Honduran Maya-Chortí Land Reform And Photo Essay–2012 Dorothea Lange Fellowship Award Winner

Berkeley, Design, New Maya Language, Photography, Photojournalism

Text and photographs by Tyler Orsburn.

Land reform is taking center stage in northern Honduras. As of August 22, 2011, the Honduran newspaper, El Heraldo, reported 37 murders along the Bajo Aguán River Valley. The problem—a landowner with over 3,000 hectares removed nearly 4,000 families to cultivate and export palm oil.

Land distribution in Honduras isn’t just about pitting the rich against the poor. Seven hours west, along the Guatemalan border, members of the indigenous Maya Ch’orti’ have split into two opposing factions—they can’t agree on how to manage their 30-hectare community parcel. The land in question supports nearly 55 families and sits near the UNESCO World Heritage archeological site of Copán Ruinas.

One Ch’orti’ group, CONIMCH, wants to keep the land intact, while the annex group, CONADIMCH, wants to privatize it. CONIMCH claims that if the land is privatized, it could be sold to non-Maya Ch’orti’ prospectors, thus redirecting food and profits from the community. Tension between the two groups has led people to flee their homes for fear of being murdered. There have been reports of machete and rock-throwing fights.

As a post graduate school initiative I plan to use the Dorothea Lange Fellowship to travel to Copán Ruinas, Honduras. I will embed myself from August to September and document the Maya Ch’orti’ way of life. My objective is to understand how indigenous land reform can mutate from one philosophy to another and how that affects food and social survival.

I’m interested in Honduran affairs because I’m half Honduran. My grandfather was born in Copán Ruinas and was the country’s first director of the Honduran Institute of History and Anthropology. In the 1970s he brought archeologists and anthropologists from the United States to help preserve the ancient ruins and to study the Ch’orti’ ethnic group.

You can read more about Tyler’s (my husband) award and Dorothea Lange here.

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