Herbalist’s murder highlights assault on Mayan spirituality in Guatemala

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In meetings, Domingo Choc Che was quiescent and reflective, speaking up lone erstwhile others had said their piece. But helium would travel live erstwhile helium entered the jungles of Guatemala’s bluish Petén department, sharing his cognition of accepted medicines with anyone who wanted to learn.

“He was much astatine easiness with plants,” said Mónica Berger, a sociologist and anthropologist astatine the University of the Valley of Guatemala who worked intimately with Choc Che, a subordinate of the indigenous Maya Q’eqchi community.

Choc Che was an ajilonel, oregon specializer successful Mayan medicine, who worked to conserve accepted cognition and herbal remedies. He was a subordinate of the Relebaal Saqe relation of councils of spiritual guides and had besides participated successful a bid of technological probe projects, including with University College London.

Last year, he was tortured, acceptable connected occurrence and killed by neighbors successful the colony of Chimay aft helium was accused of performing witchcraft. Three radical were sentenced to 20 years successful situation for their portion successful the killing.

But the verdict has not reassured indigenous spiritual guides and herbalists who accidental that the justice reduced the charges from execution to homicide, ignored Choc Che’s presumption arsenic a spiritual person and downplayed the power of Christian extremism successful his killing.

“The condemnation failed to recognize the relation of a spiritual usher successful the community,” said Juan Castro, the Choc Che family’s lawyer. “[The court] considers it conscionable 1 much death.”

The 3 defendants, Romelia Caal Chub, Edyn Arnoldo Pop and Candelaria Magaly Pop, accepted their work but passim the proceedings they attacked Choc Che’s quality and accused him of witchcraft.

The Catholic church denied that spiritual beliefs had played a role, with Bishop Mario Fiandri saying that the execution had been precipitated by “a occupation betwixt 2 families”.

Choc Che’s execution and its aftermath bespeak continued intolerance against indigenous traditions successful Guatemala. Approximately 43% of the country’s colonisation place arsenic indigenous, but Christians routinely impeach Mayan spiritual leaders of witchcraft.

“They are convinced that they are going to spell to eden for removing evil oregon for removing the devil from their villages,” Berger said. “And they firmly judge that these [spiritual guides] correspond the devil. So that utmost intolerance has followed a full deficiency of cognition and knowing of what Mayan spirituality is, and this is precise dangerous.”

Mayan spirituality traces its roots backmost thousands of years, and traditions of time-keeping, medicines and societal enactment person been preserved done galore generations.

An indigenous ceremonial  is conducted successful  the Petén department, Guatemala. Domingo Choc Che is 2nd  from close    successful  reddish  and achromatic  T-shirt.
An indigenous ceremonial is conducted successful the Petén department, Guatemala. Domingo Choc Che is 2nd from close successful a reddish and achromatic T-shirt. Photograph: Supplied

But since the Spanish conquest, specified beliefs person travel nether sustained onslaught by some Catholic and evangelical Protestant churches.

In assemblage times, indigenous communities were forced to convert, and Catholic churches were built connected ceremonial sites. Evangelical and Pentecostal groups began to summation power successful the 1970s, particularly aft a devastating 1976 earthquake, and Christians of each denominations often subordinate indigenous traditions with witchcraft.

“There is simply a imperishable persecution against the Maya spiritual guides, against accepted medics, and against ancestral authorities successful the 21st century,” said Felipe Gómez, who works with the Oxlajuj Ajpop relation of spiritual guides.

“Evangelical and Catholic churches each stock immoderate responsibility” for [Choc Che’s] death, Gómez said. “It was an enactment against the spirituality and the workout of ancestral medicine. And not conscionable against Domingo Choc, but each those who signifier Maya spirituality, accepted medicine and ancestral authorities. This affects everyone.”

Anti-indigenous racism contributed to the savagery inflicted by Guatemala’s equipped forces during the country’s 36-year civilian war: according to a UN-backed information commission, indigenous radical represented much than 80% of the 200,000 radical killed and 45,000 radical disappeared.

That struggle ended successful 1996, but attacks connected those who signifier accepted Mayan spirituality and medicine person continued, particularly successful agrarian communities wherever evangelical missionaries are active.

“They are obliging the radical to wantonness their ineffable spaces,” Gómez said. “The evangelical religion is dividing families and communities.”

In the weeks aft Choc Che was killed, 3 radical successful the highland municipality of Cobán were accused of performing witchcraft and threatened with death. In January 2021, Jesús Choc Yat, a spiritual guide, was abducted, tortured and killed successful the portion of Quiché.

But the bulk of specified attacks spell unreported, said Berger.

Indigenous spiritual leaders person sought meetings with Christian authorities successful the hopes of establishing communal respect and acceptance, but they person recovered small enthusiasm for dialogue. At 1 specified meeting, the Evangelical Alliance of Guatemala handed retired Bibles.

“We person ne'er desired a confrontation with either the Catholic oregon evangelical churches,” Gómez said. “We privation them to respect us.”