Life around the plaza
Cofradia members. Cofradias, or Brotherhoods, are a pattern of organization imported by the Franciscan friars who evangelized in the wake of the Conquest. Cofradias had existed in the European Middle Ages as guilds, before they evolved into religious organizations with the responsibility of caring for the image of a particular saint (in this case Santiago, or St. James). The Cofradia members ensure that the celebration of the saint's day is properly carried out.
ancient Maya beliefs and practices re-emerged and melded with local Catholic rituals, until only a thin veneer of Catholicism remained over deep layers of traditional beliefs. An example of this is the cult of Maximon, a saint/devil figure which emerged during the early colonial period and is still worshiped and respected. The Spanish priests first tried to coopt the cult, and then to eradicate it, but without success. The age-old Catholic practice of coopting pagan festivals and symbols in order to speed the evangelization process actually made reverse-cooptation easier.
25 centavo coin? Once again, Caravan Tour Director Jorge had the answer. A local woman named Maria, now deceased, modeled for the artist who created the coin design. Her profile, wearing the unique Tz'utujil hat called toyocal, has become a symbol of Guatemala's Maya people, much like the Mexican charro, wearing his broad sombrero, has become a symbol of that country. According to Jorge, this coin may soon be replaced, so I hung onto one just in case.
conquistadors needed an ideology to justify for their actions, and to indoctrinate the conquered people into a new religion that required obedience to the new masters. Austere, rigidly hierarchical, and full of evangelical zeal, Spanish Catholicism fit the bill perfectly. The Church, in turn, needed the sword of the conquistadors to suppress the native religions, to enforce mass conversions, and to provide forced labor to build the great Catholic edifices.
globalism. Jorge's opinion is that much of the rich texture of Maya life may disappear in a generation or two. The future may entail the replacement of huipils, cortes, and toyocals by t-shirts, blue jeans, and NY Yankees baseball caps, with Big Macs replacing the age-old menu of beans, squash, and corn. These changes would be of dubious value in my opinion. The Tz'utujil and other Maya will have to decide.
Buying and selling at the street markets
tourist trade for a good part of its economy. The upside is that local crafts, and craftspeople, are supported and the residents can therefore afford modern conveniences such as cell phones and electricity (as well as blue jeans and Yankee caps). The possible downside is that the tourist trade can fluctuate dramatically, influenced by political instability and reports of local crime. Perhaps a more subtle downside is the possible corruption of the local art's original religious and social purposes by the commercial impetus of what sells.
Coffee is one of the cash crops of the area. The altitude and climate are almost ideal for its cultivation. In a later post, we will visit a coffee finca near the old colonial capital of Antigua. We tried some of the coffee in a local café and it was wonderfully rich. Most Americans have no idea what really good coffee tastes like, even though they must pay extravagant prices for the mediocre grade they get at the supermarket.
foot-pedal looms introduced by the Spanish in the 16th Century.
Spanish weaver of the 16th Century would instantly recognize the loom and be able to take over its operation without a second thought.
This completes my 2 postings on Santiago Atitlán. Next we will visit a coffee finca and find out everything you ever wanted to know about Guatemala's great coffee, as well as witnessing a wonderful concert of traditional music by a young Maya trio. I welcome all feedback. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.
If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.
Hasta luego, Jim