Resistance by Indigenous Women in an Environment of Colonialism

by Anny Ventura Puac

In their day-to-day life, on their own lands and throughout their history, First Peoples live out the consequences of their displacement which began when colonialism was imposed upon them . . . and which has not ceased.  To comprehend the concept of “indigenous” from the point of view of women and men who resisted and continue resisting with their territories, their culture, and their very bodies continues to be a challenge because of the usual romanticized folkloric, exotic, racist presentation of the term.

Writing from the contemporary social science perspective about the participation of women in indigenous villages in not simple either.  In any given moment there’s conflict with the liberal feminist/women’s liberation theorical approaches.  With regards to this point it is vital to clarify that it’s not that Mayan women consider themselves anti-feminist, rather they vindicate and reclaim their own history as indigenous individuals living in their communities.


Considering the environment

Defining an indigenous mayoral office is valuable as the anthropologist Lina Barrios notes, “as an institution established by the Spaniards, a go-between vis-a-vis the administration of colonial interests, particularly for the distribution of labor and tax collection, the institution maintained characteristics of indigenous culture, such as, the procedure of elections to positions of responsibility.

Such a definition allows for verification of how these forms of organization were utilized for the benefit of the Executive Branch during decentralization processes and the breaking apart of public administration, an effort launched in Guatemala beginning in the 1980’s.

We can’t contextualize the women’s struggle without considering an atmosphere created by a mixture of patriarchy, colonialism and capitalism–variables at these levels are inseparable and remain embedded in the government.

As Francisco Rodríguez Rouanet, pioneer in ethnographic investigation indicates:

The participation of women in indigenous mayoral-leadership positions has been a fact since 1970.   Francisco explains that during that year in Sololá total political, religious, and indigenous ethnic guild* positions totaled 417 men and women.  The majority of political positions were held by men, while of the 365 religious and indigenous ethnic leadership roles, 69 were held by women.


Currently, mayoral jurisdictions have positions such as mayor, administrators, clerks of court, law enforcement officers, advisors, counselors, spiritual leaders, etc., (one specific to women).  Each entails celebratory recognition by the community bestowed upon its male appointee.  The festivities are provided by his wife and family members.

To provide a better explanation:  The *guilds’ celebrations in Chichicastenango, Guatemala and various other neighboring villages and in the south of Mexico are ways of creating and forming community through socializing, through cultural, political and economic relationships.  The celebrations are public announcements of the position the appointee is executing, as well as information about the headquarters or home of the guild*.  They are a vehicle for taking up collections to defray expenses while the work is performed solely for the honor it brings. 

Women have always had a fundamental role in the organization of these celebrations.  The complex structure of communal meals and feeding an entire festive congregation are eloquent and powerful roles.  In Chichicastenango, Quiché the practice of  these prestigious appointments endures.  Indeed, today the role of women has been transformed thanks to doors opened by ancesral women responding to their own situation and history.

Being an executive administrator is no longer only a position for men.  KonanTomasita Riquiac currently holds the position for the Encarnación Guild and is the first woman to do so.  There is now another woman administrator, Leticia Guarcas, keeping her company.

Another piece of important history to remember occurred between 2018 and 2019 when the first woman, Doña Ana Xirum, became the first woman mayor of the community where the Jesús Nazareno Guild* makes its home.  Nowadays the guilds* have suggested changes and have provided other possibilities for women within the organizations.

There are differences from one municipality to the next.  In 2011 the 48 cantons of Totonicapán had their first woman president of an organization notably dominiated by men.  In 2014 Andrea Ischíu, a Mayan woman, was charged with responsibility for the community forest in Totonicapán.

In Quetzaltenango, after closure of the indigenous mayoral office, there was an attempt to do away with whatever activity elevated the Kiche’ peoples’ presence.  But in 1979 change was sought out for Kiche’ cultural representation and the “UmialTinamit Re XelajujNoj”, a women’s competition exclusively for Mayan women of Quetzaltenango was created.  It served as a tool for indigenous vindication from discrimination, exploitation and superficial romanticizations of indigenous culture.

Participation by women in spaces such as indigenous mayoral positions should not be view as identical one community to the next.  Each group resisted in different areas and in differing ways against violence, racism and displacement by the government, all of which continue to date.  

Anny Ventura Puac is a Maya Kiche’ woman, spiritual guide, businessowner, politial scientist, specializing in  sustainable development for indigenous communities.  Additionally, she collaborates with the world-wide movemnt Cura Da Terra.


*Translator’s note:  I have chosen the English word guild as translation for the Spanish cofradía.  To be clear, in this article guild does not imply trade/labor union as it is commonly used, rather the reader should infer association, brother/sisterhood whose members share a Mayan way of life, cosmology and responsiblities to their local community.