The legend of Popol Vuh can be traced back through the generations of Guatemala, reaching back through its citizen’s ancestors rich Mayan culture. The creation story reveals how the first humans were made of corn and the story survives, to this day, as a reminder of the unbreakable bond that connects descendants of the Maya with the ancient rituals performed by their forefathers.
In 1524, the Latin American country fell under Spanish colonisation alongside several neighbouring countries on the continent. Pyramids were torn down and replaced with Catholic Churches, and along with many other Spanish impositions, Mayan culture was forced to take a backseat under the new rule. In a new film Men of Maize, Brooklyn-based director Anthony Prince investigates the preservation of Maya culture with the help of Shaman Luis Ignacio as a guide and narrator.
“As a black man, I understand the impact of colonialism in my communities, so I was very interested in learning about the resilience of the Mayan people through colonialism in their land," Anthony tells It’s Nice That on the making of the film. Published on Nowness, the film is commissioned by the travel accessories design label, Ashya. As the brand was developed with a worldly perspective, Ashya “dedicates each of their collections to the exploration of POC communities around the world," adds Anthony.
Cinematic and poetic, Men of Maize unveils the Guatemalan creation story through Luis’ emphatic tones ringing with spirituality. The film crew were introduced to the shaman by a local, eventually meeting him on the outskirts of Guatemala City at the museum he owns, full of indigenous masks. “It felt like I was in a time capsule listening to Luis speak about the artefacts in his museum while being translated in real time”, says Anthony. “He’s very wise and had so much information that he wanted us to know.”
Though he never revealed what actually occurs in his shamanistic rituals, which is sacred knowledge not freely given out, Luis did tell Anthony: “We as Maya believe in the dawn. We believe in the sun, when it comes out, we make a prayer. When I do a ceremony I have to see where the sun is and where it falls. The ability that I have is to dream and use fire. I dream of something good and it happens. I dream of something bad and it happens.”
Luis, like many other Guatemalans, practices both Mayan and the Catholic religions. “They are resilient and proud people who haven’t let colonialism wipe out their traditions. It doesn’t seem like there’s a need to reclaim the indigenous culture but more of an effort to carry on practising Mayan traditions.” And, like many other colonised nations around the world, the people of Guatemala have made the best of their situation by creating a new culture for themselves, embodying both new and historic cultures. “They seem to have found things in the Catholic religion that works for them. It’s called Syncretismo," adds the director, whose main objective in making the film lies in “sharing different cultural narratives and “helping an audience gain a deeper understanding of the world we live in.”
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.