Keys to understanding the murder of Domingo Choc, a Maya spiritual guide
On June 6th, Domingo Choc Che was murdered in a horrendous crime because of his life practices. He was a Maya spiritual guide that, according to Monica Berger, a worker at the University of Guatemala Valley “was a guide committed to preserving and transmitting ancestral knowledge about the protection of Mother Nature and her medicine, to new generations and the world”. A group of residents from Chimay, San Luis, Peten, set fire to Domingo, and he died from the severity of the act. They were accusing him of being a witch and of being responsible for the death of a person from the area.
There were many comments on social media repudiating the crime, even asking that those responsible pay in an equal or worse way. Others seemed stunned, unable to explain why such a brutal act happened. In order to understand a little more about this act, we should analyse its causes; religious extremism being among them. Those who practice it are people with attitudes or postures of extreme ideologies that individually or in groups reach dangerous limits, given that they can threaten the security, the life, the health or the physical integrity of a person, (Domingo Choc in this case). To sustain their ideas and reach their objectives, they don’t hesitate in using violence.
In the country, the fundamental sects have been increasing over the years since the introduction of evangelical churches in the 1980’s. Numerous denominations and churches of different names have multiplied; the more extreme sects oblige their members to cast off practices that they consider satanic. Any practice that is considered separate from God can be condemned and this includes ancestral Maya practices. When EntreMundos published a video on a Maya Mam practice in San Martin Chile Verde to honor water in Lake Chicabal, we received comments on Facebook from people accusing residents of practicing witchcraft for praying and asking of “a lifeless entity”. The deep connection with mother earth, they are devalued by many of these sects. Domingo Choc, was a person with this kind of knowledge of nature. Monica Berger says:
“Just a few months ago Grandpa Domingo was walking through the forest on an ethno botanical trip to identify medical plant species. He explained how to do the invocations in order to ask permission from the essence of the plant before cutting it, and included all aspects of the ancestral Maya wisdom and science on its use, how to prepare it, store it, and apply it. We were working on an inventory of medicinal species to be able to document and protect the Q’eqchi’ knowledge and the indigenous knowledge. He was writing a book in which the evidence of Q’eqchi’ maya herbal science would remain, as a mechanism to document the intellectual property of his People.”
On the other hand, the violent culture in the country is fertile ground for these religious sects, since it makes way for fanaticism and the justification of any kind of action to eliminate what in their view “goes against God”. Edgar Florencio Montufar’s thesis mentions: “Lynching is a phenomenon that expresses the weakness and absence of social order in Guatemala; it’s a social expression of protest in the face of discontent and/or rejection of the formal mechanisms of conflict resolution”. Although there is a National Program for the Prevention of Lynchings, this crime continues to occur and it seems as though there is no way to stop it. Even though entities like the Human Rights Department exist to ensure the respect of life and integrity of Guatemalans, it isn’t always successful in its demands. They issued a statement in this regard.
The low level of education, and not only in rural areas, makes the population act without conscience or measure. The unknown is feared, and in the face of the ignorance around Maya practices, those who are unfamiliar think they are related to witchcraft. The victims of this distrust of the unknown, haven’t just been people, there have even been recorded cases of animals that have suffered the consequences of being associated with mythological and diabolical beings, like the lynching and death of a kinkajou and an otter, because they thought that they were “satanic” creatures. In Costa Rica, there are also evangelical religious groups that have damaged and killed sloth bears because they think that they are “creatures of the devil” for their peculiar movement and ways of walking.
Just as Berger indicates in his Facebook post: “it’s necessary to create conscience and educate ourselves as society to learn to know each other among Guatemalans, stop fearing us, pursuing us. We need to understand, recognize each other, respect each other in our diversity.” In addition to education and conscience, it’s imperative that justice-related public institutions do a good job because the people have lost faith in these institutions. This makes way for a state of near anarchy in which certain places become a “lawless land”. An example is that so far neither the National Civil Police nor the Public Ministry have been able to enter the town of Chimay, where this lamentable act was committed.
Even if we don’t know if those responsible for this murder will face justice, we can still share this information and demand justice, and carry out actions from our spaces. The news media can start by responsibly informing about this act, without sensationalism. Those who practice a religion, should open your mind in order not to judge negatively practices different from yours, and question if until this moment you’ve supported similar attitudes that criticize and devalue the beliefs and culture of others.
Finally, we invite you to collaborate in making a donation to the account of the Choc family, who in addition to coping with the trauma for such a horrible death, must pay the funeral expenses and other damages that will be difficult to overcome.
Account for support:
Name: María Angelina Valle Choc