The Casa de la Cultura projects

Lacandon boys enjoying traditional foodby Robert Johnston

The Casas de la Cultura will be the heart of five cultural projects being developed in the principal settlements of the Comunidad Zona Lacandona; Lacanjá Chansayab, Najá, Metzabók, Nuevo Palestrina and Frontera Corozal. These projects were envisioned by the people of Lacanjá, Na Bolom and mutual friends.

The primary goal of these projects is to offer the communities a way of maintaining and strengthening those aspects of their culture that they, as a community, most value. The Casas de la Cultura are planned as dynamic and interactive community centers. We hope that these facilities will help the Lacandones and other indigenous people living in the region reinforce their cultural traditions. Also, through programs of cultural exchange, they can gain a greater understanding of themselves in the context of the contemporary world.

Photo: Lacandon boys enjoying traditional food at the opening party of the Casa de la Cultura, Lacanjá.

The Casas de la Cultura in Lacanjá and Najá were inaugurated in November '95 and April '96. The project in Metzabók is in the planning stage. It is clear that these projects will fulfill different needs for each community. In Lacanjá, they anticipate the Casa de la Cultura will help facilitate alternative tourism. In Najá, there is more emphasis on pride and preservation of cultural heritage.

The Casas de la Cultura are constructed in traditional style with wood and chicozapote. Permanent exhibitions of photographs by Gertrude Duby Blom, dating back to 1943, provide a visual record of Lacandon genealogy, history and religion. In addition, artisans donated dozens of pieces of arts and crafts for permanent installation. Each community is building a shop to sell craftwork and in Lacanjá there is a traditional organic garden. Ethnographic, geographic and genealogical material along with audio visual equipment are planned for installation soon. For the inauguration at Lacanjá the Sna Tzibajom collective gave a theatrical performance dealing with the migration of highland Maya into the rain forest and the many problems such as poverty, landlessness, deforestation and the racism and duplicity on the part of the government.

These centers will form a base for the consolidation and realization of other projects, either already being carried out or in the planning stage, such as the "Video in the Rainforest" and "Community Health Project".

Cultural exchange is part of the project as well. The first temporary exhibition in Lacanjá was about Inuit culture in Canada, This opened with a slide presentation and discussion of the traditional lifestyle of the Inuit in the Arctic. A greater contrast to Lacandon life in the rainforest seems hard to imagine. But in many ways they face similar challenges to their cultural survival.

Visit the website of Na Bolom here!

The Casa de la Cultura

The Casa de la Cultura, Najá is built from traditional materials
- but for the convenience of a few nails and electricity.