Reviews: Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya

In her beautifully rendered text and photo book, Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya, author Susanna Badgley Place accomplishes an astounding feat: she renders her experience in a singularly gorgeous yet war-torn area, Guatemala’s Ixil Maya region, into a compelling piece of literature both to the student of Guatemala and to seasoned expert alike. Badgley Place does so by seamlessly combining compelling and well-printed photos with a wonderfully written text that contains an extraordinary amount of factual annotations in everything from a checklist of supplies for would-be travelers to detailed endnotes and bibliography. This is a must-read for Guatemala experts and newbies alike.

JEAN-MARIE SIMON, Author, Guatemala: Eternal Spring, Eternal Tyranny

Move over Manning Nash and “Machine Age Maya”! Make room for Susanna Badgely Place and her “Digital Age Maya”! Assiduously researched and lavishly illustrated, “Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya” takes us on a lively tour from pre-Columbian times to the present, depicting scenario after scenario of indigenous survival and resourcefulness.

W. George Lovell, Professor of Geography, Queen’s University, Canada
Author of numerous books on Guatemala, including A Beauty that Hurts: Life and Death in Guatemala, and Conquest and Survival in Colonial Guatemala: A Historical Geography of the Cuchumatan Highlands, 1500-1821.

Place effectively limns the culture and history of the Ixil Maya, a people whose homeland, half the size of Rhode Island, lies in a remote, mountainous section of northern Guatemala. She amply details their ancient importance in Mayan civilization, the violence of Spanish colonialism, and the tragic decades of civil war from 1960 to 1996. Even after the Peace Accords of 1996, Ixil culture remains largely unappreciated even within Guatemala. Place’s review of history reflects her conviction that travelers, possibly in contrast to tourists, find enduring rewards from learning, respecting, and sharing what matters most to the local people. She forcefully argues the importance of sustaining the endangered traditional Ixil culture and language, while avoiding quaint antiquarianism. Her photographs and insights from repeat visits provide practical tips on exploring the little-known region. Intrepid, independent-minded travelers will find her descriptions alluring; her work itself provides a stimulating glimpse of an alternative to well-worn destinations. Anyone tempted by the undiscovered riches of the road less taken will be intrigued by Place’s passionate call to assist the Ixil people in developing a sustainable future and preserving their traditions.

Publishers Weekly Reviews, August 2013.

Truly admirable and multifaceted compilation of perspectives on the Ixil experiences— through time, space, and many dimensions of culture and language. A good introduction to the scholarly literature, activist perspectives, travel guide, and beautiful coffee table book, written with personal charm.

STEPHEN R. ELLIOTT, Mayan linguistic scholar and former director of The Center for Mesoamerican Research (CIRMA).

This stunning historical, archaeological and environmental journey through the unknown regions of the Guatemala high Plateau, visiting the vanishing culture of the Ixil Maya, is a MUST for any traveler in the region.

The book is an amazing combination of beautiful photographs; easy, readable text, and wonderful guidance through the geography and the native customs and history. It invites the reader to take the journey among these amazing people with the best guide possible, the skilled writer, Susanna Place. For the active traveler, or the arm-chair traveler, this book is a revelation.

MABEL H. CABOT, Author: VANISHED KINGDOMS: A Women Explorer in Tibet; China & Mongolia: 1921-1925: Aperture: 2004

This book beautifully documents the history, culture, food, and environment of the Ixil Maya of the Guatemalan highlands. This is far more than a guide book as it takes the reader into the lives of the Ixil Maya on a personal level to reveal an intimate picture of daily life and the struggle to maintain their cultural heritage, traditions, and history. The author is sensitive to the difficulties the Ixil Maya face as they are thrust into the pressures of the 21st century. Her broad outlook and description of the practical and philosophical issues, as well as possible solutions, help us understand the culture in a thorough way. This book is a definite read even if you can’t make it to the Guatemalan highlands.

KAREN ARRAS, World traveler, specialist in tropical plants, currently living in Costa Rica.

Through the vibration of a Pre-Colombian drum, the tender leaves of boiled güisquil, with the voices of community leaders, and the personal reflections that arise from these interactions, Place takes us along on her personal journey through the cloud cloaked Cuchumatanes mountains and into the heart of the Ixil. Contextualizing her own encounters within the history of Guatemala, this book draws on the equally valuable voices of scholars and elders, demonstrating a deep respect for the knowledge being generated by and about the Ixil. Place provides an intriguing survey of the multilayered and complex forces that shape the contemporary realities of the Ixil and covers a remarkable variety of topics ranging from local cultural attractions and festive cuisine to marriage ceremonies, folktales, and rural development cooperatives.

At times chilling and at other times humorous, Place’s conversations inspire the casual visitor to engage in what might be termed slow travel: taking the time to listen, observe, share, and be with this remarkable community. She acknowledges the delicate and at times challenging balance between tourism and solidarity and provides practical advice for the traveler on how to participate in existing community-based initiatives in an attempt to foster mutual learning and respect. Suffice it to say that the author would be pleased if this guide were your introduction to the Ixil. However, her wish is clear; that you would fall in love with this community and perhaps even join them in their struggles. I highly suggest that you accept her invitation.

JACOB CARTER, Doctoral student, University of Massachusetts at Amherst studying international education and development. I have worked in Guatemala since 2004 and have visited the Ixil region numerous times. It is wonderful to see a book that shows deep respect for the Ixil and also invites others to meet and learn about this remarkable community.

Susanna Badgley Place has just written the best guidebook ever! What an incredible journey into Guatemala generally and the Ixil Maya communities, geography, and history particularly!

Susanna Place lifts up the Nebaj, Chajul, and Cotzal weavers, and she herself weaves a tantalizing tapestry of placed and displaced peoples, deep roots and ancient routes, cultural and natural landscapes. and insights that are sure to transform us all as we take her guidebook and venture into the Ixil region northwest of Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala.

This work is the best guidebook I have ever read, as she hands us a trusty travelogue clearly and cogently written, artfully presented, and brilliantly photographed. She shares the amazing depth of Ixil history, geography, and cultural artifacts. Susanna Place arms us at the end with handy words to navigate this region and a bibliography to dig deeper into topics of our choice.

I have traveled to Guatemala several times since 2004 but not yet to the Ixil region. Susanna Badgley Place, with her breadth of international finance and depth of Guatemala work and study experiences, has clearly and convincingly demonstrated why I must trek to, learn from, and delight in Ixil, sooner rather than later!

Chip Griffin, Boothbay Harbor, Maine.

Departing from commercial travel guides that promote typical approaches to tourism,this book ventures into the heritage and history of Guatemala for perceptive travelers.

An uncommon guidebook for the backpacking humanitarian, ecotourist, or cultural traveler who appreciates learning new traditions and savors encounters off the beaten path, Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya is both perceptive in its selections and sensitive in its acknowledgment of the area’s remaining challenges.

Susanna Badgley Place—past Peace Corps member, experienced nonprofit worker, and traveler to Guatemala since 2004—draws from a wealth of memories to celebrate the Ixil Maya of Chajul, Nebaj, and Cotzal, three municipalities of Guatemala. Tucked in the northwestern mountains, these Ixil Maya communities welcome increasing engagement with visitors.Through the author’s vibrant account of her own excursions, byways and towns emerge as
transitional locales poised between efforts to sustain heritage and increase economic opportunities.

Guatemala Journey notably departs from commercial travel guides. Contextualizing the region with a solid, compact history spanning pre-Hispanic times through Spanish colonialism, civil war, and modern times, the author considers the effects of the past. This respectful approach deemphasizes the touristic, sometimes consumptive view of travel and encourages extended immersion in the area, as well as open dialogue to discover local concerns. As a result, the focus lies in outdoor markets, explorations of crafts, schools, and agricultural development initiatives—all of which provide a useful means for learning about the Ixil Maya in ways that transcend the tourist-as-voyeur approach to travel.

To venture farther afield, the book implies, is to extend goodwill, and it is a beautifully delivered message. In one particularly well-drawn section, the author recalls spearheading a successful effort among weavers to teach apprentices older, often richly emblematic designs.Personal anecdotes and tips further round out the impression that travel for the author is as much about forging relationships as it is about broadening experiences.

Smart typographical choices and a neutral palette complement dozens of color photographs. Chapters unfold in lucid descriptions that reveal everyday activities while avoiding idyllic portraits. The legacy of colonial brutality and Guatemala’s civil war, which included genocide against the Ixil Maya, is not paved over. The text provides essential background for understanding sites of former violence; plazas and churches become more meaningful than mere architectural curiosities. The inclusion of multiple voices, from volunteers to Ixil Maya elders, further deepens the account of a people determined to recover. Highlights include an interview with a teacher of Ixil Maya language and culture, as well as glimpses of a coffee cooperative, among other projects. This rich guidebook is an invaluable introduction to one of Guatemala’s lesser-known treasures.

Karen Rigby
ForeWord Reviews, October 2013
5 Star Clarion Review

Featuring full-color photographs and images on nearly every page, Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya takes the reader on an amazing tour of the indigenous Ixil Maya communities of northwestern Guatemala – their culture, economy, language, identity, family customs, and more. Brimming with personally-gathered research worthy of a scholar, yet accessible to readers of all backgrounds, Guatemala Journey Among the Ixil Maya is the next best thing to traveling to Guatemala and personally experiencing life in an Ixil community. Highly recommended, especially for public and college library Native American Studies shelves.

Small Press Bookwatch: April 2014
James A. Cox, Editor-in-Chief
Midwest Book Review
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