The Mayan people are captivating to the eye at first glance. They dress in traditional clothing and the first encounters a foreigner will make is typically among the young women selling jewelry and textiles from baskets on their heads. They speak between twenty two and twenty four different languages in Guatemala besides Spanish, which is used as a universal language, and randomly you will encounter a student or vendor who speaks a little English.
I spent a long time learning Spanish this last year and it has paid off. When I first passed through Latin America I was always jealous of the foreigners who were able to communicate with the locals and I made sure to become confident in my level of Spanish before returning so I could learn the ways of the people here.
So I entered with little knowledge besides a few books of Mayan history which I had mused myself with when I was younger. At first it is a little daunting to approach people and ask about their history because usually they are selling things and reluctant to open up without a purchase. Twice on this trip I've run into good luck with such conversation. The first occurred in San Marcos when I came across a young Mayan woman named Catarina. She was about my age, a young woman dressed in floral red and brown patters representing her village and she first approached me on the street while selling chocolate with her son. I told her from the start I wasn't very interested in buying anything however I was curious about the clothing she wore and I'd like to learn more. In a short story I found my way to her family's corner where she had prepared to dress my girlfriend in old clothing from her grandmother's generation. She didn't really expect to sell the outfit and the local women were almost in tears laughing so hard at the foreigner wearing Mayan clothing.
What did I learn? It goes like this and I'll be brief: In the past the people of Lago de Atitlan didn't have much money. I couldn't say they were poor whereas farming communities typically have all they need from the land. They do however find ways to function micro businesses where they will develop tiendas and small shops to move bits of income throughout their communities. What has happened was that tourists took interest in the lake many years ago and now there is quite a lot of money which has found its way into local communities. The clothing and traditional dress, which was once colorless and drab is now very vibrant and the colors and patterns show the village from which the wearer hails as well as her marriage status. The men don't dress in traditional clothing any more (because the United States funded the genocide of indigenous people a few decades ago and we aren't taught that in school books.. I'm here to keep this entry positive so.. moving on..).
It was a great privilege to chat with Catarina and her family. I also got to chat with a young woman today whose name I found to escape me. I woke up this morning looking at a rosary which I picked up as a gift in Nicaragua a few months back. I looked at the cross and thought about the significance which Christianity has in the history of this part of the world. It's shameful. It was a plot to fool people into converting thus making them easier to conquer and take their gold. It upset me. It upset me how the girl who I would come to talk to in the market first told me she's Catholic and when I told her I wasn't Christian she felt relieved and said she wasn't either. Why did she do this? She told me how the Mayan tradition was compromised by Christians and Europeans over long periods of time and nobody will ever find a job if they reveal signs of their traditional ways. No jade stones, no holes in ears, tattoos, no mention of forgotten gods, astrology, even traditional medicine was labeled as 'brujeria' (witchcraft) and can be discouraged in developed cities. Earlier this morning I removed the cross from my rosary whereas I do not want to continue promoting a religion with such a terrible history in this part of the world. I showed this to my new friend and she gave me a stone figure showing a Mayan face deep in meditation with a second face protruding from the back of his head. That is man's connection to the gods, the universe and nature. I replaced the cross with this sacred glyph and smiled as if I was finally free from something that haunted me for a long time.
For years I walked the Earth and felt a certain disconnection from the Abramic religions and I never knew why. Perhaps under their belief system they have this necessity to spread their word be it by mouth or sword and I was always bothered by that. I was bothered by the guilt and the false promises of eternal punishment if you don't follow their beliefs. It always seemed strange to me that religions which promote peace are always those who have conquered the world. So I look to the traditions of these people I'm among and I realize the connectedness these people have to the planet. In nature there is no good or evil only life and death. Our lives are part of a path and we too become the seeds of the earth when our bodies die and we return to the dirt. The plants around you may become the molecules which form your children. You are made of the earth and we are all connected. Where is the guilt? The guilt is in the destruction we do to our planet. We are short-sighted and have no concern to the ways of nature and we rarely own up to it, even argue that we aren't causing the changes in our climate.
I don't know what came over me today but I felt closer to the shiny smiling people from the land here which I will soon call home. I feel free, a freedom from ignorance and I also feel a sense that by eating local and learning about the tradition of the local people I'm part of a cycle which many humans have participated. I removed the cross and affixed the symbol of the two faced diety to my rosary. Why not? The Christians came to the Americas and forced the people to convert their places of worship into churches so they could take their lands and steal from their homes. It's sad but keep a smile when you speak of the Mayan people, they're sneakier than you think when showing their colors of their true beliefs and are in no hurry to abandon their culture.