Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Cultural Advisors/Shamans

February 25, 2014 Last week we had a conferencia with a couple who are Mam, one of the many indigenous  groups in Guatemala. (I learned later from Amaro that they were shamans although they referred to themselves as cultural advisors.) They came to share the "cosmovision" of the Mayan peoples.  María Fuertes spoke first.  She was dressed in traditional garments.  (José indicated that they resent the word "costume" as they are not play-acting.)
The Story of the Mayan people in their textiles
As José said, it's hard to shove a 25,000 year history into one hour.  Attention came to the Mayan peoples in 2012 when the Mayan calendar ended "Is this the end of the world?"  And even though the world, for a few short months, was paying attention to the Mayans, José noted that most people still think that the Mayan peoples are extinct or a myth.  The couple lamented that despite provisions in the agreement that ended the Guatemalan civil war 1996, the government of Guatemala does not respect the rights of the indigenous people.  This includes being able to govern themselves in traditional manners.  The comment made me think of the United States and the Nations of Native peoples.  They are "nations" and aren't at the same time.

María  explained that Mayan people live in harmony with nature - Mother Earth.  While there are 22 different languages spoken by indigenous people in Guatemala, their cosmovision is the same and is the same as indigenous people throughout the Americas.  

Some of their understanding is seen in their relationship with maize.  Maize, which is sacred, is grown in five varieties in Guatemala:

Red represents life.  The life in our veins.  Red follows the rising sun.
Black represents the people.  Maria smiled, pointing to herself, "our eyes are black, our hair is black, our skin is dark."  Black also relates to the night and the peace of night.
Sacred Maize
White - is the snow, the dress of Mother Earth (the theme of Mother Earth and dress repeats)  Maria explained, "the snows have gone and there is no rest for Mother Earth as she is prostituted by companies who rape her."
Yellow is the sun, heat and represents strong energy.  
Each corn has a different energy.  The multicolored corn represent the multicultural aspect of humanity.

Other colors in nature are also important to the Mayan people.  Green is the dress of Mother Earth and trees.  Blue is the water and sky.  Brown is the color of Mother Earth.

The Mayan people have sacred numbers.  Seven is a lucky number because people have 2 eyes, 2 ears, 2 nostrils and 1 mouth.  Thirteen, unlike the Western world, is lucky as it represents the number of major joints in the human body: ankles, knees, elbows, wrists, hips, shoulders and neck.  Finally, 20 is sacred because it represents ten fingers and ten toes.  The mathematics which are so associated with the Mayan,  María stated, was learned from their bodies.  

José  talked about this relationship more in depth.  The designs and colors in the clothing of the Mayan are not just artistic.  They show the harmonious relationship of people and earth.  Shapes and images also relate to their understandings and beliefs.  When Bishop  Diego de Landa burned almost all of the books of the Mayans (without reading them), the Mayan people only had their textiles to remind them of their history.  The books which were destroyed were some of the most important works on math, astronomy, natural science and medicine in the world. A few survive - not in the hands of Mayans.

This cosmovision of a deep, intertwined relationship with the natural world is what gives meaning and shape to the Mayan people.  There are special ceremonies to ask permission to cut down trees or disturb the earth for planting.  José  stated, "the trees are our brothers, the animals are our siblings as well."  Water gives all of them life.  They have deep respect for the earth and caring for it.

After the Spanish invasion of 1520 and the 1560 destruction of their library, the Mayan peoples were subjugated.  This oppression, and at times slavery, are seen through a very different lens by the Mayan that the rest of Western Civilization.  "Civilized" Europe invaded, subjugated, took over and now has filled Mother Earth with trash.  Natural disasters such as the blizzard recently that paralyzed D.C. or the Japanese tsunami, are understood as results of the disruption in the proper relationship between people and the earth.

Today there continues to be great discrimination of the indigenous people in Guatemala.  Their children, especially  in the cities, are made to wear uniforms instead of their traditional dress. (Peace accords assured the right of indigenous people to wear their traditional garments.) Mayan children are made to feel ashamed of who they are and so reject the "old ways."  Parents who want their children to "get ahead" promote the rejection of traditional life.

It was one of those moments when I shake my head and wonder what humanity has done to one another.  How one group of people can think that they are so right, so entitled, so directed "by G-d," to invade and destroy another group of people.  Lord forgive us our arrogance, our certainty that our way - whoever we are - is the best way.  Envelope the Mayan peoples in your care and love.  Amen.

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