Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Original San Simon: Maximon the Cigar Lover

If you have read the posting about San Simon, you will know that his original incarnation was as the famous "Maximon" situated in Santiago De Aititlan. Here it was said that the angry priest chopped off the effigy's limbs thereby resulting in the spontaneous appearance of four more "Maximons" across Guatemala but under different names.

Santiago De Aititlan is a place of Mayan history and, like much of post-conquest history, a place of troubling times.

During the civil war in the 1980s the military went into areas around the village and massacared Mayan peasants working in their corn fields. The army suspected the Mayans as being sympathetic to the socialist and resistance movements. Later protesters who came to demonstrate at the army barracks were shot. Finally the army moved out after more demonstrations and international pressure. The Catholic church in the centre of the city has a plaque about these events setting out the history and bravery of the priest who refused to bow down to the army and was therefore assinated.

It is nearby the church that Maximon sits for this year until he is moved next October 28th.

As soon as you disembark from the boats, kids or tuk tuk drivers (those three wheeled taxis in use in India) come up to you honking horns or holding our hands saying: "See Maximon? I take you see Maximon. Good price"

So we weave among streets to find which confradis'house Maximon is in this year having hired a small boy to act as our guide for the price of 10 quetzales.

As with San Simon, an impromptu small market which sells liquor, cigarettes and candles has been set up in alley outside his cuarta, do that adherents can purchase of offerings to him. He is said to like a particular brand of cigarettes and alcohol in preference to others.

Unlike his Zunil counterpart he is a more "dignified" character. Is this a produce of my hidden Christian Europeon prejudices who would thus think a hand carved piece of wood was more 'authentic' 'tribal' or frankly 'classier' then a old department store mannequin?

He has a large wooden carved face covered in many silken scarves and ties but no limbs to speak of. He wore a large cowboy hat but no shades, bling or other barrio gang insignia. He did however, in contrast to San Simon, smoke a very sweet Cuban cigar. The area was dark and illuminated only with many small coloured Mayan candles and blinking Christmas mini-lites hanging all around the. It was was a scene tgat U think Dicken's Ghost of Christmas Present dreampt up: beside Maximon was a faux crystal coffin of a woman Saint lying beneath bowers of flowers upon flowers. Pine needles and twinkle lights. All around Christmas lights blinked in the gloom and smoke rose from candles, incense and Maximon's cigar.

A Shaman stood and conducted rites, this time for an old and small woman upon whose feet the very large men's shoes Maximon had worn were placed. While the Shaman chanted incantations the woman's son occasionally rose to give a few sweat worn Quetzales to the Shaman or his two assistants who duly placed them in the basket on Maximon's lap. At a point in the ritual, the assistants who sat either side of Maximon removed his cigar and broke open small bottles of liquor to give him a drink. Afterward they placed in there a lit cigarette of the deity's favour.

I think what was very interesting were the three turista back packers, probably American or German from their hair colour, sitting behind the door, watching entranced, far more silent then they would ever have been at some church in the mid-west or Dusseldorf. They could have been the very wall or spell bound church mice not daring to breathe so as not to interupt this woman's powerful plea.

Maximon has therefore, great powers that go beyond the mundanities of the very modest Mayan life such as children, a good harvest or health.

Maximon can make gringos be still and see things with a different mind.