Religions of the World and Ecology home


Victor D. Montejo. Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Native American Studies, University of California, Davis. Victor is a Jakaltekan-Mayan anthropologist active in issues of human rights and local resettlement of Guatemalan Mayan peoples.

Abstract of paper given at Indigenous Traditions and Ecology conference:
The Road to Heaven: Jakaltek-Maya Beliefs, Religion, and Ecology

Mayans' concern for the natural world and the mutual respect which that relationship implies are constantly reinforced through traditional Mayan ways of knowing and teaching. Among the Jakaltek-Maya the teachings of the relationship with the environment is reinforced at an early age with the use of sacred prayers, myths, fables and parables. Contemporary Mayans still teach their children with mythical stories that create a blueprint in the human mind and mold their behavior for the future. These sacred stories contain symbolic and ethical messages that are passed from generations to generations in order to ensure respect and compassion for other living creatures with whom we share the world.

To illustrate my arguments for a religious tradition that emphasizes respect for all living creatures on earth, I will use the sacred book of the Mayans, the Popol Vuh. In the Maya Genesis, humans were not created first, but plants and animals who later helped in the creation of human beings. In this process of creation humans were made of corn. Plant life and the animals helped to collect the food which entered into the flesh and blood of the first human beings. This explains the respect, appreciation and compassion that Mayans have toward the trees and animals for which they pray and perform rituals every Mayan New Year. This tridimensional relationship, humans, environment, and the supernatural world will be analyzed and interpreted using a Mayan myth The Ocean, Urine and Heaven which I learned as a child, modeling my behavior since then.

Back to:

Indigenous Traditions and Ecology conference participants

Culminating conference participants