Altos

The Maya of the Guatemalan Highlands

Cory Zimmerman

“If I destroy you, I destroy myself. If I honor you, I honor myself”

—Hunbatz Men

 
An unbroken horse kicks his hind legs alongside a mountain highway outside the village of Chimaltneango. Horses and donkeys are essential to the highland way of life, as they are used for transportation, and the hauling of firewood, often for long distances, over rough and steep terrain.

An unbroken horse kicks his hind legs alongside a mountain highway outside the village of Chimaltneango. Horses and donkeys are essential to the highland way of life, as they are used for transportation, and the hauling of firewood, often for long distances, over rough and steep terrain.

 
 
 

A Dream

I am drawn to these places where the world is still real, where you can feel the past and the connection between things, and the course of events that led everything to this point, where you can look back and see the path upon which you came, a path not so easily paved over by denial nor disillusionment. As I arrive to a home, as strangers we study one another out of the corner of the eye, but Mayan kindness is virtuous, and I am welcomed into a home most would consider nothing more than a barn for livestock. Nonetheless they endure, finding the will to live with dignity upon dirt floors. Although the Maya speak two dozen languages, we speak only with the eyes, and I notice a pair glisten from a darkened room. But, I cannot yet see the dreams hidden deeply behind those dark pupils, and as the earthen feet of the young girl swiftly scurry from the shadows, nor do I sense the dreams that flee with her into the fog and corn stalk. After a few portraits, I bid the family farewell, and I step out of the dark shack into the glowing mist, my shadow cast lightly upon the ground. As I set forth upon the dusty path to set their image free, I feel the sharpness of the other edge of the sword, as the reality of whom these people actually are, I know will be tarnished through the filter of modernity, false judgment and pity. I take a moment to turn back and see golden teeth glistening. And as I continue toward a world they will never know, a world that exists only within their dreams, the young girl emerges from the stalk with a small boy clinched by the hand. She drags his stumbling feet to the edge of her family’s land, and I continue beyond, as I consider she truly does want to be seen, and her fears are of never being seen again. In the world of her own, to walk away, for seeing eyes to never see again, is akin to death. As I reach a bend, I turn back, and there she stands, and through the fog I can see the vanishing silhouette of her waving arm, and a dream as clear as day.

 
 
 
A young Mayan boy sits outside his home in the highland village of El Bejucal, a structure most would consider nothing more than a barn for livestock.

A young Mayan boy sits outside his home in the highland village of El Bejucal, a structure most would consider nothing more than a barn for livestock.

 
 
A traditional Maya woman, and two of her six children, cook tortillas in their smokey and dark kitchen, in the village of Chuacorral, as her husband is away most of the day working in the fields. In her free time she weaves traditional Mayan clothing that she sells to the other woman of her village.

A traditional Maya woman, and two of her six children, cook tortillas in their smokey and dark kitchen, in the village of Chuacorral, as her husband is away most of the day working in the fields. In her free time she weaves traditional Mayan clothing that she sells to the other woman of her village.

 
 
A Mayan woman and her child inside their rustic home in the village of Las Joyas, a highland village greatly dependent on NGO assistance.

A Mayan woman and her child inside their rustic home in the village of Las Joyas, a highland village greatly dependent on NGO assistance.

 
 
A Mayan Child with a dirty face in a small mountain top village outside the city of Quetzaltenango, locally know by its Mayan name, Xela. Water is a valuable and scarce resource in dusty highland villages, and often children go long periods of time without bathing.

A Mayan Child with a dirty face in a small mountain top village outside the city of Quetzaltenango, locally know by its Mayan name, Xela. Water is a valuable and scarce resource in dusty highland villages, and often children go long periods of time without bathing.

 
 
A young Mayan girl stands before her home in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

A young Mayan girl stands before her home in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

 
 
A young Mayan boy ties up his horse in the highland village of Las Joyas.

A young Mayan boy ties up his horse in the highland village of Las Joyas.

 
 
A shy teenage Mayan girl runs off into the corn stalk with her sheep in the highland village of Chuacorral.

A shy teenage Mayan girl runs off into the corn stalk with her sheep in the highland village of Chuacorral.

 
 
A Mayan farmer stands proudly before his land in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

A Mayan farmer stands proudly before his land in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

 
 
A Mayan mother holds her infant child on a road that runs along the base of the highland village of Chuacorral.

A Mayan mother holds her infant child on a road that runs along the base of the highland village of Chuacorral.

 
 
A Maya woman stands in a corn field in her village of Chuacorral, where she volunteers with the local NGO, Feed the Children, to help educate the woman of her village about proper nutrition, as malnourishment and food insecurity plagues the Maya population, of which the children suffer the most.

A Maya woman stands in a corn field in her village of Chuacorral, where she volunteers with the local NGO, Feed the Children, to help educate the woman of her village about proper nutrition, as malnourishment and food insecurity plagues the Maya population, of which the children suffer the most.

 
 
A Mayan mother and child stand in their rustic kitchen in the highland village of El Bejucal.

A Mayan mother and child stand in their rustic kitchen in the highland village of El Bejucal.

 
 
A Mayan woman stands proudly in her kitchen in the highland village of Las Joyas.

A Mayan woman stands proudly in her kitchen in the highland village of Las Joyas.

 
 
A Mayan family is happy to receive garnering supplies from a local NGO. The NGO, know as Feed the Children has been helping the woman of various villages start vegetable gardens they can tend to while their husbands are away working on plantations. They are provided with tools, fencing, fertilizer and a large variety of seeds that will allow the family to have a well rounded diet in order to combat the malnourishment that plagues their community.

A Mayan family is happy to receive garnering supplies from a local NGO. The NGO, know as Feed the Children has been helping the woman of various villages start vegetable gardens they can tend to while their husbands are away working on plantations. They are provided with tools, fencing, fertilizer and a large variety of seeds that will allow the family to have a well rounded diet in order to combat the malnourishment that plagues their community.

 
 
A Mayan girl stands outside her home in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

A Mayan girl stands outside her home in the highland village of La Ilusion Chuiquel.

 
 
An older Mayan woman in a remote mountain top village outside the community of Chimaltenango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

An older Mayan woman in a remote mountain top village outside the community of Chimaltenango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

 
 
A Maya woman stands in her kitchen, which is detached from the house to prevent filling the home with smoke, as she cooks over a wood fire. She raises her arm welcomingly toward her home, a shack sat on a steep hill side in the village of Las Joyas. Like most Maya, she is proud of her home, in spite of its destitute condition.

A Maya woman stands in her kitchen, which is detached from the house to prevent filling the home with smoke, as she cooks over a wood fire. She raises her arm welcomingly toward her home, a shack sat on a steep hill side in the village of Las Joyas. Like most Maya, she is proud of her home, in spite of its destitute condition.

 
 
A Mayan boy plays with his slingshot in the highland village of Chuacorral. Sling shots are a common toy amongst Mayan children and are also used as a tool to knock avocados from tree tops.

A Mayan boy plays with his slingshot in the highland village of Chuacorral. Sling shots are a common toy amongst Mayan children and are also used as a tool to knock avocados from tree tops.

 
 
A Mayan woman in a remote mountain top village outside the community of Quetzalnango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

A Mayan woman in a remote mountain top village outside the community of Quetzalnango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

 
 
A Mayan mother and daughter wait to be seen by a doctor during a medical mission orchestrated annually by a local NGO called ASSADE, that is visiting the remote highland village outside the community of Chimaltenango. Medical serives are sparse in the highlands, and the sick usually have to travel very far to a city to seek treatment.

A Mayan mother and daughter wait to be seen by a doctor during a medical mission orchestrated annually by a local NGO called ASSADE, that is visiting the remote highland village outside the community of Chimaltenango. Medical serives are sparse in the highlands, and the sick usually have to travel very far to a city to seek treatment.

 
 
A Mayan child lies on the dirt floor of his home in a highland village just outside the community of San Andrés Itzapa.

A Mayan child lies on the dirt floor of his home in a highland village just outside the community of San Andrés Itzapa.

 
 
A young Mayan girl in the highland village of Las Joyas.

A young Mayan girl in the highland village of Las Joyas.

 
 
An older Mayan woman brushes her hair in a remote mountain top village, outside the community of Quetzaltenango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

An older Mayan woman brushes her hair in a remote mountain top village, outside the community of Quetzaltenango, known locally by its Mayan name, Xela.

 
 
A Mayan girl holds a freshly cut tulip in her home in a small mountain top village outside the community of San Andrés Itzapa.

A Mayan girl holds a freshly cut tulip in her home in a small mountain top village outside the community of San Andrés Itzapa.

 
 
A Mayan mother and daughter fade into the clouds that regularly engulf the highland village of Chuacorral, as they walk down the road toward their home. Walking long distances, often on steep terrain is a typical part of Mayan daily life.

A Mayan mother and daughter fade into the clouds that regularly engulf the highland village of Chuacorral, as they walk down the road toward their home. Walking long distances, often on steep terrain is a typical part of Mayan daily life.