Local Culture

Maya culture and life in San Lucas are evident and vibrantly illustrated in a simple walk about the village. Religious life is evident in the centuries-old Catholic Church and at shrines and altars around the town, and the large weekly market is a beautiful illustration of the colors and diversity so typical of the country.

The home is a place where mothers and children spend the majority of the day, symbolically representing the comfort and security of a refuge from the wider world. Indeed, the Kaqchikel language refers to the home as a metaphorical extension of the human body: for example, ruchi’jay (‘mouth of the house’) is the door, ruwi’jay (‘hair of the house’) is the roof, and rupan is the inside (‘stomach of the house’).

In San Lucas, as in many Guatemalan towns, homes are pressed tightly together, lining the streets with a multi-colored, stucco façade. Inside the house is usually different than the outside appearance, commonly having dirt floors.

At the center of the home is the kitchen and cooking hearth. Years ago, hearths were made from three stones grouped around a small fire on the dirt floor, where families gathered for meals.

The majority of families still cook with wood fires, but in adobe or cinder block stoves. The tops of these new stoves are made with a metal plate that has severalremovable circular cooking tops. The fire is built underneath the cooking surface and accessible through a small side opening in the adobe construction. There are usually live coals in the stove, thus allowing a person to quickly stoke up active fires when something needs to be warmed or it’s time to cook.

The Food:

The corn crop that we eat today is a tradition entirely attributed to the Maya people, originating in the Mexican plateau and the highlands of Guatemala over 5,000 years ago. Yet more than simply a staple of the Maya diet, corn is intimately revered as the source of life for the Maya.

Attempting, unsuccessfully, to create men and women from soil, and then from wood, Grandmother God then ground corn and water with her hands, successfully creating and fashioning humankind – so follows the creation story of the Popol Vuh, the sacred history of today’s Maya-K’iche.

Maize and beans are the staples of the San Lucas diet, and a perfectly adequate meal might include little else. In fact, it is considered that, in any meal, the Tortilla is always the main dish – providing the spiritual sustenance that other foods cannot provide.

Likewise, there is an admiration and respect within the Maya culture attributed to the household work of the Maya woman. It is often said, for example, that a young girl does not become a woman until she can tortillar, or make corn tortillas. The esteem for this household work derives from the difficult conditions in which Maya women must prepare foods, often cooking over intense heat and smoke from the fire.

The Dress:

It is said that true, dignified womanhood is reached once a woman learns to weave. Understood to be the traditional keepers of the culture, women play an active role in promoting Maya ethnicity through weaving, an art dating to pre-Columbian life.

Weaving huipiles (long, sleeveless tunic) in the traditional red and white of San Lucas, embroidered with an assortment of brilliantly colored and detailed flora and fauna, the women of San Lucas are testament to the vibrant expression of Maya culture.

Using a backstrap loom, huipilies often take several months to complete, employing a technique intimate to Maya culture. The warp (long) threads are stretched between two horizontal bars, one of which is fixed to a post or tree, while the other is attached to a strap that goes a round the weaver’s lower back. The weft (cross) threads are then woven into the piece. The Yarn is also often handspun in the village.

Fischer, Edward F., and Carol Hendrickson; Tecpan, Guatemala. Boulder, Colorado. Westview Press, 2003