The Protestant Ethic and Development Ethos: Cacao and Changing Cultural Values among the Mopan Maya of Belize

Stanley, Erik, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Damon, Frederick, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Danziger, Eve, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Shugart, Herman, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

My dissertation employs a Weberian perspective to explore the cultural manifestation of Protestantism and the Spirit of Capitalism in indigenous Mopan Maya society. To this end, I trace how cacao has been transformed from a once sacred plant at the heart of Mopan spiritual ecology to a secular commodity bound for the world market. Cacao's deep history and spiritual importance among the Mopan make it an ideal focus for examining culture change and continuity, hegemony and counter-narrative. The recent availability of markets for cacao in southern Belize has allowed for significant expansion of cacao among the Belizean Mopan and Q'eqchi' Maya with many people expanding their cacao cultivation beyond the home garden to extensive cacao plantations. Drawing on ethnographic encounters in the Mopan Maya village of San Jose Belize, my dissertation explores how Protestantism and development enhance the latent possibilities within one another and reinforce a configuration of society congruent with hegemonic western modernity. In the midst of these changes, cacao lies at the center of competing ideologies between traditional Mopan values of Kustumbre (tradition) and those of western modernity.
I argue that Protestant conversion has laid the ground work for adoption of development by religiously sanctioning an individualistic Weberian capitalist ethic and condemning indigenous spirituality, providing the moral foundation in which development projects for commercial cacao could take root. While visible social inequality was previously held in check through fear of obia / pulyah (black magic), Protestant denunciation of indigenous spirituality as witchcraft/demon worship has undermined the enforcement of economic equality, allowing for the emergence of capitalist values. At the same time, indigenous environmental ritual has become a fault line in Maya communities between "New Testament People" – Protestants and younger Catholics who reject ritual practice - and Catholic elders who continue to practice "Old Testament" ways. I suggest that the ‘New Testament’ world view promulgated through evangelism provides a cultural narrative consistent with the goals of high modernist development. As cacao’s sacred symbolism has declined, many Mopan increasingly view cacao as the object of agronomic improvement and as a fungible commodity.
Protestant condemnation of nature spirits reconfigures the relational landscape of Mopan Kustumbre into a collection of natural resources ripe for maximization and efficient management. Human domination of nature through capitalist development not only provides material wealth, but also is a public proclamation for New Testament people that they no longer fear retribution from the spirits of nature, in the same way that they no longer fear the obia of their jealous neighbors. In both Protestantism and development, environmental calamities are no longer the manifestation of disrespected spirits or a lapse in relationality. Rather, they are constructed as a technical problem which can be managed through the application of resources and ingenuity.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Maya, Belize, Mopan, Cacao, Chocolate, Nature, Protestantism, Development
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