in charge of the Chichipate area lives in Puerto Barrios,
a good two days' journey away. Consequently, he seldom appears.
In his stead, the municipal government of El Estor authorizes Chi-
chipate's outgoing auxiliary mayors, just before they leave office, to
appoint a group of comisionados to supervise burning. These men
are usually chosen from among the younger members of the com-
munity, for agility is an asset in controlling fire. They may not re-
fuse the responsibility; if they try, the force of Guatemalan law
intervenes. Chichipate, in 1965, had twenty-four of these officials.
21. Chichipate practice, in this respect, conforms to that of the Tajin
Totonac (Kelly and Palerm, 1950: 110).
22. Relatively little has been written about timing of the bur among
lowland Maya groups, but it is possible that the timing followed in Chichi-
pate is quite generalized. Reina discovered in San Jose, for example, that late
afternoon is usually chosen as the best time to commence firing, for then
winds are likely to be calm (Reina, 1967: 4).








The Milpa Cycle 59
Their basic task was to collect the clearing fee, see that the fire did
not spread into adjacent land, and, where necessary, build fire-
breaks. When comisionados see that the fire is indeed spreading,
they descend upon it with long, green branches and beat at it
furiously.
Firebreaks and constant vigilance make uncontrolled fires rare.
On occasions when fire does get out of control, a general call for
help goes out, and not only the comisionados but everyone available
gathers to rapidly open up still more firebreaks. This activity, com-
bined with beating by sticks, usually controls the situation within the
day, though large tree trunks, stumps, and roots may continue to
smoulder for a week or more.
As with the Tajin Totonac (Kelly and Palerm, 1950:110), dried
palm fronds or corn stalks are the most common forms of tinder.
The fire is set (xloch bal li xam) simultaneously by all men involved
in firing a particular field. For milpas set on hills, the fire is usually
started at the top, so that it will gradually advance toward the bot-
tom. Level milpas are generally fired in the direction of the wind
(yo chi chalc li ik?). Only men engage in the firing process. The
whole attitude toward burning is rather casual; no ritual is per-
formed. Stumps are left wherever they appear; no special attempts
are made to remove them. Yet most milperos have rather successful
burs.
Refiring
In those cases where fields have not been cleared well with the
first firing, milperos try their skill one more time. This second firing
(xcab c~atoc) can occur at any time after the heat from the first fire
has disappeared. It is limited to burning whatever debris has not yet
been consumed. Seldom is any effort made to gather debris together
for this second burning, however. Nor is there usually any third at-
tempt at burning.
Some milperos wait until the day they are dibbling a plot to burn
whatever debris remains. If it does not burn at this time, they simply
leave that portion of the milpa unplanted.
Little opprobrium is associated with an unsuccessful burn. One
milpero slashed a field late in the season, and proceeded to fire it
while it was still green. It burned so poorly that he simply aban-
doned it and curtailed his planting activity by that much. He was
not ridiculed. The general attitude prevails that "if it burns, it
burns; if not, you cannot do anything about it."








60 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
Hardy Survivals

As was mentioned in the section on protective clearing, some
plants are highly resistant to fire, and tend to revive once the rains
have begun. Among domestic species, these include ox (Alocasia
macrorhiza Schott), tzin (Manihot esculenta Crantz), utz~ajl
(Saccharum oficinarum L.), till (Musa paradisiaca L.), queney
(Musa sapientum Kuntz), ic (Capsicum frutescens L.), and is
((Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.)). Of the wild plants, the yaxte'
(Brunfelsia sp.), ak l (Moraceae), cakaj ((Bursera simaruba (L.)
Sarg.)), pok (Spondias purpurea L.), mococh ((Orbignya cohune
(Mart.) Dahlgren ex Standl.)), and saksi (Annona sp.?) easily
survive. Within six weeks after firing, the stumps and remains of
these wild plants will sprout anew, and weeding during the first
season after cutting over mature forest is limited to lopping off these
tux, or sprouts.

Labor Requirements

The time required to clear firebreaks, set the blaze, and control it
once it gets started, seems to be a function of five basic variables:
the type of vegetative cover, the extent to which the debris has dried,
the lay of the land, the nature of surrounding vegetation, and the
number of men cooperating in the firing process. The average
number of man-hours spent in firing, clearing firebreaks, and con-
trolling the blaze was twenty-seven per manzana in 1965. In those
cases where many men cooperated in the burning process, the time
required to burn a manzana of land was reduced, though the total
man-hours expended in the effort increased. Where six to ten men
worked together, firebreaks could be constructed, and a manzana
could be completely fired in an average of three hours and forty-five
minutes. Where from one to five supervised burning, the average
time required was eleven and one-half hours. From the standpoint
of man-hours, smaller work groups appear to be more efficient than
larger ones. When from one to five men controlled the burning
process, the average man-hours required for 1 manzana of land
was twenty-one hours and forty-five minutes, when from six to ten
men were involved, the total required man-hours rose to thirty-eight
hours and twenty-five minutes. But in all cases, the time require-
ments for building firebreaks and burning over debris are minor
when compared to those of other activities in the milpa cycle.








60 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
Hardy Survivals

As was mentioned in the section on protective clearing, some
plants are highly resistant to fire, and tend to revive once the rains
have begun. Among domestic species, these include ox (Alocasia
macrorhiza Schott), tzin (Manihot esculenta Crantz), utz~ajl
(Saccharum oficinarum L.), till (Musa paradisiaca L.), queney
(Musa sapientum Kuntz), ic (Capsicum frutescens L.), and is
((Ipomoea batatas (L.) Lam.)). Of the wild plants, the yaxte'
(Brunfelsia sp.), ak l (Moraceae), cakaj ((Bursera simaruba (L.)
Sarg.)), pok (Spondias purpurea L.), mococh ((Orbignya cohune
(Mart.) Dahlgren ex Standl.)), and saksi (Annona sp.?) easily
survive. Within six weeks after firing, the stumps and remains of
these wild plants will sprout anew, and weeding during the first
season after cutting over mature forest is limited to lopping off these
tux, or sprouts.

Labor Requirements

The time required to clear firebreaks, set the blaze, and control it
once it gets started, seems to be a function of five basic variables:
the type of vegetative cover, the extent to which the debris has dried,
the lay of the land, the nature of surrounding vegetation, and the
number of men cooperating in the firing process. The average
number of man-hours spent in firing, clearing firebreaks, and con-
trolling the blaze was twenty-seven per manzana in 1965. In those
cases where many men cooperated in the burning process, the time
required to burn a manzana of land was reduced, though the total
man-hours expended in the effort increased. Where six to ten men
worked together, firebreaks could be constructed, and a manzana
could be completely fired in an average of three hours and forty-five
minutes. Where from one to five supervised burning, the average
time required was eleven and one-half hours. From the standpoint
of man-hours, smaller work groups appear to be more efficient than
larger ones. When from one to five men controlled the burning
process, the average man-hours required for 1 manzana of land
was twenty-one hours and forty-five minutes, when from six to ten
men were involved, the total required man-hours rose to thirty-eight
hours and twenty-five minutes. But in all cases, the time require-
ments for building firebreaks and burning over debris are minor
when compared to those of other activities in the milpa cycle.








The Milpa Cycle 61
CROPPING
Once undesired vegetation has been eliminated through the
activities of slashing, felling, leveling, and burning, the stage is set
for beginning the cropping phase of the milpa cycle. Though this
is dominated by maize, other plants are intercropped in such a
fashion that a given milpa may continue to produce foodstuffs up
to three or four years after being cleared. The four basic stages of
milpa cropping are:
1. C at cOal-Wet season milpa (literally "fire milpa"). Essen-
tially sown to maize.
2. Al ox, chop, tz in, etc.-New intercropped malanga, pine-
apple, manioc, etc. (al= "tender").
3. Chek ox, ch ?op, tzPin, etc.-Old intercropped malanga, pine-
apple, manioc, etc. (chek = "old").
4. Sak icuaj-Dry season milpa. Sown basically to maize (lit-
erally "summer milpa").
Intercropped items are managed in such a way as to require
attention only during slack periods in the maize cycle. Table 9,
which designates various crops, their planting, cultivation, and
harvest periods, will help clarify the way in which the time sequence
of these crops is coordinated. In addition to the five varieties of
maize cultivated in Chichipate in 1965, twenty-one basic plant types
were intercropped, and six were planted exclusively in house
yards.23
In presenting this material, the form developed by Conklin in his
Hanundo Agriculture will be used, adding only minor variations.
This permits a direct comparison of the two systems, clarifying
immediately how much less complex is that of Chichipate. Informa-
tion on each domestic plant is broken down into three basic cate-
gories: identification (columns 1-3), usage (columns 4-5), and
planting data (columns 6-11).
Crop Identification
Kekchi basic plant name.-All entries are arranged alphabetically
according to Kekchi basic crop names. The categories so desig-
nated often include two or more mutually exclusive subcategories or
specific plant types, the number of which is noted in parentheses
after the basic name.
23. Perhaps because of Chichipatefios' pioneering status and their con-
comitant lack of familiarity with the lowland tropical forest environment, the
variety of cultivated plant material they commonly identify is patently smaller








The Milpa Cycle 61
CROPPING
Once undesired vegetation has been eliminated through the
activities of slashing, felling, leveling, and burning, the stage is set
for beginning the cropping phase of the milpa cycle. Though this
is dominated by maize, other plants are intercropped in such a
fashion that a given milpa may continue to produce foodstuffs up
to three or four years after being cleared. The four basic stages of
milpa cropping are:
1. C at cOal-Wet season milpa (literally "fire milpa"). Essen-
tially sown to maize.
2. Al ox, chop, tz in, etc.-New intercropped malanga, pine-
apple, manioc, etc. (al= "tender").
3. Chek ox, ch ?op, tzPin, etc.-Old intercropped malanga, pine-
apple, manioc, etc. (chek = "old").
4. Sak icuaj-Dry season milpa. Sown basically to maize (lit-
erally "summer milpa").
Intercropped items are managed in such a way as to require
attention only during slack periods in the maize cycle. Table 9,
which designates various crops, their planting, cultivation, and
harvest periods, will help clarify the way in which the time sequence
of these crops is coordinated. In addition to the five varieties of
maize cultivated in Chichipate in 1965, twenty-one basic plant types
were intercropped, and six were planted exclusively in house
yards.23
In presenting this material, the form developed by Conklin in his
Hanundo Agriculture will be used, adding only minor variations.
This permits a direct comparison of the two systems, clarifying
immediately how much less complex is that of Chichipate. Informa-
tion on each domestic plant is broken down into three basic cate-
gories: identification (columns 1-3), usage (columns 4-5), and
planting data (columns 6-11).
Crop Identification
Kekchi basic plant name.-All entries are arranged alphabetically
according to Kekchi basic crop names. The categories so desig-
nated often include two or more mutually exclusive subcategories or
specific plant types, the number of which is noted in parentheses
after the basic name.
23. Perhaps because of Chichipatefios' pioneering status and their con-
comitant lack of familiarity with the lowland tropical forest environment, the
variety of cultivated plant material they commonly identify is patently smaller








62 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


Botanical name.-The Latin binomials given in the third column
are based on dried plant specimens collected in Chichipate in 1965.
Several of the subcategories recognized by the Kekchi have not been
identifiable on the basis of dried plant material, and there is a ques-
tion as to whether our classificatory system would admit them, even
if more adequate material were available.
English name.-English names most often associated with the
designated plant segregates in the literature.

Crop Usage
Following Conklin (1957), several abbreviations have been em-
ployed to designate the use to which various plant forms may be
put.
Food.-The specific manner in which the item is prepared and
consumed has been indicated as follows: M, main starch staple;
S, side dish, including spices, flavoring, and food coloring; s, snack
food, i.e., that which is commonly eaten uncooked; N, no food
value.
Other uses.-Other human needs met by the plant type: M,
medicinal; R, ritual; T, technological; S, social; E, economic; C,
cosmetic; N, none observed or recorded. As with the report on the
Hanun6o, "T" refers to crops which provide materials needed in
firemaking, cooking, and in the construction of tools, containers,
house and agricultural equipment, hunting and fishing equipment,
clothing, structures, musical instruments, and other useful objects.
"S" refers to plants which furnish materials used in many social
activities, such as fiestas and family visits. "E" is used to designate
those items used commonly in trade. "C" designates those items
used for personal beautification.
Planting Data
Incidence.--This category refers to the frequency and extent to
which particular plant types are grown in new milpas: U, universal,
i.e., planted widely in every milpa; W, widespread, i.e., planted in
more than 35 per cent of the new milpas; 0, occasional, i.e., planted
in fewer than 35 per cent of the new milpas.

than that identified and used by other groups of Middle America that have
long inhabited the lowlands. The reader is referred to Wisdom's book on the
Chorti, as well as to Kelly and Palerm's work on the Tajin Totonac (Wisdom,
1940; Kelly and Palerm, 1950). In the latter book, an herbarium catalog
of 367 plant specimens is provided.








62 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS


Botanical name.-The Latin binomials given in the third column
are based on dried plant specimens collected in Chichipate in 1965.
Several of the subcategories recognized by the Kekchi have not been
identifiable on the basis of dried plant material, and there is a ques-
tion as to whether our classificatory system would admit them, even
if more adequate material were available.
English name.-English names most often associated with the
designated plant segregates in the literature.

Crop Usage
Following Conklin (1957), several abbreviations have been em-
ployed to designate the use to which various plant forms may be
put.
Food.-The specific manner in which the item is prepared and
consumed has been indicated as follows: M, main starch staple;
S, side dish, including spices, flavoring, and food coloring; s, snack
food, i.e., that which is commonly eaten uncooked; N, no food
value.
Other uses.-Other human needs met by the plant type: M,
medicinal; R, ritual; T, technological; S, social; E, economic; C,
cosmetic; N, none observed or recorded. As with the report on the
Hanun6o, "T" refers to crops which provide materials needed in
firemaking, cooking, and in the construction of tools, containers,
house and agricultural equipment, hunting and fishing equipment,
clothing, structures, musical instruments, and other useful objects.
"S" refers to plants which furnish materials used in many social
activities, such as fiestas and family visits. "E" is used to designate
those items used commonly in trade. "C" designates those items
used for personal beautification.
Planting Data
Incidence.--This category refers to the frequency and extent to
which particular plant types are grown in new milpas: U, universal,
i.e., planted widely in every milpa; W, widespread, i.e., planted in
more than 35 per cent of the new milpas; 0, occasional, i.e., planted
in fewer than 35 per cent of the new milpas.

than that identified and used by other groups of Middle America that have
long inhabited the lowlands. The reader is referred to Wisdom's book on the
Chorti, as well as to Kelly and Palerm's work on the Tajin Totonac (Wisdom,
1940; Kelly and Palerm, 1950). In the latter book, an herbarium catalog
of 367 plant specimens is provided.








The Milpa Cycle 63
Planting time.-The abbreviations refer to the preferred planting
months. Months cited one-half year or more apart indicate that
normally there is more than one annual crop. The letter "C" indi-
cates that factors other than the calendar date are the principal
determinants in selecting a time for planting.
Planting locations.-The preferred terrain, within the milpa, for
planting: M, near the inner margin of the milpa; 0, in the open,
or central part of the milpa; S, at the base of stumps left in the
milpa; D, in depressions, whether natural or left by rotted stumps;
G, guamil, i.e., in low, first season fallow; H, house yard (outside
the milpa).
Planting technique.-D, with a dibble stick (auleb); P, with a
planting stick (macin); M, with a machete (ch Ich ); F, with the
finger (ru~uj uk?); S, by sowing or broadcasting (xpajFnc iyaj).
Each of these techniques differs considerably from the others. With
the first, dibbling, the object is to punch, but not enlarge, a shallow
hole into which seeds are dropped. With the second, using a planting
stick which is usually broad and metal tipped, the worker turns over
a circle of earth from 2 to 4 feet in diameter. He must dig rather
deeply, for such things as plantain cuttings are large and must be
firmly secured in the ground. In the third technique the worker
uses a machete and tries to stir well a shallow piece of ground into
which small cuttings may be placed. The fourth technique, finger
planting, is limited to marginal crops, such as peanuts and garlic,
and is employed only in soil which has become soft and friable
through recent slashing and burning. Broadcast sowing, the final
technique, requires the same type of soil preparation as does finger
planting and is also limited to marginal crops. A few house yard
plants such as carrots, radishes, and cabbage are often thus sown in
well-prepared seed beds. These are kept shaded with palm leaves,
and irrigated daily; otherwise they fail to germinate.
Plant spacing.-This is designated in three possible ways: (1)
the actual average minimum spacing that has been ascertained
through interviews and measuring, (2) planting in patches for
which there is no standard spacing, and (3) isolated planting of a
single or very few specimens:
0.0., actual average minimum spacing
P, planting in patches
S, isolated specimens.
Linear units of measure employed in calculating the space be-
tween plants are only approximate, for they are based on body pro-









TABLE 9
PLANTED MILPA CROPS
Food Other Uses Incidence Locations
M -Main starch staple M -Medicinal U -Universal M -Margin
S -Side dish R -Ritual W--Widespread (more than 35 per cent) O -In open, central part of milpa
s -Snack food T -Technological O -Occasional (less than 35 per cent) S -At base of stumps
N -No food value S -Social D -In depressions
E -Economic Technique G -In first season fallow (guamil)
C -Cosmetic D -Dibble H -House yard
N -None observed P -Planting stick
M -Machete Spacing
F -Finger O.O-Actual minimum spacing
S -Sow (broadcast) P -Planting in patches
S -Isolated specimens
Uses Planting Data
Kekchi basic Botanical English Inci- Loca- Tech- Spac- Propagation
plant name binomial name Food Other dence Time tion nique ing method
Anx (2) Allium sativum Garlic S MRSEC O lune O F 5" Peel


Oryza sativa L.


Rice


Vigna unguiculata Chick pea
(L.) Walp.
.-Ill1;i ascalonicum Onion
L.


July
Aug.
MS SE O Apr.
May
Ss RSE O May

S MRSE O May
June
July
Aug.


O D 21" Seed

MS D P Seed

O D 5" Bulb


Arroz (2)

Carabanzu (2)

Cebolla (3)















Cucurbita sp.


Capsicum
frutescens L.
Ipomoea
batatas (L.)
Lam.
Zea mays L.


Che quenk (1) Cajanus bicolor
DC.
Ch'op (2) Ananas comosus
(L.) Merrill


Maize


Lamunx (1) Citrus aurantifolia Lemon
(Christm.)
Swingle
Mani (1) Arachis hypogaea L. Peanut


Anacardium
occidentale L.
Nicotiana
tabacum L.


Cashew


S RTSE O May H D P
June
Ss MSE W June D M 15"
July
Aug.
S MSE U May O D P


Tree bean
(Pigeon pea)
Pineapple


Squash


Chili
pepper
Sweet
potato


Nov.
EC U Nov

U C


M RTES U May
Oct.
Nov.
S SE O C


MG D 21"

O M P


O D 35"


Seed

Slip in
rows

Seed


Seed

Slip in
rows

Seed


H F S Seed


s SE O June OM F 6"
July
s MSE O June G D S


Tobacco N MSE


W Aug. M S 39"


Seed

Seed

Seed;
transplant
to 39" in
November


S MRSI

Ss SE


C'um (3)


Ic (5)

Is (3)


Ixim (5)


Maraion (1)

May (2)











TABLE 9-Continued
PLANTED MILPA CROPS

Uses Planting Data
Kekchi basic Botanical English Inci- Loca- Tech- Spac- Propagation
plant name binomial name Food Other dence Time tion nique ing method
Ox (1) Alocasia Malanga MS SE U C M P 38" Tuber


macrorhiza (L.)
Schott
Carica papaya L.


Psidium sp.
Cucumis sativus
L.

Lycopersicon
pimpinellifolium
Mill.


Phaseolus sp.
Musa sapientum
Kuntz
Raphanus sp.


SE O June
and


later
Guava s MSE O June
Cucumber s SE O May
June
July
Tomato Ss SE O Feb.
July
Aug.


Bean MSs RSE W May
Banana s SE O C

Radish S SER O June


M S P Seed


H D
M D


Seed
Seed


G S P Squeeze
seeds from
ripe fruit
directly on
the ground.
OSM D P Seed
O P 111" Sucker in
rows
H Planted in rows in well-
prepared seed bed. Kept
shaded with palm leaf and
irrigated daily.


Papaya


Papaya (1)


Pata (1)
Pepinu (1)


Pix (3)




Quenk (3)
Queney (3)

Rabano (1)









Cabbage S


Repollo (1)



Sandia (3)


Tul (3)

Tz in (2)



Utz ajl (3)

Zanahoria (1)


Manihot
esculenta Crantz


Saccharum
oficinarum L.
Daucus sp.


ion s


Manioc



Sugar-
cane
Carrot


SER O June H S 18" Seed;
transplant
to 18" in
July.
SE O May M D 37" Seed


June
July
Ss SE O C

MS SE U June
Oct.
Aug.
preferred
Ss MRTSE O C


S SER


O P 111" Sucker in
rows
D M 92" Hardwood
cutting


OM M 68" Slip


0 June H Planted in rows in well-
prepared seed bed. Kept
shaded with palm leaf and
irrigated daily.


Brassica sp.


Citrullus Waterme
vulgaris
Schrad.
Musa paradisiaca L. Plantain









68 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

portions and their multiples (Table 10). Ropes are held in the
hands and measured off against fingers, elbows, breastbones, and
shirt seams. Once measured, they are cut and knotted, thus becom-
ing permanent units for marking off planting and boundary
distances.

TABLE 10
KEKCHI LINEAL MEASURES


Average length
(inches)


8/4 (20.96 cm)


Mero var 17/2 (44.45 cm)



Jun var 35 (88.9 cm)



Jun mokoj 68 (172.72 cm)





Jun metro 41 (104.14 cm)


General Guatemalan Basis for calculation
equivalents (adult male)


One-fourth vara From tip of the fully ex-
tended fifth finger to
the tip of the thumb.
One-half vara From tip of extended
middle finger to the
elbow, with the arm
fully extended.
One vara* From tip of the middle
finger to the breast-
bone, arm fully ex-
tended.
One brazada From tip of extended
middle finger to tip of
extended middle fin-
ger of the other hand,
arms straight out to
the right and left.
One meter With left arm fully ex-
tended, from the tip
of the middle finger
to the seam of the
shirt, at the juncture
with the right sleeve.


*Redfield found that in YucatAn, as in Chichipate, the vara was defined
as the distance from the fingertip to the middle of the breastbone (Redfield
and Rojas, 1962: 43).

Summary of Tabulation

Of the 60 specific and 28 basic cultivates commonly found in
Chichipate, all but six are planted in milpas. This leaves about 25
per cent of the basic cultivates and only 10 per cent of the specific
cultivates for house yard plots. Starches represent the most common
plant type grown in milpas and serve as the dietary base. Maize far


Unit
Jun c'utub
var









The Milpa Cycle 69
outstrips all other plant species in importance; though only five
varieties are grown in Chichipate, the maximum for varieties of
other plant species never surpasses three.
Six crops are grown exclusively in house yards: pigeon pea (che
quenk?), lime (coc? lamunx), carrot (zanahoria), radish (rabano),
cabbage (repollo), and guava (pata). All others may be found both
in milpas and house yards; none is limited to milpa cultivation
alone.
With the exception of maize, there is not a single plant which is
grown in every milpa, yet of the twenty-two basic cultivates grown
there, fourteen clearly predominate over others in popularity and
frequency.
STARCHES LEGUMES
Grains Beans (quenkV) (3)
Maize (ixim) (5) Chick peas (carabanzu) (2)
Tubers VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
Manioc (tzin) (2) Tomato (pix) (3)
Malanga (ox) (1) Pineapple (chIop) (2)
Sweet potato (is) (3) Squash (c>um) (3)
Tree Crops SNACKS, SPICES, AND CONFECTIONS
Plantain (tul) (3) Sugarcane (utz'ajl) (3)
Banana (quenjy) (3) Chili pepper (ic) (5)
Tobacco (may) (2)
With the exceptions of maize, squash, and beans, all other crops
are planted only in small patches. Though beans, chick peas, and
squash are planted simultaneously with maize, it is seldom that even
they are intended to "fill out" the milpa. Maize remains not only
the basic dietary staple, but the predominant form of plant life in
every first season field.
One of the adjustments migrants to Chichipate have had to make
has stemmed from the difficulties that accompany bean production
in the lowland tropics. Insect pests are so ubiquitous that the plants
tend to be decimated long before harvest time. In 1965 milperos
were still planting beans in the hope that, through sheer luck, -a de-
cent crop would ensue. Nor had they yet changed their dietary
habits. Beans were served with nearly every meal and, to purchase
them, the milperos were forced to lay out cash earned from the sale
of maize.
After maize, the cultivates most commonly distributed throughout
the milpas are beans, squash, chick peas, sweet potatoes, chili pep-
pers, manioc, and malanga, in that order. Everything else tends to










70 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS

occur in only isolated patches, though two milperos had sown entire
fields to sugarcane. Rice, not included in the list of commonly grown
cultivates, is of relatively recent introduction. The idea of growing
rice in the low-lying ground surrounding Chichipate appears to have


Crop Jan.

Banana x
Bush bean
Cabbage
Carrot
Chick pea
Chili pepper x
Garlic
Lime
Maize
Malanga x
Manioc
Onion
Papaya
Pineapple
Plantain x
Pole bean x
Radish
Rice
Squash and
pumpkin x
Sugarcane x
Sweet
potato x
Tobacco x
Tomato x
Watermelon


TABLE 11
MILPA CROP HARVESTING PERIODS

Feb. Mar. Apr. May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.

x x x x x x X X


X X X
X X X


x
x x


X X X
X X X


x
x x
x x
x
x x


x

x
x x x


x
x x x x
x x


x
x x x x x x
x X X


X X X
x x x


x x x
x x


x x
x

x


x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x

x x x x X X X X x x
x x
x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x


come from experience milperos have gained working in the rice fields
of Yuscarin. In 1965 two milperos planted entire milpas to this
cultivate as an experiment. A few others dibbled rice seed into water-
logged depressions in the middle of maize milpas. There was con-
siderable speculation as to whether the cultivate would become a
major crop for the community in the future. It was still a very rare
dietary item in 1967, however.
Maize, the major milpa crop, is planted twice a year. Simul-
taneously, beans, chick peas, and squash seeds are dibbled into the








The Milpa Cycle 71
ground. Other cultivates which are sown under the maize, once it
has begun to grow, are tomatoes, watermelons, and chili peppers. A
number of common cultivates may be sown at any time throughout
the year, the conditions depending more on the soil, vegetative
cover, and lay of the land than on the factor of time. These include
manioc, plantain, banana, sweet potato, and malanga. Planting
periods for the remaining crops tend to fit nicely between the times
of heightened activity in the seeding and harvesting (Table 11) of
major cultivates. Although there are certainly lulls of milpa activity,
there is hardly a month when some productive work is not done.
No milpa contains all of the basic cultivates, and certainly none
approaches having all the specific ones. The maximum number
of basic cultivates found in any given milpa is eighteen. In the rainy
season, except for the rare cases when an entire milpa has been
planted to sugarcane or rice, maize is the predominant cultivate,
and it shades most others. In the dry season, however, entire fields of
sweet potatoes, beans, and chili peppers, sown independently from
maize, may occasionally be seen. Otherwise, cultivates are inter-
cropped either in milpas of maize or are scattered throughout
swiftly replenishing secondary growth.
C~at cOal Making
Maize planting ritual.-An elaborate series of ritual taboos and
practices emphasize the primary importance of maize in the Kekchi
economy. While not every milpero observes them all, most try to,
and the first man in the village to begin planting is required to do
so. The observances begin nine days before seeding, from which
time sexual intercourse is forbidden. The first night of these rituals,
prayers are said both in the home and at the ermita. One of these,
recorded verbatim, gives considerable insight into the supernatural
dimension of maize farming, as perceived by Chichipatefios:
Prayer of Preparation
Kekchi English
Ay Dios Jesucristo, anakcuan xinchal Oh, God, Jesus Christ, now I have
rubel acuok rubel acuuk'. Ma us ma come under your feet, under your
inc~a' tinye a cua?. Ay Dios, Padre hands. It is good or not (what) I
Eterno, neque'xye li Kana' kayucuaP will say, Father. Oh God, eternal
xe'quirisin ke, neque'xye nak lokP li Father, they say, our mothers and fa-
kacua li kuc'a. Ut anakcuan xinchal others that reared us, they say that our
xpatz bal, xtz 'amanquil rubel la cuok food and drink are precious. And now
rubel la cuukP, chi anchal inch jl li I have come to ask, to beseech under
cuam. Anakcuan tinpatzP li santil your feet, under your hands, with all








The Milpa Cycle 71
ground. Other cultivates which are sown under the maize, once it
has begun to grow, are tomatoes, watermelons, and chili peppers. A
number of common cultivates may be sown at any time throughout
the year, the conditions depending more on the soil, vegetative
cover, and lay of the land than on the factor of time. These include
manioc, plantain, banana, sweet potato, and malanga. Planting
periods for the remaining crops tend to fit nicely between the times
of heightened activity in the seeding and harvesting (Table 11) of
major cultivates. Although there are certainly lulls of milpa activity,
there is hardly a month when some productive work is not done.
No milpa contains all of the basic cultivates, and certainly none
approaches having all the specific ones. The maximum number
of basic cultivates found in any given milpa is eighteen. In the rainy
season, except for the rare cases when an entire milpa has been
planted to sugarcane or rice, maize is the predominant cultivate,
and it shades most others. In the dry season, however, entire fields of
sweet potatoes, beans, and chili peppers, sown independently from
maize, may occasionally be seen. Otherwise, cultivates are inter-
cropped either in milpas of maize or are scattered throughout
swiftly replenishing secondary growth.
C~at cOal Making
Maize planting ritual.-An elaborate series of ritual taboos and
practices emphasize the primary importance of maize in the Kekchi
economy. While not every milpero observes them all, most try to,
and the first man in the village to begin planting is required to do
so. The observances begin nine days before seeding, from which
time sexual intercourse is forbidden. The first night of these rituals,
prayers are said both in the home and at the ermita. One of these,
recorded verbatim, gives considerable insight into the supernatural
dimension of maize farming, as perceived by Chichipatefios:
Prayer of Preparation
Kekchi English
Ay Dios Jesucristo, anakcuan xinchal Oh, God, Jesus Christ, now I have
rubel acuok rubel acuuk'. Ma us ma come under your feet, under your
inc~a' tinye a cua?. Ay Dios, Padre hands. It is good or not (what) I
Eterno, neque'xye li Kana' kayucuaP will say, Father. Oh God, eternal
xe'quirisin ke, neque'xye nak lokP li Father, they say, our mothers and fa-
kacua li kuc'a. Ut anakcuan xinchal others that reared us, they say that our
xpatz bal, xtz 'amanquil rubel la cuok food and drink are precious. And now
rubel la cuukP, chi anchal inch jl li I have come to ask, to beseech under
cuam. Anakcuan tinpatzP li santil your feet, under your hands, with all









72 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
ma'aj chicuix chinc'atc, li santil
ma'aj aj Jehova, santil ma'aj aj San
Rafael, santil ma aj aj San Miguel,
oxib chi na'aj ninpatz' chicuix
chinc'atc. C'a'ru aj e c'a'ru xcuan-
quil nak tinpatz' a'an chirix lin cua
li cuuc'aj ha' xnumsinquil li cutan
sak'enc. Jo'ca'in anakcuan sa' li
beleb cutan anakcuan nak tinduk.
Entons tinye acue anakcuan tacuy
inmac tana, bar tana us li cuan tinye
acue anakcuan at incua'. Tinpatz'
ajcui I' santil apostl, cablaju chi
apostl xbec chacuix nak xatyo'la Je-
rusalem. At inna' at inyucua' ay
Dios a cua', anakcuan tintz'ama sa'
acuok saP acuukP chijunil la bendi-
cion, tacuank la musik'. Nacuabi
resil ld cudm la musik li Dios Es-
piritu Santo. Oxib vuelt tinye nak sa2
xc'aba' li Dios Acua'bej, li Dios
C'ajolbej ut li Dios Espiritu Santo,
amen. Oxib vuelt, sao xc aba li Dios
Acua'bej, li Dios C'ajolbej, li Dios
Espiritu Santo, amen. Sa' xc'aba' li
Dios Acua'bej, li Dios C'ajolbej, li
Dios Espiritu Santo, amen. Ay Dios
a cua' xtz akloc Id bendicion, la
cuam la musik' bar cuan xinye.
Anakcuan bar xt anec re lin cua li
cuuc'a ha'? Chire chiru li lok'belaj
tzOil, lok belaj tak a. Yo yoqueb
a'an. Neque xye nak cuan nayehoc
re nak inc a' moco yo'yo ta. Ay,
inc a?. Ca'ajcui' li cuan sa' choxa,
chanqueb. Inc ~a. Ldo, tinpatz
ajcuiP li lok'laj tzuil, lok'laj tak'a,
jarub li ninnau xc'aba, a'an ajcui'
tinpatz'. Anakcuan bar cuan li tz'akl
xakxo sa' xben li kacua li kuc'aj
ha'. Ca'ajcui' li kacua' San Pablo,
kacua' Cojaj, li kana' Itz'am, ka-
cua> C'anc'amas, kacua' Chixbajau,
kacua' Paxucuac, kacua' Xac'oj, ka-
cua' Cuaxpom, kacua' Jolbm Hix,
kacua' Sec'che, kacua' Sebacaron,
kacua' Isabal, kacua' Sebacari, ka-
cua' Santasabel. Ca'ajcui' a'in
tz'akal xpuirs li cuatin a cua?. Nak


my heart, my soul. Now I ask the
holy place behind beside me, the holy
place Jehovah, the holy place San
Rafael, the holy place San Miguel,
three places I ask behind beside me.
For what purpose, for what power
that I ask this concerning my food
and drink for passing the days. Like
this now on the ninth day I will
plant. Now I say to you perhaps you
will forgive my sin. Perhaps it is
good what I will say to you. My
Father, I also ask the holy apostles,
twelve apostles walked behind you
when you were born in Jerusalem.
My mother, my father, oh God Fa-
ther, now I beseech in your feet, in
your hands all your blessing. May
there be your spirit. I hear the sign
of your heart, your spirit, God Holy
Spirit. Three times I will say in the
name of God the Father, God the
Son, and God the Holy Spirit, amen.
Three times, in the name of God the
Father, God the Son, God the Holy
Spirit, amen. In the name of God
the Father, God the Son, God the
Holy Spirit, amen. Oh, God, Father,
it is completed your blessing, your
soul, your spirit which I said. Where
are my food and drink falling? Be-
side, in front of the holy mountain,
the holy below. They are alive. They
say that there are those who say that
they are not alive. Oh, no, only the
one in heaven they say. No. We, I
ask also the holy mountain, the holy
below, all whose names I know, those
also I ask. Where is the one who
really controls (sufficiently stands
on) our food and drink. Only our fa-
ther Saint Paul, our father Cojaj,
our mother Itz'am, our father
C'anc'amas, our father Chixbajau,
our father Paxucuac, our father
Xac'oj, our father Cuaxpom, our fa-
ther Jolom Hix, our father Sec'ache,
our father Sebacaron, our father
Isabal, our father Sebacari, our fa-










ninnau ta cuan xjunil li bar cuan
xcanabeb xcaaba chak li lok'laj
tzOil, li lokzlaj tak'a, tinye ajcuiP joP
ta bar cuan li nacutun chicuu.
Ca ajcui? a2an tinye anakcuan a
cuaP. JoP a2in saP beleb cutan nak
tinauk. Ay Dios a cuaP ca'ajcuiP
aran xorake Ay Dios tinpatzP
xcabaW anakcuan tinpatz' xc abaP
li apbstl San Juan, San Pedro, San
Pablo, San Lucas, San Marcos, San
Jose, San Vicente, San Antonio, Sal-
vador del Mundo, Salvador Mio, San
Antonio del mont, a~an tzlakal lix
diosil li kacua li kuc)a. SaP xc'abaP
li Dios Acua'bej, li Dios C ajolbej,
li Dios Espiritu Santo, amen. Sa'
xc~abaW li Dios Acua'bej, li Dios
C ajolbej, li Dios Espiritu Santo,
amen. SaP xc'aba' li Dios Acua bej,
li Dios C'ajolbej, li Dios Espiritu
Santo, amen.


The Milpa Cycle 73
their Santasabel. Only that is the suf-
ficient strength of my words. If I
knew all the names that the Holy
mountain, the holy below, left, I
would say them also as I said the
ones that appear to me. Only this I
will say now, father. Like this in nine
.days I will plant. Oh, God, Father,
only there we finished. Oh God, I
ask (in) their names now. I ask (in)
the name of the apostles, San Juan,
San Pedro, San Pablo, San Lucas,
San Marcos, San Jos6, San Vicente,
San Antonio, Salvador del Mundo,
Salvador mio, San Antonio del
monte. These are the real gods of
our food and drink. In the name of
God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Spirit, amen. In the
name of God the Father, God the
Son, and God the Holy Spirit, amen.
In the name of God the Father, God
the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,
amen.


On the third night before seeding, men and their wives again
walk to the ermita, bur candles and copal, and pray for safety, a
good crop, and a long and good life. This visit may occur either at
dusk or the following dawn. While the man prays, the woman, who
has brought the brazier full of smouldering copal, shakes it as an
offering to the saints and to the milpa.
As the two enter the picketed "sanctuary" area, each makes the
sign of the cross. Then the woman gives her husband candles, which
he places before each of the saints. He directs prayers to the saints,
to God, and to the hills, that his plants grow strong and healthy,
and that there be no accident or illness during the growing season.
He and his wife continue burning candles and copal until up to
three large or nine small candles and a quarter pound of copal have
been consumed. More candles and incense, it is believed, would
create so much heat that the milpa would turn yellow before it was
ripe.
From one to two hours after having gone to the chapel, the two
return home, and there they burn candles and copal before the saint
of the house where they have already set the bag of seed. The cross
placed in the milpa at planting time has hopefully survived the fire








74 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
(the ground around it had been carefully cleared), and is now
brought and placed on top of the open sack of maize. Care is exer-
cized that no one except the milpero and his wife touch the seed,
for to do so would be to betray the reverence it is due. The same
prayers that were used in the chapel are here again offered.
The sacredness of the occasion may be appreciated through one
verbatim, summary account of this phase of the ritual:

In three days I will plant. Then I will go to the holy church.
I will go to talk to our Father. He is in the world. Is it he that
I will not find the name of the one which I asked? I exalted
him completely. Then a hundred thousand times he forgave,
he lost my sin. He, Jesus Christ and Jehovah and San Rafael,
San Miguel. And I ask again (in) their names the apostles
San Juan, San Pedro, San Lucas, San Marcos, San Jos6, San
Vicente, San Antonio, Saviour of the world, my Saviour, and
San Antonio of the mountain. I ask in their names a second
time when (in) three days I will plant.

For three successive nights this ritual is repeated. During this
time, adults of the family abstain from manioc, sweet potatoes,
bread, and tree-borne fruits. The belief reinforcing this practice is
that if one eats any of these foods, the maize will fill with worms,
for all these foods are worm-prone. Before maize may be planted,
an all-night wake (yo lec) must be held. Some families hold it on
three successive ritual nights. Others limit it to only the third.
The wake begins at about 7:00 P.M. Again candles and copal
are offered to the household saint. Women also grind green cacao
(chocolate), mix it with water, place it in a gourd or cup, and set
it on top of the maize seed. They add to this offering chicken broth
made with pieces of chicken meat, garlic, salt, and chili pepper. On
top of the bowl of broth, they place a stack of tortillas. The whole
is set on the open sack of maize seed. Some families complete their
offerings by killing a turkey or, preferably, a pig, and sprinkling the
blood over the seed. As they do so, they pray to the surrounding
hills and to God to give them permission to enter into the milpa, to
grant them a successful harvest, to protect the milpa against ma-
rauding animals, and to liberate them from the threat of bad airs
(aire). These requests they make in the name of the Holy Spirit.
Once the spirits and maize have been fed, bitter chocolate
(cacao), chicken broth (calt), tortillas (cua), and sometimes ta-








The Milpa Cycle 75
males (oben) and atole (uk'un) are served until everyone present
has eaten his fill. The food offered to the saints and to the seed
is, at the end of the ceremony, given to children. It is believed that
their innocence or lack of sin makes them the only persons who can
eat it without harm.
Around six or seven in the morning, the work party begins to
gather. They are first given food, and then the seed is divided
among them. The entire group proceeds to the milpa; the "owner"
of the plot arrives first. He goes immediately to the center of the
field, kneels, and replaces the stick cross that had been resting on
top of the sack of seed. In front of this cross he places a lighted
candle, burns more copal, and prays. When the candle has burned
down, he plants the first seed in its place, and this spot becomes the
axis for a cross which will be composed of six hillocks of maize. The
order in which this cross is sown is (1) axis, (2) left transept, (3)
right transept, (4) head, and (5) and (6) foot. Into each of these
hillocks should go exactly six grains.

.4
.2 .1 .3
.5
.6

While this ceremony is being executed, the other members of the
work party are off in the bush looking for or sharpening their
dibbles. The "owner" of the plot has looked for and sharpened his
some days before. Planting activity begins only after the ceremony
has been completed and all have secured their dibbles. It continues
until around 11:00 A.M., at which time the workers begin to walk
back to the house of the milpa "owner." There, in typical festive
work-party fashion, they are feted with a banquet of tortillas, roast
pig, tamales, and bitter chocolate. Before the food is distributed,
copal is burned and prayers are offered that no one fall ill from
the meal. Of the foods, chocolate is the most esteemed, and four or
five gourds-full are placed on the table before the saint. Though it
is from these that the work party drinks, one gourd is left un-
touched, as an offering for the saint. As all foods are brought from
the fire, they are placed first in front of the saint and consecrated
with copal fumes before they may be distributed to the guests.
Except for a taboo on sexual intercourse that continues for nine
nights afterwards, this festive meal is the final ritual act in planting








76 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
maize. Following it, the work party returns to the fields, the ideal
being to complete the seeding of a given milpa in a single day.
Aside from the food and sex taboos already mentioned, there appear
to be no other important ones connected with maize planting. The
phase of the moon holds no importance for the act. Care is taken,
however, not to hang a bagful of maize seed from a tree, for this is
believed to bring an infestation of wasps. Seed bags, when they are
taken from the shoulders, should be set on the ground.
Preparation of seed.-Because milperos try to plant maize within
one week after burning, and because seed should be ready at least
a day or two before the planting wake, seed selection begins as soon
as the firing has been completed. Ideally, rains will begin just after
planting. Several weeks of dry weather can follow seed time, how-
ever, without causing undue concern on the part of the milperos.
During such a dry spell, they conceive of the seed as merely resting
in the ground and suffering little damage. Reina, on the basis of his
San Jose data, speaks of the sweating of the soil in relation to plant-
ing. According to him, seeding can take place as long as eight days
after burning because the "sweat" is effective for that period of
time (Reina, 1967: 5). No such concept was found in Chichipate.
The five types of maize grown in Chichipate are presented in
Table 12. They correlate remarkably well with maize varieties grown
elsewhere in the Maya area. In general, Maya farmers stick to a
very few varieties, though they may be aware of more (Hester,
1954: 161), and these are customarily distinguished by color. The
basic ones recorded for Yucatan by Hester are white (zac), black
(ek), yellow (kan), and red (chac), classifications almost identical
to those used in Chichipate today. As Hester points out, it seems
more than coincidental that these four colors are those most promi-
nently associated in the Maya Pantheon, and that they are also
associated with the cardinal directions (Hester, 1954: 161).
Seed selection is done by the milpero and his wife. They place
each separate variety of maize into a different gunny sack, for they
believe that mixing the seed tends to lower crop yield. Each grain
must be inspected individually, and is selected for planting only if
it has a "son." This "son" (ralal ixim) is the inner, lighter core of
the grain, and must be intact if the seed is to sprout. For each
manzana of milpa, about twenty-five pounds of seed are prepared,
no matter what the lay of the land may be.24 Kekchi measures used
24. Kelly and Palerm uncovered a complex method of seed preparation
among the Tajin Totonac that seems to have no parallel in Chichipate. "Be-








The Milpa Cycle 77
in calculating planting needs result from a combination of Iberian
with indigenous standards. Table 13, derived from informant state-
ments and checked by standardized Western measures of weight
and volume, should be considered only approximate, since Kekchi
implements for measuring include such variable items as gourds,
cups, basins, and bags.
Seed is divided among the members of the work group before
they leave for the field. Each man carries it in his shoulder bag.
Two jom are enough for one man's half day of labor. At noon,
when the worker returns for the festive meal, he refills his bag.
The bag of maize seed usually stays in the milpero's house. There
the maize is mixed with bean (quenk'), chick pea (carabanzu),
squash (cum), and/or calabash (cuum). About two pounds of
bean seed, two of chick pea, and one-half of squash or calabash are
used for an arroba of maize. These intercropped seeds are mixed by
hand in the gunny sack.
Should smaller portions of seed be prepared, for every pound of
maize a handful of each of the other seeds is mixed in. Often the
milpero is negligent in mixing seed, and the members of the plant-
ing party themselves must do the mixing just before leaving for the
field. In these cases, they simply pick up a handful of each of the
other seeds and add this to the shoulder bag full of maize. Maize
yields may surpass 100 to 1 on good, well-drained soil.25 Since there
is no strict control over the proportion of intercropped seeds added
to the maize, the yield of beans, chick peas, squash, and calabash is
highly unpredictable.
Planting equipment.-Equipment used in planting maize is ex-
ceedingly simple, being limited to shoulder bags for holding seed,
and dibbles (auleb). The shoulder bags are customarily bought

fore planting, the corn is shelled and is placed with water in a wooden tray.
If the container is of harder material, such as pottery or metal, the resulting
maize crop 'will be hard, and difficult to grind on the metate.' On top of the
soaking corn are stuck two unlighted candles each supported by a corncob.
"The following day, the seed corn is placed in a box lined with leaves of
banana or of papatla and more leaves are used as a cover. The box is
moved to the sun for a day, and with the heat, the corn begins to sprout.
When the root is visible, the maize is sprinkled with a solution of creolin or
coal oil to protect it from ants ." (Kelly and Palerm, 1950: 110).
25. This estimate, obtained from informants, accords remarkably well
with Kelly and Palerm's statement for the Tajin Totonac that "it seems likely
that the yield per liter of seed generally is at least 100 to 1" (Kelly and
Palerm, 1950: 120).










TABLE 12
COMMON MAIZE TYPES IN CHICHIPATE
Botanical
Kekchi name identification Treatment Preference Use


Nink saki hal
(Large white
corn)


Saki coc hal
(Small white
corn)

Maiz brinco
(No translation,
possibly "gringo"
corn)
Kzani coc2 hal
(Small yellow
corn)


K eki hal
(Black corn)


Resembles closely the race Tux- Most widely grown. Most preferred. Tortillas, atole, tamales, animals,
peiio of eastern Mexico. Probably Late harvest, sale.
Mexican in origin, and may have
been brought in several years ago
when local corn failed.
Nal-Tel Blanco, Tierra Baja Most widely grown Second in order Tortillas, animals, sale.
mixed with Tepecintle. of the early maize, of preference
Harvested before because of early
nznk saki hal. harvest date.
Closely related to Tepecintle Widely cultivated. Third in order Tortillas, atole, tamales, animals,
which probably had its origin in Late harvest, of preference. sale.
Guatemala and is the progenitor
of the Mexican Tuxpeiio. White.


Nal-Tel Amarillo, Tierra Baja. Eaten especially
when tender.
Early harvest.


Negro de Chimaltenango.


Planted in only
small portions
of the milpa.
Early harvest.


Fourth in order
of preference.


Fifth in order
of preference.


Atole, tamales, but not tortillas,
for the mash is too soft. Eaten
often as corn on the cob. No
market demand.
Tortillas, atole, tamales, animals,
rarely sold. Used for ritual.









The Milpa Cycle 79

TABLE 13
KEKCHI MEASURES OF VOLUME AND WEIGHT
USED IN MILPA AGRICULTURE

General Guatemalan
Kekchi measure Average equivalents Other equivalents


Ch ?ch sec

Jo]m

Palangan

Ch ina chacach

Cubet

Nimla chacach


400 cc

715 cc

2500 cc

3600 cc

9550 cc

25,300 cc


VOLUME
pocillo

huacal

palangana

canasto pequeio

cubeta

canasto grande


WEIGHT

una mano




25 lbs una arroba
(una olla)


100 lbs quintal





150 lbs una fanega




cajdn


Five unhusked
ears of corn,
five bananas,
etc.

25 pounds of
shelled corn, or
40-60 ears of
unshelled corn.

50 pounds of
shelled corn, or
100-150 ears
of unshelled corn.

100 pounds of
shelled corn, or
200-300 ears
of unshelled
corn.

1/2 quintales of
shelled corn, or
300-450 un-
shelled ears.

Varying size, from
one to twenty
arrobas.


chocolate cup

small gourd

wash basin

small basket

pail

large basket


Jun ukP*


Jun uc'al


Nimla uc'al 50 lbs dos arrobas
(olla grande)


Quintal





Jun ok'ob


Caj6n


*Jun uk? is really more a measure of volume than of weight. It is, how-
ever, conceived by the Kekchi to form part of the weight series.








80 KEKCHI CULTIVATORS
either in stores or from traveling salesmen, for the women of Chichi-
pate do little weaving. Dibbles may be made on the spot or saved
from one planting episode to another.
Preferred wood for dibble making is that of the acteO plant
((Astrocaryum cohune (Wats.) Standl.)). Straight shoots some 5
feet tall and 2/2 inches in diameter are needed for an adult's
dibble. The shoot, harvested green, is peeled smooth, and then the
point is sharpened. Preferred weight varies, of course, with the
height and strength of the dibbler, each preferring the heaviest
dibble that he can easily manage. This weight adds to the dibbler's
thrust and makes penetration of the soil that much easier.
Only one type of point (ru uj) is prepared for maize planting,
and it is of the conical type. These points wear down fairly rapidly.
In ordinary, fairly friable soil, they must be sharpened once or
twice a day; in stony milpas, they need sharpening much more fre-
quently.
A variant of the maize dibble is used for planting smaller seeds
such as those of chili peppers. This small dibble (ch ina auleb) av-
erages only about 3V/2 feet in height. It has a blunted end which
stirs only the very top of the soil layer.
Once planting has been completed, if any dibbles appear to be
serviceable still, they are stored in the house rafters to be brought
out for the next season. Well-cared-for dibbles have been known to
last three years.
The digging stick, or macdn, is approximately the same size as
the large dibble, and in fact may be made from a discarded auleb.
It differs principally in that the point consists of merely an oblique
cut across the bottom, rather than in a rounded, pencil-type cone.
Some macin are made, however, with a wide steel blade at the" bot-
tom, and the shafts of these are about twice as thick and heavy as
are those of auleb.
Planting labor groups.-Cooperative work groups are larger for
planting than for any other single activity in the milpa cycle. This is
related partly to the need to get the maize into the ground quickly
after burning, partly to the organizational advantages of dibbling an
entire milpa in a single day, and partly to the festive air of expec-
tancy that surrounds the planting process. Planting groups, in 1965,
ranged from seven to thirty-five persons. Recruitment was as varied
as the composition of the groups. All milperos invited their close
consanguineal, ritual, and affinal kin. With them they simply ex-
changed labor for labor. But many also invited men who were no




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