Text and Photograph by Teodora C. Hasegan.
In Guatemala the rich traditions of the Maya culture can still be found in the highlands around Lake Atitlán (Lago de Atitlán). In the town of Santiago Atitlán, the indigenous Tz'utujil Mayas revere Maximón (also called San Simón), who represents a saint-like figure — a mixture of traditional Mayan deities, Catholic saints and conquistador legends. Maximón has a festival day on October 28, which is also the Roman Catholic calendar day for San Simón. The worshipers offer liquor, tobacco and money in exchange for favors (for example good health and good crops). Because the veneration of Maximón is not approved by the Roman Catholic Church, its wooden figure is kept every year in a different house of members of the Cofradías (a religious group responsible for the care of the saint image), but it is displayed in the procession for the Holy Week.
After visiting the Catholic Church in Santiago Atitlán, I had to ask a local man to guide me to the place where Maximón was housed. After walking for about seven minutes, we entered a courtyard and then, inside a house that had otherwise nothing distinctive, I saw the saint's statue, guarded by several men. The keepers of his shrine (who are always men) asked me to pay an admission price and a further charge for taking photographs. It was quiet and the only light was coming from the lit candles around the statue. Maximón was dressed with colorful ties and a black hat, and he had a cigarette in his mouth. There were two other shrines next to Maximón, adorned with flowers and candles. After I took three pictures, I thanked the keepers of the shrine and walked out of the quiet house and the courtyard. I was back in the frenzy of the streets — people from villages around Lago Atitlán had come to Santiago Atitlán for the market day. Traditions still have a place in the daily lives of the indigenous peoples at Lago de Atitlán.
The Tz'utujil Maya are featured in our documentary, Ancient and Modern Mayan Peoples.
Learn more about the Tz'utujil Maya people.
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