the people of Lake Atitlan
30 October 2017
IMAGE – collage of Lake Atitlan people
The majority of its residents of this lakeside village are indigenous Mayans. It was once the capital of the Tz'utujil people in pre-Colombian times.
THE MOST FAMOUS resident of Santiago is the 75 year old Dona (Lady) Concepcion Ramirez, whose face adorns the Guatemalan 25-cent quetzal coin.
In 1959, with a rise in national pride in their Mayan heritage, the Bank of Guatemala commissioned a search to find the most beautiful Mayan woman whose profile would represent the beauty of the Mayan culture. Dona Concepcion Ramirez, known affectionately among her neighbours as Dona Chonita was 17 at the time her photograph was taken, and she has become an inspiration and a voice for women.
People travel from all around the world to visit the woman whose portrait influenced Guatemalan history.
Dona Chonita can be seen wearing traditional Mayan clothing in the portrait, including the Tocoyal, a type of headdress. The styles, patterns and colours of tocoyals used by each village are unique and give a clue to each community's beliefs. The length of the tocoyal is supposed to represent one's life. The longer you've lived, the longer your tocoyal.
We found Dona Chonita sitting in a her small shop selling traditional Mayan goods. She was happy to give us a demonstration of how the tocoyal is worn. It involves wrapping a scarlet red ribbon around her long hair and then continuing to twist the material around her head, wrapping it into a tightly wound coil into a type of hat laid on the top of the head.
The MOST BIZARRE ‘resident’ of Santiago is Maximon, a highland Mayan deity. Shamanism is a way of life in the village of Santiago, and we were to see a ceremony performed by one of the local shamans. Maximon is housed in the home of a different member of the local 'confradia', or local Catholic brotherhood each year.
Maximon turned out to be a wooden figure, dressed in a Stetson hat and brightly coloured scarves and neckties. He smokes cigars and likes a drop of local moonshine!
After a wander through the backstreets and alleyways we arrived at the house where Maximon resided. After receiving our offering ‘fee’ of 10 Quetzales (approximately £1), we were 'invited' into a small, dark room. Maximon was surrounded by some men attending to his every need. There was burning incense and chanting in a language that wasn't Spanish. Maximon was smoking a cigarette and once finished with this, he was offered a drink of ‘special’moonshine. He was tipped backwards and the liquid was poured gently down his throat. It was a bizarre ceremony, and one where we had no idea what it was all about, but it was interesting and slightly amusing.
SAN JUAN LA LAGUNA
The Tz'utujil inhabitants of San Juan La Laguna take great pride in their crafts.
After arrive in this lakeside village and we took a short tuk tuk ride to visit a female-run weaving co-operative. Here, we were given a demonstration on how the fluffy balls of organic cotton are spun and dyed. The dyes used are all natural and are sourced from plants, fruits, vegetables and herbs. We were then shown how the dyed cotton is weaved, using a backstrap loom to create beautiful traditional Mayan textiles. This time-honoured method has been passed down through the generations. Profits from any of the goods bought here are used to support the community. Their clothing, scarves and pillowcases were just beautiful, and I proudly came away with my chosen pillow cover.
The local Mayan women, and a few of the men wear their colourful traditional clothing, not to impress tourists, but for their own cultural reasons. Most couldn't imagine wearing anything else. We noticed each village had its own colour scheme and pattern.