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Thu Mar 07 2013: Colourful Skirts and Outlaw Saints

During the middle of the week our Spanish teachers, Susanne and Mario, take us out on a field trip to a local town just outside of Xela called San Andres Xecul to practice our Espanol.

Waiting for our "bus" to fill up before heading out

And we're off! Transportation Guatemala-stylez!

View of San Andres Xecul from the top of the hill

San Andres Xecul is a quaint little town set against the mountainside of the Guatemalan highlands. It's famous for its brightly coloured yellow church. After the Spanish invaded Central America, there was much suspicion of the Catholic church, so as a peace offering, this church was painted in indigenous colours to entice them to attend.

Thursday is market day, so the town square was filled with women
either selling or buying stuff. And children supervising the process...

Candles sold outside the church

Spanish hymns were softly sung at the front of the church,
the devotion is palpable in the air.

Most of the women wore the colourful, traditional clothing of the indigenous Maya

My teacher, Mario, is very knowledgeable about the history of the Maya. He told us that to this day, the indigenous population is largely discriminated against by the rest of Guatemala and treated very poorly. The main differentiator between the Mayans and the rest of the society is their native clothing, and some modern Maya (mainly the men) have given up traditional garb in order escape discrimination and to secure jobs. The women face less pressure as they either work in the markets or look after the children, and are more able to display the clothing of their past with pride.

Rearranging the "storefront"

Personal grooming is very important in sales

Accompanying mom to the market

Brightly coloured church overlooks all market transactions

Trying to get a good deal...

So much character in the people and the streets of San Andres Xecul

San Simon - not your average Saint...

Mario took us to a private residence, and we walked through someone's living room, through their backyard into a shed where a shrine was set up to the Mayan god, San Simon. Worshiped by the ancient Mayans as a symbol of male sexual power, today he is depicted as a man dressed in 20th century clothing, smoking a cigarette with bottles of booze around his waist, sometimes carrying a rifle. I am not joking.

San Simon has been denounced by the Catholic church and he has been identified with Judas Iscariot. All this makes the "outlaw saint" even more popular with the indigenous population. Many shrines are set up in private houses hidden away from the authorities, and different coloured candles are sold to visitors so that they can be burned at his feet to bring success, wealth and power.

Our teacher Mario looks on, while Neda asks San Simon for his blessings in our travels

Different coloured candles signify different meanings. Blue is supposed to bring good luck for travel, white is for spiritual well-being, yellow is for personal protection and red is for luck in love. There are also black candles, and those are meant to wish ill will or harm to others! San Simon is not really a saint, but an amoral Mayan god that is supposed to grant all wishes, good or bad.

It's easy to see the allure of such a deity amongst the downtrodden indigenous population.

The "patron saint of drunkards and gamblers" looks on in satisfaction while our candles burn at his feet.

The ground is covered in melted wax from all the other visitors who have come here
with candles in hand and prayers in their hearts.

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