Guatemala: What We Indians Keep Quiet About

Ollantay Itzamná

Rabin Ajaw 2019/2010. Internet

With the advent of postmodernity, the “elements” of indigenous identities were used, both by the rulers of the creole states and by the business agents of the neoliberal system, as “amulets” to distract and deactivate the historic resistance of indigenous peoples.

As never before, ceremonial performances such as Inti Raymi (Feast of the Sun) in Peru or Rabin Ajaw (Daughter of the King) in Guatemala are disseminated and sold as the most coveted intangible “ancestral rituals” for the tourism industry.

Rabin Ajaw and the U.S. Government

U.S. Ambassador and Rabin Ajaw 2019/2010, on the streets of Cobán. Internet

The U.S. government, after World War II, sent its anthropologists to different countries of the world in order to “study the peoples” and build a digestible and efficient ethnographic narrative for their geopolitical interests. This is how meanings of “ethnicity”, “folklore”, etc. were constructed, with a strong distracting and derogatory ideological charge.

Universities, research centres and NGOs were in charge of socialising these concepts as benign for the people. And they managed to folklorize and ethnify historic indigenous struggles. In this way, political struggles were transformed into cultural struggles.

In the 1960s, the “ancestral” ceremony called Rabin Ajaw (Daughter of the King) was invented in Guatemala. This ceremony consists of the selection and coronation of a young Mayan woman as Queen (of a non-existent kingdom). This is the ultimate Mayan folk festival, with the most strident participation of the Mayan girl. Mayan folkloric organizations, state authorities and foreign promoters converge in this festival.

In the recent coronation of Rabin Ajaw, 2019, the US Ambassador was present as guest of honor. Queen 2019-2020 is none other than a young woman from the Municipality of Cahabón, Alta Verapaz, the most impoverished indigenous territory overwhelmed by foreign companies in the region. But, in that spectacular ceremony none of these problems were mentioned. On the contrary, the Ambassador’s presence was celebrated as a “divine blessing.

The day after the coronation ceremony, however, the Mayan girls, including the Queen, had to return to domestic work to continue cleaning and cooking in the employer’s houses in the cities, in semi-slavery working conditions. Domestic servitude is the niche job reserved for Mayan youth and women in Guatemala.

What is the purpose of folkloric ceremonies?

Rabin Ajaw, and other indigenous folklorism, serve the function of legitimizing apolitical culturalism in indigenous communities, thus avoiding the awakening of indigenous emancipatory consciousness. These and other ceremonies will never address the structural problems of the peoples.

They are designed to fix in the unconscious of young Mayan girls the idea that “if they want to be Queen, they must behave well”. This means being obedient, submissive, respecting “tradition”. In this way, folklore, religion and school complement each other in the configuration of the colonized consciousness of the indigenous.

In these events, the idea of the benignity/kindness of the executioner is reinforced. The Minister, the President or the present Ambassador is accepted as the King (father) who crowns his daughter… Thus, the Mayan victims and survivors of the resentful holocausts feel “loved” by their malefactors.

And the silence of the defenders of the millenary Mayan “identity”?

Culturalism and folklorism, in countries like Guatemala, has become a “way of life” for indigenous people. Especially for Mayan professionals/consultants in the third sector. Criticizing and repelling culturalism requires a lot of courage. One has to be willing to face media attacks and labour bullying.

Moreover, culturalism allows for a certain degree of comfort, space/applause on national and international stages. They are more comfortable wearing “indigenous” attire and using rhetoric that is pleasing to the ears of the colonizer and the colonized than telling their truths to the executioner and his nefarious hegemonic system.