Txitzi’n for the Poxnai: Indigenous Women’s Discourses on Revolutionary Combat

Arturo Arias

^Official analyses of the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) shift between those that proclaim massive and/or enthusiastic indigenous participation in guerrilla organizations and those that claim that there was a manipulation of innocent, or ignorant, “indigenous masses.”1 This never-ending production of labels to designate cultural dominants about the war is not an innocuous fact: it is intertwined with the act of interpreting who won and who is to blame for the entire process. In the Guatemalan case, global and local actors from opposing academic power fields remain mired in generalities. As a result, perfunctory phrases such as “indigenous masses,” “indigenous combatants,” or “indigenous ex-URNG members” (URNG is the Spanish acronym for the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) continue to circulate in most papers written about the subject without any serious problematization of the meaning of these vague notions.2 What is more, in the midst of their mudslinging, neither side has, for the most part, spoken of gender, nor have they allowed the voices of indigenous ex-combatants to be heard directly. That is, very few people have actually interviewed indigenous ex-combatants to hear their own explanations for choosing to engage in revolutionary war, perhaps one of the most dramatic limit-experiences and demonstrations of agency in which an individual can engage.

Part of this obscurity is attributable to the fact that the Maya uprising in Guatemala happened before cyberspace became an alternative means to official (and officially censored) methods of disseminating information. Yet this cannot be the only possible explanation. Indeed, the phenomenon appears to derive in part from what Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano has named “the coloniality of power,” a theory that emphasizes how the grid of colonialism continues to frame social, political, economic, and cultural relations in Latin America. Quijano is especially attentive to the efficacy of colonial racial categories and relations, given how they reproduce unequal political and economic power and thus constitute a framework whereby inequality reproduces itself. Gustavo Lins Ribeiro argues that it is also necessary to explore a parallel category that he labels “nationality of power” in interim fashion,3 a concept that would account for the structuring effects of national elites who articulate social relations reflecting the coloniality of power within a given nation-state, where they most often find their natural ground and stability, their space of emplacement. Finally, it would coincide with what Boaventura de Sousa Santos labels “abyssal thinking,” in which subalternized peoples become nonexistent in the eyes of Westerners exercising hegemony.4

Even for a Ladino, or mestizo, Marxist revolutionary, the coded elements imposed by the coloniality of power, and displayed by abyssal thinking, implied that indigenous discursivity was a space where their world was violently displaced. Although Marxism represented for many the maximum of possible consciousness at a given time and place, it remained anchored in European Enlightenment and was logically articulated with all forms of modern Western thinking. Indigenous discursivity, on the other hand, problematized Marxist certainty, pointing out that it implied merely a Eurocentric point of view that privileged class struggle. It thus destabilized and decentered this singular form of modern certainty. It showed Ladino revolutionary leaders that they did not live in a homogeneous and coherent space patterned after modern Europe, but, rather, one conceived of by Europeans as premodern. It is my contention that this blindness has led Ladino revolutionaries and analysts to refuse systematically to account for the coexistence of Ladino and Maya cultural forms, that is, of accepting the reality of non-Western conceptual systems within the nation-state, especially since these might problematize their class analysis. In my understanding, these factors account for the lack of sources documenting indigenous accounts on the war.5 In this paper, therefore, I intend to bring to light indigenous discursivity about the war, focusing on testimonials by indigenous women ex-combatants.

If indigenous accounts in general have been virtually ignored, even less has been published on women indigenous combatants and the effects of war on them. In 1998 Norma Stoltz-Chinchilla published in Spanish Nuestras utopias: Mujeres guatemaltecas del siglo XX

(Our Utopias: Guatemalan Women of the 20th Century), a series of interviews of women involved in the Guatemalan revolutionary war.6 Not all interviews were with indigenous combatants or even about combatants as a whole, but a few were. In 2006, Susan A. Berger published Guatemaltecas: The Women’s Movement 1986-2003, in which she argued that a counterdiscourse to globalization had slowly emerged within the Guatemalan women’s movement. Again, her book is not primarily about combatants and less so about indigenous women, but it necessarily touches marginally on some of those experiences. Finally, in 2008, Ligia Pelaez edited Memorias rebeldes contra el olvido: Paasantzila Txumb’al Ti’ Sortzeb’al K’u’l (Rebel Memories Against Oblivion),7 a book that I will use as a primary source for analyzing this topic.

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