WHAT MA LACH’S BONES TELL US: Performances of Relational Materiality In Response to Genocide


  • Maria Regina Firmino-Castillo Critical Dance Studies University of California, Riverside




Ixil, Maya, Genocide, Theater, Violeta Luna, Embodiment, Ontology


Drawing from Freya Mathews and Mario Blaser’s critiques of genocide, modernity, and coloniality, in addition to the unpublished writings of Raphaël Lemkin on colonialism, this study interrogates three ontological tenets associated with genocidal coloniality: that some persons are things, that matter is inert, and that some humans are autonomous of an ecological matrix. The author examines these tenets through the lens of Guatemala’s recent counter-insurgency war (1960—1996), focusing on the genocide against Ixil Maya communities during the height of the war (approximately 1979-1985). The author draws from work on collective art-based projects in Nab’aa’, Guatemala to examine how embodied performances of the inextricable relational ties between human and other-than-human persons and entities in an agentive and person-filled material world posed insistent challenges to genocidal coloniality’s three tenets. Three moments of performance, ranging from the quotidian to the ceremonial to the experimental, are highlighted: performing name exchange with a wild edible plant important to survival during wartime famine; performing chaj (ceremony) to address collective trauma from the 1982 mass killing at Xoloche’; and, finally, performing experimental theater in collaboration with Mexican artist, Violeta Luna, and Ixil performance ensemble, Teatro Tichiil. The author reflects on two terms prevalent in Mayan languages—kamawil, or living object, and kab’awil, “double gaze” (Adrián Inés Chávez in Chacón)—to explore the potential of Mayan ontologies of materiality and personhood to counter the colonial project’s construal of (some) persons as bodies only, to be used and disposed of as objects, in a world of inert matter. The author concludes by noting that this centering of persons (human and other) as relational beings underscores the ontological workings of what Gerald Vizenor termed “survivance,” understanding it to be an active resistance to the three tenets of coloniality through the embodied and storied insistence on complex relational personhood and the continued enactment of “transmotion” as inextricable relationality within a living and agentive material world.

Author Biography

Maria Regina Firmino-Castillo, Critical Dance Studies University of California, Riverside

Assistant Professor, Critical Dance Studies




How to Cite

Firmino-Castillo, M. R. (2018). WHAT MA LACH’S BONES TELL US: Performances of Relational Materiality In Response to Genocide. Transmotion, 4(2), 31–62. https://doi.org/10.22024/UniKent/03/tm.464