Unlike many small tropical towns, Chunhuhub in rural Quintana Roo, Mexico, has not been a helpless victim of international forces. Its people are descendants of heroic Mayans who stood off the Spanish invaders. People in Chunhuhub continue to live largely through subsistence farming of maize and vegetables, supplemented by commercial orchard, livestock, and field crop cultivation. They are, however, also self-consciously “modernizing” by seeking better educational and economic opportunities.
Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community tells the story of Chunhuhub at the beginning of the twenty-first century, focusing on the resource management of plants and animals. E. N. Anderson and his Maya co-authors provide a detailed overview of Maya knowledge of and relationships with the environment, describing how these relationships have been maintained over the centuries and are being transformed by modernization. They show that the Quintana Roo Mayas have been working to find ways to continue ancient and sustainable methods of making a living while also introducing modern techniques that can improve that living. For instance, traditional subsistence agriculture is broadly sustainable at current population densities, but hunting is not, and modern mechanized agriculture has an uncertain future.
Bringing the voice of contemporary Mayas to every page, the authors offer an encyclopedic overview of the region: history, environment, agriculture, medicine, social relations, and economy. Whether discussing the fine points of beekeeping or addressing the problem of deforestation, they provide a remarkably detailed account that immerses readers in the landscape.
Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula have had more than their share of successes—and some failures as well—and as a study in political and cultural ecology, Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community has much to tell us about tropical development and about the human condition. Their experience tells us that if we wish to have not only farms but also mahogany, wildlife, and ecotourism, then further efforts are needed.
As Anderson observes, traditional Maya management, with its immense knowledge base, remains the best—indeed, the only—effective system for making a living from the Yucatán’s harsh landscape. Political Ecology in a Yucatec Maya Community is a compelling testament to the daily life practices of modern peasant farmers that can provide us with clues about more efficient management techniques for the conservation of biodiversity worldwide.
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