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Published: April 22nd 2006
Religion is big in central America, very big. So it came as no surprise that a event like Easter (for christianity based faiths) would be a big event. The week leading up to Easter Sunday is called Semana Santa, are many places here celebrate it. The biggest celebrations are in Antigua where hotels are booked up well in advance. Subsquently I went to Santiago Atitlan for Good Friday where I was told they also go fairly crazy.
I arrived fairly early in the day and made my way up to the centre of town, I realised I had possibly arrived a little too early as the alfombras (carpets) were in their infancy. A large square around the central church was marked off. This was followed be someone marking a chalk outline of the different images on the ground which was then filled in with dyed nettles from trees (at least I think that's what it was). For the more complex patterns at wooden cut-out was used. This was a fairly slow process but the results were pretty impressive.
Meanwhile in the church a mass was held with a Jesus figure held high on a crucifx before a well decorated coffin had
it's finishing touches added. Santiago has a very high indigenous population which are also more traditional than in many neigbouring towns with many of the men wearing traditional dress (since photo), and not just the older ones but some younger generations as well.
A little later in the church the coffin was lifted by forty to fifty guys and carried out of the church walking a pace slower than a old snail.
It took them nearly an hour and a half to cover a distance of around 20m with various shuffling forwards and backwards in time with the music of a brass band. The occasional bottle of water was passed along the densely packed lines on each side, it looked tough work. A large crowd was gathering outside which I joined after a fair time inside.
As they exited the church their progress didn't really quicken significantly. It was starting to get late and I knew there wasn't too many boats to San Pedro that day. But a flight of stairs was approaching, not entirely convinced by the overall stability of the thing, I thought this could be interesting. As the descent started there was sudden rush from bystanders
to move far out of the way, obviously having similar thoughts to myself. There were a few woobles and some rushing around, by the coffin stood fairly solidly aloft.
Three strangely bearded fellows walked infront reading stuff under their breath as the coffin started along is carpetted route, ruining the hours of hard work (perhaps that's the reason the walk so slowly). Unfortunately it was time to leave and I could see this going on for some hours, so I made a sharpish exit.
Latin America in general is well known to be strongly religious, almost entirely towards Christian based faiths. Guatemala is no exception. When I first arrived in San Pedro some three and half months back, I was struck by the numerous religous signs painted on walls, in some streets every house has one, there are hundreds in total (see photos). Pick-up trucks have similar stuff painted on their windows and your be lucky to find a Chicken Bus without numerous stuff written inside.
I've been asked quite a few times what religion I am, when I reply I'm not religous. I often get a shocked look of disbelief that maybe I've mixed of my words
by mistake, or that I worship the devil. This seems to lead to questions about evolution which I naturally reply "yes, I agree with the theory of evolution, because it seems to make a lot sense and there seems overwelming proof". This also causes similar shock-waves. As I have discovered Darwin's theory is not thought of too fondly over here, which makes me wonder what they teach in schools (a hotly debated issue in the USA and to a lesser extent in my homeland the UK - which is a lot less religious than the USA). I'm not too keen to get into religious debates, mainly because I can't express myself well enough in Spanish and it's too difficult to understand all the arguments. However one thing I've come across on several occasions is that several people seem not to believe in evolution because they don't like the theory of man involving from an animal and before that an organism. I tried to explain to them that this is not a valid argument, trying to argue that a matter of fact has something to do with personal tastes is deeply flawed. I backed this up with a example. I said
"it's cold a lot in England (in comparison with other countries), I don't like the fact that it's cold - does that change the fact that it's cold?". Each time this argument was some what ignored and we started to go around in circles. I continued "I'm not proving or dis-proving the theory of evolution, I'm merely stating that your reasons for not believing it are wrong, you might be right, but not for the reason you are giving me". From here the discussion normally moves on to that God what not allow this to happen and I start to feel the whole use of reason seems to be lost somewhere.
There seems an overall blind denial of anything which questions traditional beliefs, people seem unwilling to question any part of
their faith. Maybe they're are scared about what they might find I don't know, religious beliefs have become such a strong part of society and culture it seems difficult to question it.
My key point here wasn't so much about what is true and what is not, I can't even begin to discuss that, it's more my dismay at the unwillingly to question or argue things and the
use reason in arguments. I think any person is a weak-minded person if they are willing to question or change there owns views. This applies to all things, not just religious viewpoint. If someone is not religious and believes in evolution but new information arises which seem to contradict their ideas and support the God theory they would be extremely weak minded not to give it the time of day. For example some of Einstein's theories contradicted some of Newton's theories. Many scientists held out for a long time because all the work was based on theories which were later shown to be false. It's call pride. But it's also being weak-minded not to question things, to blindly believe in one thing or another.
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