2007 Ceremony

As the new representative for Pueblo Partisans in Guatemala, I was fortunate to be part of a second annual celebration with the cooperative Tanhoc, in the El Petén department of Guatemala. This special ceremony celebrated Pueblo Partisans’ involvement in the application of an annual installment of a renegotiated concessional loan from the Guatemalan Land Fund (FONTIERRAS). This loan helps the community earn a land title for their agricultural co-operative, through a program that verifies the enhancement of the residents’ level of education. The sixth and final land payment will be made on November 11, 2011. The people of Tanhoc had requested Pueblo Partisans to help them develop a project that would permit them to gain full legal title to their land. This was accomplished by combining the community’s need for land security with their desire to improve their educational opportunities. Pueblo Partisans provides one education credit for each community member that successfully completes a grade level at an institution approved by the Guatemalan Ministry of Education. The community member may also receive credit for successfully completing a course in one of Pueblo Partisans’ community development workshops. These education credits are then applied to the annual installment that pays down the land loan.


Representatives at the celebration.
Back row: Teacher (Tanhoc School), David Mayen (Ministry of Education), Juan Carlos Aldana (Fondo de Tierras), Sister Mary Faye, Amy Backes, Angel Kilkán (INACOP & Mayor-elect of Poptún); 
Front row: Teacher (Tanhoc School), Mario Guzmán (INACOP), Francisco Cuz (Pueblo Partisans' local representative).

The fiesta started the night before, with a procession of “los ancianos” (the older residents) carrying burning incense and sacrificing a turkey for the Mayan gods. They had been preparing all day, making tamales, building an altar and setting up the church for the ceremony. At 7 p.m., the marimbas began, as if calling to the residents. People soon began meandering toward the church, which sits on top of an ancient temple that has not been excavated.

When I arrived, it seemed the whole village was there, sitting in small groups, talking. Small children were already asleep on beds made of tarps and blankets. I was quickly offered warm coffee and I then started to mingle with the people. I watched three, sometimes four, men playing the marimbas. I saw the altar in front of the church, full of candles, incense and images of saints.

Soon after I arrived, they began a vesper, which is a combination of Mayan and Catholic tradition. Songs were sung in Q’eqchi’ (their native language), accompanied by an acoustic guitar. Charismatic speeches and prayers were then given. Processions of women, carrying incense and candles, filled the aisle during the ceremony, waiting to bless the altar and the commencement of the ceremony. When it all ended, it was 11:30 p.m. Then, everyone began eating tamales filled with spicy black beans. I retired to my hut to rest, because the ceremony was to begin again the next day at 10 a.m. I heard the music until three or four in the morning, as they continued to celebrate the occasion.

The next morning, the out-of-town guests arrived: the current manager of the Instituto Nacional de Cooperativas (INACOPthe National Institute of Cooperatives), his assistant, a representative from Fondo de Tierras (Land Trust), and the minister of education, all from the El Petén region of Guatemala. We greeted the guests and introduced ourselves, then brought them to the church where the ceremony was about to begin. I sat up front, with all the representatives. Near me was Sister Mary Faye, a nun who used to live and teach in the village of Tanhoc. She has been very instrumental in educating of some of the men and women living there and elsewhere. Before the ceremony in the church started, the entire congregation gathered around a small fire outside, to offer a prayer to their gods for this special occasion. Candles were distributed to everyone, and one by one we passed the fire and tossed our candles in, before returning to the church.


Don Sebastián conducting the candle ceremony.

Many encouraging speeches were given about the project and the importance of education, all translated into Q’eqchi'. I spoke specifically about their participation and encouraged them to continue taking classes, for their future. I began and ended in Q’eqchi’, trying to emphasize the need to preserve their indigenous language. The most touching part of the ceremony, for me, was the opportunity to hand the annual payment to a local Mayan woman. She, in turn, spoke to the representative of Fondos de Tierras, in Spanish, about how proud they were to pay off part of their loan. My heart was full as I realized how fortunate I was to represent Pueblo Partisans in helping the people progress in their education and ownership of their land.

Then, the diplomas and certificates were given to each person who attended school or specific classes throughout the year. Examples include kindergarten through grade six, middle school, some high school, and classes in pig husbandry and environmental restoration. Some adults were also given certificates for learning how to read and write. The diplomas and certificates were created by Francisco Cuz, a local resident taught by Sister Mary Faye and who gave the courses in pig husbandry and environmental restoration; he is also a local representative for Pueblo Partisans. Francisco now studies in the capital, Guatemala City. He has only one year before he completes his degree in Agronomy. After that, he plans to return and work with his community, to help sustain their land.


Juan Carlos Aldana (Fondo de Tierras) handing out the diplomas.

After the formal ceremony, we all ate chicken soup with special tortillas and tamalitos. These are a tamale with no stuffing, but rather like a “cake” of delicious, rich masa, wrapped in a type of banana leaf. All the guests were honored by eating first and sitting at the only table. The ambience was happy and full of gratitude for our presence there, and for our commitment to their community. This is the second year that we have helped them pay off their land debt, and I hope that our words and commitment to them will encourage them to continue their education, which would help to sustain their community.

I emphasized to those around me that I, too, am a student; a student of their culture, their traditions and their lives. As my teachers, I hope they are reminded of the importance of these things and that others are interested in who they are. May this upcoming year bring higher enrollment, more educational opportunities and a closer relationship between Pueblo Partisans and Tanhoc. Many feel this is a successful endeavor, and I believe in its mission.

May we all be grateful for our education and be encouraged to share it with others. With Peace and Love,

Amy Backes

More photos of the 2007 celebration here.

Amy Backes is a Registered Nurse and has a Baccalaureate of Science in Nursing. She was the representative for Pueblo Partisans in Guatemala, from 2006 to 2009.