Friday, April 22, 2011

Ladinos and Mayas

Some very brief observations about inter-ethnic relations. This comes from today's meanderings through Semana Santa/Viernes Santo activities in Chichicastenango and Chinique. Both municipalities -- a municipality is not just the town but more like a township -- have populations that are over 80% indigenous. I don't know enough about the history of ethnic shifts in either town. Chichicastenango was established under colonial rule as a "pueblo de indios" (an "Indian" town) -- which was supposed to mean that non-indigenous people were not supposed to live there. This was part of the Spanish policy to contain and control the indigenous -- concentrate them in towns that were allowed to have a degree of self-governance but in the end subservient to the colonial regime. Something like that. In my previous visits to Chichi, I have seen very few Ladinos -- mostly because I go to the offices of Ixmukané and then to the market, where I would estimate that over 90% of the vendors (maybe 100%) are indigenous. And so are most of the people walking around. I don't know enough about Chinique's origins; I think it was a pueblo de indios also but I'll have to check. The town's official website is no longer available; I had looked at it about a week ago and just tried again and got a "this account has been suspended" message. So I'll have to try somewhere else, at another time.

Both towns, like most of the country, have Good Friday processions that trace the stations of the Cross. I will write about the processions in more detail at another time. However, something that was striking in Chichi was that nearly all of the participants in the procession -- the priests, the people who carried the statues of Christ and the Virgin Mary, the people who sang, the musicians, and everyone else who walked the entire route -- were indigenous. At least they were at the start: with the exception of 3 foreigners (including me), everyone else was indigenous. As we walked the route, there were people on the sidewalks watching, or watching from the doorways of their stores or homes: a mixture of Ladinos and Maya.

However, when we got to the actual "stations" (small shrines set up on the street outside a store, or a home, or just at an intersection), it seemed that most of the people who had made the stations (they were all privately made; you could see the owners/constructors standing alongside of or behind their creations, or putting finishing touches) were Ladino. So there were several well-dressed (generally) Ladinos standing alongside an altar, and large numbers of Maya (I didn't see any women not in traje at the start) passing by.  A few of the stations, as we got to the higher numbers, seemed to have been made by Maya or by some mixed group of people. So I'll have to look into this. A few of the Ladinos who had made these stations did join in the procession after the procession had passed their station, and once the procession had reached the church and people entered, a number of Ladino families who had not been in the procession came into the church. But the contrast was pretty striking.

In Chinique, the procession never took place because of the rain. The alfombras (decorative "carpets" made of sawdust, pine, flowers, laid out on the street) were being made by young people, mostly Maya but some Ladinos as well. I only saw a few of the actual "stations" and some seemed to be at stores that were owned by Ladinos; one was in front of a private house. I was photographing it and a Ladina in her 40s came out and started to talk to me and then invited me in. This is one of the few houses of a Ladino family where I have actually entered and eaten a meal. It was a large house with 2 floors, and rooms on 3 sides of a central patio. We went down a short hall, across the patio and into a dining room. Everyone was very friendly. But what I noticed immediately was a young Maya girl; at first I thought she might be part of the extended family (there are some, not many, "intermarriages") but then she took plates and went into the outdoor patio. A little while later a Maya woman appeared, took some more plates: the girl's mother. No one said anything to either of them; it was almost as though they were not there. There was a young Maya boy -- probably the woman's son, I'm guessing. I really don't know. I didn't ask questions. The boy, however, was playing with the other children, who were apparently the children "of the house" or of the visitors (I didn't stay long enough to figure out who actually lived in the house and who was a relative or friend who lived elsewhere). The girl disappeared into the patio not long after I first saw her; in fact, until I saw her mother, I had an uncomfortable jolt that she was the servant.  The boy, however, seemed to be more free to roam around and spoke a few times. However in retrospect it seems he might have been minding the little girl who had come with one of the women as I recall seeing him holding her by both hands and walking across the patio and standing at the doorway looking out. Perhaps he was working after all.  In contrast to the females, nonetheless, he seemed more at ease in the presence of the Ladinos. The woman did not speak to anyone (maybe one of the family went outside and spoke to her), nor did she make eye contact.

At one point I looked up and saw a load of firewood -- leña -- entering the door, as it were. that's what it looked like as I saw the wood first, then the person carrying it: a woman. She had the wood tied with a cord and balanced on her head. Right behind her was a boy, her son undoubtedly, carrying a load of wood on his shoulders and back using a forehead strap. The transaction, from what I could see, seemed solely business-like. No chit chat, no easy banter of the kind one might have with a tradesman or woman with whom one does business regularly. I didn't see enough at the beginning to know whether this was a pre-arranged delivery (meaning that this household was a regular customer of this woman and her son) or whether the wood-sellers were simply walking through town carrying wood and hoping someone would buy it from them. I tend to think the former: given that this was viernes santo, and the town is mostly shut down, it seems unlikely that someone would pile a load of wood on her head and walk into town from an aldea on the slim chance that she would find a buyer. On market day, or a normal week day, sure, one sees a handful of people, often old men or young boys, carrying wood to sell. 

At one point in the conversation (I drifted in and out of paying attention to any single line of conversation) I overheard one of the people saying something about "Oh, then we'd have to send the criada (servant) to do such and such a thing..."

This is offered without analysis, just some observations.

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