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Thanks to the help of Mesoweb, Brigham Young University and Nuñez-Gowan Productions in Tallahassee, Florida, Andrew Weeks and Allen Christenson have been able to commence work on the film by recording the ceremonies of Semana Santa - Easter Week - 2000. It was an extraordinary privilege to follow the convoluted and surprising story of this five-day period in Santiago Atitlán, and we are posting a report on Mesoweb of our experiences and impressions illustrated by some of the images captured. It is impossible to do justice to the full range of what occurs during this period of time - that would require a book - so some ceremonies we witnessed are not described and many subtleties of interpretation are not explored. We can also only hint at the tensions, pressures and factionalism present in this complex society, and these have been well described already by Robert Carlsen, Nathaniel Tarn and Martin Prechtel (see below.)


Robert Carlsen's The War for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town (University of Texas Press, Austin: 1997) is a fascinating mix of analytical sociology and anthropology interspersed with first-person reportage of dangerous times in Highland Guatemala during the protracted civil war. It should acquire the status of an ethnographic classic.

It seems that there is a part of Nathaniel Tarn which will always be, like Basho, a wandering poet: an anthropologist/raconteur. And his book, Scandals in the House of Birds (Marcilio, New York: 1997), written with Martin Prechtel, reflects that in being a potpourri of interview, opinion, myth and nitty-gritty. Once you know something of the subject matter, it is an amazing assemblage culled from two distinct periods separated by almost thirty years.

Allen Christenson's book, Scaling the Mountain of the Ancients, which places the iconography of the church's main altarpiece in the context of Santiago Atitlán's ceremonial life will soon be available, published by the University of Texas Press.

Martin Prechtel has written two books on the traditional life in Santiago Atitlán "from the inside": The Secret of the Talking Jaguar (Tarcher Putnam/Element: 1998) and Long Life, Honey in the Heart (Tarcher Putnam: 1999). These are problematic works, and I think it fair to say that the jury is out as to the strict accuracy of some of the content. There can be no doubt that Prechtel is singularly familiar with the traditional life of Santiago Atitlán, having become one of very few outsiders to speak Tz'utujil and having participated in the ritual life of the town while living there within the community. He has co-authored articles with both Carlsen and Tarn, but in his own books he has aimed to address and appeal to a non-academic audience with specific agendas - that of the "New Age" and of the "men's movement". That focus, combined with a penchant for flowery, not to say purple prose - slangy yet saccharine - has made the usefulness of the information, which should be and may still be uniquely valuable, difficult to separate from fable and heroic saga. Prechtel seems in danger of following in the footsteps of Carlos Castaneda - but that may be exactly what he has in mind.

-- Andrew Weeks


The daily market lies at the heart of this town of traders.