Birth after Death: Men and Reproduction in Two K'iche' Maya Communities Open Access

Dudgeon, Matthew R. (2013)

Permanent URL:


In the late 20th century, ethnic and economic inequalities in Guatemala led to a guerilla insurgency that was met by state military counterinsurgent forces. The genocidal violence of the civil war disrupted the reproductive trajectories of many western highland indigenous Maya communities. In this dissertation, I explore patterns of reproduction and reproductive loss in Maya communities after the Guatemalan civil war. I focus on an aspect of reproduction often left unaddressed in demographic as well as anthropological approaches: men. Working with predominantly K'iche' Maya communities, I investigate ways men influence decisions about family size and reproductive complications. I interrogate men's own experiences of reproduction as an integral part of their masculinity and an area of risk that lies outside the domains defined as masculine. To accomplish an ethnography of reproduction and masculinity in the context of genocide, I worked in two K'iche' Maya communities: one peri-urban community relatively less affected by the civil war, and another rural community the war had forced into hiding as a Community of Populations in Resistance.

I examine men's attitudes toward marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, and contraception. I trace four important elements of K'iche' Maya masculinity: productivity, growth, control, and respect. I argue that these elements inform men's reproductive experiences and decisions and aid in explaining the profound ambivalence many men feel about their roles in reproduction. I tie this ambivalence to broader narratives of risk associated with reproduction that implicate men and women as well as care providers such as local traditional birth attendants. I examine patterns of contraceptive use, demonstrating that men may actively collaborate with partners in contraceptive decision making even as they confront conflicts that arise from the consequences of those decisions. Using quantitative data, I explore the impact of variables accounting for men's influences on epidemiologic models of reproductive health outcomes such as initiation of prenatal care, complications during pregnancy, contraceptive knowledge and use, and neonatal and infant mortality. I conclude with a discussion of K'iche' Maya reproductive resilience and men's changing reproductive roles in the context of that resilience.

Table of Contents

List of figures and tables

List of male informants

Map of Guatemala

Map of the departments of Quetzaltenango and Quiché, Guatemala

Map of the municipality of Cantel, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Map of the municipality of Chajul, Quiché, Guatemala

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Ethnographic Context and Methods

Chapter 3: Gender, Masculinity, and Reproductive Health

Chapter 4: Masculinities and Reproduction in Jun

Chapter 5: Masculinity and Reproduction in Keb': Dimensions of Genocide

Chapter 6: Conceiving Risk

Chapter 7: Conceptions and Contraceptions

Chapter 8: Epidemiologies of Reproduction

Chapter 9: Conclusion


About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files