Oxlajuj B’atz’ was preparing for Indigenous People’s Day celebrations at Casa Cakchiquel when I got there on Monday. Both floors of the place were in urgent disarray with all hands engaged. Ladies in clusters were cutting colored backs for printouts detailing the history of the group, names of the exhibitions and types of tipica foods available. Some women were carefully creating a 10’x10’ linguistic map showing the Mayan dialects distributed throughout Guatemala. And, in the tienda, an intense gaggle was about ironing and arranging merchandise. Everyone was running and harried by the number of items that needed to be checked off their lists. In this wild chaos, Lucia Chavez was concentrating. She was preparing questions for the indigenous speakers that would be empanelled in the opening session – a political forum.
Outside, a construction crew built a stage on one side of the garden. The 6” high platform was packed with earth and readied in its rock frame, then, an audience space was cleared and flattened. Concrete footings with ominous looking rebar were in evidence, but workers fitted the impaling rods with wood before setting about sinking temporary posts. These would be used for stretching a white cloth wall covering the rest of the construction site.
I volunteered to hang the show of photos and regional costumes because that looked like a snap. But, it could never have been done without professional help. For a while Robert Eggs assisted patiently guiding photos level and plumb — from the other side of the wall. Then, he called two workers in from the yard. The skilled pair quickly hung several traje ensembles (full “suits” with skirt, quipel and belting) effortlessly from the rafters.
By Saturday morning, Sonidos de mi Tierra, the marimba band had set up in the foyer and Casa was entirely ready to welcome guests. They began arriving by minivan or walking in from the chicken bus stop with kids and grandmas in tow. Greeting them was most delicious. Not only were they dressed to thrill and ready for the day, they were all so friendly and open. So, it was quite surprising that they stayed in their groups rather than “working the room.” From a distance the groups looked like they had intentionally sorted themselves out by color. Within their location’s colors are specific family variations that add personality to the florals, geometrics and animals. Someone from Solola had a fish on her guipel – the first I had seen.
Before the speakers arrived, the Shaman, Sebastiana Pol Suy from Chichicastenango, carefully set up her herb display and drew the Mayan glyph for the day/date before laying small candles in a polar array. She was sharing her platform with a little girl who was amused her brother and two women who would be demonstrating how to make tortillas to the gringos. Exhibitors displayed chocolate, spun, wove and hooked rugs. The garden was buzzing and crowded when the forum began.
The audience listened to indigenous members of Rigoberto Menchu’s party speaking on why women and particularly Mayan women need to find their voices and come out to vote in the upcoming elections. People who are more facile in Spanish than I told me that the panelists made several references and tied current conditions back to the Civil War. It was close to one o’clock when the Arroz Con Pollo Chapina, tamales and rellenos were served. Everyone took her plate back to shady seats under the canvas. As usual, the children were remarkably serene with no electronics or gizmos to amuse themselves. They made their balloons last all day – no squeaking, no popping and not even angling for seconds.
The grand finale was a suite of folk dances performed by barefooted women from Solola. These were mostly line dances with different costumes and props. The first dance was in regular garb with baskets and shawls; a later one had a couple of the women in calf length ceremonial robes waving live incense burners over the other kneeling players. For the last dance they came out in prefab masks and quilted housecoats and took audience members by the hand to do a free swing to the marimba band’s smooth and traditional sound.
The guests left as the garden cooled in the late afternoon shade.