Maya Social Organization Expressed in Art
The triptych Huellas de Ayer y Hoy, or Footsteps of Yesterday and Today, depicts a procession in the festival of San Pedro la Laguna, which takes place on June 29, the feast day of the town’s patron saint, San Pedro (Saint Peter). The triptych shows how the town and the procession would have looked in the middle of the twentieth century, a few years before Pedro Rafaél was born.
The division of the painting into three parts represents the disintegration of Maya traditions and culture since 1950. Each panel represents one part of Maya culture where the imposition of the invaders’ religious and political organization occurred: pre-Hispanic traditions, church, and government. This reflects society’s new integration under the Catholic Church and the hybridization of Maya spirituality and culture. Of course, this entailed the disintegration and rejection of many practices, such as dances, among other significant elements of the Maya culture.
Now, however, each function completely independently. You no longer see a procession that is accompanied by traditional dances of the community; there is no longer a relationship or coordination with the Church and the municipal government. Now the masked dancers act through a sponsorship by some family or private groups that support these dances in the streets of the municipality. The society of San Pedro is no longer a whole, but is divided into three parts, as represented in the triptych panels, where each one symbolizes a change in the town.
Depiction of an Earlier Era
The three images presented in the triptych reflect a time before the invasion of Europeans, after, and the present. Anyone who has spent time living in San Pedro will recognize the boy with dark skin in the central panel of the painting. He might be the only dark-skinned Maya in the community. Now an elderly man, he still can be seen working hard carrying loads of firewood and other objects up the steep hill on his back. Although his pants are old and tattered, he is one of a handful of men who still wear their traditional traje (native dress). His rose-colored shirt is distinctive, the only one of that color in the San Pedro style. The people in the painting, both in the procession and, more tellingly, of those watching the procession, all wear the traditional traje of San Pedro la Laguna. During the violence of the 1980s, most of the Maya men stopped wearing their traditional traje because the army could easily identify where they were from, a danger even for the innocent, which most of them were.
In 1940, most of the houses in San Pedro were thatched, but over the next thirty years those houses disappeared. Very few adobe houses remain in town, and no houses exist with thatched roofs. By now most of the trees that appear in the painting have been cut down. Parents divide their land in town between their often-numerous children who, in turn, build their own houses on that land before dividing it again among their children. The courtyards where the trees once grew are now filled with multi-storied houses in proximity with one other.