Youtube; Palenque Roja:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-9MQ5sv0Ug
I went on a tour of a Mayan village some distance away from San Cristobel where we visited two different churches that ostensibly looked Christian
. However, I was informed by the guide that they were dedicated to the Mayan religion which is more of a pagan belief. They have three crosses that represent the Sky, Earth and the Underworld. The number nine also has a strong reference in Mayan religious beliefs. It refers to the nine levels of the underworld, similar to Christian beliefs as can be found in such works as Dante’s Inferno. But that is where the similarities seem to end. They have strong beliefs in Shamanic healing which involves incantations and candles of varying colours dependent on what they are trying to achieve. Live chickens are also used but I did not see any sacrifices although this still happens. They also use incense from oak that is heavily wafted around the church hall. In times gone past the healers would use various fluid concoctions to call the gods and aid in their visions and meditation. They now use Coca Cola. It’s cheaper apparently. They also believe that the burping produced by said drink helps to rid the healer of any bad energy that they release from the patient. Beliefs are a very powerful force and seem to work for the locals even when it may seem ludicrous to the outsider.
The other interesting fact I learnt was that they do not have any priests in their religion. Someone from the community is elected to perform ceremonies and holds office as the ‘Spiritual leader’ for one year
. For most Mayans this is an extra-ordinary honour but it takes most families up to ten years to save to be able to afford this position as the ‘spiritual leader’ has to provide all resources in the ceremonies performed for the community. And everyone in the family has to be involved. It is part of the rules from the ageing grandma to the smallest of children.
You may have heard of certain peoples around the world who believe that photographs are an evil thing with trapped souls in the picture and so on. Well the Mayans generally regard cameras with the same suspicion. We were advised that no photos should be taken of Mayans around the market outside the church and especially in the church. I did notice the odd westerner who either ignored this rule or was not aware of this rule causing Mayans to cover their faces as camera clicked here and there. Having heard about this belief many years ago and seen it portrayed in movies it was a little surreal to see it in real life.
Overall my experience amongst the Mayan culture was quite an eye opener. After believing for such a long time this culture was dead I find it remains very strong in Mexico. I also understand this remains so throughout the areas where the Mayan tribes were strong which covers the areas of Southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. They are very much seen as an underclass here. I never witnessed any active prejudice or discrimination although I was told it remains as strong here as anti-black is back home although not as strong as the anti-Semitism seen in Palestine or anti-Palestinian activity seen in the West Bank. There are moves to provide education for the children with funded schools here and there but many families choose not to send their children here finding they earn far more money begging with their children in tow in the streets of the towns and cities
. I mentioned the little girl and the chessman in Oaxaca in a previous blog; the sight of that little girl and others like her is common place and I have seen it in every town and city that I have travelled in Mexico. It’s part of the daily existence here. The government appear to be trying to change attitudes and provide indigenous people better living facilities alongside charities that provide resources to help women set up small businesses such as funding a mobile phone. But the resistance from the non-indigenous people to accept the Mayan way can be as strong as the resistance from the indigenous people to change. For example, the government have provided funds for concrete floors and concrete walls for housing. Some choose to make the most of this and some prefer to continue living in houses made of mud bricks with dirt floors. As with most cultures the younger generations seem to lead the changes as they adopt new ideas and embrace new principles.
Aside from the culture tours we embarked on a fast boat canyon ride. The scenery was awesome. There are three river pictures in this blog one of a small crocodile we saw. It didn’t do much even when I dangled Julie over the edge of the boat by her ankles; a fussy eater clearly. The second picture is of the canyon, or at least part of it. The cliff to the left is the tallest part of the cliffs that line the river. Apparently when the Spaniards arrived and they were introducing the Mayans to fire and sword the Mayan warriors, instead of allowing them-selves to be captured, threw themselves off the cliff to their deaths in the river below. The third picture is a small shrine dedicated to the image seen in the rocks. The locals believe it is Jesus Christ and therefore a very sacred place. You can see for yourselves the image dead centre of the picture. Make your own minds up.
We spent five days in this town and embarked on a number of tours and went to see one show in the evening called 'Palenque Roja'. You can get some of the play on Youtube. It’s an ancient Mayan story describing the struggle of a tribe and their leader as he is drawn into the underworld but overcomes his challenges to be reborn, or something like that. In fact Julie tells me it about two tribes and the struggle for dominance. I think I’m right but you can make your own minds up with a little research on the web. The show is in Mayan and is difficult to understand but the imagery is relatively easy to follow and at times quite spectacular.