Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 245–263 | Cite as

Chol Understandings of Suicide and Human Agency

  • Gracia ImbertonEmail author
Original Paper


According to ethnographic material collected since 2003, the Chol Mayan indigenous people in southern Mexico have different causal explanations for suicide. It can be attributed to witchcraft that forces victims to take their lives against their own will, to excessive drinking, or to fate determined by God. However, it can also be conceived of as a conscious decision made by a person overwhelmed by daily problems. Drawing from the theoretical framework developed by Laura M. Ahearn, inspired by practice theory, the paper contends that these different explanations operate within two different logics or understandings of human agency. The first logic attributes responsibility to supernatural causes such as witchcraft or divine destiny, and reflects Chol notions of personhood. The second logic accepts personal responsibility for suicide, and is related to processes of social change such as the introduction of wage labor, education and a market economy. The contemporary Chol resort to both logics to make sense of the human drama of suicide.


Suicide Agency Chol Personhood Social change 



I am grateful to Tom Widger and James Staples for their thoughtful comments and valuable criticisms of earlier versions of this article, as well as to Sonia Toledo, José Luis Escalona, Anna Garza and an anonymous reviewer for insightful comments. Names of towns and personal names have been changed to protect anonymity. I thank Michael Hipson and Rebecca Englert for translating this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Estudios IndígenasUniversidad Autónoma de ChiapasSan Cristóbal de Las CasasMexico

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