Maximon | Guatexplorer

The origins of Maximon date back to Mayan mythology at the time of the Conquista, in which there was a character named Rilaj Maam who was revered as the guardian protector of the Tz'utujil people. Rilaj Maam means The Great Grandfather. Other names that are often used are Don Ximon and San Simón. Maximon usually takes patronage over persons health, crops, marriage, business, revenge and even death.

People who venerate Maximón believe that he has the faculties to know the past, see the present and predict the future because he has knowledge of the worldview, spirituality, culture, and energy that govern human beings and the universe. In the oral tradition it is affirmed that after Maximón offered his knowledge to the population, he went to a mountain, burned pom, made ceremonial invocations, took fermented honey and vanished in timelessness. He did not die like ordinary beings but spread out in space and time.

The figure is often carved of the special kind of wood. That is Erythrina berteroana or in the Spanish language “arbol de pitos”. In English, it is known as Coral Tree and has big red seeds that were used to make whistles.

In some areas of Guatemala, you can encounter churches dedicated to Maximon, San Simon. In other cities and villages, a deity is hosted by a local family in their house, where they dedicate one room to this cult and their neighbors can come and make a sacrifice. Then, after some period, other family takes Maximon and settles him in their house with a combination of fear and respect. The depiction is mostly the same: a hat, sunglasses, bandana, colorful dress (in many places you can find a US flag used). Visitors then gift Maximon with rum, food, candles, and cigarettes.

This brings us to the depiction of the character of Maximon: he is a symbol of the good and the bad in the same personality. While he can cure you, he can also seduce your wife. While he has great powers and even can see the future, he is a drinker, a person of basic bodily urges. Those who worship in fact hate and love Maximon at the same time. There is a sense of fear. Those that have a higher knowledge of Maximon always warn people to be very careful because you never know what he will decide and do to you.

Some Guatemalan authors that view this phenomenon mainly as psychological one claim that Maximon is in fact depiction of the human nature. Maximon is that strong life paradigm where the good and the bad have a lifetime fight inside a human being. He is our weakness and our strength. He is our Great Grandfather.

Maximon | Guatexplorer

Maximon | Guatexplorer

Burning of the devil | Guatexplorer

The religious meaning of this activity is known: in Catholic Church 8th of December is the day of the Immaculate Conception, Nativity of Mary. It is the day nine months prior to the day of the birth of Holy Virgin, 15th of August. Now, in the old times, there was no public illumination, so they burned fires along the way of processions dedicated to Virgin Mary that started the evening before. During the times it changed into the burning of the Devil.

The idea is to collect all the things that you don't need in your house providing that they can burn. It is usually an old newspaper, various paper garbage, documents you don't need, branches and wooden objects and so on. Idea is to purify your living space before Christmas. To make this statement more strong, you have to buy a pinata of the little Devil. That one is for burning on the top of the pile saying: Devil, go away from our house, leaving us pure, clean, renewed.

Of course, this typical Guatemalan custom is combined with the fireworks. Everything during the month of December in Guate is combined with the fireworks. The visitor can be puzzled with the number of explosions on a daily basis. But, don't be alarmed and join some Guatemalan family and help them to burn the Devil. After burning usually comes a rich, traditional Guatemalan family supper!

Dance of the Mexicans | Guatexplorer

One of the most interesting dances is called “The dance of the Mexicans”. Now, why would people in a country that neighbors Mexico in the south organizes such an event? Isn’t this mocking of the Mexicans? And why it happens?

Memories of the times of the Conquista live even today in modern Guatemala. The fact is: Guatemala was conquered from what would later become Mexico. Therefore, even Pedro de Alvarado, notorious and cruel conqueror of Guatemala, was Mexican in a way. With him, came the warriors from Tlaxcala and they were ruthless killers. And native Mexicans. To defeated Mayan people what’s left after all is to mock. To keep those bad memories through this chaotic dance of the Mexicans.

This tradition is held mostly in Totonicapán, Chichicastenango and Quetzaltenango areas. Dance is surrounded by various rituals that include incense and candles. Usually, this special event is held in October and some groups of “Mexicans” perform even on the All Saints Day. Photos below, made by Willy Posadas, are made in Sumpango during the famous Kites Festival.

Whatever you do in Guatemala, try also to visit some local festival in some small town. Blend in and enjoy.

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