Lacandon Indians

Characteristics Of The Lacandon Indians Of Chiapas, Mexico

Language

The Lacandon are among the 4 million people living today who speak the Mayan language. Lacandon is one of some 30 Mayan languages. It is closely related to Yucatec Mayan; Cholan Mayan, the language of the inscriptions of ancient Maya cities, is a more distant relative. The close relationship between Lacandon Mayan and Yucatec Mayan suggests that the Lacandon, at one time, lived further north on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. They must have moved southward into their current home in the tropical forests of the Peten region to escape the domination of Spanish
colonial rule.

With but a handful of exceptions in one hundred years, every Lacandon man was or is known as Q’uin, C’ayum, or Bor. This is the total stock of personal names available to men apart from nicknames. Common nicknames include Xib, meaning "male" and T’ub, "last-born," but other nicknames are derived from an individual’s totem or kinship terms. The three male names can be varied by adding the diminutive and affectionate prefix, Chan, thus making six names in all; but, although the prefix may be retained throughout a man’s life, it is rarely used in reference to those deceased. There is somewhat more variety in the naming of the women: the majority of women are Najq’uin or Najbor (simply adding the prefix Naj to male names); Coj, Es, Ixam, Nunc, and Chunc are also used. The determination of a child’s name is completely at the discretion of the parents.

Food

The Lacandones are primarily farmers. In January, the Lacandones begin clearing the undergrowth for a new field to be planted in April or May. It is also the time to put in the winter crop of corn. Trees are felled in the new fields from February through April, and burning and planting are done as soon as the fields are dry enough. Winter corn is ready to double over in January to assure final drying of the ears and to protect them from the rain of the rainy season, and can be harvested anytime thereafter through the month of October, when it is necessary to begin clearing again for the
next winter crop. Summer corn is ready in September and is harvested at the end of the year, also in time for the winter crop to be put in. Lacandon women plant and harvest secondary crops: squash, beans, tomatoes, root crops, onions and chayotes (a member of the gourd family). Hunting is also a year-round event, but the Lacandones only kill what they and their families can eat, because to waste meat means that the next time the game will either not appear for the hunter or not die when it is shot.

Family

The Lacandones are polygamous. If there is more than one wife in a family, at least one is left with the children to protect the house and prepare the morning meal, while the husband goes to the field to care for their crops. One wife may go to the field with her husband to care for the crops or to bring back food for the meal. In some families, the co-wives share the tasks of grinding and making tortillas, torn into small pieces and used essentially as a spoon, each taking a turn at the various aspects of meal making day by day.

Religion

The head of the Lacandon family acts as chief and priest. The religious beliefs of the group are passed down by word of mouth from father to son. They believe that K’akoch, the father of the gods, is the creator of the earth and sun. Hachäkyum, "Our True Lord," is the principal Lacandon deity and creator of the jungle, the animals, men and women. Sukunkyum, the older brother of Hachäkyum, is the chief lord of the underworld and the judge of souls. He is also the guardian of the sun, feeding it and carrying it through the underworld on his back from west to east at night. He performs similar duties for the moon during the day. Ak K’ak, meaning "Fire," is a minor god, afflicting people with disease. Mensäbäk is the god of rain; his name means "Maker of Power." Most interesting of all, Hesuklistos is Jesus Christ, the god to foreigners, who the Lacandones believe to be the son of Äkyantho‘, who is the god of foreign people and objects.