This study reconstructs the settlement history for twelve related Q'eqchi' Maya villages in the Toledo District of southern Belize using oral history interviews, archival records, and the Catholic parish birth register. The study evaluates two hypotheses for explaining the identified patterns: carrying capacity, which suggests that increasing village populations and environmental limits drove new settlements, and political ecology, which suggests that exogenous economic forces determined the timing and location of new settlements. The analysis indicates that villages rarely encountered significant environmental limits that directly caused resettlement; in contrast, economic expansion into remote parts of southern Belize and social tensions better explain the observed demographic shifts. The second part of the study triangulates this result by analyzing how the settlement history relates to changes in the amount of land available per capita through time. The results of this catchment analysis support the proposition that Q'eqchi' settlement patterns during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries were largely driven by exogenous economic activity rather than carrying capacity. The study makes a general contribution to swidden research by dissecting the relationship between history, demography, and the practice of swidden as a flexible and adaptable agricultural strategy.
Sean S. Downey; Q'eqchi' Maya Swidden Agriculture, Settlement History, and Colonial Enterprise in Modern Belize. Ethnohistory 1 October 2015; 62 (4): 751–779. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-3135338
Download citation file: