Guatemala: Esquipulas and Rabinal, Two Symbols of Peace

Renata Avila
Global Voices

Photo by Renata Ávila of Cofradía en Rabinal

Two villages in Guatemala celebrate very important festivities in January. These feasts are “Esquipulas” and “Rabinal”. Esquipulas has become a transnational celebration and attracts devoted pilgrims that arrive from other countries in order to venerate an image of a Black Christ. This was also the symbol of the Peace Negotiations througout Central America. The image of Christ in Esquipulas is a special one as Hecho en Guatemala [es] explained on his post Esquipulas, city of faith

El referido Cristo, es una imagen de Jesús Crucificado, a la cual, millones de devotos de Centroamérica, le rinden culto desde hace más de 400 años en el templo católico que lleva el nombre de este pintoresco poblado. El adjetivo de “negro”, se debe a que con el paso de los años (según muchos, al humo de las velas), el color de la madera en que fue tallado el cristo, se fue tornando oscura, hasta adquirir el color negro de la actualidad.

It is an image of a cruxified Christ, which millions of Central Americans have been devoted to for the last 400 years, and is located in the church with the name of the picturesque town. The adjective “black” is due to color of the wood of the sculpture turned dark (according to many, due to the smoke from the candles), and nowadays it is black.

Esquipulas is located in the department of Chiquimula, but the faith and devotion for the image crosses borders, according to El nuevo blog de Esquipulas [es]:

La devoción por el Señor de Esquipulas ha trascendido fronteras hasta hacer de Esquipulas la ‘Capital Centroamericana de la Fe’ y también ha sido adoptada por católicos latinoamericanos residentes en Estados Unidos. Esta tradicional celebración del ‘Señor de Esquipulas’ se viene llevando a cabo anualmente en los diferentes condados de la ciudad de Nueva York y desde hace tres años se celebra en la Catedral de San Patricio, gracias a las gestiones de la señora Rosa María Mérida de Mora, cónsul general de Guatemala en Nueva York y la Hermandad Arquidiocesana del Señor de Esquipulas NY. También se festeja en Nueva Jersey y finalmente la solemne celebración culmina en el condado de Brooklyn.

Devotion for the Christ of Esquipulas has crossed borders and has made Esquipulas the Central American Capital of Faith, and it has also been an image that has been adopted by Latin American Catholics living in US. The traditional celebration of the Christ of Esquipulas has taken place every year in the different counties of New York, and it began to be celebrated in St. Patrick’s Cathedral three years ago, thanks to the actions of María Mérida de Mora, general consul of Guatemala in New York and the Archdiocese Brotherhood of the Christ of Esquipulas in NY. It is also celebrated in New Jersey and the celebration concludes in Brooklyn.

El Zacapaneco [es] tells what an old lady of his town thinks about the festivity:

Nos Cuenta Doña Clemencia de 85 años de edad, junto a su familia, nos dice que ella tiene aproximadamente 20 años de estar viajando a este Municipio de Esquipulas en estas fechas para darle gracias a Dios por permitirle terminar un año mas, y empezar uno nuevo, a la vez deja su ofrenda en Río de los deseos, para pedirle un deseo a Dios y que se lo haga realidad.

Mrs. Clemencia, who is 85 years old, tells us that she has been visiting Esquipulas with her family for approximately 20 years to thank God for giving her another year of life and for beginning a new one. She places her offering in the “river of wishes” to pray to God for her wish that she asks might come true.

The other town celebrating a Saint with huge expressions of folklore, with a magic mixure of indigenous, Spanish and popular expressions of faith is Rabinal. Every January, Rabinal celebrates San Pablo with a festival of “Cofradías”. Rabinal is a place that suffered a lot during the armed conflict, and many of the traditions were not practiced during this difficult time, where many masacres took place there.

To keep the memory alive, James on his blog Mi Mundo tells the details of the conflict and the remarkable efforts of the people to keep this memory alive, as the survivors built a museum to remember:

Besides helping maintain alive the historical memory of the still recent atrocities, the museum also provides a number of other services such as a library, computer lab, and a specific exhibit dedicated to the local Maya Achi culture and its rich traditions.

But winds have changed. Now they are celebrating again. Blogger Con sabor a naranja mi dulce Rabinal [es] (with a taste of orange, my sweet Rabinal) said that thanks to donations they were able to buy the things required for the festivities. On his post La Nación Rabinal, he describes the syncretism of the celebration:

Hoy por hoy la celebración de la feria y fiesta titular en honor a San Pablo Apóstol, se realiza el ritual en honor al AJAW, Corazón del Cielo y Corazón de la Tierra. (uk`ux kaj jay uk`ux ulew). Lo esencial de nuestra coexistencia sobre la Madre Tierra es la armonía y hermandad con el prójimo y la naturaleza misma de la cual somos parte importante para su protección y conservación…

Nowadays we celebrate the festival in honor to San Pablo, and we practice the ritual in honor to the Ajaw, the heart of the heavens and the heart of the earth. The essence of our coexistence with the Mother Earth is the harmony and brotherhood with others, and with the nature itself. We are part of such nature, an important one for its conservation and protection … “

There are several cofradías, groups of dancers, mostly indigenous, wearing masks and honoring Catholic saints. San Sebastian is one of the “Cofradías”, with its own Blog [es], where they uploaded the program of activities, the other cofradía with a blog is San Pablo [es], where they even published a web magazine about the festivities.

The city where the cruelest violence of war and the city where peace negotiations started, both have traditions that survived with the passage of time. They bring people together and brings paganism and Catholicism together, indigenous dances with prayers, and a dark color on a beautiful image of Christ. Above all, they bring the feeling of hope and happiness which involves colors painting the Guatemalan sky.