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Mayan life today


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Mayan values and Modern life in San Pedro

At Bio-Cultura, we seek to combine the positive aspects of the modern world with the wisdom and values of our ancestors so that the health and well-being of our people and environment are improved.

We have been lucky in San Pedro, in that we were not affected by the war as directly as our neighbouring villages. Most land here is still locally owned, although foreigners are now buying up the land on the lake front. Today, most employment is in growing maiz (corn), beans and coffee, and tourism related activities. We have retained our Mayan language (Tzutujil) with it's unique expression of the world. Many women still wear our traditional dress, and some of our customs are still followed. The family is still the centre of our daily lives, and most people have a deep sense of spirituality. Extended families generally live together, with the women's focus on cooking, cleaning and caring for the children, and the men responsible for earning money. Most food is cooked over wood-burning fires, therefore firewood is one both one of the causes of deforestation, and a potential income source.

The modern world

Consumerism and sudden exposure to the modern world with it's new products and values are rapidly changing our lives. Television has increased our knowledge of the wider world, but it encourages us to consume more, and increases the desire for lifestyles and products that we never knew existed, and can't afford. Tourism brings cash to our village and has created new employment opportunities, but it has also created a drug trade and local drug abuse has increased.
The tourist lifestyle highlights economic inequality- local restaurant workers generally earn about US$3.50- less than the price of the dishes they cook or serve. Both the Catholic and Evangelical churches have built schools and medical clinics in San Pedro, yet as the popularity of the Evangelical religions grow, so does the pressure to abandon our Mayan culture.

Our ancestors asked permission from the spirits before cutting a tree down or killing an animal, and only used what they needed. They knew all things have a spirit, and deserve respect. They understood the cycles of nature. Now our people kill and cut trees with little thought. Sharing used to be commonplace, people swapped or gave away food when they had enough. Today everything has a monetary value. We grew our own medicinal herbs around our houses, but this knowledge and practise is being lost. Today, people go to the pharmacies and take unprescribed medicines without knowing what they are, at prices they can little afford.

We used to use leaves to wrap and serve food, and the women carried shopping in cane baskets on their heads, or in woven cloths. Plastic bags are now seen as 'modern' and therefore a good thing, and styrofoam plates and cups are commonplace. Before, throwing away waste added nutrients to the soil. Now we burn plastic, dump all waste together, and litter our streets and the lake. The old people knew how to grow food without using sprays and artificial fertilizers. Farmers now use modern pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides without masks or protective clothing.

Plastic, batteries, styrofoam and organic waste are all thrown under coffee trees

At Bio-Cultura, we hope to improve both the state of our environment and our peoples health by bringing attention to these issues and offering some alternatives.

Re-using 'rubbish' at the Bio-Cultura nursery
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