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The voice of the native people

The voice of the native people

Guatemala is truly one of the most colorful countries, thanks to the diversity of Maya cultures, languages and obviously the people, that keep these ancestral traditions alive.

Lisa, a volunteer of Trama, travelled to different villages to get in touch with the local people and their work, which has been practiced for decades. These people, which have been interviewed for this article, are not working with Trama Textiles, but are self-employed. We are happy to share with you their touching stories, opinions, and a little insight into their lives.

 

 "What I wear is worth more than wearing jeans and I’m proud of my culture."

Irla is a native Kaqchikel women from the region of Sacatépequez and grew up in a traditional weaver family. She has worked for years with textiles and has been able to export her textile to other countries. Lisa and Irla met at a weavers market, where she sells the textiles of her family. Irla immediately invited Lisa for lunch, where a friendship started. 

Do you like to be called Indigenous? Or how would you call yourself?

I like it because sincerely we are Indigenous because we are of a different ethnicity and for that reason it is a source of pride.
I am very happy, but due to the discrimination which exists, many do not accept and feel comfortable being Indigenous. What I wear is worth more than wearing jeans and I’m proud of my culture.

What does it mean for you to be Indigenous?

It means a lot of things, and it also carries a lot of wisdom. I also think that people who are not Indigenous, sometimes don't manage to survive when, for example, a catastrophe happens or when there is no job possibility. Instead, we can weave, and we can survive making our own clothing. It is a great wealth which our Maya ancestors have left us.

Who taught you how to weave?

My mother taught me. Also, my grandmother taught me a little bit, but it is more important that the mother teaches the children. And here in our village we learn to weave at 5 years old.

It's like a toy that we have. And at 8 years old, the weavings must be more formal. And the first weaving we do, the grandmother teaches us that it is part of the Maya culture, of our ancestors. We make those small cloths, to clean the comal, which is the flat griddle to make the tortillas above the fire. It’s a tradition, where we put the salt on the comal and then clean it and we pass the warm cloth to our hands. It’s said that after this kind of ceremony, we are able to make the best and quickest weavings.

What is the Indigenous culture like today in contrast to the past? Have the traditions been maintained?

The traditions have been maintained. The cultures survive but many things have been unfortunately lost as well, due to discrimination, which was stronger than nowadays.

They treated us very badly, they thought we were stupid, that we didn't know anything, that we don't bathe and that we don't wear underwear. That was traumatizing! And because of this, many young people have taken off their costumes. They say that they are not Indigenous because of racism.

In our village, there was a traditional clothing for men but unfortunately because of racism they took it off. They also killed someone who wanted to get into politics, they killed him because they said he was stupid for being Indigenous. They said that he didn't know anything, and he can’t govern the country.

Thank God, I am very proud of my daughter, she is very happy with her culture, her ethnicity, and she likes to wear the huipil. She says she likes to wear it and she knows others can’t make the costume she wears. If they tell them she is stupid, they are more stupid. She knows how to defend herself very well.

So far, the discrimination has been broken down a little more. People are now understanding and appreciating us more.

Even in the Campero Pollo and McDonalds or in shopping malls, they write in Kaqchikel and Spanish - before they didn't want to know about us.

Did the Indigenous culture also got lost due to Christianity?

Yes, also in parts, but more in other places.

How is it for you when non-Indigenous people wear Huipiles?

I feel that it helps free us from racism. You can see that other people are interested in us. I feel very happy and calm knowing that they value our things.

Have you suffered discrimination and do you have any particular experience you would like to share?

I haven't, thank God, but in general we have suffered. I studied in the capital and I was the only Indigenous person because they gave me a scholarship for a year. Discrimination didn't affect me and they treated me very well.

I think it is because of lack of education. I met people with a lot of money and they were very respectful. I met a woman, a millionaire, she invited us to her mansion and she and her family never discriminated against us. The people without money were the most that hit us.

Sometimes, people in Guatemala, they think we are called “Marias” or “Indians.” They call us names, they generalize us. And it is not right but they want us to feel bad.

But I feel good and very proud of my culture and if something is going to happen, I am not going to leave. Now there are laws for Indigenous people and you can be denounced if something happens.

And us being descendants of the Mayas, we always have part of wisdom. They may call us useless, but we carry a lot of positive things inside us.

We will never starve, we can eat herbs and animals from the field, beans, tortillas. And if there is no work, we can't buy clothes, we can make our own clothes and we don't die of nakedness or hunger.

What is the most important thing about your culture and why?

The most important thing for me, is to know how to weave. I am an accountant, but I don't work because I like to be my own boss. The most important thing is to weave and to teach my daughter.

What traditions do you practice in your family and community?

It means that a girl has know how to weave because she has to weave a cloth for the mother-in-law and the grandparents. This is still done and nothing has changed.

The proposal of the woman’s hand has to be on a Saturday night. And the boy's family goes to the girl's family's house and brings baskets of fruit, cake, breads, chocolate, and the engagement ring. It’s a kind of buying the woman [joking and laughing].

And talking about the religious part - there are the most important local people in town, which are member of Christian churches.

What is the position of the Indigenous woman?

A woman has a lot of intelligence. And she will never expect only the man to bring money to the house. We also bring money to the family. By our nature, the Indigenous woman is more prepared to survive and not depend on the man.

You want to share something else?

I feel very happy because being Indigenous is very joyful, we know more although people don't believe that. But we have a lot of experiences and, I also believe, that the tourists come to Guatemala for us, and they love us. It gives us the sense of being more special. I feel very happy, and I love what I do, working with textiles and tourists. 

 

"Maybe they want to discriminate us, but we don't allow ourselves to be discriminated against."

Anacleta, the mother of Irla, has also worked with textiles for years and has her own shop in Antigua, where she sells antique textiles from around the country at her advanced age.

In this picture you see Anacleta (right) and her husband, Luis (left). The whole family, sons, daughters, and grandchildren live in a big house and she takes care of many things in the household.

Do you like to be called Indigenous? Or how would you call yourself?

I like to be called Indigenous, because since generations, we are like that - our ethnicity is Kaqchikel. I am very proud to be Indigenous and Guatemalan.

What does it mean for you to be a weaver?

Weaving is our work and as an Indigenous person we show our work, our designs, our culture, and our customs.

Who taught you how to weave?

I learned from my mother and it passes from generation to generation. And I learned when I was 5 years old. She made me work and did not let me study. Because our custom in our culture is to work and that's why I learned from her. She died at 102 years old - she was a working woman.

What is the Indigenous culture like today in contrast to the past? Have the traditions been maintained?

Unfortunately, the younger generations are changing them. They don't want to speak our language anymore; they don't want to do our customs. But we’re happy that nowadays, being Indigenous and showing our culture is no longer a sin – everything became normal.

Have you suffered discrimination and do you have any particular experience you would like to share?

Maybe they want to discriminate us, but we don't allow ourselves to be discriminated against. We have to show who we are, and I tell everyone that I am Indigenous, and I like my culture, my food, my customs, and everything.

And if they want to discriminate me, I know how to defend myself.

What traditions do you practice in your family or in your community?

Well, first, we have to be a good example. If I, as an older person, don't set an example, the family is destroyed. And then other people can be examples. And of course, I'm a weaver, I'm a cook, I'm a housewife, and everything that is connected to work.

 

"The word “native” has more expression and honors the people from the earth and somehow explains what the community means for us." 

Walter is a native from the Lake Atitlán.
For eight years he has dedicated himself to spiritual Maya practices and shares his knowledge with the tourists in his village.
He offers traditional Maya cacao and Fire Ceremonies and trains other local people to do these ceremonies to keep the ancestral practice alive.

Do you like to be called Indigenous? Or how would you call yourself?

I prefer to be called “native.” I honestly don’t know about the origin of the word “indigenous,” but it sounds like “not worth to bear.” The word “native” has more expression and honors the people from the earth and somehow explains what the community means for us.

What does it mean for you to be a spiritual Maya ceremonialist?

To be born of this precise land, like being the seed of this place. It’s about understanding the need and the feeling of being of this community.

What does it mean for you to be native?

Someone who is born at a place, and it doesn't matter where you are from.

For me being native is being connected, rooted in your land, and looking for solutions for the benefit of the community.

How did you learn to make Fire Ceremonies?

My great grandfather already used perform to Maya Fire Ceremonies, which got lost in the next generation due to discrimination.

I wanted to revive this tradition in my family and so I learned how to do so in another village.

And, of course, it’s beautiful, when we have the opportunity to talk to the fire and understand the spirit and essence around it.

Someone who works with ceremonies understands the spirit and essence around it, being thankful for life and always learning and connecting.

What is the Indigenous culture like today in contrast to the past? Have the traditions been maintained?

The practices continue. Some things have been lost but when we talk about languages, they are not lost. There are many languages that are still alive.

They are practices, they are not "customs." People who are a little bit far from those traditions say "custom." Because custom is something that you are used to and not something that you feel. Practice is something you are improving and are conscious of.

Have you suffered discrimination, and do you have any particular experience you would like to share?

Yes, I had an experience in a restaurant, where they talked about us. And I speak English, so I could understand. I didn’t really want to make any trouble, so I didn’t start a discussion. It was basically just a few words, and I was a little bit annoyed but that's all.

Just that experience. And also, I don't mind because I was already mature in some aspects and I'm happy that I can speak in my language.

What is the most important thing about your culture and why?

I would say the language because it holds deep secrets. And because it is also the way you can communicate. When we have the opportunity to study languages, we can see certain things and see that language tells many things. 

What traditions do you practice in your family or community?

My mom weaves and my dad does farm work like planting corn and the typical fruit from San Marcos - Jocote.

So, we have a deep connection with nature and the fire ceremonies.

There is also the village fair - on April 25th people get together. Every village in Guatemala celebrates it and it is a very special day. There are different cultural activities, a lot of sales, a lot of Jocote, a lot of music, bridal and wedding ceremonies. 

"Our work as a weaver is important to generate food for our family. To move forward. As an Indigenous person we always work so that our children can go to school."

Elena (right) and Manuel (left) are from a village from the region of Sololá and have worked for many years as backstrap loom weavers, foot loom weavers and embroiderers. In their house they have big foot looms, where they and their children weave “cortes,” which are the traditional skirts of Guatemala. They always travel with huge bags of textiles to different markets in the region and sell them to tourists.

Do you like to be called Indigenous? 

Elena and Manuel: Yes, we like it!

What does it mean for you to be a weaver?

Elena: It is the tradition here in our community, and for me it is important to weave, also to make money for our family.

What does it mean for you to be a weaver?

Manuel: Our work as a weaver is important to generate food for our family. To move forward. As an Indigenous person we always work so that our children can go to school.

How did you learn to weave?

Elena: My mom taught me when I was eight years old. My father died 22 years ago, and my mother was alone with nine children and two of my brothers died in the pandemic. My whole family weaves and has looms. That’s how we struggle through life to make a living, to eat for our family.

Manuel: I learned little by little and when I was older, I started weaving. I didn't learn from my parents because they cultivated the land. I feel proud to do that work.

What is the Indigenous culture like today in contrast to the past? Have the traditions been maintained?

Elena: Talking about the weaving, the designs have changed; I think the quality has been lost and the work is done more by machine.

Manuel: Yes, in 40 years things have changed. Today I no longer wear traditional clothes, also because of the cold as traditional clothes are short. The traditional clothes have changed too - before there were not many colors and now, we use many colors.

Have you suffered discrimination and do you have any particular experience you would like to share?

Elena: It never happened to me; I was always treated well.

Manuel: No, because here in our villages there are many weavers and we always respect each other.

What is the most important thing about your culture and why?

Elena: Weaving is very important, also selling. And to keep my family going.

Manuel: Cultivating the land, our weavings, and the language.

What traditions do you practice in your family or community?

Elena: I am evangelical, and I practice that.

Manuel: The village activity is practiced every year, which is happening around the 25th of November. There are Maya ceremonies too. 

 

 

All photos were taken by Lisa, except Walter's, by Nehemias Sancoy. 

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