The University of Arizona

Caring for Xate, caring for Xateros: NGO monitoring, livelihoods, and plant-human relations in Uaxactún, Guatemala

Micha Rahder


In Uaxactún, a community forest concession inside Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve, three species of xate palm, a non-timber forest product, are at the heart of quickly evolving webs of knowledge, identity, institutional alliances, and livelihoods. Xate palms are simultaneously the "daily beans" for the majority of Uaxactún residents, the object of intense study and regulation, a commodity marketable to international floral markets, a marker of local identity, and a ubiquitous part of the forest landscape. Now, as the result of a series of projects instituted by the conservation NGO, the Wildlife Conservation Society and other institutions, xate in Uaxactún is being transformed from a "natural", exploited part of the landscape to something to actively cuidar, or care for. NGO-driven dynamics of monitoring, study, and other external knowledge-making about the village are central to these ongoing shifts in xate-human relations, and to broader changes in local senses of place and identity. "Care" describes both material and affective relations, including practices and values that strive for a more liveable world without assuming an ultimate goal or a best solution. NGO projects that foster relations of care between villagers and xate palms are also a form of caring for villagers themselves, working as they do towards sustainable shared human/non-human futures. At the same time, however, these projects are "necessary but not sufficient" – caught in the problematic local scale, and failing to address deeper structural problems that keep Uaxactún residents dependent on precarious sources of income.

Keywords: Guatemala, Maya Biosphere Reserve, NTFPs, NGOs, environmental knowledge, care

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