A lot of the news we've heard recently seems to be about one conflict or another. Whether it's in Iraq, Syria or elsewhere there seems to be no possibility for resolution of the long-standing conflicts that exist in some regions of the world. Still, there are examples of human conflicts with a long and violent history that were eventually resolved — at least to some degree. The conflict in Northern Ireland comes to mind as do those in Darfur, Sri Lanka and Rwanda.
The civil war in Guatemala is yet another example. It lasted from 1960 to 1996 when, after two years of negotiations, peace accords were finally signed. It is believed that over 200,000 people were killed during those thirty-six years and that the vast majority (around 83%) were Maya. A year ago the remains of 31 Ixil Maya were buried — thirty-two years after they had been killed — and only eight of them could be positively identified by DNA testing. Just a week ago the Guatemalan judicial system ruled that the main perpetrator of the Ixil genocide, former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, would not be sentenced for that crime if he is found guilty next January.
There are many theories about conflict resolution in the social and political spheres. Yet examples like those above show how inapplicable they can sometimes be — or how ineffectively they are being applied by political leaders.
While these examples are all about conflict on a macro level, we all experience conflict on a micro level in our daily lives: the employee with their employer, the teenager with their parents and almost everyone with their sibling.
An example of sibling conflict caught my eye as I was riding a bus into the Guatemalan Central Highlands. With my fellow travelers, we were on a journey of a few hours and I spent a lot of that time looking through the open window by my seat: this part of Central America offers some spectacular views. This was Poqomchi' country and as we approached a small Poqomchi' town there was an unexpected traffic jam. Looking around I noticed a fight that had broken out between two teenage boys. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that; I could have been anywhere in the world and witnessed the same scene. Nonetheless, I put a telephoto lens on my camera and trained it on the scene in case anything unusual happened. It did. Within minutes a lady (presumably the boys' mother) came out of the house and proceeded to whip both boys, quite hard, with a piece of rope!
In the west these days we generally consider corporal punishment to be an inappropriate form of conflict resolution. For Maya people it has probably been the form of choice for thousands of years. The fight was over a few seconds later.
The Poqomchi' Maya are featured in our documentary, Peoples of the World: The Maya.If you enjoyed reading this article, please consider "buying us a coffee" to help us cover the cost of hosting our web site. Thanks!