From the ancient traditions of the Lacandón Maya comes an Indigenous model for a sustainable future
“A riveting story of survival and cultural continuity against all odds. Lacandón ‘survivance’ should inspire Native American and Indigenous peoples everywhere who are reviving or sustaining their traditional ecological knowledge. Lacandón voices shine through this lyrical text, which is worthy of being read aloud around a fire to the next generation and seven generations thereafter.”—Liza Grandia, author of Enclosed: Conservation, Cattle, and Commerce Among the Q'eqchi' Maya Lowlanders
“In graceful and compelling prose, Nations deftly portrays the only Maya culture to have never been conquered by invading Europeans. Drawing on fifty years as a fellow traveler, Nations shows how they have weathered the storms of history and have emerged, not unscathed, but still intact as a people.”—David Barton Bray, coeditor of The Community Forests of Mexico: Managing for Sustainable Landscapes
“The Camino Viejo family which James Nations has tracked over decades exemplifies how Indigenous knowledge can enrich rather than deplete biodiversity and landscape stability. After decades of collaboration and reflection, James Nations has polished off a gem of a book that can now shine the light on the future of farming and forestry in the tropics.”—Gary Paul Nabhan, coauthor of Agave Spirits: The Past, Present and Future of Mezcals
Having lived for centuries isolated within Mexico’s largest remaining tropical rainforest, the Indigenous Lacandón Maya now live at the nexus of two worlds—ancient and modern. While previous research has focused on documenting Lacandón oral traditions and religious practices in order to preserve them, this book tells the story of how Lacandón families have adapted to the contemporary world while applying their ancestral knowledge to create an ecologically sustainable future.
Drawing on his 49 years of studying and learning from the Lacandón Maya, James Nations discusses how in the midst of external pressures such as technological changes, missionary influences, and logging ventures, Lacandón communities are building an economic system of agroforestry and ecotourism that produces income for their families while protecting biodiversity and cultural resources. Nations describes methods they use to plant and harvest without harming the forest, illustrating that despite drastic changes in lifestyle, respect for the environment continues to connect Lacandón families across generations. By helping with these tasks and inheriting the fables and myths that reinforce this worldview, Lacandón children continue to learn about the plants, animals, and spiritual deities that coexist in their land.
Indigenous peoples such as the Lacandón Maya control one-third of the intact forest landscapes left on Earth, and Indigenous knowledge and practices are increasingly recognized as key elements in the survival of the planet’s biological diversity. The story of the Lacandón Maya serves as a model for Indigenous-controlled environmental conservation, and it will inform anyone interested in supporting sustainable Indigenous futures.
James D. Nations is an ecological anthropologist who has spent four decades working to protect Indigenous territories, national parks, and biosphere reserves in Latin America and the United States. He is the author of The Maya Tropical Forest: People, Parks, and Ancient Cities.
A volume in the series Maya Studies, edited by Diane Z. Chase and Arlen F. Chase
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