Mayan Child of Maturity

Mayan Child of Maturity

Observing indigenous Mayan people is one of the many charms of La Antigua that has captured me. One of the things that strikes me most about this intriguing culture is the maturity I see in the young Mayan children. This little girl, who looks to be no more than five-years-old, is calmly sitting by herself watching the daily activity and buzz on the cobbled street before her. Her hands are folded neatly in her lap and her feet are held together “ladylike.” She appears perfectly grown-up in her behavior. At the time I took this photo, there was a mime performing in the street entertaining me and many other tourists. Other non-Mayan children were actively engaged with the mime, falling prey to his silly tricks, giggling all the while. Yet, this little Mayan girl simply watched on from her curbside perch – interested, but not engaged. This is certainly not the first time I’ve witnessed such adult-like behavior from Mayan children at such a young age. Of course, I’ve seen plenty at play as well, but through my observations, I find that Mayan children possess a maturity level that is often well beyond their years. Even now, I must admit, I wouldn’t possess as much grace as this little girl while sitting on a curb. The maturity must come from their culture of working early and young. While hawking their handmade goods, many Mayan children display expert sales skills that could rival that of any high-pressure salesmen in the States. Often, I see five-year-old children caring for newborns. For them, it’s normal. For me, they’re little grown ups.

text and photo by Laura McNamara.

Laura McNamaraAbout Guest Contributor: Laura McNamara is a Web-savvy new media journalist well-versed in all facets of reporting and coverage. She has blogged her way through more than 20 countries across the globe. Yet, it’s La Antigua Guatemala that has captured her heart. Currently, she’s setting up “base camp” from the charming, colonial town surrounded by fuming volcanoes. You can look for her work around town as she begins writing for The Revue as a freelance contributor. She is also hunting for venues to sell her photography.

© 2009 – 2013, Laura McNamara. All rights reserved.

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  • Hola! She is so beautiful! I love her cute skirt. I wonder how old she is? Muchos gracias – adios

  • Andrea P

    I absolutely love this shot. You completely captured in the photo everything you describe, and then some! A picture truly is worth a thousand words.

  • emromesco

    Pues this is an excellent post to start the new LAGDP: GC. I am no photographer, but it seems amazing the position of the girl and her face looking to the right (her left). The text also gives it the context. Nice insights Laura. Us ladinos are too influenced by Western standards, including the protection of the idea that “childhood” is immature. Responsability falls on the shoulders of these little ones early in life. One day I’ll be able to research these cultural differences, in the meantime I read Barbara Rogoff.

  • For me this image is both lovely and wistfull- and it brings to mind a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke-

    The Grown-Up

    All this stood upon her and was the world and stood upon her with all its fear and grace
    as trees stand, growing straight up, imageless
    yet wholly image, like the Arc of a God,
    and solemn, as if imposed upon a race

    As she endured it all: bore up under
    the swift-as-flight, the fleeting, the far gone,
    the inconceivably vast, the still to learn,
    serenely as a woman carrying water
    moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play,
    transfiguring and preparing for the future,
    the first white veil descended, gliding softly

    over her opened face, almost opaque there,
    never to be lifted off again, and somehow
    giving to all her questions just one answer:
    In you, who were a child once – in you.

  • Clarion Guatemala

    Nice picture.

    No creo que la pequeña sea más madura que otras niñas, lo que yo veo es timidez, los guatemaltecos hemos tenido una cultura de represión especialmente en las personas catalogadas como indígenas (aunque creo que todos lo somos).

    Es una tierna y bella imagen…

    Saludos desde el hotel más lindo en Guate: Clarion suites!

  • Eric

    Great shot, Laura – a fantastic “picture says 1,000 words” photo. And the cobblestone grey-to-green-to multicolored skirt-to-purple, back-to-grey-with-some-yellow thing is fantastic. Definitely makes the eye wander all about the frame.
    The maturity level of the little ones does get to me, as well – and, I must admit, the little salespeople all over Guate. might just get a few extra quetzales out of me than an adult would. Can’t help it. The five-year-olds in La Antigua ask me if I would like to buy something, and have I ever been to New York City … my 5-year-old nephew in California is too busy playing his video games to ask me much of anything !

  • Thanks for all the positive feedback. It’s really humbling to know that others connect with something with which I felt a connection. And great references to additional literature! @emromesco: The Cultural Nature of Human Development by Barbara Rogoff looks like an interesting read. @Michele Woodey: My favorite lines in the Rilke poem you posted is “serenely as a woman carrying water moves with a full jug. Till in the midst of play, transfiguring and preparing for the future, the first white veil descended, gliding softly…”

  • @Clarion Buen observacion. Puedo ver timidez tambien. Y ese es la cosa bonita con fotagrafia y arte. Todo puede ver algo diferente. Por favor, perdona mi espanol. Todavia estoy apprendiendo…

    @Eric So true! When I visit my family in the States, I’m lucky if I can distract my 12-year-old little brother from his video games for just 5 minutes…

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  • ale

    Amazing image and interesting observation about the maturity of the Mayan kids which I think is true, I’ll hope as well that they enjoy the innocence and the playfulness of being a kid. thanks for sharing

  • @Everyone, I am very excited about the new guest contributions and the good response thus far. Thanks everyone for your wonderful feedback.

  • LARRY

    Laura (you too Rudy) and the rest of the “LaAntigua-philes” need to stick to the architecture , food and holidays. The ladino locals are too affected by the environment ( tourists, cameras, money, hotels, traffic, etc) and the indigenous people that make such great photo subjects , for the most part, are not residents but travel in by bus from aldeas. Laura, wanna study the mayan? Go to Patzun, only an hour away. It’s (officially) 97% Kakchiquel and unaffected by tourists,hotels, and the rest that makes LaAntigua (I got it right Rudy) so unique. It’s where my wife is from and where I’ve been going for almost 40 years. Gracias

  • @Larry. I appreciate your comment.

    I would like to argue though, (on my own behalf and not on Rudy’s) that I understand this blog to be about La Antigua. Whether the indigenous people own homes here in the city or whether they commute to La Antigua does not change the fact that they are a big component of the city itself. I feel that even if we posted a photo of a tourist that passed through for just one day, that subject would still merit the title “Antigua Characters.” Are they not a face that appeared in La Antigua? Did his or her presence not affect the daily life and activity of La Antigua? Tourists, indigenous people and indigenous people largely affected and influenced by tourists are still the very subjects that create the unique atmosphere of La Antigua. Ignoring such subjects simply because you might not agree with how they are influenced does no justice to capturing the true essence of the city. They are here. They influence life in Antigua. I, for one, most certainly believe they are large part of La Antigua’s story. They also help draw the tourists that come to see the “architecture,” taste the “food,” and enjoy the “holidays.” I won’t pretend to be an expert on La Antigua, but, from what I’ve experienced thus far… this city is so much more than “architecture, food and holidays.” In fact, many of my most cherished experiences here in La Antigua have been shared with these influenced Maya people from outside.

    Again, thanks for sparking the discussion Larry! I am most certainly eager to explore Patzun as well. Let me know if I can hitch a ride the next time you go! 😉

  • One of my favorite pictures and posts. Fire that Rudy guy; you’re a lot easier on the eyes!

  • @Mark Hehehe… thanks Mark! Kind words… But, it is Rudy and his work that has generated such a community through this blog. I think the factor that connects us all would be sorely missing without Rudy!

  • emromesco

    Pues if they are within the Greater La Antigua Area they are fair game for LAGDP! Is like saying that the Roma are not part of the landscape of Brussels, for example… just because they are not from the city. LAG is a cosmopolitan city and a hub of commerce for the surrounding area and that is what has been captured here and in other posts. The mother’s day one is an example, since LAG is not a quechi city it doesn’t mean you can find them roaming the city.

  • Ale

    me encanta la foto!! qué buena contribución.

  • Michele Woodey

    What a strange comment, to suggest reducing down any city let alone Antigua to just architecture, food and holidays!-I guess if it comes down to it , in an age of com-modification, of just about everything, then London just is Big Ben, fish and chips and Madame Tussauds- Paris; The Eiffel tower, baguettes and Disney land-New York; The Chrysler building, corned beef on rye and central park-Toronto; the CN Tower, hot dogs, and Ontario place!!! ………………….Hold on, er- where’s the people?

  • LARRY

    You are partly right Laura, I was trying to stimulate some discussion.

  • Gorgeous portrait; apart from the wonderful ‘ladylike’ expression that you mention, the background is spot-on with lovely colours going on

  • Salvador

    Great job Laura !! Keep following your feelings and don´t forget to share with us.

  • @Larry: Partly right? Hehehe…

    @Michelle, @Salvador, @Ale, @emromesco: Thanks for the support!! It means mucho! 😉

  • SHARON

    ON jULY 1 DID THE SCHOOLS AND PROJECTS REOPEN?

    I know that on June 11 the government shut them due to H1N1 flu. thank you for ANY information

  • norm kwallek

    I was waiting to be let in the bank, I noticed three little girls sleeping/resting on a piece of cardboard on the sidewalk. The oldest at no more than five years had an arm and a leg resting on her sistesr so she would awaken if one of them tried to move. Their mother was across the street in the zocolo selling crafts and the young man with the pumpgun at the bank was keeping a good eye on all. My kids took it all in and considered themselves lucky.
    Nice photo.

  • Wow. Excellent observation and compelling story to share. Thanks Norm. Seriously, I love this little tidbit you shared and I love how both you and your kids actually noticed. How many residents, tourists, etc… would you say passed by without even taking a second glance??

  • this is gorgeous. truly superb image.

  • Thanks Julie!

  • norm kwallek

    Poverty is what it is, I want my loved ones to know that much of the world is poor but being poor makes them no different in their love for each other than in our family’s love for each other. I study the human condition, your site is a great place to study.

  • @Norm, thanks for the wonderful feedback and your continued support. Your comments are very much appreciated.

  • @norm: touche to studying the human condition! And I’m not convinced that the “poor” always have the short end of the stick. I’ve visited I don’t know how many villages that are nestled among lush tropical forests that carpet the slopes of mountains and volcanoes. Often, waterfalls, rivers and wildlife are permanent fixtures in their “backyard.” They live in shacks but who needs anything else when you have that? Who needs diamonds when you can frost yourself with fresh, mountain spring water?

    I’ve seen shacks with satellite dishes. My parents – with their cushy middle class home in the States – still haven’t sprung for a satellite dish.

    Sometimes I think they’ve got it all figured out. They spring for luxury only when it’s of true value (communication) and leave the rest to us greedy consumers while they enjoy the luxuries of the world’s natural riches.

    That all being said, I am aware there are many who don’t even have access to clean water and have a host of other needs… that’s another topic of discussion that I’ll leave for later.

  • Michael Bosio

    Larry, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Patzun from Dec. 1978-Jan. 1982. I was the last PCV living in the Highlands as we were all forced to leave as the violence spread. I left Guatemala with a broken heart, and have not been back since. Just recently I’ve gotten a computer, and have started reconnecting myself through these blogs. I would like to return to ” Patzun de mis recuerdos” to once again see old friends who’ve survived, and to pay my respects to those who’ve passed on. By the way, little girls were always referred to as “mujercitas” , little women.

  • Michael Bosio

    Larry, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in Patzun from Dec. 1978-Jan. 1982. I had pretty much “gone native”, was fluent in Cakchiquel, and was the last PCV forced to leave the Highlands when the violence spread. I left Guate. with a broken heart, and have not been back since. Just recently I’ve gotten a computer, and am reconnecting with the past through these blogs. I would love to return to “Patzun de mis recuerdos”, find old friends who have survived, and to pay my respects to those who’ve passed on. By the way, little girls were always referred to as “mujercitas”, little women, and they were instructed poise and grace from the time they were toddlers.

    • wendy wilson

      Michael — Hi — if you get this and remember me from undergraduate life please give me a sign. Where are you now? I’m in Boise, Idaho. I found your oak cabinet dehydrator in my garage recently. Am I remembering correctly? I mentioned to my daughter that I lived in your tipi for a summer. She was jealous and wants one. Hope all is well with you.?? Life is good.

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  • why isn’t the pic here anymore?