A World of Reading for Maya Children in Guatemala

 
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Oct 30, 2013

A Journey into Santiago's Past

Two students after the activity
Two students after the activity

Our school library in Chukmuk has been bursting at the seams for end of year activities, but we’d like to take this opportunity to highlight one special moment.

In light of Guatemala’s independence day in mid-September, our library staff organized an activity for students to reflect on Santiago’s cultural heritage.

(Spoiler alert: if you read through the end of this report, you’ll find a video these very students put together to thank you for your support!)

The activity started with Lidia, our project librarian, telling students a legend passed down through generations in Tz’utujil – the Mayan dialect in Santiago.

Sometime in the long distant past, there was a family in Santiago with two pairs of twin brothers. The older twins, Jun Batz and Jun Chowen, were easily angry and jealous of the younger twins, Junajpu and Ixbalamke, who were kind, smart, and loved throughout the community. Time and time again, the older twins would pick up their younger siblings and throw them into the anthills and thorn bushes that formed outside the family’s adobe hut. 

One day, the younger siblings decided to get revenge. Together they wandered into the forest and found a magical tree that, early in the morning, would sprout enormous branches, widen its trunk, and rise hundreds of feet into the sky.

That night, they found their older brothers outside the house and challenged them to a competition: both pairs of twins would leave the next morning to go bird hunting, and the ones that caught more birds by sundown would get to live in the house, while the other twins would have to move into the forest. The older brothers accepted. As the younger twins walked away, they whispered a plan just loudly enough for their older brothers to hear: “we’ll meet early at the base of the tree we found,” they said, “because the biggest and most beautiful birds in the forest live there.”

The next morning, the older brothers woke up before their siblings, crept out of the house, and ran to the tree, where they climbed into the branches and waited for the birds to appear. They snickered about their brothers’ misfortune and argued over how to divide the new space they were sure to have in the house.

But just as the sun tiptoed onto the horizon, the tree sprouted new branches, widened its trunk, and began to rise into the sky.

When the younger brothers arrived to the tree later that morning, their older brothers were already too high to climb down. They cowered against the tree’s trunk and tried to call down to the younger twins for help, but instead of words all they were able utter were grunts and yelps. They began to grow long tails and hair all over their faces and arms. By the time the sun sank behind the mountains, the older brothers had transformed completely into monkeys. Unable to go home to their house and community, they lived the rest of their days in the upper branches of the forest, a testament to the moral that one should never envy or mistreat a brother.

Oral history has it that much of Santiago’s population descended from the younger brothers, and as a result community members today ought to treat each other with the same respect that the older brothers ought to have afforded their siblings.

As the students thought about the story, Lidia divided them into groups and gave each group an old photo from Atitlán’s Digital Archive Project, most of which had been taken as many as fifty years ago. There were photos of the market, the central church, and the beach, as well as the paths and houses nearby.

Each group was asked to describe what they saw, focusing on the differences and similarities between the two eras. The students were fascinated. The traditional clothing had changed entirely, as had the layout of village landmarks. It took most of them a few minutes to equate what they saw in the photos with the buildings and landscapes that they walk by every morning!

Even more striking for the students, however, were the similarities. While the market had changed, the fruits and vegetables being sold were the same, as were the baskets and hollowed out wooden canoes that farmers use to catch 'mojarra,' the local fish. Pathways between houses looked the same and the lake rested a few feet below where just a few years ago the community constructed a new playground for children (since the rainy season the lake has grown to flood the playground, but the curve of the shore is still there).

“It encouraged students to think about kinship, the direct connection they still have to their ancestors, and a different way of life in Santiago,” said Lidia.

The students’ journey into Santiago’s past would not have been possible without your support. In fact, they’ve compiled a video to thank you directly: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8cZuTNdnCk&feature=plcp

From all of us here at the lake, we appreciate your generosity, and be sure to check back soon for more updates!

Students crowd around Lidia, our librarian
Students crowd around Lidia, our librarian
One of the photos used in the activity
One of the photos used in the activity
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Organization

Project Leader

Rosemary Trent

Executive Director
Washington, DC United States

Where is this project located?

Map of A World of Reading for Maya Children in Guatemala