Fernando Armstrong-Fumero and Julio Hoil Gutierrez
Whether on the scale of a household, of a community, or of a much larger regional environment, spaces of human habitation are both historical records of our past and a key element in reproducing the knowledge and values that define our lives in the present. This process of cultural reproduction can be endangered when migration, displacement, or changes in property regimes limit communities’ access to sites where they have important historical connections. Around the world, formal legal statutes, grassroots organizations, and local acts of resistance can play different roles in reasserting these connections between people and place. Accordingly, the claims that contemporary stakeholders make on archaeological sites and related landscape features extend beyond the simple desire for conservation or site preservation and include the rights to visit, inhabit, and even alter the physical composition of these spaces.
The essays in this volume are an interdisciplinary exploration of these intersections between the study and management of physical sites and the reproduction of intangible cultural legacies. Some chapters focus on more abstract theoretical insights into societies’ relationship to different places and how this relationship figures in the reproduction of cultural continuities amidst processes of social change. Other essays turn to more pragmatic ways in which these insights figure in contemporary negotiations through which different groups seek greater access or control over culturally significant sites and landscapes. As a group, they are meant to provide a comparative body of case studies that explore the different ways in which place is mediated by social, political, and ecological processes that have deep historical roots and that continue to effect the politics of heritage management today.
The close relationship between physical space and more ephemeral manifestations of culture and social organization are a common thread joining diverse currents of anthropological and archaeological research. Since the rise of New Archaeology in the 1960s and 1970s, archaeological research has focused on reconstructing long-term patterns of culture and social structure. Working “up” from the material traces of human behavior, the processualists and their various intellectual successors and competitors have been keenly attuned to the intimate and dynamic relationship between the materiality of space and the more intangible dimensions of human behavior and experience. In cultural and linguistic anthropology, a number of theoretical currencies that focus on the intersections of space and culture gained prominence in the 1990s and 2000s. These range from studies of the spatialization of collective memory that were inspired by the work of Pierre Norá (1989), to linguistic analyses of the intimate relationship between patterns of reference and the social organization of space (Hanks 1990), to studies of environment that focus on the intimate ties between evolving ecosystems and patterns of settlement and subsistence (Ford and Nigh 2015; Gordillo 2004; Wright 2014).
Many of the theoretical currencies that we listed above figure in the essays in this volume. But the case studies presented here are also joined by an overarching concern for stakeholders’ access to culturally significant spaces. “Accessibility” becomes a question of crossing boundaries that are defined by regimes of private property, heritage legislation, and the eminent domain of modern nation-states. In this regard, these essays touch upon questions of spatial justice that figure in the tradition of cultural geography associated with Henri Lefebvre (1992), and later Anglophone authors such as David Harvey (1996) and Edward Soja (2011). These authors adapted the dialectical analysis of Western Marxism to explore the dynamic historical relationship between space and the social organization of human labor. Space was never simply an inert material template on which human social processes were enacted but was also a product of and agent in the processes of human history. Thus, landscapes were both a record of previous human interactions with the material world and an ontic component of ongoing processes through which society recreates itself. This dynamic relationship between the social and the spatial had important ramifications for the questions of social justice that were at the heart of this critical human geography. Full enjoyment of what it means to be in the world hinges on the equitable distribution of access to and stewardship over the spaces that define our historical experience.
As the essays in this volume show, these questions of accessibility and stewardship are becoming a guiding political and ethical concern for archaeologists and other scholars studying heritage sites and landscapes. Increasingly, international policy instruments and national legal reforms are granting recognition to the rights that diverse human communities have to preserve and publicly perform elements of their cultural heritage. However, when it comes to the role of designated heritage sites in promoting cultural continuities, researchers, stakeholders, and activists often face a series of legal and political tensions (Aikawa-Faure 2003; Gilman 2010).
Many of these tensions emerge from the fact that different legal principles tend to crosscut the concatenation of material, social, and cultural processes that constitute the heritage of different groups. That is, the formal regimes of property and political jurisdiction that govern the management of heritage rarely account for the intimate relationship between physical space and more intangible forms of heritage that shape the lives of diverse stakeholders. These tensions become particularly evident when scholars and activists try to reconcile statutes for the physical management with a contemporary tendency to view the preservation of intangible heritage as a human right. While the former tend to be deeply rooted in state-sanctioned regimes of land tenure and eminent domain, the latter have a more recent origin in a body of international policy instruments. For our purposes here, it is worth turning to UNESCO’s influential 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. It defines “intangible cultural heritage” as “. . . the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artifacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history, and provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.”
Most scholars and heritage professionals recognize that physical access to culturally important places is an essential mechanism for reproducing this sort of heritage. However, turning this recognition into a generalized practice for heritage stewardship can be more complicated. Culturally significant access to a site or landscape can be something as simple as visiting places that evoke different elements of collective memory. In this case, the practices to which stakeholders can claim an inalienable right are not materially different from those engaged in by tourists and other casual visitors. But culturally significant access can also involve transformations of space that range from the practice of traditional agriculture to recycling the architectural remains of previous occupations. While visits to sites that are materially similar to those of tourists are easy to reconcile with the operation of legally protected heritage sites, these latter forms of interaction challenge forms of stewardship that stress the in situ preservation of structures and artifacts with minimal alteration by contemporary human activity.
What emerges from the diverse case studies that we highlight in this volume is that different political and historical contexts provide very different outcomes when it comes to stakeholder communities’ interaction with the places that figure in the reproduction of their identity and customs. For example, when compared to most indigenous groups in Latin America, Native American tribes in the United States have a long history of nominal legal recognition of their sovereignty in the management of tribal properties, notwithstanding pervasive impingements by nontribal federal and state governments (Wilkins and Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark 2010). This legacy is evident in a number of legal and political victories that allow tribal stakeholders to control elements of tangible heritage in ways that have few precedents in Latin America. For example, the application of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act has led to the repatriation of human remains and accompanying artifacts to native communities, who, in some cases, bury or otherwise steward these materials in ways that preclude future study by academic institutions. In this case, the protection of indigenous ceremonial practices and notions of the sacred can trump the preservationist mandate of secular heritage institutions. Likewise, as in the case discussed in this volume by Maren P. Hopkins et al. in chapter 3, sacred sites that meet the criteria of tangible cultural heritage remain under the jurisdiction of tribal political entities or are granted special status that limits their use by public or private development.
This poses a sharp contrast to most parts of Latin America. Few indigenous ethnic groups in Latin America have as long a history of formally recognized political and territorial jurisdiction as do tribes currently located within the United States. In most of these countries, the protection of heritage sites ranging from pre-Hispanic ruins to colonial churches is treated as an eminent domain of federal agencies whose authority usually trumps that of local groups who seek greater access to or control over sites. Cases in which federal heritage agencies in Latin America have tried to make archaeological sites accessible to descendant communities underscore the precedence of state-sanctioned heritage practice over local forms of intangible heritage. In the early 2000s, for example, Guatemalan heritage authorities made a concession to pan-Maya cultural activists by creating spaces in which rituals could be performed in the ancestral ruins of Iximché. But these activities are restricted to specially designated areas that were built with this purpose in mind by state heritage institutions on the periphery of sites, and required forms of official licensing that many traditional ritualists found to be too restrictive (Frühsorge 2007).
Seen within a larger temporal context, the state-managed formalization of indigenous ritual at Iximché highlights a fundamental tension between the legal protection of tangible heritage and the historical formation of intangible heritage. In pre-Hispanic times, ritualism at Maya sites involved continuous construction activity through which earlier structures were eventually dismantled or covered by newer ones. Colonial churches that figure in the syncretic religion of modern Maya people were likewise often built on or with the ruins of pre-Hispanic structures, and other forms of architectural recycling are fundamental to patterns of landscape use that have largely defined Mayan peoples’ relationship to their territory. These intimate links between the reproduction of cultural heritage and the material transformation of space are ultimately irreconcilable with attempts to compromise between tangible and intangible heritage that segregate the materiality of space from a presumably “immaterial” living culture.
Developing alternative approaches poses both a pragmatic challenge for heritage professionals and stakeholders and a more general conceptual problem for theorizing culture and heritage. Are there separate substances that exist in physical objects and human practices that justify their being treated as qualitatively different forms of “heritage”? Or, following authors such as Bruno Latour (2004), can we think of heritage as a political terrain constituted through a more dynamic interplay of human and nonhuman actors? There may be no single answer to these questions that applies to all cases in which the reproduction of living cultural legacies comes into conflict with the physical preservation of sites and artifacts. But a closer examination of the different kinds of relationships between human beings, objects, and the reproduction of cultural legacies is useful in thinking through this complex theoretical and ethicopolitical terrain. This sort of comparative analysis is the ultimate goal of the diverse case studies presented here.
Case Studies: Common Themes and Differences of Scale
The case studies presented in this volume are not only a diverse sample of distinct regional experiences, but also reflect a range of different temporal and geographical scales on which societies’ relationship to territories and landscapes unfold. Although a number of possible arrangements of the case studies were possible, we have chosen to present the chapters under four rubrics that illustrate different moments in the complex relationship between local communities, spatialized identities, and state-sanctioned regimes for the management of property and cultural heritage. Chapters 2 and 3 explore the state of the question, with two case studies of present-day negotiations between state-sanctioned heritage institutions and communities that seek to exercise more control over sites that figured in migrations that shaped their livelihood and cultural heritage. Chapters 4 and 5 explore the roots of displacement, focusing on the immediate aftermath of the historical traumas that distance communities from the places that define their collective identity and experience. Tracing different processes of continuity and adaptation, chapters 6 through 8 examine how marginalized peoples have adopted different legal frameworks, notions of territoriality, and elements of culture that have been imposed on them from above as a means of reproducing their own control and perspective on space. And finally, a pair of chapters that we characterize as expanding the boundaries of heritage look to models of stakeholdership that expand the temporal and spatial scale of territorial identities far beyond the intimate environs and local histories of closely bounded communities.
We open with two chapters that highlight how distinct historical, political, and legal contexts shape the encounter between state-sanctioned regimes of heritage management and descendant communities’ relationships to ancestral landscapes. Based on examples from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula and the southwestern United States, chapters 2 and 3 focus on two different indigenous communities that seek to preserve livelihoods and identities that have been affected by histories of migration and displacement. However, the distinct legal contexts of indigenous politics and heritage management in the United States and Mexico yield very different outcomes to the communities’ attempts to establish claims on culturally significant territories and practices.
In chapter 2, we document how governmental institutions that seek to preserve archaeological sites and artifacts find themselves at odds with the practices through which local communities have used the same sites and objects. Yucatec Maya-speaking subsistence cultivators today share a knowledge of the regional landscape that includes thousands of named sites, the locations and features of which have been transmitted orally during hundreds of years of ecologically and politically motivated migrations. This process of cultural transmission is intimately tied to the physical labor of agriculture, which includes activities that federal heritage authorities consider to be a threat to the survival of archaeological sites. In the specific examples that we highlight, Yucatec Maya communities have relatively few formal mechanisms with which to advance claims that can successfully contest the preservationist mandate of federal heritage institutions.
In the case of the Hopi Tribe, which is discussed in chapter 3 by Hopkins et al., there is a more congenial relationship between the intangible heritage of living tribal members and the work of federal authorities. Working with archaeologists, members of the Hopi Tribe have enjoyed a number of key successes in securing protected status for sites outside of tribal lands, whose cultural role is documented in oral histories and ritual activities. In the Yucatec Maya case, the state’s mandate to preserve antiquities with minimal alteration is understood to trump territorial claims made in the name of more localized identity groups. In the Hopi case, federal intervention for the preservation of sacred sites becomes a viable means of reproducing the collective identities and value systems that Hopi people associate with their historical landscape.
Despite their very different political outcomes, the cases discussed in chapters 2 and 3 are both linked by a common experience of indigenous and minority peoples the world over. In both cases, fostering a collective relationship to culturally significant places means negotiating regimes of land tenure and geopolitics that emerged when colonization and other forms of violence disarticulated older forms of territoriality. The following two sections, composed of chapters 4 through 8, look more closely at these moments of disarticulation and their different aftermaths.
Whereas the Hopi and Yucatec Maya examples show people coping with the impacts of events that happened a century or more in the past, chapters 4 and 5 deal with traumatic events that occurred within the lifetime of some of the stakeholders in question. In chapter 4, Christine Kray, Minette Church, and Jason Yeager trace the exodus of Yucatec Maya people who fled from parts of Mexico that were ravaged by the Caste War in the mid-nineteenth century, only to be displaced from various settlements in twentieth-century British Honduras. Tensions between traditional agriculture and the interests of major logging concerns led to the eviction of these communities from the Yalbac Hills area and to their forcible resettlement in regions that were less ecologically suitable. This displacement is recalled by survivors as more than just the loss of land. Those who lived through the eviction often relate negative health effects of the move and a diminished sense of well-being as they were forced to assume alternative subsistence strategies. What results is a collective identity that is tied to a place and lifestyle that are currently inaccessible to the descendants of the Yalbac Hills Maya.
In chapter 5, Bonnie Clark discusses how Japanese American inmates at the internment camp of Amache used different techniques of gardening and cooperation to make the carceral environment socially and aesthetically livable. Former internees and their descendants testify to the difficulty of adapting to an environment that was both physically alien and associated with the experience of racial discrimination. The implementation of Japanese landscape principles on the grounds provides a material testimony to how ethnic identity was written into the site in an attempt to create a sense of community amidst adversity. Clark also documents how collaboration between archaeologists and former internees and their descendants becomes a successful convergence of work to document and preserve tangible heritage and the reproduction of a more intangible collective memory that has been marginalized within the official historical narratives of the United States.
Just as the internees at Amache struggled to reconstitute a culturally specific sense of well-being through the limited materials that were offered by federal authorities that imprisoned them, other societies adapt to displacement and social trauma by incorporating and transforming elements of the regimes that have been imposed on them. After generations of survival and resilience, these adaptations can become seamlessly integrated into the fabric of everyday life and in the constitution of culturally significant place. This process is evident in different ways in chapters 6 through 8, all of which focus on different regions of present-day Mexico. In these cases, legal or bureaucratic procedures that were imposed by the Spanish colonial state and its nineteenth- and twentieth-century successors become a tool for the long-term survival of different elements of indigenous culture.
In chapter 6, Keiko Yoneda discusses visual representations of lands that were inherited, bought, and sold in the Valley of Mexico in the sixteenth century. These texts reflect the translation of indigenous forms of land use and family structure into the idiom of Spanish legalism. As Yoneda argues, this was not a case of Western notions of household space and organization being superimposed onto indigenous properties but of Nahua-speaking communities adopting a colonial legal framework that allowed them to retain a degree of control over ancestral properties and their use. Legal disputes that are recorded from the sixteenth century demonstrate the complex layers of meaning and ownership that exist within the deceptively simple label of “house.” Comparing these texts with the ethnography of contemporary Nahua communities provides a longer historical context for how the inheritance and adaptation of family properties over time has contributed to the reproduction of kinds of social and spatial organization that are at the heart of indigenous communities today.
In chapter 7, Rani T. Alexander follows a parallel track in tracing the cultural and political identity of Maya-speaking agriculturalists in Yucatán through the history of interactions between traditional subsistence practices and different state-sponsored regimes of land tenure. In this case, population displacements caused by the Caste War of 1847 produce a demographic rupture that separates colonial populations from present-day ones. Ebtún, the community on which Alexander focuses, was essentially depopulated in the mid-nineteenth century. However, a new wave of settlers was able to establish a viable community by mediating between their own subsistence needs, older land titles, and opportunities offered by twentieth-century agrarian reforms. The resulting dialog between state-sanctioned land tenure and local forms of family structure and subsistence practices converges in a deeply rooted identity centered on what Alexander refers to as “smallholder resilience.”
Whereas Yoneda and Alexander’s chapters focus on the material implications of different regimes of ownership and land tenure, Emiliana Cruz examines how territoriality is expressed in the more abstract idiom of personal reference in chapter 8. That is, she explores different forms of person reference among Chatino speakers in the Oaxacan town of San Juan Quiahije, the more recently settled village of Cieneguilla, and various other communities to which people travel to live and work. In everyday conversations, subtle differences in terms of reference or the pronunciation of Spanish names help to situate individuals and places within the larger history of the community’s relationship to the physical landscape, nonindigenous Mexicans, and different groups within the town. Cruz notes that situating individuals in social and physical space is particularly important given the history of migration and neocolonial interventions from the state that have marked the modern Chatino experience. Like negotiations with formal regimes of land title, framing the realities of contemporary political geography in distinctly Chatino forms of reference is a key mechanism in the reproduction of collective identities and values.
The inheritance of family properties, smallholder resistance, and the reproduction of indigenous forms of spatial reference embody forms of cultural continuity that can constitute clearly defined descendant communities. That is, chapters 6, 7, and 8 each present cases in which written records and collective memories can document the transmission of territories and cultural practices within specific descendant groups. But what happens when living stakeholders make claims to territorial identities that cannot be documented through the same chain of continuous transmission? Or when this territorial identity is tied to processes that take place on a geographical scale that cannot be contained within the landscape of a single community or well-documented migration route?
These more expanded communities of people who identify with different spatialized pasts present some important conceptual and ethicopolitical challenges. Many of the formal policies that stakeholder groups have used to assert control over ancestral sites and remains rely on documented ancestral ties, for example, the formal statutes of tribal membership for federally recognized Native American nations in the United States (see Wilkins and Kiiwetinepinesiik Stark 2010). But as Ian Hodder (2003) and others have observed, nontraditional stakeholders such as New Age religious practitioners have emerged as significant players in debates over the use of heritage sites. These different models of stakeholdership and use rights challenge the idea that cultural heritage is reproduced within self-enclosed communities that maintain consistent and more-or-less homogeneous “traditions” over time. The two final chapters of this book examine cases in which more dispersed communities make claims to territorial identities that touch on these expanded notions of stakeholdership.
Turning to the Norte Chico region of Peru in chapter 9, Winifred Creamer, Jonathan Haas, and Henry Marcelo Castillo situate the early history of social complexity within more recent traditions of mythology and public celebration. Although thousands of years separate the origins of agriculture and social hierarchy from the seventeenth-century myth of Vichama Raymi, this widely known narrative represents an indigenous interpretation of history that parallels the work of archaeological research. Today, the revival of the myth in state-sponsored pageantry provides contemporary populations with a means of celebrating their own relationship to this landscape and the agricultural heritage of its earliest human populations. Although this represents a tradition of narrative and ritual that is distinct from what we see in the intimate spaces of communities such as San Juan Quiahije or the Maya settlements of Yucatán, it is playing a parallel role in turning contemporary residents of the Norte Chico into stakeholders in the interpretation of a deep history that is written into their coastal landscape and the various resources that it offers.
In chapter 10, A. C. Roosevelt speaks to a similar reclamation of deep historical processes, though on the much larger geographical scale of the Amazonian basin. Like other archaeologists of her generation, Roosevelt revised an earlier vision of tropical forest societies as being determined by fairly static ecological constraints to recognize the concatenation of natural and anthropogenic factors that shaped Amazonian ecosystems and the different forms of agency through which human societies could adapt to them. A concurrent process involved the emergence of diverse and wide-ranging Amazonian populations as stakeholders in archaeological research, both as regards discussions of sustainable resource use and in reclaiming ancient iconographic traditions that embody cosmological principles that have survived into the present day. New collaborations between archaeologists and indigenous people are providing a means through which diverse and geographically separated descendant communities are imagining a shared pan-Amazonian heritage with roots in the very long-term processes that shaped the ancient forest environment.
As a group, the nine case studies in this book offer different perspectives on the substances that embody the relationship between people and places and on the scale at which these substances are reproduced and contested over time. But all touch on something that is a common reality for archaeologists and other heritage workers. The spaces and landscapes that we study are never simply a record of the past. They are also part of an ongoing dialog between living societies and space. This dialog is mediated through things such as agricultural knowledge, cosmology, collective memory, and collective strategies for interacting with legal and political institutions.
This particular confluence of human populations, historical landscapes, and the cultural practices that situate people in places resonates with broader questions facing archaeologists today. An evolving body of scholarly and policy literature on intangible heritage is granting the cultural legacies that mediate between people and places more formal legal and political status. Along with a range of theoretical currencies that have emphasized dialog with stakeholders, the growing importance granted to intangible heritage challenges archaeologists and other heritage workers with finding new ways of incorporating the cultural legacies that link societies to place into the work of research and stewardship.
Cases of the type presented in this volume raise important empirical and conceptual issues for facing these challenges. One of the most important involves developing working definitions of heritage that bridge or blur the conceptual differences between current frameworks of protecting tangible and intangible legacies. Such a concept of heritage would better reflect the histories of peoples and places discussed in these essays and the relationship of different stakeholders and tangible heritage sites the world over. What if the sites that play the most significant role in reproducing the intangible heritage of living communities were granted the same kind of protection as famous World Heritage sites? Turning these considerations into more of an institutional priority would bring more official attention to seemingly mundane places such as the mountaintops that surround the Chatino communities of Quiahije and Cieneguilla, or to places such as the ruins of the internment camp at Amache, which have been intentionally marginalized within the narratives of official historiography.
This expanded dialog between the discourses of tangible and intangible heritage involves its own challenges. As a number of the chapters in this book show, the reproduction of intangible heritage often involves manipulating natural and anthropogenic landscapes in ways that differ significantly from the strict emphasis on preservation that pervades most policy on tangible heritage. But these case studies also highlight the diverse strategies with which even colonized peoples and other disadvantaged minorities have negotiated politics of place imposed on them from above. These strategies range from engagements with the Spanish legal system by sixteenth-century Nahuas, to uses of agrarian reform by Yucatec Maya settlers, to the present-day successes that the Hopi Tribe has enjoyed in attaining federal recognition and protection of historical sites. Cases like this highlight how turning formal regimes of heritage protection into a tool for preserving the intangible legacies of minority groups is not simply a question of reforms articulated from above, but one in which agendas, strategies, and outcomes are often successfully defined by the stakeholders themselves.
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