Mayan Worldviews: An Ethnographic Sketch of the Mam, Achi, Cakchiquel, and Pokomchi of Guatemala

April 13, 2011 § Leave a comment


The general purpose of this series of studies—conducted in the areas of Mam, Achi, Cakchiquel, and Pokomchi of Guatemala—has been to facilitate on both a specific and general level, our understanding of the worldview of Mayans, with the overall goal to know how to best reach these people with the gospel. Here I must define ‘reach them with the gospel’. This means not only allowing them to observe or hear of the gospel in a western format in Spanish; much to the opposite, inquisition has revealed that most Mayans or persons of Mayan descent think in a way that is most definitely not western, and many understand little to no Spanish. This means that to ‘reach them’, we must effectively: a: present the message in a holistic manner in which their minds can grasp and process, and, b: do so in their heart language.

The major queries and quandaries include the following: What exactly is the worldview of the Mayan person; what are the variations on such a generic in given areas? (i.e. How do the people live and act socially? What are general family, social, and religious structure of the varying groups? What does communication look like?) How do we reach the young indigenous person? What do cultural shift and the dynamic nature of culture mean to us as missionaries today, determined to reach a people that run a gamut in means of language, beliefs, and overall worldview? How do we handle bilingualism among Mayans; this involves the issue of those who are, by heritage, Mayans who may or may not converse in their native language(s),…those who are bilingual to some capacity in Spanish and a given dialect, and those who are completely monolingual with possible small knowledge of Spanish. How do we accommodate for such a diverse language pool? What universals and generalities can we make when speaking of the generic Mayan person? What generalities should we be careful not to make? And the ultimate concern is this: how can we effectively introduce and present the gospel in a way that the Mayan people of Guatemala can understand it and thus, have opportunity to accept it and come to know Christ? This is the crux of the matter at hand.

The process of collecting and sorting through such questions as posed above has been a tedious one. Field research was conducted from 2003-2004 in the areas of the western Pokomchi, Todos Santos Mam, Rabinal Achί, and various Cakchiquel areas. General cultural observation and participant-observation were employed as well as various informal interviews. Other methods include mere conversation with locals, interviews with other learned missionaries, and time spent living among the peoples.

Mayan Worldviews:  An Ethnographic Sketch of the Mam, Achi, Cakchiquel, and Pokomchi of Guatemala


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