I liked and admired Delia from the beginning. Everyone did. She and her voice were like songs, which brightened the world of all she met. Delia had time for everyone.
Delia Maricela Maquín Cucúl, arrived at the Rabin Ajaw event in Cobán, Alta Verapaz in late July 2015, a shy but confident girl of seventeen. As a q´eqchi´ speaker, she was at home among the q´eqchi´s of Alta Verapaz, who immediately warmed to her.
Her own hometown, El Estor, Izabal, is a relatively new community, founded in 1888 and given municipal status in 1890. For a brief period between 1940 and 1945, El Estor was actually a part of Alta Verapaz. However, it now pertains once again to Izabal.
The Rabin Ajaw is the maximum representative of the indigenous Guatemalan woman at the national level. Often, we say that Rabin Ajaw means Daughter of the King. More correctly, however, she is the Daughter of the Creator and Former of the Universe. The Rabin wins her title in an annual event held in Cobán near the end of July each year. Rabin Ajaw is a ´cargo´, meaning a set of responsibilities which bestows prestige upon its bearer.
Delia´s Victory in Cobán
Delia´s alcalde (mayor) wouldn´t finance her participation in Cobán. Since El Estor is a poor community, Delia lacked the means for the journey. Fortunately, friends, family, and neighbors believed in the child participant. They pooled their little money and sent Delia to Cobán. There she won the highest cargo in Guatemala, as well as the hearts of the audience and the nation.
Gladis, a former indigenous queen of Zaragoza, Chimaltenango, called me excitedly from the event. “The new Rabin is wonderful,” she said. “She´s a child, very sweet, but yet strong.” When the exiting Rabin Ajaw Anita Yulissa Pérez of San Juan la Laguna crowned Delia, the applause was deafening. In characteristic fashion, Delia told the gathering, “I enter humble and simple. I will leave humble and simple.” She kept her promise.
My first contact with Delia came at the end of November 2015. In those days, I was not attending many events with the indigenous queens, largely due to my annoyance with Delia´s predecessor. Meeting Delia renewed my interest in the indigenous queens.Therefore, thanks to Delia many queens from poor aldeas (small villages) and municipalities continued to receive my support.
Again, it was a call from my friend Gladis that reconnected me with Delia. Then married, living in Palin Escuintla, Gladis was coordinator for the artisan´s fair in Palin. This fair includes an election for the National Queen of the Arts (Ixb´atz´). The election has as its patron saint the Virgin of the Conception and so takes place a couple of days before the Virgin´s feast day of December 8th. “Don Billy”, Gladis said, “We would like your presence and help with the election of Ixb´atz´. We also want to invite Delia to be a judge in the election. Here´s her number.”
Artisan´s Fair, Palín Escuintla
I called Delia. She was delightful. She treated me with a respect to which I am unaccustomed. In a voice reminiscent of Billie Burke, the Good Witch of the North in the Wizard of Oz, Delia replied, “For you, Don Billy, of course.” Delia explained that she likewise had not been attending activities with the indigenous queens. Torrential rains in August had inundated El Estor and had wiped out the bridge which connected Delia to the outside world. However, El Estor had recently repaired the bridge, she said, and she was now eager to participate.
I met Delia personally for the first time in Palin. She donned the traje (native dress) of Palín which I presented to her that day. This began my habit of giving Delia trajes of the places she visited, a practice which became even more pronounced (and less appreciated) with her successor. The people of the towns Delia visited liked to see her in their town´s traje during the daytime activity. However, they also liked to see her wear her own flowing pleated skirt with loose white blouse for the election and/or coronation in the evening.
Ana Esperanza Gutierrez had been the Hija del Pueblo (Daughter of the Town) of Palín Escuintla and the first finalist in Cobán in 2011. The night of the Ixb´atz´election in Palín I handed a modest check to Ana, which she then presented publicly to Delia, for the purpose of helping families hurt by the recent torment in El Estor.
Christmas in Rural San Juan la Laguna
For Christmas, Delia traveled from El Estor to meet me in the poor k´iche´-speaking aldeas of tzutujil San Juan la Laguna: Palestina, Panyebar, and Pasajquim. Delia lovingly passed out toys to the adoring children. Leslie Mendoza Bizarro of San Juan began this annual Christmas gift project two years earlier. Leslie was first finalist in the election of Flor Nacional in 2013. Don´t ask me how it happened, but Leslie lost that election to a woman twenty-seven years of age, even though participation was limited to candidates age fifteen to twenty-five.
Actually, I didn´t do too much for Delia, considering her many sacrifices on my behalf. Oh, I gave her several trajes, a huipil (blouse) from San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán for her mother, a bit of financial support, the silver earrings I routinely pass out to the other queens and to the older women of San Pedro la Laguna, recharges on her phone – but not much.
Regalo Rabin Ajaw
Our greatest work together aided the art school that Delia herself founded. Together we donated two Raúl Vásquez paintings to the school. We also gave a pair of marimbas, made in Barreneche Totonicapán by Boris Canasuj and his father – both real artists. The marimbas, one of thirty-four keys and the other of forty-five, bear the name Regalo Rabin Ajaw. Delia and I also donated a large marimba (Flor del Café) to a music program in Colonia Pampojilá, San Lucas Tolimán.
Delia and the Maya Priest
To fully explain the type of representative Cobán elected in 2015, I need to tell you about Evaristo Rosales, a Panajachelense and a man of contrasts. Like his grandfather Antolin Can Churunel, Evaristo was a chamán of legendary powers. Unlike his grandfather, Evaristo died young. Evaristo was loved and hated; respected and feared. He was both a great man and the occasional town drunk. However, despite his many contradictions, 1,500 – 1,800 admirers walked along with Evaristo and his casket to the Panajachel cemetery.
Evaristo was the first person I met in Panajachel. The occasion was Thursday of Corpus Cristi, June 13th, 2004, the day I arrived in Guatemala. A week later, Evaristo lost a toe to diabetes and alcohol consumption, owing to his over-indulgence in the festival. When Delia first visited his altar, Evaristo was the alcalde of the cofradía of Corpus Cristi. He also still had both legs. However, a few weeks later, doctors amputated one of his legs. When Delia heard of his condition, she traveled eleven hours one-way from El Estor to push the alcalde in his wheel chair in Panajachel´s Corpus Cristi procession. It was a heart-warming sight and a glorious demonstration of respect, social conscience, and the enormous heart of the Rabin Ajaw, Delia Maricela Maquín Cucúl.
Surrendering her Cargo
“If we indigenous queens do not thank the people who help us, then who will help the indigenous queens of Guatemala?” Celeste Morales Cruz, Rabin Ajaw 2016, San Pedro la Laguna, Sololá
Delia and I never discussed the possibility that she might recognize my contributions publicly in Cobán. For one thing, we both knew that the the alcalde of Cobán and the Cultural Committee of the Rabin Ajaw event were opposed to the idea. Therefore, Delia made no promises, as would the two succeeding Rabin Ajaw, to thank me at the event. One of these subsequent Rabin Ajaw kept her promise, giving me a framed diploma and invaluable words, as the alcalde of Cobán stood on stage with his head in his hands. The other successor awarded me deception, and a hurt so deep that it won´t go away.
I had always avoided the national platform. Most of my support had gone to indigenous queens of poor communities. I mostly attended small events. However, secretly I wanted to receive public recognition in Cobán.Therefore, I watched nervously on the internet as Delia thanked those who had helped her reign. First, Delia acknowledged the assistance of Anita Yucute, Rabin Ajaw 2008 of Santiago Sacatepéquez. Then with an unwavering look of resolve, Delia thanked a “special friend” and spoke glowingly of my support of the indigenous queens, the Maya culture, and her person,
Thank you, Deli. Panajachel and Evaristo Rosales will never forget you. Nor will I.