Between the Devil and the Deep Sea—The Maya of Colonial Belize
Although the ‘devil’ in the phrase used here is believed to have referred originally to the junction between a ship’s decking and hull (‘betwixt the Devill and the deepe Sea. . .’), the idea that one’s choices are limited was the meaning then as it is in my title. Those who found themselves in this no-win situation were the sixteenth-century Maya in what came to be called the Bay of Honduras—present-day Belize. On the one side, from their bases in Yucatan came the Spanish friars and tribute-extractors who viewed Maya writing, art and cultural expression as manifestations of the devil. On the other side were British and other European seafarers who, to establish bases and hiding places for their attacks on Spanish ships, made it their business to become familiar with Belize’s coast, cayes and atolls for the purpose of raiding communities for supplies and slaves. In this lecture I employ what I have learned from archaeological excavations to shed light on the effects of these kinds of contact, but also on how the Christianity brought by Europeans became an instrument of rebellion and resistance.
Biography: Elizabeth Graham received her B.A. in History from the University of Rhode Island and her Ph.D. in Archaeology from Cambridge University. She served as the Archaeological Commissioner for the Government of Belize from 1977 to 1979, and was Associate Professor of Anthropology at York University in Toronto before joining UCL in 1999. She has carried out archaeological field research in Belize for forty years on topics ranging from the Maya collapse to Maya strategies for survival during the Spanish and British colonial periods. Her second book, Maya Christians and Their Churches in Sixteenth-Century Belize, was published in 2011 by the University Press of Florida. Her current research—with Julia Stegemann of the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering—focuses on the long-term environmental impact of Maya resource extraction.