Mams in Guatemala: The Mountain People • John Vink • Magnum Photos

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Arts & Culture

Mams in Guatemala: The Mountain People

How the indigenous Mam people connect to their traditions in the highlands of Guatemala

John Vink

John Vink The square in front of the main church, during All Saints dances. The town is inhabited mostly by Mam Indians, who are eager to protect their identity, despite the growing pressure from tourism. To (...)
John Vink Pregnant women consultation by a traditional midwife trained by MSF Switzerland. Chanluit, Guatemala. October 25, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink All Saints day horse races. Todos Santos, Guatemala. November 1, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink All Saints day. Wiped out by Quetzalteca. Todos Santos, Guatemala. November 1, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Fight in a tienda during All Saints day festivities. Todos Santos, Guatemala. November 3, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Selling potatoes on market day. Todos Santos, Guatemala. October 27, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Clothes drying on a bush. Guatemala. 1996. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Man holds a portable music player. Guatemala. 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Mam Indians watch All Saints dances. Todos Santos, Guatemala. October 30, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos
John Vink Mam Indians inauguration of a small clinic financed by MSF. Chenihuitz, Guatemala. March 28, 1995. © John Vink | Magnum Photos

The Mam Indians from the high plateaux in Guatemala have been under cultural pressure from the Ladino population for over 500 years since the Spanish invasion. They have managed to live with foreign religions by adapting them to their traditional environment and were able to protect their Maya beliefs through secrecy and a very strong sense of community.

The unfair distribution of land, the guerrilla war of the 1980s and the military repression that went along with it continue to challenge their cultural integrity. Many are forced to flee towards lower lands, to fill the ranks of slum dwellers in the capital city, to seek refuge in Mexico or to emigrate to the US. Today the majority of the Mam community struggle to make a living on the steep slopes of the mountains, while they try to maintain the customs of their ancestors.