Custom and Ceremony
Although highland and coastal customs vary, ceremonial life at the Southern Coast is every bit as traditional as it is in the highlands. In the first place, both regions celebrate the same saints, on the same days. Secondly, while Catholic celebrations in the highlands seem to have lower turn-out each year, ceremonial life at the Coast continues as before. Religious processions, activities of religious brotherhoods, and Maya ceremonies are therefore an integral part of coastal life.
However, the seasonal round of festivals and religious fairs is relentless. Many towns celebrate their saint on his feast day but also celebrate again a week later. Likewise, every town celebrates Holy Week and Christmas Eve. Many towns also honor a secondary saint. But no matter who is a town´s patron saint, every town has brotherhoods dedicated to other saints. These saints too have their religious festivals.
Despite similarities between regions, one coastal religious festival has no counterpart elsewhere in Guatemala: Carnaval of Mazatenango. Carnaval is a celebration of Fat Tuesday and therefore the beginning of Lent. Mazate’s Carnaval imitates larger, more famous celebrations such as Mardi Gras or Carnaval celebrations in Rio or Venice.. However, in Guatemala, Mazate’s Carnaval is unmatched. In other towns of the Republic, that day, school children fill egg shells with confetti and powder and bust them over people’s heads. However, just for fun sometimes, they use plain eggs.
The indigenous queen of Suchitepéquez, or Nim Ali Xochiltepec, traditionally leads the parade.. However, next come the departmental beauty queens adorned in lavish, yet skimpy outfits, which appear the work of Hollywood designers. What really identifies Carnaval Mazateco, however, are the groups of scantily-clad spokes models. They gyrate to rythyms a little less sophisticated than those of New Orleans or Rio, I’m afraid.
What predominates in Carnaval, however, are groups of school children parading. Some wear uniforms. However, others dress in Maya fashion. Likewise, some dress as Xinka or Garifuna, Guatemala´s two non-Maya indigenous groups. Still others imitate the spokes models. These school children come from throughout the Southern Coast to participate. Along the parade route, people squirt a lot of water. Some actually use hoses. Therefore, Carnaval is risky for cameras.
I used to attend Carnaval religiously. However, I now stay away. But not so much for the risk to my camera. It’s that today I devote myself more to cultural activities. Therefore, I reject the sexist appeal of the parade. I also consider that parades indoctrinate school children and therefore threaten the Maya culture. However, I’ve got to admit, Carnaval Mazateco is fun.