High atop a clearing at the end of a pockmarked dirt road in the San Juan Comalapa highlands, four women from the Moloj Wa'ix Ejqalem collective gave their performance that addresses sexual violence in Guatemala.
The performance spans Guatemala’s complicated political and cultural histories, and addresses the trauma and silence that comes in the wake of violence, the need to speak out and denounce abusers, and the healing that can be brought about through ancestral practices and community support.
We don’t just have to say the things we’re thinking - we can use art to change the way people think. People can hear our message and together we can use this art form that is part of our history, and the collective history of our culture
The Guatemalan Civil War produced more than 30 years of bloodshed. Between 1960 and 1996, 200,000 Guatemalans were killed, nearly 80% of whom were indigenous peoples. Believing that groups of Mayan protestors were in support of opposition guerilla units, the Guatemalan government wiped out entire communities and disposed of their bodies in unmarked mass graves.
In addition to genocide, the Guatemalan military carried out a mass rape of indigenous women, forcing thousands into sexual slavery and domestic servitude. As recently as 2016, a group of Mayan women brought a case against and defeated the Guatemalan government for crimes of sexual violence and slavery suffered during the Civil War.
We also concluded that the society that we live in now is a result, a consequence of the Civil War. Where the young men were obligated to fulfill military service. Where they were subjected to acts of violence, and they were trained not to care
There are 21 different Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. Although Spanish is the country's official language, many indigenous communities continue to survive ancestral dialects that communicate Mayan traditions and values. This can, however, come with challenges. Many public institutions, including schools and hospitals, do not provide services in Mayan languages.
There are things that are important for us to say in Spanish so that people can understand them, so we do small parts in Spanish. But most parts we speak Kaqchiquel becuause we’re Kaqchiqueles, right? We speak in Kaqchiquel to claim our culture.
Some people say if you don’t perform it in the capitol, if you don’t perform it in front of foreigners, it’s not art. But we also make art. Our language is art
Through our performance we want to give women to power to think, not in the way of "oh us poor women" - but instead, I have the ability make the decisions about my own territory, my body. This territory that I control, where I decide what happens
I think the message reaches people and, little by little, generation to generation, with one person, two people, three people, they take seriously their power to change, their desire to change, so that the way of thinking and the way people act is changed, starting with oneself, with family, with children - that which surrounds them. Only in this way can we make a change