Growing Up in an Indigenous Society: The Story of Rigoberta Menchu, Part 4, The Indigenous Worldview, Part 15

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 4

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

When Rigoberta turned eight she started to earn money on the plantation by picking coffee, and when the family returned to their mountain home, she worked in the fields growing maize (corn).The plantation work was very hard and her parents were usually exhausted.

15 women cooking

Woman with children cooking, Guatemala

She noted that most of the women who worked picking cotton and coffee had nine or ten children. Of these, three or four were healthy and would survive, but most of them had swollen bellies from malnutrition and the mother knew that some of her children would die. Even Rigoberta’s brother died from malnutrition. Men who had been in the army often abused young girls. Many girls had no families and turned to prostitution. She was sad to see this happen since prostitution did not exist in Indian culture.

15 girl learning Q'eqchi' alphabet

Guatemalan girl learning Q’eqchi’ alphabet

Rigoberta celebrated her tenth birthday in the Altiplano. Her parents explained her responsibilities and that soon she would be a woman who could start having children. On her twelfth birthday, it was the custom to receive a gift of a small animal to raise; her father gave her a pig. She sold weavings that she did in her spare time, after working in the fields all day, to get enough money to buy food for her pig.


Rigoberta’s community respected many things connected with the natural world. Water, for example, was considered sacred to her community. She explained, “Water is pure, clean, and gives life to humans. The same is true for the earth. The earth is mother of 15 Woman-Picking-Beans-at-Finca-Filadelfia-Coffee-Plantation[1]humans, because she gives us food. Her people eat maize, beans and vegetables; they cannot eat things made with equipment or machines. That is why they ask the earth’s permission to sow maize and beans.” Copa, the resin of a tree, was a sacred ingredient in candles for her people.

The candles gave off a strong, smoky, delicious aroma when burned, and they were used in ceremonies to represent the earth, water and maize.

15 Guatemalan ceremonies

Guatemalan ceremony

They prayed to their ancestors and recited ancient prayers. Their grandfathers said they must ask the sun to shine on all its children: the trees, animals, water, man and enemies. To them, an enemy was someone who steals or goes into prostitution.



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, History, indigenous, perspectives, Uncategorized, worldviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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