Native Planet > Indigenous Cultures > Pech > Lifestyle

 

The Pech 
Traditions 
and Daily Living 

Thatching

Today much of the Pech culture and traditional lifestyle has disappeared due to the influence of religion, loss of ancestral land and sacred sites, cultural assimilation, intermarriage, modernization, and discrimination.

Many younger Pech think that their level of poverty is associated with their culture or lifestyle. As a result they aspire to the prevailing Latino lifestyle to raise their standard of living.

Primary among the Pech traditions that are being left behind are those related to birth and death. The Pech used to have a special ceremony called Kesh during which they drank traditional beverages such as munia (liquor of yucca) and ostia (liquor of sugar can and corn) and ate food such as sasal (type of tamale made of yucca). During these ceremonies, initiated people entered into contact with spirits.

Today most Pech have little knowledge of the culture and traditions of their ancestors. Most people younger than 30 or 40 years old have never heard of many of the Pech legends. The ones who know about them have often learned them from books. One they refer to often is the study "Dioses, Heroes y Hombres en el Universo Mitico Pech" by Lazaro Flores and Wendy Griffin, 1991.

A few foundations of the Pech culture have not changed, yet outside influences are forcing them to adapt. Traditionally they lived subsistence lifestyles, producing most everything they needed from the environment. Their agriculture, housing, and family units remain largely unaffected. However, more and more they are having to enter the market economy as new financial pressures arise. Elder children go off to school and must pay tuition. More manufactured goods, foodstuffs and small luxury items are becoming popular. Due to their lack of financial resources, many are looking to the outside. Much of what is referred to here has disappeared or is well on its way.

 

 

Rice pounding

Traditional Food and Drinks

Cacao harvesting

Food

Each culture had their traditional food, the Maya had Maiz and Cacao, the   traditional food of the Pech is yucca root. Still today, yucca is an important staple.

  1. Yucca
  2. The principal food of the Pech is the yucca root. It is prepared as sasal, tortillas (pak-ká, tamale de yucca (catana). The paste is wraped in bijao leaves and boiled like a corn tamale made by the Latinos.

    Drink: Kuni, a boiled beverage made from the root.

  3. Corn
  4. Tamale (sayahá, tortilla and totoposte (totoposte-há. Similar cooking method used by Latinos. One type of bread cooked in fire 

    Various alcoholic drinks.

    Pozol (muzu), pinol (auhtirihá, atole (kori), kareski, varak-ká  truni, Chawá (Pan de maiz)

  5. Beans and Rice, eggs, pork, chicken, plus fish and game meat.

DRINKS

Traditional Drinks: Ojitia (chicha), muzu (pozol de maiz fermentado), munia (fresco de yucca fermentado).

  1. Chicha de Yucca (muni"  is the traditional favorite.
  2. After peeling the yucca root, women pound it in a mortar then they masticate a small quantity until it turns into a smooth white paste they call levadura. The levadura is then mixed back into the rest of the yucca paste. The saliva facilitates the fermentation. The preparation is then covered with bijao leaves and left to ferment for 3 days.

  3. Chicha de Maiz (Aunpanhá

Fresh or dried kernels are pounded and boiled inside leaves (like a tamale). Then the paste is masticated by women and put it in a covered container to ferment.

Many other chichas de frutas are made usually with sugar cane juice to the help the fermentation.

The version of the chicha de maiz that we saw was lightly boiled sugar cane juice mixed with corn kernels and left to ferment from one to three days.

 

 

Fire

When asked, Most Pech people, elders included, believed that their ancestors used to make fire with spark-producing fire stones. However in his book "Revelaciones Verdaderas" hp.367, Father Fernando de Espino makes reference to the use of a vine. After drying them, they wrapped them around a piece of wood and pulled them back and forth to create friction. (This technique sounds a little similar to the one used by the tribes of Irian Jaya today).

Another technique consisted of creating friction with two pieces of wood by hand. (hand drill technique most commonly used by indigenous tribes in the past).

Traditional Pech house

Traditional Housing

Traditional Pech house

Traditionally there were three types of housing.

  1. The most ancient was a common house for 3 families, usually father and 2 sons (or sons in law) with their wives.
  2. Single room houses were built for one family, which served as kitchen, eating room and bedroom. It was the most commonly used in all Pech villages.
  3. More recently houses with double rooms were made. One room is used for daily activities, the other to sleep. It is influenced by modern habits.

3 types of cooking pit  

  1. Fogón de Tierra. Made of wood, stones and clay by women. It is mounted on a table and is the most commonly used today.
  2. Fogon de Lorena. Same as the Fogon de Tierra, but with a chimney to evacuate the smoke. This is a recent influence by the organization Junta Nacional de Bienestar Social.
  3. Fogon de Tres Piedras. The most primitive. It is made of 3 stones. They cook on it using leaves in which are placed the food.

Clothing

Footwear

Traditional Pech shoes were sandals made of tapir or cow leather with a buckle around the big toe. They were worn from age 15.

Soaps, Perfumes and Skin Protection

Miskitos used to make a special oil with perfumes called Batana. It is good for skin, but smells bad to the unaccustomed person.

Women used to smear on their faces achiote berry to protect their skin from the sun and from insect bites when they went fishing or working in the field.

To decorate themselves, men used a mixture of soot, pine tree resin, and powder from smoked pine wood. These customs were described by the German writer Conzemius in his book "Los Indios Payas de Honduras"in 1920, but the practice has disappeared today.

Traditional soap for washing clothes was made from lemongrass or flowers of the "jilite" (or quilite) plant. This was then replaced by a soap made from the innards of a pig or cow mixed with lye. The liquid was dried by fire until it thickened and could be formed into a ball of soap.

 

Note: Background photographs and design by Jean-Philippe Soule © 1997

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