The Pokomchí

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Mayan Past

The Pokomchí are one of twenty-two indigenous Maya groups that inhabited much of Central America from before 2000 BC to around AD 900. The Maya people settled the areas that are now known as southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The first Maya cities developed around 750 BC, and by 500 BC these cities possessed monumental architecture. Beginning around AD 250 the Maya civilization began to develop a large number of city-states linked by this complex trade network.
The Maya dynasty began to decline around AD 900. The cities in the south collapsed for reasons that still largely remain a mystery. Most of the Maya moved north into what is now southern Mexico and began to integrate into the Toltec society. By AD 1200 the Maya civilization had virtually disappeared with only a few small cities remaining, and these cities ultimately fell in the 16th century when the region was colonized by Spain.

Present Day
Today, The Maya number about six million people, making them the largest single block of indigenous peoples north of Peru. Each of the Maya groups throughout Central America speaks a different language, although all belong to the Mayan language family. In spite of modernization and intermarriage between the indigenous population and Spanish immigrants, many Maya communities have succeeded in preserving their identity and traditions. The Pokomchí are one of these groups and lives in the mountainous region of central Guatemala. The population of the Pokomchí is estimated to be a little over 100,000, making them one of the smallest and least developed indigenous groups in the country.
The Pokomchí, along with other indigenous groups in Guatemala, have suffered tremendously from severe long-term racism and a recent 36 year civil war, which resulted in over 200,000 civilian deaths and widespread destruction of villages and livelihoods. The Pokomchí are mainly subsistence farmers. Their primary crop is corn, which makes up the majority of their diet. Other common foods include beans, chicken, turkey, and chili peppers. Women weave textiles on back strap looms as they have for centuries, and they craft products from the locally grown maguey plant. Most rural children do not attend school past the third grade, and young girls are often married at 15 years of age and begin rearing children.

Their Reality in Rural Poverty
The daily reality of the Pokomchí is one of extreme poverty. The effects of racism and the war have played a tremendous roll in the lack of development among all indigenous groups in Central America, including the Pokomchí. Government figures indicate that 7 out of every 10 people of indigenous descent live in extreme poverty. The United Nations’ Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide, ranks Guatemala 131 out of 187 countries. While poverty is a national problem in Guatemala, the poverty rates are the highest among groups like the Pokomchí, which can exceed 90%.
Life expectancy for indigenous groups like the Pokomchí is 16 years lower than for those with Spanish descent. Indigenous infant mortality rates are as high as 134 per 1,000 compared to a national average of 80 per 1,000, while 82% of children under five suffer from malnutrition. The government does provide health posts and medical centers in rural areas, but they are constantly lacking needed mediciens and staff. Only 19% of indigenous people are literate compared to 50% of the Spanish (Ladino) population. School enrollment in Guatemala is 39%, but in the urban centers it is 48%, compared to just 35% in rural areas. In the area that includes the Pokomchí, school enrollment is just 20% whereas the figure is 65% in the capital of Guatemala City.

A Day in their Life
5:00 am – Family gets up.
They live and sleep in a one-room dirt-floored house, usually wood plank sides and either thatch roof or tin roof. There are few windows and one door. The beds are made of a wooden frame with wood planks and no mattress, sheets, or pillow, with just a thin reed mat and a coarse blanket. Several family members may sleep in the same bed.
The wife prepares breakfast on an open fire on the dirt floor. There is usually a separate small addition to the main house which is used as the kitchen. The smoke from the fire fills the room and seeps out through cracks in the roof and walls.
If the husband is planning to go to his corn field to work, the wife also prepares his lunch and packs it for him to take with him. However, if it is harvest time, the wife will take a hot lunch out to the corn field to her husband later in the day.
6:00 am – The Husband goes to work in his corn field.
If there are school-age children, they may go to the village school. Sometimes they must walk up to an hour to get to arrive. Theoretically they will be given a hot snack at school at 10:00 am. Often the children are not sent to school because the parents need them to help work in the field or at home. Children return from school between noon and 1:00 pm.
The wife stays home and takes care of the babies and small children, cleans her house, washes clothes, husks corn cobs and cooks the corn kernels in preparation for making the tortillas for the rest of the meals that day.
She may have to walk up to two hours round trip to go to a water source and carry water back to the house in a 2-liter container balanced on her head – in order to do any cleaning, laundry, or cooking, or bathing herself or her children.
11:00 am – The wife begins to prepare lunch.
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm – Family eats lunch.
2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The wife cleans up after lunch, and then has time for some weaving, crocheting or other work.
5:00 pm – Evening Meal Preparation
The wife starts preparing the evening meal. All meals are eaten with tortillas. Very little meat is eaten. Eggs, black beans, greens or tomatoes are common. Chicken is the most common animal protein. Most households have chickens or turkeys, but larger animals like pigs are less common. The Pokomchí does not keep cows, horses, or donkeys.
6:00 pm – The family eats the evening meal.
7:00 pm – Time for Bed
Normal bed time for the whole family, especially if there is no electricity in the village. Candles or small, home-made kerosene lamps may be used. If the family goes to an evening church service, they will not get to bed until 9:00 pm.

Beliefs and Traditions
The Spanish conquests of the 16th century brought Catholicism to the Maya people. However, they never fully abandoned their traditional beliefs essentially melding the two belief systems together. The early Maya were animists who worshiped spirits that controlled the outcomes of daily life. Even though today the Pokomchí would be considered primarily Christian (50% Christian with 50% being evangelical), these ancient beliefs still pervade traditional rites, customs and ways of thinking.

Present Day

Today, The Maya number about six million people, making them the largest single block of indigenous peoples north of Peru. Each of the Maya groups throughout Central America speaks a different language, although all belong to the Mayan language family. In spite of modernization and intermarriage between the indigenous population and Spanish immigrants, many Maya communities have succeeded in preserving their identity and traditions. The Pokomchí are one of these groups and lives in the mountainous region of central Guatemala. The population of the Pokomchí is estimated to be a little over 100,000, making them one of the smallest and least developed indigenous groups in the country.
The Pokomchí, along with other indigenous groups in Guatemala, have suffered tremendously from severe long-term racism and a recent 36 year civil war, which resulted in over 200,000 civilian deaths and widespread destruction of villages and livelihoods. The Pokomchí are mainly subsistence farmers. Their primary crop is corn, which makes up the majority of their diet. Other common foods include beans, chicken, turkey, and chili peppers. Women weave textiles on back strap looms as they have for centuries, and they craft products from the locally grown maguey plant. Most rural children do not attend school past the third grade, and young girls are often married at 15 years of age and begin rearing children.

Their Reality in Rural Poverty

The daily reality of the Pokomchí is one of extreme poverty. The effects of racism and the war have played a tremendous roll in the lack of development among all indigenous groups in Central America, including the Pokomchí. Government figures indicate that 7 out of every 10 people of indigenous descent live in extreme poverty. The United Nations’ Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, literacy, education and standards of living for countries worldwide, ranks Guatemala 131 out of 187 countries. While poverty is a national problem in Guatemala, the poverty rates are the highest among groups like the Pokomchí, which can exceed 90%.
Life expectancy for indigenous groups like the Pokomchí is 16 years lower than for those with Spanish descent. Indigenous infant mortality rates are as high as 134 per 1,000 compared to a national average of 80 per 1,000, while 82% of children under five suffer from malnutrition. The government does provide health posts and medical centers in rural areas, but they are constantly lacking needed mediciens and staff. Only 19% of indigenous people are literate compared to 50% of the Spanish (Ladino) population. School enrollment in Guatemala is 39%, but in the urban centers it is 48%, compared to just 35% in rural areas. In the area that includes the Pokomchí, school enrollment is just 20% whereas the figure is 65% in the capital of Guatemala City.

A Day in their Life

5:00 am – Family gets up.
They live and sleep in a one-room dirt-floored house, usually wood plank sides and either thatch roof or tin roof. There are few windows and one door. The beds are made of a wooden frame with wood planks and no mattress, sheets, or pillow, with just a thin reed mat and a coarse blanket. Several family members may sleep in the same bed.
The wife prepares breakfast on an open fire on the dirt floor. There is usually a separate small addition to the main house which is used as the kitchen. The smoke from the fire fills the room and seeps out through cracks in the roof and walls.
If the husband is planning to go to his corn field to work, the wife also prepares his lunch and packs it for him to take with him. However, if it is harvest time, the wife will take a hot lunch out to the corn field to her husband later in the day.
6:00 am – The Husband goes to work in his corn field.
If there are school-age children, they may go to the village school. Sometimes they must walk up to an hour to get to arrive. Theoretically they will be given a hot snack at school at 10:00 am. Often the children are not sent to school because the parents need them to help work in the field or at home. Children return from school between noon and 1:00 pm.
The wife stays home and takes care of the babies and small children, cleans her house, washes clothes, husks corn cobs and cooks the corn kernels in preparation for making the tortillas for the rest of the meals that day.
She may have to walk up to two hours round trip to go to a water source and carry water back to the house in a 2-liter container balanced on her head – in order to do any cleaning, laundry, or cooking, or bathing herself or her children.
11:00 am – The wife begins to prepare lunch.
1:00 pm – 2:00 pm – Family eats lunch.
2:00 pm – 5:00 pm
The wife cleans up after lunch, and then has time for some weaving, crocheting or other work.
5:00 pm – Evening Meal Preparation
The wife starts preparing the evening meal. All meals are eaten with tortillas. Very little meat is eaten. Eggs, black beans, greens or tomatoes are common. Chicken is the most common animal protein. Most households have chickens or turkeys, but larger animals like pigs are less common. The Pokomchí does not keep cows, horses, or donkeys.
6:00 pm – The family eats the evening meal.
7:00 pm – Time for Bed
Normal bed time for the whole family, especially if there is no electricity in the village. Candles or small, home-made kerosene lamps may be used. If the family goes to an evening church service, they will not get to bed until 9:00 pm.

Beliefs and Traditions

The Spanish conquests of the 16th century brought Catholicism to the Maya people. However, they never fully abandoned their traditional beliefs essentially melding the two belief systems together. The early Maya were animists who worshiped spirits that controlled the outcomes of daily life. Even though today the Pokomchí would be considered primarily Christian (50% Christian with 50% being evangelical), these ancient beliefs still pervade traditional rites, customs and ways of thinking.

Where the Pokomchi Live

The Pokomchí inhabit an area surrounding San Cristóbal, southwest of the city of Cobán