Mayan K’iché’ garments as cultural but also as military political artifacts in Museums
“What is at stake in thinking through the gender of an ethnographic object?” This was one of the initial questions raised by Wereldmuseum online on the topic “gendering the museum” seminar on 1 October 2020. Considering the context of a particular Mayan regalia or garment displayed at the Museum, I argue that an understanding of the garment’s meanings requires us to address these meanings' connection to their particular military ethnographic context because failure to do so obscures the ways in which Indigenous materiality is objectified. In so doing, we can get a glimpse of the modern colonial relationship between Indigenous Peoples and the military, and the long-term negative (and genocidal) impact of colonialism (and postcolonialism) resulting “in systemic racism, cyclical poverty, economic inequity, violence, loss of language and culture” (UNHCR, 2022).
Photo: © Vince Heptig. “Santo Tomas Chichicastenango’s Military Reserve Battalion, with permission to reprint and refeature image by Vince Heptig, which also appeared in in Marcia Esparza’s Silenced Communities: Legacies of Militarization and Militarism in a Rural Guatemalan Town (2018). NYC: Berghahn Books. Permission to use image provided by Heptig in May 2023.
We publish these articles as the museums consolidate into one nominal entity, het Wereldmuseum: since the articles were written between 2020 and 2023, they do not yet reflect the March 2023 name change.
All contributors called into the Un/Engendering research project were asked to think outside their respective specializations. Without their courage, openness, humility, and without the peer reviewers’ generous attention, such an interdisciplinary project could have never taken place.
Author | Marcia Esparza
Marcia Esparza was born and raised in Santiago, Chile. In 1986 she immigrated to New York City where she had the opportunity to obtain a doctoral degree in sociology. Marcia's areas of research areas include state violence, genocide, collective memory-silence in the aftermath of mass killings and military sociology in Latin America and more recently in Spain. Her research experience includes extensive fieldwork for the United Nations’ sponsored Truth Commission in Guatemala (1997-1999). Marcia's monograph, Silenced Communities: Legacies of and Resistance to Militarization and Militarism in a Rural Guatemalan Town explores the long-term footprints of war and genocide upon rural Indigenous communities impacted by the conditions of internal colonialism, which the army exploited to build its mass-based support (Berghahn Books, 2018).
Marcia is also the co- editor of Remembering the Rescuers of Victims of Human Rights Crimes in Latin America. (Lexington Books, 2016) and State Violence and Genocide in Latin American: The Cold War Years (Routledge, 2009). She was the co-editor for the Journal of Genocide Research (JGR) (2018-2020). In her capacity as scholar and activist, she founded the Historical Memory Project (HMP) in 2002 to preserve the collective memory of state violence in the Americas within diasporic communities.
Currently, she is based during her Sabbatical year (2023-2024) in Rabat, Morocco where she is conducting fieldwork and writing her next book on the silences and representation of African colonial soldiers found at the San Carlos Military Museum in the Spanish island of Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands. In Morocco, Marcia is now a field researcher of the SOLROUTES ERC project, sponsored by the University of Genova, Italy, conducting a multi-sited ethnographic research project (Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and Beligum) whose aim is centered on border transgressive practices, enacted by people on the move (migrants, refugees, asylum seekers) as well as by groups supporting their stay and movement.