By JULIA PRESTON
MEXICO CITY --
Rigoberta Menchu, the Guatemalan Indian who rose from a childhood of
want and racist violence to be awarded the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, dismissed questions
Wednesday about a book in which she described her life history, saying she had "a right to my own
In meetings she
organized with reporters here promising to "lay to rest" doubts about the
volume, which records her memories of horrific violence, Ms. Menchu denied that it contained
purposeful inaccuracies but was elusive when pressed to clarify specific points.
the veracity of some episodes she recounts in the book, called "I, Rigoberta
were raised in a new study by David Stoll, an anthropologist at Middlebury College in Vermont. A
Dec. 15 report in The New York Times, based on new reporting in Ms. Menchu's home village,
pointed to additional inconsistencies between her version and the recollections of many neighbors
Ms. Menchu said
Wednesday that the central reality for her was that her father, mother
and at least
two brothers were all murdered by government security forces during the ferocious violence that
descended on Guatemala's Indian communities in the years before her book was published -- all
facts that have not been disputed. "I didn't find anything in these reports that changes the fact that my
people are dead," Ms. Menchu said. "And that is my truth."
She was dressed
in the bright purple embroidered blouse and red headband that denote her
in the highlands of central Guatemala.
"I will change
my mind and say I'm sorry the day I see my father again full of youthfulness
health," she said. Ms. Menchu's father was burned to death during a protest in a fire started by
government forces at the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City in 1980.
She argued that
her book remained a faithful representation of the trauma suffered by Guatemalan
Indians during a period of violent military rule. She said she was reluctant to "enter into little details,"
explaining that she felt it would be undignified.
In response to
reporters' questions, Ms. Menchu said she had not acknowledged in her book
she had received several years' education at the Belgian-Guatemalan Institute in Guatemala City. In
the opening pages of the book, which is based on interviews tape-recorded by a Venezuelan
anthropologist, she said she had not learned how to read, write or speak Spanish until a few years
before the text was published. But nuns who ran the school at the time told The Times that she had
been an exceptionally bright pupil.
for the first time, Ms. Menchu said she had been at the school for several
as a maid, not a pupil. "It was not work that I was ashamed of," she said.
Stoll said in
a telephone interview that his research revealed that the Nobel laureate
had worked at
cleaning the school to pay her way while she studied there. Ms. Menchu acknowledged Wednesday
that she had learned literacy and Spanish as a girl at the Belgium school and while on scholarship to
another school in subsequent years.
In her book Ms.
Menchu provided a heart-rending account of the death by starvation of her
youngest brother, who she said was named Nicolas. But Nicolas Menchu proved to be alive and
was interviewed by The Times in Guatemala. This prompted Ms. Menchu to say Wednesday that
she had another, younger brother who had also been named Nicolas.
But the Nicolas
Menchu who was interviewed by the Times said he was a decade older than
sister and that the only brothers who had died of hunger were all older than he.
She had said
that she witnessed the death of another brother, Patrocinio, who she said
alive by army troops. According to Stoll, in his book "Rigoberta Menchu and the Story of All Poor
Guatemalans," Patrocinio Menchu was kidnapped by soldiers and his body is believed to have been
dumped in a mass grave.
Ms. Menchu, apparently
conceding that she was not present when her brother was killed, said she
had only reported what her mother told her of her brother's death. "Show me where the mass grave
is where he is buried," she said. "If someone will give me his body, I will change my view. My truth is
that my brother Patrocinio was burned alive.
that her testimonial had come under criticism as part of a racist campaign.
thinks I'm going to say I'm sorry because I was born Maya and am an ignorant Indian, they're
wrong," she said.
Stoll said Wednesday that he had never intended to accuse Ms. Menchu of lying.
"That would be
to dismiss her morally, and that is definitely not my view," he said. "You
understand and defend her narrative strategy, of folding others' experience into her own, making
herself into a kind of all-purpose Maya. She was in an emergency situation. She was trying to bring
down pressure on the government and the army. To do that, you have to make a complicated
situation seem simple."
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company