In Huehuetenango, a city in the highlands of western Guatemala, on November 25, indigenous women gathered to declare their rights to a life free of fear, violence, and discrimination.
The march was organized by CEDFOG (The Center for Study and Documentation of the Occidental Border of Guatemala), Moloj (The Political Association of Mayan Women), and The Women’s Collective for Life, Justice and Liberty in Huehuetenango and was part of the annual Day of No Violence Against Women. A large protest march is held each year in Guatemala City, with smaller marches across the country.
During the rally in Huehuetenango, the crowd gathered for a candle-lighting ceremony. In Maya culture, each candle holds meaning based on its color. Below is a transcription of the speeches given by Mayan activists and community leaders during the candle ceremony.
Given by Cecelia Merida, an organizer from the Colectivo de Vida, Justicia y Libertad Para Las Mujeres de Huehuetenango (The Women’s Collective for Life, Justice and Liberty in Huehuetenango)
“Four years ago, this space was declared a violence-free space for women. We are reclaiming our rights to occupy these spaces and all other spaces, to live a life of dignity and free of fear.”
“We want to give a warm welcome to all of the women from our state of Huehuetenango: women from San Pedro Necta, from Santiago Chimaltenango, to our sisters from San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán, from Colotenango, to the women from San Juan Atitán, from Cuico, from Chiantla, from Malacatancito and from here in the state capital. [cheers] We would also like to welcome our sisters from Mexico, Chile, Spain, France, and Argentina, because all women are guardians of the earth, guardians of the universe, guardians of the Milky Way. Nothing can divide us. For us women, borders don’t exist.”
This ceremony was guided by various Mayan community leaders.
“We are going to light four candles. Lighting candles doesn’t mean we are witches, like many people label us. But, it is nice that they call us witches, because to be a witch is to be a wise woman. In the Mayan calendar, today stands for liberty. It is a special day because it is exactly what we are doing: creating violence-fee spaces where not one more woman will be murdered or experience sexual violence. We are all here for the same fight, to open up new paths. This is why I love seeing your smiles. We are here with this positive energy.”
“We will start with the red candle, which symbolizes the rising sun. As women of Huehuetenango and other latitudes of the country and the world, we recognize that we have only one life to live and enjoy to the fullest. Today we are occupying this public space as a historical reclamation, to shout out saying that we are alive and we continue to walk the paths that our grandmother ancestors created for us.”
“Now we will light the yellow candle. It is the spirit of the water, the water that flows and leaves places for everything else to bloom.
“We recognize that we are part of a history of pain, humiliation, rape, and racism. We continue to confront all the shortcomings of our government, which is blind to our existence as Maya, Mestiza, and Garífuna [of Afrocaribbean descent] women. A state that denies us our rights and our citizenship. A state that permanently excludes us and denies us our economic, political, and social opportunities. We cannot ignore the fact that Huehuetecan women are subject to the most extreme inequality and poverty. Our living conditions reflect the the systematic exclusion by extractive industries which aim to take our land and rob us of our natural resources: our water, our land, our forests. This is all done in the name of a supposed development, which we know will never come, and which we don’t want to accept because it is stained with the blood of our communities.”Photo by Anika Rice
“The purple candle symbolizes change and transformation. It stands for the sunset, which is the transformation of each day. Purple also symbolizes the black of our hair and the black of our eyes.
“Today is a day when we are intentionally pooling all of our positive energy so that tomorrow can be different, can be a more dignified and free life than what has been forced upon us in this system. We are horrified that each day there is an increase in sexual violence, which threatens our life as women of all stages, whether we are girls, adolescents, adults, or grandmothers. We do not want to keep repeating statistics, as if the lives of our sisters who experience violence are quantifiable objects. If they touch one of us, they touch all of us. The authorities should recognize what it means that 140 women have been raped in our state of Huehuetenango between January and November of this year. What future can Guatemala have when our girls are condemned to unwanted pregnancies caused by rape and sexual violence, committed by men who act with premeditation and abuse the power that they have? When families and communities stay silent, they are also perpetrators of sexual violence.”
“The white candle is the spirit of the air. It is everything that we breathe. We are part of nature. We are part of the whole. It is important to value everything around us, because we are one with the universe.
“From where each of us stands, we support the development of Guatemala, which originates in our communities. Without our productive and reproductive work, without our intellectual and artesanal knowledge, life practically would not exist at all. We are harvesters of age-old knowledge that other women have passed down to us. It is because of this wisdom that we know exactly how to be in the present and go forward in the future. We need to come together to celebrate a new beginning.”
Recorded, transcribed and translated by Anika Rice.
Anika Rice is a National Geographic Young Explorer Grantee, conducting research with women coffee producers in Guatemala and Nicaragua. She is documenting crop diversification and out-migration patterns in communities where people’s livelihoods are being affected by crop disease and climate change.