Colonial Catholicism

In appearances Guatemala is an overwhelmingly Christian country with about 5 million people claiming membership with the Roman Catholic Church, that is near 50-60% of the entire population. The remaining 40% are Protestant, though numbers are growing in recent years as more and more convert to the evangelical and pentecostal churches . Only 1% of Guatemalans identify with the indigenous Mayan faith. It is important to note, hoexternal image Guatemala%20Basilica_100_0687.jpgwever, that these numbers reveal only how people identify in public. Near 40% of Guatemala's population is made up of those indigenous to the region. When the Spanish colonized what is now Guatemala the indigenous culture was violently suppressed. The Catholic Church was the institutional backbone of Spanish Colonialism, and has long thereafter served as an instrument of authority to subvert indigenous culture. Joining the church was a way for many indigenous people to assimilate into to the dominant culture and thus avoid oppression. In fact, Catholicism served as a veil for preserving traditional spiritual culture as catholic saints and concepts came to be merged with indigenous deities and traditional rituals. This practice of syncretism is prevalent in Latin America and throughout the world, it is not uncommon to see a depiction of a local deity marched alongside a carving of Jesus in an Easter parade for example. Although not always popular with the Catholic Church, this incorporation of indigenous spirituality was stubbornly persistent and not easily stamped out. From the onset of colonialism the Church did try to prevent Indigenous healers from practicing traditional medicine. This continued up until very recently. In the 1980s the Guatemalan national health care system, based on Western medicine, began reinforcing this stigma on traditional healers and banned them from practicing. In recent years there has been a growing resurgence of Indigenous culture in Guatemala. The Catholic church has spoken out in support of indigenous rights, and in 1992 issued a public apology for its past crimes of colonialism and forced evangelization in Guatemala. This was the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of Guatemala.
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This is an image of a gathering of Indigenous people at Zaculeu an ancient Mayan ruin in protest against the Guatemalan governments illegal decision to open new land to mining for a multinational corporation. The mining would take place on indigenous land and the government did not consult the people. As one man speaking to the crowd said "There are some who believe the Mayans are gone, and all that remains are these ruins. We are here to tell them: we are alive, and we are here to bring these monuments back to life."
They gathered to unite their identity as a people and practice traditional ceremonies in a message to the Government of Guatemala and the United Nations.

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Docter Jesus: Painting on the wall of a traumatologist's clinic waiting room in Guatemala.
Docter Jesus: Painting on the wall of a traumatologist's clinic waiting room in Guatemala.