rigoberta menchu

An Indian Woman In Guatemala: Without A Trace Of Bitterness In Her Voice

Stacye Rothbard

Transcultural perspectives

November 11, 1996

Guatemala is the land of Eternal Springs and the home of the richly cultured

historic Mayan people. It it also the country of Rigoberta Menchu, an

illeterite farm worker, turned voice of oppressed people everywhere.

also has the sad distinction of being home to Latin America\'s oldest civil

"For more than three decades, left-wing guerrillas have fought a series

rightist governments in Guatemala. The war has killed an estimated 140,000 in

the country, which has 11 million people." (N.Y. Times June 14, 1996 pA4
col 2)

This is a story of a people in crisis, and one woman\'s struggle to use truth,

a means of setting her people free.

The majority of the population are Indians, and much of the struggles arise

of the ashes of the past. Spain conquered Guatemala in 1524, which was the

start of the oppression of the native people of Guatemala. Since this time

native people have been ruled by the Spanish speaking minority, the Ladinos,

many of which are descended from the Spanish colonists.

Beginning in 1954, when Guatemala\'s elected government was overthrown by the

army, the military began a brutal war against the Indian people. This type of

torture and oppression continued, and during the 1970\'s the repression was

especially harsh; during this time more and more Indians began to resist. It

was during this time that Rigoberta Menchu\'s family became involved in the


The situation in Guatemala is similar to South Africa, where the black

are ruled with absolute power by the white minority. Like South Africa, the

Indians in Guatemala are lacking in even the most basic of human rights.

"Indeed the so-called forest Indians are being systematically
exterminated in

the name of progress. But unlike the Indian rebels of the past, who wanted to

go back to pre-Columbian times, Rigoberta Menchu is not fighting in the name

an idealized or mythical past." (Menchu xiii) Rigoberta is working

drawing attention to the plight of native people around the globe.

Once an illiterate farm worker, she has taught herself to read and write

the language of her oppressor, as a means of relating her story to the world.

She tells the story of her life with honesty and integrity in hopes of

impressing upon the world the indignation of the oppressed. In addition to

Spanish language, Rigoberta borrows such things as the bible and trade union

organization in order to use them against their original owners. There is

nothing like the bible in her culture. She says, "The Bible is written,

that gives us one more weapon." ( Menchu xviii ) Her people need to base

actions on the laws that come down from the past, on prophecy.

Her own history and the history of her family is told with great detail in

book I, Rigoberta Menchu. Not only does one learn about the culture of her

people and about the community in which she lives, but an understanding is

gained as to impetus to react against ones oppressor. Born the sixth child to

an already impoverished but well respected family, Rigoberta remembers

up in the mountains on land that no one else wanted, spending months at a

going with her family to work on the fincas (plantations).

A lorry owned by the finca would come to their village, and the workers,

with their children and animals, would ride together, in filthy and

conditions. Each lorry would hold approximately forty people, and the trip to

the finca took two nights and one day, with no stops allowed for the

it is easy to imagine the unsanitary condition that resulted. Each worker

take with them a cup and a plate and a bottle for water when they worked in

fields. The youngest of the children that were not yet able to work had no

for their own cup and plate since, if they did not work, they would not be

by the finca. These children\'s mothers would share with them their own ration

of tortilla and beans, though many of the children were severely

and two of Rigoberta\'s own brothers died while on the finca.

At the tender age of eight Rigoberta was earning money to help her family,

as proof of her own personal fortitude, by age ten she was picking the quotas

an adult and was paid as such. Her first experience in the city was at twelve

years old in the capital of Guatemala where she worked as a maid. She retells

the story of how when she met