Once upon a time the Mayans lived in peace. They led their lives uninterrupted planting corn, weaving beautiful fabrics, and following their rituals without the slightest awareness of Christianity or the Spaniards. As we all know, it changed substantially, and right now, what you can see in Guatemala is an amusing mixture of the ancient with the modern.
Yesterday, as the only student at my Spanish school signed up for an afternoon activity (oh, I would), I went with my teacher to the village named Zunil, in the mountains of Guatemala. It’s small, busy, colorful, very agricultural, and for a reason I don’t know full of vulture birds. It struck me, as in between the sights of traditionally dressed women caring baskets full of produce on their heads, I faced big, black birds with ugly faces covered in what reminded me of gray Halloween masks. It wasn’t the main attraction, though. Zunil is famous for its image of San Simon.
I was told beforehand that it’s some sort of a statue of a powerful saint who can solve your problems after an appropriate prayer or “sacrifice” like a lit candle and 5 Quetzales (half a dollar). Oh how surprised I was when I laid my eyes on a wooden, dressed-up doll.
Let me start from the beginning. The image is in one of the local houses, just a bare, gray, concrete room. Inside, there were a few indigenous women sitting on chairs by the left wall, busy with what I assume were some domestic tasks. Seeing me, one of them jumped to collect the entrance fee, and with a valuable piece of paper in her hand went back to whatever she was doing. I looked at the saint. He was on a pedestal, situated in a chair faced by a chorus of tall, lit candles and some flowers. His face was covered half by a cowboy hat, and half by modern-looking sunglasses. He was wearing a mouth covering black bandana too. I turned to my teacher trying to voicelessly ask… something, when I smelled a cigarette. It was stuck in San Simon’s face. Then I noticed there’s a liquor bottle on the floor, too. Well, I guess a man wearing a suit jacket, ironed black pants, and shiny shoes (not mentioning the shininess of whatever was visible of his face) needs to have some fun. What was even more interesting, was the towel in the colors of the American flag wrapped around his shoulders, black winter gloves covering his palms, and the silver chain with several rings on it hanging down his chest. Oh, I almost forgot about the donation basket in his lap.
Can’t picture it yet? Let me help you with that:
(photo credit goes to: http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/ang_kenny/1/1268697726/tpod.html#pbrowser/ang_kenny/1/1268697726/filename=san-simon-effigy-in-zunil.jpg)
I was astonished. As someone who was raised catholic, I am used to praising shrines and statues, but this one was so different, it took me a while to wrap my head around it. He’s considered powerful. The young ask him for love. The brave for a successful journey to the US (I guess that’s why the towel-flag). The sick for health. The helpless for inspiration and confidence. I must say it was an experience. An experience with a lot of religious perspective.