The Ch’olti’ were part of the Ch’ol region, from the Laguna de Términos in modern Campeche, Mexico, to Lago Izabal in Guatemala, belonging to the Mayan world; they resisted, for nearly three centuries, conversion into christianity and subjugation into the Spanish colonies. Their resistance was partly connected with their ability to grow and trade cacao and vanilla, two crops which the Dominican Order wanted to fully control because of their relevance and value within the trade with Europe.
The Dominicans already owned the largest sugar plantation in Central America, La Hacienda de San Jerónimo near El Chol where the church of Santa Cruz de Belén de los Indios is located. The town of El Chol was created not only to provide services to the sugar plantation and mill, but also as part of the program to assimilate and acculturate indigenous people, providing with free labor to the plantations, since the Spanish legislation of that time allowed for the enslavement of indigenous peoples who refused to be baptized. The Ch’olti’ joined other unbaptized indigenous peoples and enslaved Africans as unpaid labor on the plantation.
Hocho (Abrirse las orejas / To Open One’s Ears, 2022-ongoing) is a sound work that invites us into a journey not only through a specific geography—that of the Chol’ in Guatemala—but throughout time, since the Spanish colonial invasion to nowadays. How could we listen and learn from the voices of the Ch’olti’, prosecuted and nearly exterminated by the Spaniards in the 17th century, and how could their loss be repaired in an area where both cultural and ecological extractivism has operated for centuries. This piece began as a historical research, which then quickly became a very personal journey for the artist into retracing most of the terrain covered by internal refugees during the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996).
Commissioned by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary for TB21 on st_age, this work was also supported by extra funds from the Inga Maren Otto Fellowship (The Watermill Center, NY).
Field and voice recordings were made with the assistance of Ameno Cordova and Stef Arreaga.