In the midst of Guatemala's nineteenth-century coffee boom, a frost struck the department of Alta Verapaz, destroying coffee harvests and catalyzing a debate over the “slavery” of mandamiento (forced wage labor). At the heart of these disputes was the problem of how to achieve Guatemalan political modernity, which focused discursive struggles over mandamientos around questions of national progress and related conceptions of history as the teleological march of nations and people forward in historical time toward modernity. While state officials justified mandamientos by arguing that Mayas were not yet civilized enough for equality and freedom, Q'eqchi’ Maya patriarchs and their ladino allies argued for abolishing mandamientos by drawing upon the metanarrative charting the end of slavery and feudalism and the rise of capitalism. While scholars have illustrated the importance of history to nationalism, this article argues for a broader understanding of historical discourse as a conceptual framework for ordering the world.

You do not currently have access to this content.