Maya people hardly learn anything in school about their own culture. If taught history, it starts with the arrival of the Spanish in 1524 which led to the conquest, or invasion, as Maya prefer to call it. By that time the Maya culture had already existed for some three thousand year. Since there is a crucial lack of knowledge, the first cycle of workshops concentrated on the basics of Maya culture and history.
This second year we will focus more on the history of the area of our participants: the southern Petén and northern Alta Verapaz. Our participants are Q’eqchi’ Maya, but they did not always live in this area. How did they end up living where they are living now; who were the previous inhabitants and what happened to them? We will see that the Q’eqchi’ Maya absorbed a substantial part of the Classic Maya that built cities like Tikal, Ceibal, Cancuén or Caracol, who were Ch’ol-speakers, a language that became extinct here in Guatemala. If you ask what happened to the great pyramid-builders from the past: they still live among us and many of them speak Q’eqchi’ today.
One workshop will be dedicated to the religious conquest of the Maya. In the Q’eqchi’ area of the Verapaz Highlands this started with the work of Bartolomé de las Casas, a well-known Dominican and his companions. Las Casas last incidence in Verapaz’s history was in 1545, and in the course of the sixteenth century the Q’eqchi’ area was largely converted. In the seventeenth century the Dominicans laid their eye on the Ch’olan Lowlands, north of Verapaz. One of the Ch’ol areas there was called Manché.
It so happens that a number of our participants comes from Tzuncal, a village belonging to the Manché Ch’ol, mentioned in several seventeenth century documents. I was invited by the people of Tzuncal to a commemoration of a historic moment: the arrival of the first friars who had come to convert what they called the ‘Maya people’, being the Ch’ol Maya. I was surprised that they knew about this piece of seventeenth century history, because most Q’eqchi’ in Tzuncal don’t go back more than three generations in that area. It appears that these first friars stayed in a cave, the spot where the ceremony was held. A Catholic priest came all the way from San Luis Petén – a 2-3 hours’ drive – to celebrate mass before the entrance of the cave.
Thus, enough interesting facts to investigate together with the people this coming year.