The Maya of Santiago Chimaltenango have experienced increasingly rapid, even violent, integration into Guatemalan society in the last fifty years, yet they still distinguish themselves ethnically from Spanish-speaking Guatemalans and other Maya. Why this sense of ethnic identity persists—and also changes—over time is the focus of Maya Saints and Souls in a Changing World, a beautifully written ethnography of a Mam-speaking Maya town in the western highlands of Guatemala.
John Watanabe uniquely explores how Chimaltecos themselves define their local distinctiveness. This approach uncovers significant continuities in lifeways and world view that might otherwise remain imperceptible to an outsider.
Another important feature of the study is that it updates Charles Wagley's pioneering research in the community during the 1930s. Watanabe identifies both the external, historical factors that have prompted change in the community since Wagley's time and the people's responses to these changes.
"Watanabe's work, in its combination of theoretical analysis and ethnographic sensitivity, surpasses anything that has come out of the field of Mesoamerican studies in quite some time. It should be essential reading for students of the region, and it will make for a good undergraduate teaching tool."—Hispanic American Historical Review
". . . Maya Saints and Souls is the most evocative, readable, personal and captivating [study] currently in print on Mesoamerica. "
—John P. Hawkins, Professor of Anthropology, Brigham Young University