by Charles Gladden
ORANGE WALK, Mon. Oct. 3, 2022
The annual La Fiesta del Pueblo returns to San Jose Nuevo Palmar in the Orange Walk District on Sunday, October 9, after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event was first held in 2001, with the objective of promoting and educating others about the indigenous people of the Yucatec community in northern Belize, as well as celebrating the founding of San Jose Nuevo Palmar, which was the last Yucatec community remaining in the Yalbac area.
This year’s festival will mark the 86th anniversary of the village’s relocation to the area where it currently sits, which was done under the instructions of King George VI due to a dispute with the Belize Estate Company in colonial times. The area was also considered the first Indigenous reserve in the country of Belize.
“This year we’re celebrating 86 years since the village was founded, and there’s a lot of history to share about it, because it tells about the constant struggle the indigenous people had to go to colonial powers and authority at the time. And it goes to show the little respect they had for indigenous people, and that is why the fiesta began,” said Arturo Cantun, vice president of the Northern Maya Association of Belize.
“But we also decided to incorporate the part about highlighting the elements of our heritage through the music, dances, food, through the history that we offer, [and] medical knowledge. The fiesta is a whole-day exhibition with dances, with music on the stage. We have food booths where people can actually see how these foods are prepared and they can buy them as well. Also, we’re having small exhibits from different communities to show a little history of their village, and these are Yucatec villages in the north,” Cantun added.
Additionally, Cantun mentioned that the traditional Mayan ball game, Pok Ta Pok, will be played by adults and kids to showcase the historical heritage of the Mayan community.
Cantun told us that in addition to next weekend’s huge festival, other small activities were also coordinated to spread awareness of the culture.
“Throughout the course of the year, we do other outreach communities. We have our membership comprised of retired educators who go into the schools; we use International Literacy Day, where we go into the schools and we teach, introduce the Mayan language, because you can’t really teach it on one session. So we introduce them to the Mayan language so that they learn common words, and how the translation is in Yucatec Maya. We also have major activities that also take place, for this one here, this weekend is one to highlight the culture. Just recently, [on] September 1, we celebrated Mayan Heroes Day, and what that does we honor the work of cultural promoters. So we lay a wreath at the Battle of Orange Walk Monument for those past Maya heroes that we never recognized, and recognize those who are still living for the promotion of the culture,” highlighted Cantun.
Due to the two-year hiatus, Cantun noted that they have lost momentum in the festival so having it this year is to spread more awareness and highlight the Mayan heritage and attempt to make the event into a national exhibition.
The even is being organized through a collaboration with the Palmar Culture Group, with sponsorship from the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Culture.