The Song of the Corn : Celebrating Ancient Mayan Traditions

To get up to the celebration of the corn in San Ramon, Sonsonate, you have to go on a large cattle truck up a dirt road. Admittedly, it is getting increasingly easier to get up to the town. In years past, the truck was smaller and many times did not come. There, in a pocketed community are one of the last traces of an indigenous community in El Salvador.

Every year, the Patriz family prepare for the blessing of the corn ceremony. They invite most of the Bahai community and their friends and guests to pray and celebrate the harvest of the corn. It is a ceremony which dates back centuries, back to where the Mayans populated the countryside proudly and all the traditions were celebrated. But today, only small glimpses of this ancient ceremony remain. Around the pillars a bonfire is set where an old man carefully prays for all present . ” Mama paska, please forgive our trespasses on your land and be kind to us even if we have not been. ” He prays for the land, in Tata’s name, for his ancestors and for all those present. He places corn , and beans and candles into the fire. The candles are representing those that passed away to pray for them. One by one, we offer prayers by placing an offering into the fire.

In the corner, a young girl is not paying attention as she is captivated by the iPad screen she brought all the way up here, unable to detach herself even for an afternoon. A cell phone rings and someone loudly picks it up and starts to speak. Above, people avidly take digital pictures.In the middle of this ancient tradition, technology encroaches for better or worse. And there, this little old man speaks alone trying to keep these traditions alive.

After the ceremony ended everyone gathered around to receive the harvest , which consisted of corn and atol ( a local Corn drink) and riguas ( a kind of flattened corn bread). The place was packed. Every year, at the end of the harvest they offer to everyone the corn that was given for the year. ” To give is to receive” They state simply. We were all thinking of Tim Farrand, the man who came every year to the atolada and who helped the Patriz family whenever he could. When we remembered, our eyes watered in rememberance.

Hope always remains in the Patriz family. They tell that the end of the world , according to Mayan history is not what we believe. It is , instead , the time where good people will be reborn. This is a time where old traditions die, and everyone will all come together. It is the end to suffering, and killing off of the indigenous people, that we are all one human family and we would all come together for a most great peace.

El Salvador’s history with indigenous people- like many in America and by default Europe- is a bloody and tragic one. The systematic killing and slaying of indigenous traditions began with the Spaniards and continued on after independence. In the 1930’s a crazy dictator started slaying the indigenous people left and right. As a consequence, the indigenous people were forced to disguise themselves as regular citizens and stopped talking Nahuatl, the local indigenous language.

As time passed, many forgot their traditions and left behind their culture. Yet small little communities remain, trying desepreately to cleave to old beliefs. It is becoming increasingly harder, as the regular belief is that to be ” Indian” is equivalent to being ignorant, stupid and backward.

A common use in Salvadoran slang is when you see something that is tacky, ghetto or backward you say ” Que Indio ” or ” Que India sos” as if to be indigenous is equivalent to this. There is a sense of collective shame and rejection to the idea of being ” indian” even if people no longer understand or grasp what this is. Many do not know of the indigenous appreciation for the earth, the ancient traditions which date back to a proud people who invented some of the greatest things still used today.

Yet collectively, there is more a desire to become westernized to adapt to American traditions, ( or what is viewed to be American) than to properly embrace the stories of the past.

The consequence of this is widely seen in society as a whole. The country is ravaged with deforestation as large amount of land is continually destroyed to construct shopping malls, the local traditions are disappearing and the rise of violence is appearing everyday.

But there is hope. Rising from the ashes, these communities are giving hope instead of hate, educating and empowering youth to become strengthened in new ways to fortify communities.

And this, perhaps, is how things will become in the future. In the meantime, hopefully the children will lay down their blackberries, and their iPads and their machines to listen to the quiet voice echoing out in the meadow which speaks so softly , praying that we come back to the earth and the traditions that were so violently pulled away from. Listen children, because their voice might not be with us always.


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