by Christopher Casillas, CSEE Board Member
Recently, CSEE partnered with New Mexico based nonprofit, Saq’ Be’ to support Mayans in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. For over 20 years, Saq’ Be’ has worked to advance Mayan spirituality in Guatemala, working with prominent elders like the late Carlos Barrios, member of the Council of Mayan Elders and World Council of Mayan Elders.
CSEE’s partnership with Saq’ Be’ is centered around a garden project in Chichicastenango focused on supporting traditional Maya medicine and spirituality by growing and harvesting food and healing plants. I went to Chichicastenango and met with Saq’ Be’s on the ground leader, Denise Barrios, along with the elders directly involved in the project to build a deeper relationship between us all, and to see the garden site in person.
After a colorful drive from Guatemala City to Chichicastenango, we met the elders overseeing the project, Juan and Miguel León Cortez. Welcoming us into their art gallery, these twins and Maya Ajq’ij (shamans) shared how they both inherited their deep ancestral tradition from their grandfather. The gallery serves as a hub for ceremonies and spiritual processes that take place at the nearby fire pits and altar house they built.
A ladder climb away, above the fire ceremony area on terraced land, is the garden site. Using their calendars and traditional ceremonies, Juan and Miguel approach the whole project in a sacred way. In part because of CSEE’s support, they have been able to prepare the land, build an indoor plant processing area, and acquire and sow seeds. Now their community is coming together around the ceremonial processes of growth and use of a soon to come harvest. Look out for more updates from this joint effort between Saq’ Be’ and CSEE in Chichicastenango!
In the future, Saq’ Be’ would like to help start additional garden projects in other native communities in Guatemala and beyond. The long term aim is to create a communication network between medicine people, enabling collaboration and exchange between them.
The warmth, power, and humility demonstrated by these elders and new friends is inspiring. We’re looking forward to an ongoing and blessed partnership with Saq’ Be’ and the Mayan people.