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William A. Saturno

National Endowment for the Humanities and Weatherhead Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Assistant Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of New Hampshire

PROJECT:

Let There Be Kings: Creation Mythology and the Origins of Maya Divine Rule

The ancient Maya are widely recognized for their masterful ceramic and mural painting traditions, as well as their elaborate architecture and stone monuments. The 1946 discovery of murals at Bonampak, Chiapas contributed insights into Classic Maya courtly life, ritual, warfare, and astronomy. Murals from Tikal, Uaxactn, and Ro Azul on temple walls and in painted tombs illuminated the Early Classic period. Thanks to the recent discovery and excavation of exquisite murals in San Bartolo dating to the 1st century BC scholars now have a unique window into the very origins of ancient Maya religion and government during the Late Preclassic period.

When William A. Saturno relates the tale of the San Bartolo murals’ serendipitous discovery in 2001, his voice still carries a tinge of wonder. Sent by a colleague to find carved stone stellae, Saturno was seeking shelter from the sun in a looters tunnel when he noticed the murals. “Pure happenstance,” he admits. “Brilliantly painted in a rich array of colors, the murals are extremely refined and detailed, and offer a broad new corpus of iconographic information concerning mythology, cosmology, costume, and deity attributes,” wrote Saturno. As thrilling as the murals promised to be, however, he would wait two years before beginning excavation. “Never in the history of Maya archaeology have murals been excavated in a way that preserved them appropriately,” Saturno explains. “Focusing on mural conservation concerns, we planned for two years so that conservation would not be an afterthought but fully integrated into the excavation.”

The San Bartolo chamber measures nine and one-half meters by four meters, a brilliant open space with elaborate depictions on all four walls. Involving more than forty interacting figures, the creation myth shows the Maize God and his son Hunahpu directing the construction of the four-sided world and participating in the original coronation of kings. Saturno’s book, Let There Be Kings: Creation Mythology and the Origins of Maya Divine Rule, will be the first definitive monograph on these murals by a scholar involved in their initial discovery and subsequent excavation.

Tamara L. Bray

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
Wayne State University

PROJECT:

Material Practice and Imperial Design in the Ancient Andes

Given that the Inca never developed a writing system, how did the political elites of this vast domain communicate their complex ideas about the state, the cosmos, and the nature of rulership? Architects of the largest territorial empire ever created in the Americas, the Inca controlled some 2600 miles along the spine of western South America at the height of their rule, which lasted from circa 1438 to 1532 C.E. From the city of Cuzco, they administered 80 ethnically distinct provinces that stretched from northern Ecuador to central Chile. According to Tamara Bray, the remarkably standardized state-produced pottery may have contributed to what one might call the empire’s “branding” campaign.

Long unappreciated due to its seemingly repetitive nature, this pottery is found high and low throughout the Inca realm. So uniform is it in appearance that it was once suggested that “a whole jar could confidently be reconstructed from a single sherd.” In Bray’s study, Materializing Ideology: Form, Function, and Style of Imperial Inca Pottery in the Service of the State, she investigates the possibility that the imagery noted on the ubiquitous culinary equipment of the Inca may have been “visually communicating the Inca origin story underpinning state claims to legitimacy.” Further, the forms and functions of the pots and their uses in the central practices of food, feasting, and reciprocity in Inca imperial politics reveals “the unique power of material symbols to silently communicate, condition, and compel desired actions and behaviors.”

By insinuating symbols of political authority into everyday practices, the Inca established an inconspicuous presence asserting social facts “which, if stated explicitly, could run the risk of controversy, protest, or refusal,” observed Bray. Her study engages the concept of “material agency,” or the power of objects to “extend the agency of those who produced them, and to participate in systems of social relationships.”

Rosamel Millamán Reinao

Katrin H. Lamon Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Professor and Director
Escuela de Antropologia
Universidad Catolica de Temuco, Chile
and Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Anthropology
Graduate Center
City University of New York

PROJECT:

The Mapuche in Chile and their Forms of Collective Autonomy

Conceptions of self-government and autonomy among the Mapuche of Chile have fluctuated within the context of a changing Chilean nation-state. Based on three years of ethnographic field work by a Mapuche scholar, this dissertation examines the historical relationship between indigenous peoples and the Chilean nation-state. This study will further our understanding of indigenous struggles for cultural and political rights.

Micaela di Leonardo

National Endowment for the Humanities Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Professor
Department of Anthropology
Northwestern University

PROJECT:

The View From Cavallaro’s: History, Power, and Public Culture in New Haven

Urban narratives seldom connect the residents of American neighborhoods to cities, and the global forces that affect those cities are rarely discussed. These issues are examined in this study of New Haven, Connecticut. Based on ethnographic field work conducted over a fifteen-year period, this critical urban work will further our understanding of gender, race, class, and representation.

Jean M. Langford

Salus Mundi Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
University of Minnesota

PROJECT:

Critical Spirits: Southeast Asian Memories and Disciplines of Death

When Jean Langford interviewed Seattle’s Southeast Asian refugees to identify their concerns about the management of death in the US, she found their stories “peopled by the lost spirits of loved ones, the dangerous spirits of those who died by violence, the angry spirits of ancestors, and the adjudicating spirits of the land.” The same spirits that protected the refugees during wartime objected to violations of the dead and dying in US hospitals and funeral homes.

In Critical Spirits: Southeast Asian Memories and Disciplines of Death, Langford explores how the refugees’ resistance to contemporary practices in U.S. medical and mortuary institutions relates not only to cultural differences but also to wartime memories that link violence and medicine. “During war, when hospitals were partisan and prisoners had no rights, spirits were trusted protectors,” says Langford. Medical inadequacy, desecration of burial sites, and hauntings by those who died violent deaths recur as themes in refugees’ wartime memories.

“Refugees often experience modern disciplines of death as procedures in which their lives are devalued, their ancestors violated, and their spiritual practices disallowed,” Langford says. The refugees in her study, who identify as Lao Loum, Hmong, Kmhmu, and Khmer, were disturbed by many common end-of-life practices in the US such as telling terminally ill loved ones they are dying. The shock of this “truth-telling” may drive the spirit out, weaken the body, and hasten death, many refugees explained.

Disclosure of terminal prognoses, “do not resuscitate” orders, advance health directives, and other bioethical conventions are intended to increase patient autonomy in a context of sophisticated medical technologies that prolong life. However, the refugees’ wartime and diaspora worlds are characterized more by community loyalties to the living and the dead than the generic scenarios of advanced directives. In other words, one person’s “death with dignity” is another person’s nightmare: the inability to fulfill a commitment to the dead.

Circulating narratives of restless, angry, and disoriented spirits aren’t “just quaint little cultural stories or beliefs,” Langford contends. “They are also political commentaries expressing protest, dissatisfaction, discomfort, and political marginality. We need to pay attention to them.”

Caroline Yezer

Weatherhead Resident Scholar

Affiliation at time of award:
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Cultural Anthropology
Duke University

PROJECT:

Memory and Truth in the Shadow of War: Local and National Reconciliation in the Andes

During Peru’s “dirty war” between Maoist Shining Path rebels and state forces (1980–2000), the Quechua-speaking peasants in Ayacucho suffered violence by both sides. Many villagers initially supported the rebels but shifted to the state when the Shining Path’s authoritarian nature became clear. Despite this, state forces continually raided peasant villages suspected to be “rebel strongholds.” At the same time, Shining Path frequently attacked villagers, often posing as state military patrols, to massacre peasants they called “traitors to the revolution.”

“Villagers repeatedly told me about ways that they had been engañado, meaning both tricked and betrayed, by rebels and the state,” says Caroline Yezer, who conducted over two years of fieldwork in a small highland village in Ayacucho. When Peru initiated a state-led Truth Commission in 2002 to research and document both state and rebel war crimes, the villagers participated eagerly — but the experience proved unnerving.

The Commission’s general survey questions touched on their compromised history and elicited anxiety, suspicion and ultimately, rejection. “Like the simulated military uniforms worn by attacking rebels, people said the whole inquiry was all a ruse, meant to fool villagers into betraying themselves again,” Yezer explains.

These conspiracy theories resonated with Biblically-inspired rumors circulating among growing converts from Catholicism to Evangelismo, or born-again Christianity. In Yezer’s dissertation, Memory and Truth in the Shadow of War: Local and National Reconciliation in the Peruvian Andes, she examines how, for some villagers, Christian Gospel prophesies—rather than the humanitarian rhetoric of the Truth Commission—shaped the recounting of the war. Apocalyptic rhetoric offered villagers a context for both the terrors of the war and the ongoing brutal treatment by the state police aimed at controlling the drug trade and destroying their livelihood.

“As truth commissions become a global standard to mark a nation’s transition from abusive to democratic regimes, we must understand the dissent that may exist alongside them,” observes Yezer. “Anthropology is in an excellent position to show the local meanings behind rejection of official peacekeeping projects. In Peru, challenges to the Truth Commission were not irrational, but alternative forms of testifying to the violence and exclusion of peasants in the Andes today.”