Who Counts?: The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide
Diane M. Nelson is Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and the author of A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala; she is also the author of Reckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala and coeditor of War by Other Means: Aftermath in Post-Genocide Guatemala, both also published by Duke University Press.
This chapter weaves together these struggles over counting, struggles that encompass repair, territory, land, subsistence, money, resources, and networks, and connects them to historic memory, which increasingly includes Classic Maya numeracy—which is, like bones or gold, a precious thing extracted from the ground. Reenergized by the global fascination with 2012, activists are drawing on the Maya’s famous mathematical skills to reinvigorate “Mayan sabiduria (savoir)” and “ser Mayab” (being). Like electricity, the energies surrounding ethnic revitalization run in currents that can experience disruption and blackouts. These moments interact with the infrastructural divisions between “populares” and “culturalists,” which Guatemalanist ethnography has mirrored, split between attending to political economy, war, ethnic/class relations, and gender inequalities and to a focus on village studies, ritual, and meaning making. New Mayan rights struggles combining Mayan math and its relations to space and time via calendrics and sacred areas with understandings of a broad defense of rights and territory and the radical demand that Maya deserve to live “beyond adequacy”—to enjoy the promises of “modernity” without always being the ones to shoulder its burdens—may be overcoming these divisions.