Growing Up in an Indigenous Society: The Story of Rigoberta Menchu, Part 1, The Indigenous Worldview, Part 12

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Why can’t we just get along? This is a question that I have been working on in my new book, Divided: Colliding Ways We See the World. In the next several posts in this blog series I am looking at one of the five worldviews: Indigenous Worldview. I would like to share with you some ideas that I have been exploring.

Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents,
it was loaned to you by your children.
We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors,
we borrow it from our Children.
  … Ancient Proverb

Growing Up in an Indigenous Society: The Story of Rigoberta Menchu, Part 1

 We Indians never do anything which goes against the laws of our ancestors.”
Rigoberta Menchu

The childhood story of Rigoberta Menchu, who grew up poor in the poor country of 12a Map of GuatemalaGuatemala, is an example of an indigenous culture that is quite different from modern culture. In a sense, she speaks for all indigenous peoples of the American continent. The cultural discrimination she suffered is something that all the continent’s indigenous peoples have experienced since the Spanish conquest. She has witnessed discrimination and survived violence aimed at destroying her family, community, and culture. Yet, she is determined to break the silence and to confront the extermination of her people.

Menchu belongs to the Quiche people (a branch of the Mayans), one of the largest of the twenty-three ethnic groups in Guatemala, each having its own language. Born on January 9, 1959 in the hamlet of Chimel on the Altiplano (highlands) to a poor peasant family, they lived in a village in the northwestern Guatemalan province of El Quiche. She was immersed in the Mayan culture.

12c Biography

Rigoberta Menchu, (trans. Ann Wright), I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, (New York: Verso Press, 1984) 

In her autobiography, I, Rigoberta Menchu, she tells the story of the Guatemalan people and her personal experiences, which are, in essence, the reality of a whole people.

Colonial powers have historically oppressed her people, and she is determined that the sacrifices her family and community have made to fight this oppression will not have been in vain. She makes it clear that “Latin Americans are only too ready to denounce the unequal relations that exist between ourselves and North America, but we tend to forget that … we too are involved in relations that can only be described as colonial. In countries with a large Indian population, there is an internal colonialism which works to the detriment of the indigenous population.”

Rigoberta Menchu felt that living in the village of Chimel as a child was paradise. It had no major roads and no cars. People could only reach it by foot or horseback.

02 Maya Family in Guatamala

Guatemalan villagers

Her parents moved to Chimel in 1960 and began cultivating the mountainous terrain. It was a hard life but her family decided to stay. They had been forced to leave their previous hometown because ladinos (Guatemalans of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry) settled there and gradually took control. Her parents spent all they earned and accumulated so much debt that finally they had to leave their house to pay the ladinos.

Part 2 of the series will be posted July 8, 2019, Monday

About the Author

Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA provides books, resources, and services with a holistic, global- focused, and perspective-taking approach for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.

wviewscoverPlease email or visit for more information.

For more about worldviews see Dr. Ames’ book Five Worldviews: How We See the World. $9.95


This entry was posted in awareness, cultural divide, differences, diversity, indigenous, perspectives, Uncategorized, worldviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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