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The Odyssey of a Tz'utujil Woman

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As I approached the dock, Dolores Ratzun was indistinguishable from the other Tz'utujil women dressed in traje indigena, waiting on the shore. But on disembarking and approaching the group, it was easy to pick her out by her face; the shining smoothness of her skin that dominates the few traces of age; the tastefully chosen eyeglasses. Even more, the expression of serenity and unaffected dignity she wore. Dolores Ratzun is at home in Santiago; born here in 1960, the first child of a woodcutter and a weaver. She has four brothers and a sister. Yet, her experiences have made her a remarkably different person.

At the age of 17, Dolores met and married a stranger to her community, a colocho youth named Martin; a rootless, penniless, "half-breed" troubadour and artist, looking for a place to call home. He had apprenticed himself to a legendary local shaman and had become a successful healer. Dolores had been an epileptic. He cured her and they fell in love. Over the ensuing years they built a life together within the tight-knit clan of the Santiago Tz'utujiles. She had three children by him, two who survived. His acceptance and growing influence within the Tz'utujiles community as a shaman and religious/ political leader would be nothing short of astounding. She worked as a wife, mother and ayudante healer.

In 1980 Dolores and Martin fled Guatemala in fear for their lives. The government suspected Martin of collaborating with the rebels because of his role within the indigenous community. The rebels suspected him of collaborating with the government because of his ethnicity and his ties with foreigners. They would wander about the U.S. southwest for a while, finally settling near Santa Fe, New Mexico. At first Martin supported the family by painting and selling his artwork. Dolores added to their meager income by producing and selling Guatemalan handicrafts.

Dolores learned to speak English, mostly from listening to television shows like 'Sesame Street.' Her role as a mother was challenged by the task of helping her sons learn English. They settled in a Hispanic community, but the boys spoke only Tz'utujil. Martin's talents as a healer began to resurface. Dolores began to make appointments for him, while resuming her roles as helper and apprentice. She learned what he knew.

Ironically, the success that Dolores and Martin were experiencing individually, while working as a couple, became the seeds of growing disharmony. Ultimately, Martin left the family home and Dolores faced a dilemma - to stay in this still unfamiliar land or return to Guatemala. The dilemma was deepened by the awareness that her sons had become acculturated to the United States. Serendipity brought her to a decision in the character of a respected Mayan healer from San Francisco el Alto, Guatemala, who was passing through Santa Fe. Learning of his presence, she visited him for counsel. He advised her that her future lay in her talents as a healer back home in the Guatemala central highlands. The argument for leaving her sons in New Mexico while she returned to Guatemala was reinforced by the spiritual force she felt in the San Francisco shaman's advice. She returned to Santiago Atitlan with little money, but with faith in what she concluded was God's will.

Shortly after returning home, Dolores found temporary work as a translator for Japanese tourists through the sympathetic assistance of David and Susie Glanville of the Posada de Santiago. Dolores's talents subsequently won her a job as a translator for a Japanese film company that was making a documentary about the 1990 massacre in Santiago Atitlan. Dolores traveled to Tokyo as a consultant for the final editing of the film. She also remarried Cruz Coo, a local vegetable merchant.

Now the matter of religion presented a fresh dilemma. Dolores was born a Catholic, but had given up its orthodoxy to become a healer to become a healer with Martin. Her new husband was an Evangelical Christian, and shamanism and evangelism are at spiritual odds. She recognized the threat to her marriage and decided to reject her role as a healer. However, people continued to seek her out. She discussed the situation with her husband. He acquiesced to her continuing to treat people. Meanwhile, Dolores was gaining increased recognition as a cultural resource to outsiders. Her fluency in Tz'utujil and Spanish as well as English was relatively rare. Being Tz'utujil, with her background in traditional Mayan healing, made her an invaluable resource to those with interests in anthropology and medical systems. Her network of family and community contacts made her useful to others who had interests ranging from learning how to weave to studying language.

These dynamics energized Dolores and have created a role for her as a cultural broker for her community. Following her unique personal journey away from her people and back, she finds her core family or parents and siblings intact. She has reconstructed a life closer to her roots, while remaining a woman of the world.

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