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ETHNONYMS: Lacandon, Lacandone

Some 300 Lakandon Maya live in Chiapas, Mexico, at 16°00 to 17°15 N and 91°36 to 92°05 W. The two main subgroups, the Northern and Southern Lakandon, live in tropical rain forests at an elevation of 900 meters and in jungle at an elevation of about 100 meters, respectively. The Southern group differs linguistically and culturally from the Northern, and is composed of two smaller groups, the Cedro-Lacanha and the Jatate. The Northern Lakandon actively resist acculturation, but the Southern Lakandon have been more open to assimilation into Mexican society. This difference came about as a result of a yellow-fever epidemic and the later influx of chicle gatherers in World War II. The chicle workers exposed the Southern Lakandon to a number of European diseases, which killed many people. These diseases disrupted the practice of the native religion, which was more centralized and hierarchical among the Southern Lakandon. The diseases killed some of the high priests, and at the same time the ill Lakandon were helped not by their own gods but by Western medicine. Missionaries were thus able to convert the Southern group to Protestant Christianity, after having failed for several decades to convert the Northern group.

The region has two seasons, wet and dry. The dry season begins in January and lasts until April. Because of this, the Lakandon begin to clear and burn their fields in January and to plant in April and May. The first maize crop is harvested from July through October, and the second in December. They also grow tomatoes, beans, squashes, root vegetables, onions, and chayotes and gather other fruits and vegetables from the forest and jungle year-round. Hunting, with bows and arrows as well as with firearms, takes place in all months, but different animals are hunted at different times. Game animals include coatis, toucans, monkeys, boars, squirrels, and other rodents such as the tepescuintle (or paca), and parrots and other birds such as the chachalaca. In addition, pumas, crocodiles, nutrias, ocelots, and jaguars are hunted for their skins, which are sold. Fish are caught most of the year with hooks or spears.

Dogs are kept for hunting and security, cats to keep rats and mice away. In the 1940s or 1950s, the Lakandon acquired chickens and turkeys from workers brought to the area to harvest rubber and chicle. Poultry are owned by women, who sell the meat and eggs for money to buy dress materials.

The patrilineal, patrilocal Lakandon belong to clans; the oldest male member of the clan is its leader. Clans were exogamous at the beginning of the twentieth century, but now only a preference for marriage to members of other clans is observed. Kinship terminology is unilateral, and parallel cousins (who may not be married) are classed with siblings, whereas cross cousins (who may be married) are classed with mother's father and daughter's child. Lakandon may not marry non-Lakandon people. Polygyny is accepted, although no man has more than three wives. Divorce occurs when either spouse wishes it. If a man wishes to divorce his wife, she may keep her children and whatever he has given her, and he must find her a new husband. A woman who wishes divorce leaves with only her own possessions. Beating and refusing to feed and clothe one's wife are the most common causes of divorce.

Much of the traditional religion has been lost, especially detailed knowledge of formal ceremonies and rituals, whereas taboos and the practice of praying for good weather, fertility, and health persist. The ceremonies that were formerly of great importance include the pilgrimmage to Yaxchilan, home of the most important deities, and the offering of balch é (an alcoholic drink) to the gods.

The Lakandon believe that Kakoch, the middle-level heaven, created the god Hachakyum, who in turn created the world. There are two other heavens, one associated with great goodness and the god Chembeku, and another linked to the god Hachakyum (also called Yumbrikan), where all Lakandon go after death. The underworld is dominated by Kisin, who tries to demolish the world at night, only to be fought by Sukukyum, older brother of Hachakyum, who brings the sun back. Sinners go to the underworld, where they become animals and work forever. Kisin's anger is the source of earthquakes.

The people now on earth are believed to be the product of a union between the first people (who were made of clay) and the second people (descendants of the Yaxté, or silk-cotton tree). These early forms of human life are now extinct.

Pregnant women are believed to possess the power to heal. Men pray for them during their pregnancies and during delivery. Childbirth takes place in the forest or, if at night, inside a house. Children are weaned and toilet trained at or before 2 years of age. Parents raise their children without much use of corporal punishment or raised voices. The puberty ritual in which a boy's nose was pierced for the insertion of a feather is no longer practiced. Young men usually marry old widows as their first wives, and young women as their second wives. The older women are able to help their husbands acquire food; young men rarely have the ability to make a large farm. The second and third wives are often very young girls, who move into their new husband's house as soon as they are able to make tortillas. The husbands of these young girls behave toward them as if they were daughters until the girls reach maturity. The bride-price demanded by a girl's parents is large and increasing.

The deceased are buried, wrapped in a tunic and a hammock, facing the sun. Several grave goods are included so that certain obstacles encountered on the trip to the afterlife can be overcome and so that the necessary payments can be made. Some Lakondon believe they all spend time in the underworld prior to reaching heaven. Others think that all who commit serious offenses such as stealing or homicide will spend eternity in the underworld.


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