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It was my good fortune to be invited to a Maya ceremony by my friend and tour guide, Vicente Cuscun. His daughter, Nidia Indira, had just graduated from nursing school in Guatemala, and her parents, of Cakchiquel Maya descendent, wanted also to celebrate her graduation in the old ways.

 

The ceremony was held at the altar in the ancient Cakchiquel capital of Iximché, a few kilometres from Tecpán on the Pan-american Highway. We met at 9:00 am, the ceremony starting right on time. Officiating was the local Maya priest, Cristobal Cojti. Family and friends of Vicente attended the event. After preparing a fire near the altar and placing coloured candles to the north, south, east and west, pine needles were scattered around it and we were each handed thin coloured candles to help keep the fire burning strongly. To one side was a marimba pura, which is the traditional marimba of just three players without the drums and suits and ties.

 

Nidia Indira was attired in the traditional huipil and corte of Tecpán, looking a little embarrassed, but also obviously proud of her heritage. Nearby, her school friends were dressed in the latest fashions. Her parents, Vicente and Julia, watched as the priest asked her to kneel on the pine needles in front of the fire. He then proceeded to beseech blessings on Nidia from Maya and Christian deities in Cakchiquel and Spanish.

 

In the background, the marimba played softly. We were then asked to all kneel around the fire and hold hands to complete the circle. At times we were required to kiss the mother earth, which we all did with varying fervour. The priest explained the conjunction of the deities and the forces of nature. The importance the Maya people have always placed on nature was obvious in his sermon.

 

After the ceremony, Vicente explained the history of Iximché, which we toured. We also discussed the place of the Maya in today’s society, a very complex question and one not easily addressed without sounding somewhat revolutionary. I was shocked to learn that Maya ceremonies were actually illegal prior to the peace accords in 1996. A ceremony such as we were attending would have had to be done in secret 10 years ago. The priest also spoke of the Spanish invasion in such a way as to imply that the Maya still lived in an occupied country. This is an opinion that he probably would not have been able to express freely a few years ago without getting into deep trouble and even today such a viewpoint creates controversy.

 

It seems that the ancient ways will be sustained, even as the indigenous people enter the computer age. Nidia and her parents are a good example of how these people can accept and acclimatise to our modern westernised world, yet still keep their customs and traditions.

 

After the ceremony, we were treated to a delicious typical lunch of estofado, skillfully prepared by Nidia’s grandmother, and animated by a livelier concert of marimba music. We were surprised to see that Cristobal Cojti was also a gifted marimba player. At 2:00 pm, after several toasts with powerful local cox, the guests bid farewell to the Cuscun family.



Did you like this article? Then you'll like these: Montañismo, After The Eruption, Seniors, B'omb'il Pek and Jul Iq', Around Antigua Guatemala, San Juan La Laguna - Getting To And Away, The Mayan City Of El Mirador, Antigua Guatemala 2012 Semana Santa, Camping and Nebaj and the Ixil Triangle.


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