Anthony Jolley
Humanities Core B
Carolyn Duffey
29 September 2006

Moral Survival

During the time of the Quiché people, as described in the book I, Rigoberta Menchù, we learn how the cultural traditions of Rigoberta and her people have an influence over the manner in which they survive within their community. Parallels between the teachings of the Popul Vuh and Rigoberta’s story demonstrate how the customs of her ancestors have been inherited in modern times. Yet, it has been hard to sustain these customs since the time of their ancestors because they’ve been under attack by Spanish rule. Through the transculturation of having Spanish influence upon the Quiché Maya culture, Rigoberta and her people have adapted to their repressive ways of colonialism out of necessity. By working for the landowners and the ladinos who are loyalists to the Spanish landowners, Rigoberta’s people are subjected to brutal working conditions that involve torture, rape, and murder; thus, treating her people as slaves forcing Rigoberta to become resourceful for the betterment of her people. Although, the repressive effects of Spanish colonialism have reverberated throughout the Quiché Maya history right up until the time of Rigoberta, the cultural traditions, beliefs, and values passed down from their Mayan ancestors are ever-present, provoking a wave of change for the Quiché Maya people.

Like the ancestors before them, the Quiché Maya have preserved their traditions by instilling in their children the values of their heritage, their secrets and their respect for nature. A mother will speak to her child while she is pregnant: “You must never abuse nature and you must live your life as honestly as I do.” (8) From very early on, we see how passing moral values to the heirs of their civilization is essential to the Quiché people. When cultivating their crops, they are told, “Children, the earth is the mother of man, because she gives him food.” (56) Seen as a provider to their very existence, the earth is sacred to them. So they teach their children to respect the earth when sowing their maize. In Rigoberta’s testimony she says, “We must only harm the earth when we are in need. This is why, before we sow our maize, we have to ask the earth’s permission.” (56) Believing that digging into the ground will inhibit their connection with the earth, they show endless grace and gratitude for having to do it. Furthermore, they do not begin to plow or harvest without first addressing the earth in prayer to demonstrate their respect. During harvest of the maize, they celebrate with a fiesta which is first preceded by a ceremony of community prayer and ritual to recognize the seeds they pick for the coming year. “The fiesta really starts months before when we asked the earth’s permission to cultivate her.” (52) It is refreshing to understand how a consequential respect for the land is passed to the youth within the Quiché Maya culture. All of their practices clearly show how the Quiché fit the Maker, Modeler, mother-father of life’s intention in the Popul Vuh for creating the human design which states, "So now let's try to make a giver of praise, giver of respect, provider, nurturer." (79) The Quiché Maya have an absolute affinity with the Maker, the Heart of the Sky, and Heart of the Earth that is expressed in the way they follow the teachings in the Popul Vuh; carrying the traditions of their ancestors for generations, everything natural is sacred to them.

The nahual is also sacred to the Quiché as it was in the time of the Maya for these represent guardians believed to be the spirit guide for each child when they are born. “The nahual is the representative of the earth, the animal world, the sun and water.” (18) As the child’s double, this spirit protects them through life and is usually an animal depending on which of the ten sacred days a child is born. The day of birth determines whether they are to be dogs, cats, horses, bulls, lions or even trees. Similarly, in the Popul Vuh, the Heart of the Sky, Heart of the Earth created the deer, birds, pumas, jaguars, serpents and rattlesnakes to be guardians of the forest and mountains. The role of a nahaul guarding a child throughout his life is comparable to the purpose that the Heart of the Sky, Heart of the Earth had for creating the animal kingdom to be of service on the earth. The Quiché have strong spiritual beliefs. Their traditional and respectful connection with their ancestors, with nature, and their Maker is a powerful one that bears purity in their hearts and protection of their souls. It is understandable how the Quiché people could adapt to Catholic and Christian beliefs brought by the Spanish through transculturation because of their spiritual connection with the natural world. From the values inherent in the Popul Vuh, they can relate their life experiences directly to stories in the Bible. Rigoberta says, “We began to study the Bible as our main text. Many relationships in the Bible are like those we have with our ancestors, our ancestors whose lives were very much like our own.” (131) Intrigued by the relation between man and God in the Bible, they searched for relevant meaning. “We began looking for texts which represented each one of us. We tried to relate them to our Indian culture.” (131) As in the story of Moses leading his people from oppression, Rigoberta sees her people as oppressed and believes that there is salvation to be found and that she must help lead her people to freedom. She believes God had not intended her people to suffer as they do (as a result to the adverse effects colonialism had on the Quiché people); Rigoberta’s people began to change their views of believing that their cultural misfortune was hereditary. She says, “We realized that it is not God’s will that we should live in suffering, that God did not give us this destiny, but that men on earth have imposed this suffering, poverty, misery and discrimination on us.” They understood that God in the Bible is like their Heart of the Sky, Heart of the Earth in the Popul Vuh and began to lead their lives as Christians with as much reverence as they had for their own religion.

In contrast with Western culture, we can see how much the West takes for granted what the Quiché show tremendous appreciation for. Not only seen in their relationship with nature but in they identify with passages in the Bible. After centuries of domination by the Spanish and repression by the landowners, the Quiché Maya strive to maintain traditions that are increasingly under attack by the westernized ladinos who reject any Indian values or Mayan cultural heritage. Adapting to Spanish colonialism for land to live on, for work, and for religion, they are able to strengthen their determination to believe as the Bible educates. To fight back! Rigoberta has organized her community, learned Spanish, written her book as a testimony and gained enough support to bring global attention to the oppression her people suffered to change their fate forever. There is a fundamental sense of duty and integrity gained from the Quiché Maya’s simple and honest lifestyle passed on from their ancestors. From Rigoberta’ story, you really get a clear picture of their gentleness and innocence to the ways of the modern world. Their struggle was not only for the survival of their traditions and civilization, but was to transcend above the unspeakable cruelties pressed upon them for centuries.

© 2009-2013 Anthony Jolley