The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala Forensics Helping Indigenous Maya FamiliesGuatemala engaged in a civil war from 1960 to 1996. The Guatemalan government fought the guerilla force — a group of indigenous people combating the military. The government started targeting armed guerilla groups and guerilla supporters. As time passed, the line between guerilla supporters and civilians disappeared in the eyes of the military leaders, leading to attacks on indigenous Maya families. Approximately 83% of people killed during the civil war were Mayan. According to reports, 200,000 Maya people living in poverty in remote villages were forcibly “disappeared.” Most of them were found years later in mass graves.

Today, the search for those missing continues. The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), has been utilizing recent advancements in science and technology to identify remains and reunite families with their lost loved ones. Established in 1997, the group has been using forensics to fulfill its mission through a five-step methodology:

1. Victim Investigation and Documentation

Initially, FAFG builds a relationship with the family of a victim. During this process, it gathers information to create a profile that includes the victim’s name as well as the inciting incident which led to the disappearance. In many cases, this witness testimony helps with narrowing down which locations to search. Living family members also provide DNA information to help with the identification of victims that are found. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the categorization of saliva as a risky DNA collection method. In its place, geneticists rely on blood samples for comparing DNA.

2. Forensic Archeology

At this stage, criminology comes into play, with every grave marked as a crime scene. Archaeologists carefully excavate victims, documenting every detail possible to piece together what happened. They collect evidence such as rope, gags and ballistics, which are vital in determining the circumstances leading to the cause of death.

3. Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropologists piece together the height, age, sex and other physical characteristics of the victims — essentially creating a biological profile. They clean the remains and interpret damage to the bones to help determine the cause of death. They take X-Rays and photographs along with “associated artifacts”, which are any other evidence or items on the victim at the time of their death.

4. Forensic Genetics

Using samples recovered typically from the femur or from the teeth, geneticists examine the DNA. The DNA is uploaded to the “FAFG’s National Genetic Database of Relatives and Victims of Enforced Disappearance”, where profiles are compared against each other. DNA found at crime scenes is also compared to DNA samples provided by potential victims’ family members.

5. Confirmation of Human Identification

FAFG’s team notifies the family of the identification of their loved one through a video call or home visit once they make a match. The Department of Victim Investigation and Documentation supports this process. They show the family the documentation and give them information on the cause of death and how they found the victim’s remains. Finally, FAFG returns the remains through the local prosecutor’s office for a dignified funeral that honors the victim. This is the final step in how FAFG uses forensics to help indigenous Maya families.

Closure for Families

The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala provides families with the closure they need, by uncovering the truth behind the disappearance of their loved ones. With its help, families can finally honor their loved ones and move forward.

– Thom LaPorte
Photo: Flickr

Maya Artisanal WeavingWhat do the 365-day calendar, the mathematical concept of “zero,” chocolate and rubber all have in common? All of these innovations are credited to the Maya, a civilization that survived for over 2,000 years in Mesoamerica. This article will feature another innovation: Maya artisanal weaving. 

At the turn of the 11th century, war disrupted the mighty rule of the Mayas. Unfortunately, after centuries of dominance, the Maya culture fell into disrepair. Furthermore, what was left of the civilization was decimated through conflict and epidemics brought by Spanish colonizers a few centuries later. In 1960, the Guatemalan Civil War began, during which the Guatemalan government attempted to exterminate the Maya culture through savage village bombings and genocidal executions. Of the 200,000 people who died amidst the war, 95% were Maya. This article discusses the modern-day history of the Maya and highlights a group of women practicing their culture and making a living with Maya artisanal weaving.

Modern Day Marginalization of the Maya

Thankfully, the Maya people have survived their tragic near-extinction. However, the Maya continue to face marginalization. Most of the poorest families in Guatemala are Maya families; the average Maya family has eight children, making necessities costly. Generally, these indigenous families remain in isolated, rural areas and receive very little government aid for medical care and quality education. Throughout Guatemala, there is a 60% drop off between the attendance rates of primary and upper secondary school. This statistic is even more drastic for Maya students. While teachers speak Spanish, most ethnic Maya children speak one of the twenty Mayan dialects. This additional obstacle contributes to these early dropouts. Unfortunately, many Maya children also drop out before the end of primary school.

Connecting Maya Artisanal Weaving with Global Markets

The Ancient Maya created a complex weaving machine. Modern-day indigenous crafts-women and men still employ this machine, working to combat endemic poverty in the region of Panajachel, Guatemala. Today, the backstrap loom, foot pedal loom and needlepoint hand-embroidery create the bold cloth which tourists and global shoppers adore. Hiptipico is a company that connects these works of art with the global market. Founded in 2012, Hiptipico, a certified B-Corps company, aims to preserve and develop Maya communities through sharing and protecting their cultural practices. The company’s namesake “tipico” comes from the Spanish word for the traditional clothing of the Maya.

Artisans Earn Fair Wages and a Global Platform

The artisan weavers that work with Hiptipico are small business owners, as well as the Quiejel and Chontala Weaving Cooperatives. Maintaining close relationships with these individuals and small cooperatives of women weavers allows Hiptipico to maintain fair wages when pricing products for the global market. 

Socially-conscious shoppers can purchase a wide variety of products from Hiptipico’s fashion line including woven greeting cards, camera straps, bags, totes, and face masks; all available in brightly colored, hand-woven patterns. Production of each Hiptipico product is incredibly time-intensive. A camera strap can take anywhere from 3 days to 3 weeks to complete. Nevertheless, purchases provide a stable income for the artisans. The high-quality merchandise of Guatemala’s indigenous artisans has brought Hiptipico attention from all over the fashion industry. For instance, Hiptipico has organized collaborations with large brands such as Free People. By earning fair, stable wages and establishing a global platform, artisans of Hiptipico are empowering themselves and celebrating their culture.

Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Flickr