Mayan people fight against racism in Guatemala

Ilustración: Desirée Cordón. @deeilustra
Illustration: Desirée Cordón. @deeilustra
Desirée Cordón.

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

Two men and women were arrested and charged with his murder. Mayan social organizations and spokespersons have mobilized to demand justice but also to call against the racism that still survives in Guatemala, as a result of colonialism and the dirty war of the last century.

Illustration by Consejo del Pueblo Maya, CPO,

“During the last genocide, one of the justifications 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, that they 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 webinar organized by the Consejo del Pueblo Maya.

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

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

The persecution and criminalization of specialists in Maya cultural knowledge has not ceased. It began in colonial times. Invaders and doctrineros, in the name of God, the Church and the King of Spain, imprisoned, stoned and murdered the 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 with guerrilla support, thus justifying the criminalization, persecution, torture and murder of 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 Maya knowledge that must be questioned. “Only Christian dogma, coming from Western civilization, which can also be secular, with its machinery of death can brand as witchcraft the wisdom and knowledge that have created life in Maya societies for at least 15 centuries,” said Dr. Cumes. “Our reconstitution as Mayans is something we need to do.”

In Guatemala racism is an open wound and there is still a middle and upper class in that country that is outraged by the racist attacks in the U.S., joining the #BlackLivesMatter, but closes its eyes to the national reality. To counter this attitude, several indigenous leaders and leaders spoke out on social media with the hashtag #GuateRacista and #LasVidasMayasImportan, against a society where being indigenous is questioned and persecuted every day.

Professionals in all fields who have indigenous roots or recognize themselves as members of an indigenous people have rethought a country that presents itself as an indigenous “tourist attraction,” even calling itself one. “The Heart of the Mayan World”, but in the interior it openly discriminates against its original inhabitants.

“Evidencing racism does not make us resentful, as many point out. Let’s not forget that to deny racism is to deny all the inequalities and historical violence that it has generated and continues to generate against native peoples and indigenous women,” writes singer-songwriter Sara Curruchich on her Twitter account.

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

The Oxlajuj Q’anil Collective, a Mayan Spirituality Collective from Chiapas, Mexico, has made a strong statement against that internalized racism lived as a sequel of brutal colonialism: “Our heart is filled with indignation when we see that the peace of our peoples is wounded by brothers of our own blood, but with different thoughts, we see how the deep imprint of the colonization of the thought of the extension of the prolonged war against our peoples….

We ask that you work with the community to heal the collective trauma and pain… We do not want children with fear or fear to follow the ancestral knowledge of our people, we want people who feel the freedom to express our Spirituality”.

The Maya People seek to rebuild a Guatemala free from linear colonial thinking, hence the call for “the right to express our Spirituality,” so that the next generations 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 ‘science.’ [occidental] to be able to understand the meaning of life, to create their own forms of food, to make their own clothing, to take care of what life gives, to establish forms of government, to realize that we are not the center of the universe but just one more thread in the fabric of the pluriverse,” Dr. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M. M., closes the circle. Aura Cumes.

As mentioned in the collective action statement:

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

For the witchdoctor 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 stop it.

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