Mayan People Fight Against Racism in Guatemala

Ilustración: Desirée Cordón. @deeilustra
Desirée Cordón.

The Mayan People in Guatemala are in mourning and demand justice for the lynching of the spiritual elder Domingo Choc—Ajq’ij and Aj Ilonel (herbalist and spiritual guide)—who was accused of being a “sorcerer” and burned alive on June 7. Known as “Abuelo Domingo” or “Tata Mingo,” Domingo Choc was an expert in traditional medicine and also a member of the Association of Councils of Spiritual Guides Releb’aal Saq’e ’(ACGERS). He contributed to two joint investigations from the Universities of Zurich, Switzerland, University College of London, England, and the Universidad del Valle of Guatemala. He was a firm believer that ancestral knowledge should be shared with the new generations.

Two men and two women were arrested on charges of his murder. Mayan social organizations and spokespersons have mobilized to demand justice but also pronounced themselves against the racism that still pervades in Guatemala, a consequence of colonialism and the dirty war that ravaged the country.

Ilustración del Consejo del Pueblo Maya, CPO,

“During the last genocide, one of the justifications that Ríos Montt used to legitimize his crimes against the Mayan communities was to say that the indigenous people deserved to die because they were witches, who only brought curses to the country. And all of this was part of the indoctrination of the military training,” said Dr. Aura Cumes, Maya-Kaqchikel anthropologist, researcher and teacher during a virtual seminar organized by the Council of the Maya People.

Between 1960 and 1996, more than 200,000 people lost their lives, the vast majority of them indigenous, in a dirty war where forced recruitment and racism was used by the state as the main repressive tool, with full support from the US government. The murder of Domingo Choc has revived a national debate in Guatemala about the deep structural root of this racism, in a country where 41% of the population is indigenous, survivors of an ethnocidal armed conflict.

In a joint statement (see PDF below), more than 21 organizations and multiple Guatemalan personalities denounced:

The persecution and criminalization of  Mayan culture knowledge specialists has not stopped. It started from colonial times. Invaders and parish priests, in the name of God, of the church and of the King of Spain, apprehended, stoned and murdered our grandmothers and grandfathers Ajkun, Iyom, Ajq’ij, and others. In addition, they burned the books, papyri and paintings, masterpieces of our grandmothers and grandfathers. During the internal armed conflict, in the 1980s, the army high command, in its counterinsurgency strategy, linked witchcraft to support for the guerrillas, thus justifying the criminalization, persecution, torture and murder of our great grandmothers and grandfathers, wise men and women of the Mayan culture.

Colonial domination, adds Dr. Cumes, has created an acceptance and internalization of the reproduction of violence. Religion and the western world have created this feeling of superiority over Mayan knowledge that must be questioned. “Only Christian dogma, originating from Western civilization, which can also be secular, with its machinery of death, can efface and label the wisdom and knowledge that generated life in Mayan societies for at least 15 centuries, as witchcraft,” Dr. Cumes said. “Our reconstitution as Mayas is something we must to do.”

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In Guatemala racism is an open wound and there is still a middle and upper class that is outraged at racism in the US, even joined the #BlackLivesMatter social critics, but have their eyes closed to the national reality. To counter this attitude, various indigenous leaders denounced a society where being indigenous is questioned and persecuted every day, by using the hashtags #GuateRacista and #LasVidasMayasImportan on social media.

Professionals from all fields that have indigenous roots or recognize themselves as members of an indigenous group, are questioning a country that presents itself as an indigenous “tourist attraction,” even calling itself “The Heart of the Mayan World,” but openly discriminates against its original inhabitants.

“Evidence of racism does not make us resentful, as many have pointed out. Let us not forget that denying racism is denying all the inequalities and historical violence that has and continues to affect indigenous peoples and indigenous women,” wrote singer-songwriter Sara Curruchich on her Twitter account.

“The religious fundamentalism that invades Native people is the result of colonization, because there is an inescapable link between impoverishment and dependence on religion. Domingo Choc was assassinated by a mob of people impoverished by structural racism whose ideas of the devil , hell and witchcraft were imposed on them through generations, with violence and much pain. Those who killed him are the product of the stripping of knowledge and the worldview that are abhorred by the racist ideology that relates everything native to the savage. His murder is an effect of the dominance that promotes racism,” wrote academic and writer Sandra Xinico Batz in her column for La Hora.

The Oxlajuj Q’anil Collective, a Collective of Mayan Spirituality in Chiapas, Mexico, spoke out strongly against that internalized racism experienced as a sequel to brutal colonialism: “Our hearts are filled with indignation when we see that the peace of our peoples is wounded by brothers of our own blood, but with different way of thinking. We see the deep imprint of colonial thought and the extension of a prolonged war against our peoples …

We ask to work with the community to heal trauma and collective pain … We do not want children to grow up in fear or afraid to follow the ancient knowledge of our peoples, we want people who feel free to express our Spirituality. “

The Mayan People seek to rebuild a Guatemala free from linear colonial thought, for that reason, the call to the “right to express our Spirituality,” so that the next generation can reconnect with their ancestors and live in harmony with the Earth. The Mayan People once again demand respect and dignity, in all its complexity.

“Our ancestors for 15 centuries did not need [western] ‘science’ to understand the meaning of life, to create their own ways of subsistence, to make their own clothing, to take care of all life, to establish their own ways of government, to realize that we are not the center of the universe but one more thread in the fabric of the pluriverse,” Dr. Aura Cumes said, closing the circle.

As mentioned in the collective action statement:

The Mayan culture is holistic, in this framework the knowledge of plants and healing ceremonies are joint expressions, that is why Abuelo Domingo was Aj-ilonel and Ajq’ij at the same time, because to work with plants you must be in communication with the air, water, fire and earth, as well as with the ancestors…

For his perpetrators a witch died, but for us, Tat Domingo became a new star of light, of life, of truth and justice. He will be in our invocations and in our ceremonies. No one will be able to prevent it.

Dear Domingo Choc, your memory and teachings will live on forever.