Kaj’yup, an ancient ruins located on a small hill overlooking Rabinal, is considered to be the most sacred historical and cultural site of the Achí people (Achí is name for the Mayan group that lives in Rabinal and surrounding areas). According to oral tradition, Kaj’yup was and is the home of Rabinal-Achí, the once living Achí prince who continues to watch over the people of Rabinal as a guardian spirit.
Each year, the entire group of Voces y Manos scholarship students, volunteers, and parents of scholarship recipients travels to Kaj’yup to learn about and practice a traditional Mayan ceremony. The Mayan ceremony gives us volunteers an opportunity to deepen our understanding of Mayan traditions, it helps students build knowledge and pride in their own culture, and it gives the entire group an opportunity to build relationships outside the context of the classroom.
On Sunday morning, we met in plaza of Rabinal at 6:00 am, just as the sun was rising. There, we met up with Manuel, a longtime Voces y Manos advisor who leads the ceremony each year. After a quick head count, we followed Manuel up the hillside to Kaj’yup. The hike took us just over and hour, and when we arrived the sun was high in the sky.
We all drank water voraciously and socialized as we waited for Manuel to set up the materials for the ceremony. Manuel was accompanied by his 6 year old son, Josué, who was at Kaj’yup for the first time. Josue seemed excited to be able to help his dad, and hang out with “the big kids”.
The ceremony centered around a small offering which consisted of candles, incense, sugar, bread, sesame seeds, and other items. As the fire burned, the items of the offering mixed together releasing a sweet smell into the air. Manuel explained to students about the four cardinal directions that are of great importance in the Mayan tradition. The students turned East, then West, then North, then South, and with each turn, Manuel blew a long, echoing note into a conch shell. As the fire burned down to ashes after an hour or so, students shared reflections with one another about their experience in the Voces y Manos program. Several of the older students welcomed younger students into the program, and mentioned that they were grateful to Fundación Nueva Esperanza and Voces y Manos for the learning opportunities these organizations had provided them. This was the younger group of students’ official welcome into the Voces y Manos family.
We all thanked Manuel for leading us in the ceremony, then headed down to the the hill to make fruit salad. Each student had brought a piece of fruit to contribute to the salad, and we ended up with a fruit salad that can only be described as epic (quantity as well as quality). It was the perfect way the end the day. We all left the Mayan Ceremony closer and more united as a group than ever before, and ready for the community work to follow in the weeks ahead.