Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Highland Woman: Donna Leonara

Text by: Vincent Stanzione

Mother, Daughter and Son

The three of them lived together like the Earth, Moon and Star lived together in the Sky, house of the Sun. They took care of one another and themselves like the most independent people I have ever known. Maria Fidelia standing in the door didn’t live fully in this world and spent her life both extremely happy and intensely sad. She was truly a lunatic, she changed with the moon. Her mother sitting on the front porch was known to be a ‘transformer’ which is to say she could change into animal form and roam the world around her. She was born into the world with a destiny from ancient times, she was baptized Leonora Quiche. She and her husband were the caretakers of a large piece of forest, pasture and milpa. They were the last of the K’iche people on the frontier of Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil and K’iche land. I knew her but I can’t say too well. Xuan is still with us on this side of the two worlds while his mother and sister now reside in the Santo Mundo where all souls go to live out their eternity.

I like Xuan and try to make sure he has all the firewood he needs. He was trapped in his mother at birth and has been damaged from that birth to this day. He is the sweetest man, kindest man I have ever known but, no matter, people still make fun of him and make him mad. He doesn’t like that at all, I don’t like it either. He can’t talk but he can hear and he understands everything but people think just because he can’t speak well that he is some how not right in the head.

It was his sister Maria Fidelia who was touched, she was the one who carried a doll around with her wherever she went. But Xuan he is fine. He is just paralyzed in an odd way but he gets through it and does his best at whatever he is told to do. His favorite thing is to take a whip out that he made out of maguey fiber and he whip the world. He snaps his whip in late May and early June to make sure the maize stands up straight and the gophers run off back to the wild. He whips the earth and howls like a wild man knowing that it is he that makes the maize grow and he protects it from its enemies from above and below. He is there at dawn and again at dusk like Venus as morning and evening star.

Leona is gone after living a long life on earth. She worked doing something right up to her dying day. She never did much but she always did something while taking care of her son and daughter for as long as they lived. They took care of one another as best they could. Beyond that the people who lived around them helped them out but not too much to make them feel unable. Mother and Daughter never wore shoes on their feet and never went anywhere beyond the little hollow they lived in and the three closest villages. Xuan still lives next door. The rain is falling and pretty soon his work in the field and forest will end. It will be time to whip the world into order and call out to the Earth and Moon.

Doña Leonora Quiche
Some people get to be really old in this world. Other people die young. Some people have great things to do in their lives but destiny doesn’t give them the time. People live, people die, people live simple lives, others make it as hard on themselves as they possibly can. By the time I came to know Doña Leonora was as old as the last century and then she lived for another twenty years. She out lived two of her children as well as her husband and all her sisters and brothers. She was really very old.

I tried to get her grandson to ask her stories about the past but she said there was nothing to say and thinking about the past only made her sad. She had seen the enslavement of her people, forced labor laws. She had never seen a revolution or a dictatorship or coup d’etat or civil war but she lived through them all. Leona, as they called her, was a women who was both of this and the other world. That is why, the people say, that she lived so long and as simply as she did. She wasn’t a religious person but she was a spiritual person, she prayed all the time.

People said she could turn into whatever animal she chose to be to go walking around at night in the world. She was often tired in the daytime and a day-keeper priest said that was because she was always out at night walking around in the dark. I believed all that people said about her and what she said to me when I passed by her on the trail that went behind her house. She was just a nice old woman with nothing much to do other than survive, no ambition at all more than to take care of her old kids and herself.

She taught me that if you don’t ask from much on earth you will be pretty much assured a peaceful life. If you don’t complicate your existence life will work out, one way or another you will get by. If you pray everyday and tend your garden, make your own food and gather your own firewood you will survive. I have to live a little bit more like Leona lived, a day at a time with gratefulness in my heart, do less and sit more, just taking in life the way it is without asking for more. Maybe I might live longer or I might not .... at least I will have lived in both the light and the dark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ V.S.


  1. What a powerful text written by V.S that accompanies Tom Water's photo of Doña Leonora, and her 2 children, Maria Fidelia & Xuan. I have been deeply "moved".And i say, "amen". --ONIPIKTE. Carolina McCabe, Santiago Atitlán, Sololá. .

  2. An insightful photo accompanied by an equally insightful text…Vinny and Tom, you make an awesome team!

    I journeyed from San Francisco to Santiago seven years ago in search of a more peaceful life style and poco a poco, my days have filled up as I run between projects, work, family, etc. Thank you for reminding me that I too need to slow down….and live a bit more like Leona.

  3. It is nice that a story comes with the photo. It competes and compliments the visual. Thanks you two, a great image and theme. Life is relatively short but we all go about it in a fast moving way, if one could just stop and listen and tune in like this family pictured here, we all might gain something lost. Thanks Tom and Vinney, very moving.