Growing Up in an Indigenous Society: The Story of Rigoberta Menchu, Part 3, The Indigenous Worldview, Part 14

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 3

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

The birth of a baby was very significant for the community, as it belonged to all, not just the parents. Her mother, a midwife, helped women give birth at home; villagers

14 baboes

Guatemalan mother

considered it a scandal to have a child in the hospital. The community baptized a newborn even before the parents took the infant to church.


The newborn’s hands were tied for eight days, which symbolized that one should not accumulate things the rest of the community does not have. On the eighth day the child’s hands were untied; the open hands meant the baby learned how to share and be generous. The family taught each child how to live like fellow members of its community; no one had more than others.

In Menchu’s community there were highly respected elected representatives who acted as a father and mother to the whole village. Her mother and father were the village’s representatives and mother and father for all the children of the village.

14 Guatemala coffee plantation

Guatemalan elders

Rigoberta’s fellow villagers were Catholic, but they saw the religion as just another channel of spiritual expression. They didn’t totally trust all the priests, monks, and nuns of the church. They believed that the sun was the father, and the moon was the mother. Rigoberta felt that the Catholic Church has tried to “keep her people in their place,” but as Christians they gradually acquired an understanding of their rights and dignity. She thinks “that unless a religion springs from within the people themselves, it is a weapon of the system.”

When the family traveled to work on the plantations, they took all the necessities for their stay—bedding, cooking utensils, and clothing. Sometimes employers paid them by the day and sometimes for the amount of work done.

13 coffee pickers

Picking coffee beans

If a child accidentally broke a branch of a coffee bush, the worker had to work to cover the damages. Children who did not work did not earn any pay and were not fed. The little ones who worked got a ration of tortillas. Rigoberta’s mother shared her ration of food with her children.

The plantation owners ran a cantina that sold food, alcohol, and sweets. The children always pestered their parents for sweets, cakes and soft drinks. The prices were marked on an account, and at the end of the work period when the workers were paid, they had to settle their debt, which was always substantial.

14 child picking coffee

Child picking coffee, Central America

Workers often got drunk at the cantina and piled up huge debts. They often spent most of their wages just paying off the debt. Rigoberta sadly remembered her father and mother going to the cantina out of despair. She commented, “But he hurt himself twice over because his money went back to the landowner. That’s why they set up the cantina anyway.”

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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