Traditional housing


The members of the Lacanhá subgroup lived close to each other and visited each other often, but in general, the Lacandones lived secluded from other families. The Lacandones of the Jatate subgroup had a chronically shortage of marriageable woman for years. Each man feared for losing his wife to another man. For that reason the woman stayed home when the men would meet each other in the forest.

Mobility has always been very important, moving to another house occurred commonly. The most important reason for this was the shifting of the milpa.

Today the Lacandones still think mobility is very important, although several families live together in the mentioned communities. The life of the Lacandones turns on the household. A household exists of the man, his wives, unmarried children, married daughters, son in laws and one of the grandparents if the other has died. The man is the head of the family.

The parents and their small children live together in a home that consists out of one room. Boys and bachelor man sleep in a separate hut, just like their older sisters. The average number of children in a household is decreasing. Young families have an average of 1,6 children, while their parents had an average of 3,8 children and their grandparents even 9,6 children.

There are two other huts near the home. One of these huts contains the kitchen; the other is being used for storage of food. Near the home there is a piece of land with a fence around it which functions as a toilet.

Sometimes a household has its own caribal (private land), but this land can also be shared with several households. Families that share such a caribal, seems to be close relatives. The distance between some caribals can be several days of walking.

Photo by J H BirchallA traditional Lacandon home (nah) has a thatched roof of about ten meters wide and is made from palm leaves (kun), because of the round endings the home becomes about three meters longer. The home of the southern Lacandones didn’t had any walls, those of the northern did. The walls were made from rough boards of balsa wood; in between there are many openings. The different doorways are the only openings in the home. Dirt is used for the floor and on both sides of the home you can find an open fireplace, made from the three stones just like the Ancient Maya did. The hammocks of majoua bark are near the fireplace. Calabash plates are hanging on the beams of the roof and are used for storage of their homemade cigars, hach k’uuts (‘Real Tobacco’), The Lacandones are smoking cigars almost all day long. A modern Lacandon home has a floor of concrete and a roof of corrugated iron, inside there are two or three rooms with several hammocks, a table with chairs, a television and sometimes a video recorder.

Every traditional household haves its own yatoch k’un (‘godhouse’). These are made on an open space in the forest, secluded from the community. It is a ritual meeting spot where the religious objects are stored. East of the yatoch k’un you can find a canoe (the balché chem), which is specially made for the preparation of the ritual balché.

A yatoch k’un is made from a thatched roof on poles without walls. It’s important that the entry is faced to the east, facing Yaxchilán. In the yatoch k’un humans and gods meet each other, the gods will sit between the humans while they are sacrificing and praying. It’s the place where ordinary objects become holy: incense transforms into tortillas and tamales transforms into meat, rubber dolls are sacrificed after being ritually made alive. Even the human voice transforms into a nasal melodic voice when people are speaking to the gods.