This week, Julia and I visited the pueblo of Zunil, Lake Chicabal, and El Museo de Trajes Typicos (The Museum of Traditional Clothing). Each place showed us a different aspect of Mayan culture, which is the primary reason Nora chose them.
Zunil is a small pueblo not far outside of Xela whose primary industry is growing vegetables. We had driven through it before on the way to the sauna and the Fuentes Georginas, but this time we stopped to walk around. First, we visited a woman’s home, where she has two locally important shrines. One is to San Simon, a saint not recognized by the Catholic church because people pray to him to cause harm and use alcohol and cigarettes in their rituals. In her yard, she has a Mayan altar with various sculptures. People come from around the area to pray there. Around her courtyard were plaques representing the twenty days of the Mayan lunar year, each with its associated spirit.
From there, we went to a women’s weaving cooperative, started after the Guatemalan civil war. Because so many men died, their widows, many of whom had children, needed a way to support themselves. Their products are really beautiful, and the amount of work put in each is impressive: a ‘simple’ belt requires two days of work, 6-8 hours each day.
We made our way to the town square, where the church had recently been repainted, and then returned to Xela.
Lake Chicabal was our weekend hike. Once you arrive, it looks like an average lake. But the climb up drives home that it is in the crater of a volcano, albeit one of the smallest volcanoes in Guatemala. The hike up was not that bad, and we could see Santa Maria and Santiaguito, which – don’t freak out – was erupting slightly. Just enough to hear and see some smoke, no ash or anything.
Lake Chicabal is a sacred lake in the Mayan religion, so swimming is forbidden. It is surrounded by twenty altars, one for each of the spirits. Your particular spirit is determined by the day of your birth. The altars are used for ceremonies, and flowers are left in the water. We saw several as we walked around the lake.
Today, we visited El Museo de Trajes Typicos, a museum dedicated to education about Mayan culture, particularly traditional Mayan clothing. It was extremely interesting. They have a collection of trajes from different areas in Guatemala, as well as other crafts, such as pottery, that are unique to the specific regions. The designs and colors themselves are unique to the region or city and contain a lot of symbolism. For example, the designs of one village had a sun around the collar, and four designs on the front, back, and sleeves, which represented the equinoxes and solstices. In another village, flocks of colorful birds were embroidered around the edges, reminding the wearer that the village’s name meant house of birds before it was changed by the Spanish. I was particularly intrigued by the copies they had of the remaining Mayan codices, which show early examples of Mayan clothing, as well as Mayan hieroglyphs, which have fascinated me ever since reading Lost Languages, a book about deciphered and undeciphered ancient scripts.
Guatemala is considered the center of Mayan civilization and culture, so I’m glad to have the opportunity to explore this aspect of Guatemala while I’m here.