The Collection of Copal among the Q'eqchi'-Maya

This chapter examines the collection of a tree-sap known as copal among Q'eqchi'-Maya who are recent immigrants to the tropical lowlands of Northern Guatemala. Although copal has been used in ceremonies and collected for exchange by the Q'eqchi' for many centuries in their original highland homeland of Alta Verapaz, only relatively recently has the magnitude of its collection for subsequent sale in some cases surpassed all other economic practices except swidden-based, or milpa, agriculture, causing a realignment in ceremonial, social, and economic relations. Much of this realignment is related to large-scale changes in which the Q'eqchi' are implicated, such as demographic pressure on the limited and rapidly decreasing lowland resources, the recent commoditization of forest products by NGOs, state and local emphasis on previously unpatrolled boundaries, and more extensive patterns of Q'eqchi'-internal change due to improved infrastructure, dispersed landholdings, and scattered kinship relations along the migration trail. Nevertheless, there has been a wide variety of responses among the Q'eqchi' that create, augment, or maintain locally distinctive practices concerning copal within both pecuniary and ritual realms.

This chapter focuses on the shifting liaisons--public, intersubjective, intentional relations--between copal and Q'eqchi', as manifested in temporal and spatial shifts of production practices, extensions and realignments of social and exchange relations, variations in linguistic forms used to refer to copal and predicate qualities about it, and alterations in the ends, means, and practitioners of ceremonies and prayers. By characterizing the path along which copal moves in terms of such liaisons, this study examines deformations in this path as a function of local interactions with and interpretations of recent events and long-term processes.