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.


Technology : What are we losing?

Look, I love technology but lately I am looking at what we are losing in consuming so much technology. Here is some of the stuff I can think of :

Social Skills

Remember when oh you know like three years ago- it was bad manners to look/ text/ talk on your cell phone while you were eating dinner with someone? Now it seems like it’s common practice to barely glance at the person you are with or to become increasingly distracted by texts/facebook/applications

It reminds me of this sketch from Portlandia :

Laziness and Inaccuracy

Look we are becoming really, really lethargic. Remember the time when we actually searched for information in concise manner and relied on Encyclopedias for something? You know, those books that they spend years researching each topic?

Most of the time now, you ” wiki’ something and get unreliable information at best. But we don’t ever bother to find out how fallible the posts are. When we have constant information at the tip of our fingertips we tend to look for the easiest answer… we rarely spend time beyond that. Furthermore, how we search for information has drastically changed. It is now more elliptical in nature. We have a very short attention span and we are moving onto the next thing, without fully consumating our knowledge of the Thing Before.

We are becoming lazy. Really lazy. We don’t have to struggle to find information anymore so we don’t make the effort to move past the initial response. Whatever google places on top is good enough for us.

Take another example. Look at Sat Nav’s / Tom Tom’s/ GPS systems. I am reading the book ” Maphead” which is a fascinating look about the history of maps. Now that we have google maps, are we losing the ability and interest in geography? If a machine does all the thinking for us are we then surprised when it gets us lost?

Gone is the wonderment of yore about Other Places. Our quest for discovery. Now, at the tap of a finger we find the right place all the time, anytime. This promotes homogenous thinking and a lack of ability to think independently for ourselves

Google gives a perspective of a chosen path/ website/ idea. We go with it. We no longer seek out the answer for ourselves. It is a well proven fact that the search provided generally goes to the highest bidder to promote corporate interests, not necessarily promoting what you want for yourself.

The Paradox of Choice

If anyone has ever seen this TED talk

We are constantly frozen in a state of indecisiveness ….

We have too many choices. Everyday choices which cause us to be more stressed than satisfied. There is always Something Else that increases or decreases our status.

This constant state of anxiety over choice and our worth being based on consuming that choice makes us not live at peace. Which leads us to

We are losing the ability to live in the moment

We are constantly looking ahead to see the Next Best Thing or what others think of us. We are more focusing on statusing a moment than actually living it. We want to take photographs of something so that it is recorded on facebook and not to enjoy it ourselves. We are constantly using external validation for our own worth.
We are our own television show constantly putting up a face to show to the world and to be impressed by likes, follows and feeds. How often do kids go out in their bikes-device free- and just play with nature?

Which leads to

We are disconnecting ourselves from each other and nature

We are losing our ability to be empathetic, to appreciate the world around us and breathe in the cool and crisp air.

We are losing the ability to care about the truth

A lot of people tend to status things/ blog about them without really caring if it’s true or really caring about the news itself. It is the act of being first which provides satisfaction. There are more people reporting the news , and despite what we believe , that means that we are more competitive on who gets to report it first.

Nowadays, news outlets pick up on ” news” based on a ” Twitter feeds, popular blogs, and all kinds of other stuff. But it’s a spiral of turtle backs, one picking up on the other but it never has an end or why it’s popular in the first place. It takes the idea of fifteen minutes of fame to a whole other level. And if you think bloggers do news out of the goodness of their hearts think again , check out the book ” Trust me , I’m Lying Confessions of Media Manipulator” .

News has always been transitory in nature, but it is getting so cluttered that ” humanitarian stories” now have a shelf life of a month, tops. Memes are created and destroyed within a very short span of time.

Information Overload

On the plane home some people had Kindles, iPods, Ipads,Computer and their mobile/ cell phone. We are constantly in need to be overloading information all the time, we are becoming addicted to becoming ” online” all the time.

Technology is not just typically things like computers and the internet. Everything we use in our daily lives incorporate technology , and as I said before we are not allowing time to breathe before we create something else.

Scientists might study an effect of technology years after it’s incorporated but there are no regulations or limitations to put it out in the market before we analyze the effect it has. It will take decades to measure the full effect of one single invention.

Look at the atomic bomb argument. One theory, one invention created massive repercussions. What if we are creating things which will be use to destroy and not to enlighten? What are we creating things now for? Before it was perhaps for the passion of discovery, of pursuing knowledge but now we are so entrenched in a culture of consumption that we don’t even tend to stop and say WHY.

The things humanity are capable of creating are simply astounding. We have gone beyond anything that is a human comprehension. But it is our mistake in believing that somehow technology controls us instead of us controlling technology. We must not let technology think for us, but use technology to deepen our understanding. It is not an end in of itself but merely a tool.

Technology can cause great beauty