My brain is a little bit fried right now after talking with Melanie on the phone, my former T.A. who is here in Guatemala writing her dissertation. The woman knows everything there is to know about Guatemalan politics. She talked and talked, and as she talked she made me realize how much of a beginner I am. I don´t know if I have the depth of background knowledge necessary to put this kite festival into its proper cultural context. I feel like I am just scratching the surface of a very deep and bloody history. She told me that Guatemala is a very visceral experience. Something about it gets into you, and you can stop thinking about it, and you can´t stop thinking about blood.
Today was long but very productive. I now have good standing with Frederico and Luis thanks to the Drachen Foundation. They were very helpful and eager to work with me on this project. It is very reassuring to know that I am not simply walking into this as a complete outsider. The town is not as small as I imagined. There are over thirty thousand people there, which means that it isn’t entirely a cow town—although I discovered that they don’t have any restaurants. The buildings are in varying stages of development; i.e. some are beautifully painted and modern looking, while most have exposed cinderblock walls and jagged rebar sticking out of the roof. Everyone knows everyone here.
Finding out the history of the Kite festival is going to be tricky. It seems that neither Frederico or Luis know the origins of the kites. However, they did lead me to some interesting hypotheses. Theory 1: the kites are Aztec. Evidence: the name Sumpango is a transliterated word for Tzompantli, the Aztec name for sacrificial skull racks. Supposedly, there is reference in the Dresden codex to a special kind of weather device made of the leave of papalot trees and used to determine wind patterns. It is most likely some kind of kite, which would explain the Mexican word for kite, papalote. The Aztecs might have also used kites as part of their religious rituals. The town of Sumpango existed before the Spanish conquest and it is possible that the town was a far flung post of the Aztec empire, which would explain the name and the religious importance of the kites.
Theory 2: the kites were introduced by Spanish priests in an attempt to convert Mayan children. That is about all there is to this theory, but it is entirely probable. The Franciscans employed all kinds of overt and covert ploys to convert the Indians.
This at least is a good starting point. I am going to meet with them again on Tuesday to create a plan of action and to set up a schedule for interviews.
The hotel I am in is really lovely. They lights candles every night in the hallways; it fits the name--Candelaria. I will be sad to leave here because everyone is so friendly, and because it is very luxurious. I didn’t expect to be quite so pampered. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. Tomorrow I am off to find a good el-cheepo hotel. Wish me luck.