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Thoughts After Guatemala

Friday, February 13th, 2009

Who are we really?

One of the reasons I like indigenous people is the humility with which they harmonize with their surroundings and environments…but progress and modernity upset this natural equilibrium.  Which is what I think we are witnessing in the world today. Have just finished  Martin Prechtel’s (half native American from New Mexico who became a shaman in a Mayan village in Guatemala. And just started reading Bernard Lewis’s last book “What Went Wrong?” The clash between Islam and modernity in the middle east.  But that’s another conversation.

In the most remote Mayan mountain village we visited, at 13,000 feet and 7 hours from the nearest city, I met a man, looking like he was in his 40’s and dressed norteno (brown leather jacket and levis) who had spent the last 9 years working all over the States.  He was hungry for conversation. I looked at the villagers and at him, seeming so out of place, but knowing he was still essentially Mayan, and  wondered how he feels about his place in his village now.  I wondered about the younger ones too…having abandoned the traditional dress and the huipiles worn now only by the old women…huipiles that soon will only be seen in museums.

We all think about identity and the essential questions.  There are no black and white answers. Martin Prechtel was the son of a Canadian indigenous woman who taught on their Pueblo reservation in New Mexico and a Swiss paleontologist.  He felt lost but found a place and his identity in a traditional Mayan community. Then Guatemala’s generals (with the help of powerful interests including the United States) declared a brutal war on it’s own people that lasted for years and years until Prechtel’s village became paved over with tourists and false incantations for a fee.  Prechtel carried the “Village Heart” back to the “land of the dead” and wrote three books at the request of his Mayan shaman teacher who could see that the traditional world view was being destroyed from without…due to the encroachment of Christianity in cahoots with big business and progress…and guns.

“Shamans say the Village Heart can grow a brand new World House if it is well-dressed in the layered clothing of each indigenous soul’s magic sound,  ancestral songs and indigenous ingenuity. The wrecked landscape of our World House could sprout a renewed world, but a new language has to be found.  We can’t make the old world come alive again, but from it’s old seeds, the next layer could sprout.  This new language would have to grow from the indigenous hearts we all have hidden [within us.]”

Martin Prechtel, writer, teacher, speaker, musician and healer,  in “Secrets Of The Talking Jaguar.”

Oaxaca to Guatemala And Back

Monday, February 9th, 2009



After a lovely visit with my son in Las Vegas, I thought I would have an uneventful Mexicana flight back to Oaxaca.  But of course not.  Changed planes in Mexico City and was told to sit at a certain gate.  About 10 minutes before boarding time I noticed that “Oaxaca” was not posted on the board.  I asked some folks sitting near me if they were going to Oaxaca too.  So asked at the desk again.  Oh, the gate has been changed, they said!  So we all ran. At least I thankfully got the green light in Oaxaca and didn’t have to have all six bags searched. Then heard about the AeroMexico flight that was diverted to Portland because of fog in Seattle…travelers sitting on the plane for four hours at which time the plane flew back to Mexico City and then back to Seattle again.  Don’t think I’m taking a Mexican plane again anytime soon.

Barely had a week to unpack when I joined two friends for a trip to Guatemala to visit small Mayan mountain village markets in the north for two weeks.  Our base was Quetzaltenango (Xela the locals call it, and the 2nd largest city in Guatemala) and took crowded chicken buses and overflowing “collectivo” vans to outlying villages each day…the longest a 7 hour ride to San Mateo Ixtatlan (at 13,000 feet) where older women still wore the “sunburst” huipil.  Half the population of Guatemala is still rural…houses crawling up the mountainsides with no visible roads.  Breathlessly snaking along S curves, with only mountain tops and a dozen volcanos poking through the clouds,  it felt as if we were looking out the window of a plane. Each village still has it’s own language, dress and culture…the most beautiful was the “red and purple village” where men and women both still wore elaborate hand-woven clothing in the traditonal way signifying whether single, married, status etc.

Villages We Visited