The tragic death of a Mayan elder recalls its encounter with Spanish Conquistadores, the imported epidemic that decimated its population in the 15th century followed by genocide and the Inquisition set up by Catholic Spain in Central America
By Nita Chicooree-Mercier
Academics and scientists at University College of London express shock and fury at the tragic end of a herbal medicine specialist from the Maya community in Guatemala. Ancestral knowledge in Mayan herbal medicine is much valued in pharmaceutical research work in the West. Will the United Nations, UNESCO and international media draw world attention to this particular horrendous assassination perpetrated by the religious fanaticism of Evangelists – highlighting their teachings, methods and proselytism worldwide? As major world powers in the 21st century, both India and China have a key role to play in speaking up on proselytism and its disastrous consequences on social cohesion and harmony at international level, and impose their rights to decide what is acceptable to their old civilisational ethos in their respective countries.
In a joint research project by UCL on biodiversity use in Mayan medicine in partnership with Universidad del Valle in Guatemala, alongside the Council of Mayan elders and government authorities working with Indigenous Biodiversity and the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species, Domingo Choc Che was asked to participate on account of his vast knowledge in local plants and herbs used in traditional Mayan medicine.
On Wednesday June 10th he was rounded up by a mob of Evangelists. He was beaten up and tortured for several hours by four men. They then poured petrol over his body and burned him alive in front of everyone. The whole scene was filmed and broadcast on the internet. He was accused of witchcraft by the propaganda peddled by Evangelist churches, which are spreading across Guatemala. It is a tragic case of ignorance and unwillingness to understand by Evangelist obscurantists.
Domingo Choc Che was an expert in natural medicine, committed to preserving and transmitting his ancestral knowledge. He was a Mayan q’eqchi’ , spiritual guide and traditional healer in Chimay, Guatemala. He collaborated on a UCL pharmaceutical project. Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei was terribly shocked and vowed to bring the culprits to Court. The authorities together with University College London and the Council of Mayan elders said they were appalled and speechless at the ‘incredible atrocity’ which took the life of a great wise man who was sharing ancestral knowledge. The project supports the local development of resources and is planning for ways to improve local livelihood. His murder sparks outrage and demand for justice for Mr Domingo Choc Che as well as the Maya community.
The tragic death of a Mayan elder stirs memories of the brilliant old Mayan civilization, its bright white cities and social organizations, system of beliefs, astronomy, cosmogony and mysticism. It recalls its encounter with Spanish Conquistadores, the imported epidemic that decimated its population in the 15th century followed by genocide and the Inquisition set up by Catholic Spain in Central America.
History shows that the encounter of old faiths and beliefs with new religions and sects emanating from the monotheist family has brought killings, sufferings and misery in every part of the world.
‘Witch hunt’ is a term that refers to mainly the persecution of women who were considered as witches because their knowledge in healing and advising folks was viewed through the prism of male power in the official established religion which tried to strengthen its hold on people. They were burnt alive during the 14th century in Spain, and so-called witches were persecuted, tortured and put to death in England, France and other countries. In the late 17th century any innocent white woman reading the future in cards was sent to the gallows in the early Puritan colony of Salem in Boston, Massachussets; not to mention female African slaves practising their ancestral rites at nightfall who were randomly accused of witchcraft. In most cases it all boiled down to male clerics of established religion trying to claim the monopoly of healing souls and seeing other men and women healers as rivals.
The Evangelists are a branch of the original Protestant Puritanism in the United States and started expanding their influence and power in the US in the 19th century. With growing influence and financial support from rich American individuals and companies, they spread across Europe, Africa and Asia throughout the 20th century, and are very active in proselytism and conversion everywhere in the world today. They have become experts at targeting illiterate backward poor people of different religions by peddling the Jesus-loves-you-all, Jesus-can-cure-you propaganda everywhere and deceiving them, in Indian villages, for instance, with presenting their verses as shlokas from Hindu scriptures and convincing them that they are similar so that the poor illiterate villagers can comfortably cross the floor to Evangelist delirium. Clap your hands together, sing the praises of God’s Son on a weekly basis, supervised by priests from Brazil, America, Africa and Asia, who work hard to alienate converts from their community and their ancestral religion, drive a wedge and divide people of the same community and create confusion and enmity within a society.
They manage to disguise their delirium into a supremacist religion and convince the poor souls to reject their forefathers’ beliefs and follow the only true God. Add the angry Father in Heaven who distributes punishments and rewards to all and sundry, and you get the broader picture of the narrowly limited vision of divinity these indoctrinated minds are imbibed with.
The murder of a great wise learned man from an old civilization and culture by bigots of a 19th century sect in 2020 should urge the UN and UNESCO to take the issue of proselytism and conversion seriously. It is a complex issue because after the World War II the new international body pledged to promote freedom of religion for all. It is a concept that was promoted by the leaders of mainly western countries where Christian proselytism is common practice. It paved the way for sects of all hues to roam freely in other countries and cultures, and peddle hallucinating discourses on godliness with a little book, and a poor and limited knowledge.
By now the UN should acknowledge that harmony between different religions is a 20th century concept that has remained a façade. Ground realities show a different picture which UN and UNESCO can explain rationally not by cajoling everyone and giving equal weight to their beliefs but by educating the world on historical evolution of faiths and cultures. They should, definitely, take stock of realities; face them squarely by listening to all stakeholders.
Natives in Canada, North and Central America, originally bundled up as ‘Indians’ by colonizers are of Asian origin. They all have gone through hard times in living side by side or in ‘reservations’ under the rule of foreign occupiers. The tragic death of Doming Choc Che should prompt debates on extreme consequences of ignorance of blind faiths which regard older beliefs as ‘idolaters’, a common view held by fanatics. It should highlight the confusion, division and disharmony caused by preachings of foreign faiths.
China and India can find a common ground at the UN to help promote the cause of Natives of North and Central America at international level. Instead of muscle-flexing and wrangling, both countries have core interests around which to cooperate. They would thus mutually strengthen their moral muscle, and use it to raise their voice on world platforms and claim their rights to shape the future of their respective age-old civilizations on their own terms as regards beliefs that should be allowed or banned, without being intimidated by foreign leadership, partisan NGOs and the rhetoric of international media. Both countries face the onslaught of all kinds of sects and are self-confident enough to tackle these as they wish. There should be combined efforts to preserve the harmony of their respective societies in a manner which is in tune with their age-old civilizations.
* Published in print edition on 19 June 2020