Widening Coversational Scope: More Meaty Bits

Author, speaker, and teacher Martín Prechtel writes on this from the perspective of the Tzutujil Mayans of Highland Guatemala. In their village of Santiago Atitlan, they have a similar proceeding to the kris romaniya (excerpted from Long Life, Honey in the Heart, pages 168-170):

…On regular [Sundays] we repaired outside the church to the old stone benches where we held court. Here decisions were made, arguments were settled, problems discussed, and whatever had to be done to keep the Earth alive was considered and put into action…The Tzutujil elders weren’t undemocratic. They listed to each villager’s complaint or questions one at a time. A large part of what the [spiritual elders] did with their time…was simply to listen…they listened a great deal more than they spoke because they knew that most people’s problems were just part of life and would never be finished or solved by human invention…By trying to fix or remedy what people envisioned as the injustices and setbacks in their lives, they usually compounded the situation, making a bigger problem for somebody else in the future…there was no cure for the unfairness and hardship in any human’s life…people were not put into this world to have a good time; they were put here to be beautiful…our happiness fed the Gods, but our suffering did as well…the zany old people [did] have ways of dealing with village problems…whatever they came up with was masterfully engineered to keep suffering from escalating into mass depression and violence by making sure the village grieved for any person’s difficulties. Being heard by the elders and the village at large didn’t fix anything, but it made life bearable because we were together, in love with the adventure of our tiny collective relevance to the hungry universe…

Now you’ve heard Tzutujil legal theory expressed about as succinctly as humanly possible. As it widens the scope once again, I don’t see it differing substantively from the romaniya, except as an expression of the particular uniqueness of the Tzutujil.

Now time to narrow the scope!

However, when people had a serious difficulty that threatened the safety of the village as a whole, then all the council would leap to their feet, blankets flapping, eyeballs rolling…Everyone had an opinion, and they all talked at once to everybody they could see to the front, side, back, or far away. Miraculously, everyone listened to everybody else simultaneously, pointing and gesticulating…yelling, laughing, or preaching in a low oratory. Amazing and insane, the roar fo such a meeting was like a plane taking off. Just as quickly as it began, it stopped, everyone having understood and been heard simultaneously. And in the second of silence it took everybody to sit back down, and calmly go back to smoking and waiting for the next issue, the headman would state matter-of-factly, “That’s decided then,” and the royal crowd would grunt in affirmation. then the next issue would be presented.

At first I couldn’t understand how anything got heard or what plan had adopted…Gradually, however, I too became a participant in the word orgy of the decision making and learned to hear as I was being heard…Those who didn’t understand soon did, as the policy passed into action.

There was an inner-sanctum aspect to this form of decision making, and anyone not initiated into it could not hope to participate, though the meetings were open to the village…

Whammo! The scope narrows. Keep in mind too, that you needed to speak Tzutujil Mayan (one of countless ornate Mayan dialects) in order to even experience exclusion from the decision making. To me, the ‘word orgy’ compares well to the ornate version of Romany spoken by the folk attorneys and krisnitorya.

I offer up the Tzutujil version to show you that indigenous peoples work this way, quite similarly all over the world. Village law, tribal law, family law, in indigenous cultures, aims for the re-establishment of peace, narrows scope naturally due to cultural identity and language, widens scope to garner the support of the community and get the Big Story of where the community stands.

Written by Willem