Posted by: Johan Normark | February 18, 2011

Poverty as freedom

If you think that being free equals having plenty of money, material goods, and status it most likely depends on the sociopolitical assemblage that you are part of. It is not always that being poor is at your disadvantage if you want freedom. This is something the colonial Spaniards in Yucatan quickly learnt. The Spaniards attempted to control the Maya in many ways. One strategy was to exact tribute in one way or another. One of these was the repartimiento system which was disguised as a form of trade. It forced cash advances on the Maya for the delivery of a certain amount of goods within a specific period. Poverty in combination with the Maya’s bias against European goods made them poor customers, something that frustrated the Spaniards. Why?

Because “the very simplicity of the ordinary Maya’s material existence enhanced their freedom. The colonial Spaniards recognized this and in exasperated moments suspected the Maya of deliberately cultivating poverty so that they could escape easily, unencumbered as they were with wordly [sic] goods” (Farriss 1984:73).

Once the Spaniards incorporated the Maya in the capitalist economy they finally lost their freedom in the Late Colonial haciendas. Wasting your money on worldly goods will only keep you in chains. Unfortunately I needed to get a bank loan for my apartment. Hence, the bank efficiently limits my freedom. Poverty in my case, within the sociopolitical assemblage that I live, would not lead to the freedom that the colonial Maya at least could obtain.

Farriss, Nancy (1984). Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival. Princeton University Press.



  1. Hovels Of Freedom Or Tied To The Wheel, The Maya Honor Their Soverign Heartsong,Living In Communities Where Most Have A Common Dresscode Knowing Their Security Is Helped By Antenimity.A Satisfied Mind Is Not Found In How Much Painted Cake You Can Grab,But In Human Experiences,Emotions,Love Of Family And
    Friends.I Know These Hard-working People Are Seldom Bored.

  2. True, boredom emerged in modern Western society as a lack of opportunity to satisfy our desire for consumption. Boredom is a sign of capitalism.


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