IX. SURVIVAL OF THE COSMOLOGY OF PRE-COLUMBIAN CENTRAL AMERICA, AND THE CENTRAL PLACE OF MAIZE
Direct consultations with the different communities revealed that there is a significant reduction in the "bearers of tradition". These are of value for the explanation of the cosmology as well as for the conservation of ancestral practices and knowledge. The "bearers" are those who explain to the general population aspects that are difficult to understand or who through their practices reproduce in society the symbols and values of each ethnic identity. However, in the process of cultural homogenisation which is progressing substantially in the communities, it is significant that the farming practices of the people are tending towards uniformity, with the disappearance of traditional knowledge of the society-environment relationship.eso de homogeneización de la cultura que avanza sustancialmente en las comunidades, significa que las prácticas productivas de los pueblos también tienden a uniformarse, con la desaparición de los conocimientos tradicionales sobre la relación sociedad -medio ambiente.
Preparation of tortillas, an activity exclusively carried out by women
Present map according to the inhabitants of Aguacatán
This does not mean that there is not a specific cosmology, which in fact finds its expression in the practices of maize farming and the agricultural calendar. However, the gradual disappearance of the bearers and the introduction of modern technologies contribute to the eradication of traditional know-how and skills which are being replaced by those transmitted by mass culture basically stemming from a market logic of the utilisation of resources.
The observations made in the different locations indicate that the communities most involved in the national and international markets are the ones that least conserve their own or a diversified cosmology. This is the case of Aguacatán and Tzunul, on the one hand, and the communities of Río San Juán on the other. In the case of Aguacatán, traditional crops are being replaced by non-traditional produce such as garlic and onions. In Tzunul, there is a rapid spread of broccoli growing, a crop first sown there barely five years ago.
The participatory diagnosis of the three locations reveals that the main effect of the introduction of these non-traditional crops is the specialisation of certain production teams, although it was observed that a family-based economy persists. In one of the work-groups of Aguacatán, the maize field, the garlic and the onion patches were seen to be centred on the house, which reflects the survival of a family-based economy.
However, it was noted that the maize field was allotted to one house and the garlic and onion fields to another, which would indicate a specialisation of labour. The integration of these two crops adds complexity and greater vulnerability to the local production system. The growing of garlic and onions as commercial products depends strongly on the market, and they also require financing, which is not necessary in maize farming, due to the techniques applied in either case.
As regards the communities of Tzunul, Todos Santos Cuchumatán, the situation is quite dramatic. The perception of the men is that although the current map of the area shows a massive presence of maize, they nevertheless expect its complete substitution in future by broccoli.
The two pictures below show only a fragment of the complete maps (present/future), however they are good samples of the total. The men of Tuznul stated that they were harvesting all year round, because they sowed broccoli every month. They start sowing in August and finish in February, so that harvesting begins in November and ends in May. The families that grow broccoli now buy maize.
As regards the mountainous areas in the upper reaches of the San Juán river, the majority of the participants spoke only Quiché and knew no Spanish. Nonetheless, the members of the group were aware of the natural resources at their disposal, including the diversity of the flora and fauna. As for the use of the crops, these are mostly for family consumption and to be sold in local markets, which is characteristic of a simple market economy.
Of the three groups mentioned, Aguacatán, Tzunul and San Juán, the former two showed the higher use of imported techniques, and they also revealed a greater alienation of women from agricultural work. On the other hand in the case of the communities of the San Juán river, the farmers said that the women participated with them in all the phases of the work. Similarly, it was also noted that in the indigenous families, the women's link with the agriculture was considerably greater than in the "ladino" (mestizo or of Spanish descent) families.
Although in the consultation workshops carried out in 6 communities under this study the participants said that they did not celebrate rituals linked to any of the phases of maize farming, most of the data on traditional practices of a religious nature (Maya) come from the communities of the San Juán river. The information collected reveals that "there are zajorines (soothsayers; persons who are reputed to see what is hidden) in Tucuná" who are consulted before the people celebrate their rituals. The men who participated said that before sowing, in accordance with tradition, each activity has its "day", which reflects a survival of the use of the Maya calendar. (Further study on this subject could throw up more precise information on the degree to which the calendar and its auguries for each day still hold sway). In Aguacatán it was also found out that in the area under Quiché influence, there are Maya priests (Ah pop) who celebrate rituals which come from the Maya culture.
Present map according to the inhabitants of Tuznul
Future map according to the inhabitants of Tuznul
Although the participants in the workshops said that they did not celebrate traditional rites, it is evident that these practices still exist among certain groups.
Present map of the San Juàn river farms
Another element of note is the value of the "oral form" of knowledge-transfer. One example of this is the awareness of the plant known as "casco de mula" (mule's helmet), which came up in one of the cases of the oral tradition with which the workshops began. Only the older participants admitted having known it. In Las Guayabitas, the older participants said that they knew this crop (Txetxiv). They remembered that their ancestors used to go and fetch it from the mountains, "they extracted it from the ground and it was larger than a potato". By its description this plant could correspond to the species Dioscorea convolvulacea, curiously known commonly as the mother of maize and described by Williams (1981): a species from which an emergency food supply can be extracted.
This information gave us confirmation that, on the one hand, the content of the oral tradition was valid, but on the other that traditional knowledge of indigenous foods was disappearing. This situation, which is foreseen as regards maize, has already occurred as regards other local crops, such as ramón or ujuhste (Brosimum alicastrum, breadnut tree), which constituted a food for the ancient Mayas, but has disappeared from the local diet. There are many species that have been preserved in the wild and that would be suitable for use in food self-sufficiency programmes.
They would remove the thick skin and then they pricked the pulp and cooked it, and it was added to the maize to make tortillas.