Maximon a wooden doll

While travelling throughout the Central American country of Guatemala you will probably come across a wooden doll dressed in typical attire, smoking a cigarette or cigar, wearing silk ties and drinking local fermented alcohol. For those of you wondering what that figure is the answer is Maximon.

To best understand what Maximon means to the indigenous community you need to travel to Santiago Atitlan. The wooden doll represents Judas and is associated with the Maya Lords of Death. Many attempts were made by the Catholic Church to eradicate the tradition from Maya worship but obviously did not succeed.


flickr image by archer10 (Dennis)

The easiest and quickest way to reach Santiago Atitlan is to drive to Panajachel located on Lake Atitlan and take a ferry across the lake to Santiago. The trip to Panajachel is about two hours by car from Guatemala City. Panajachel is the largest tourist destination around the entire lake.

Once there you can take a boat ride across the lake. Lake Atitlan is a high mountain lake surrounded by three huge volcanoes that stand guard over the many communities that are located around the entire lake. The late British author Aldous Huxley once called the lake the most beautiful lake in the world. Once in Santiago, you can ask anyone in the community to direct you to Maximon.

Maximon does not have once permanent place and one of the many willing guides that live in Santiago will lead you to his current home. Once you find the location, you will have to pay two quetzals to enter. That is the equivalent of about US$0.25. When you walk in you are hit immediately with the scent of incense and smoke from the myriad of candles that are the only source of light in the room.

His attire changes often but he has a mask, usually three to four silk ties and typical clothing. Pictures are allowed for a small fee, usually about US$1.25. In the doll’s hands are trays where you can leave your donation. The donation can include but is not be limited to cash, cigarettes and or liquor.

Also in the room is a casket on the right of Maximon that represents Jesus and on his left a statue of Jesus carrying his cross. Set back and almost out of site is a statue with a mask that has a cigarette between its toes. The person in charge will reluctantly tell you, if you ask that, the statue is “El Rey de Muerte,” the King of Death.

Also worth visiting in Santiago is the church. The church is over 500 years old and statues of saints line both walls of the church up to the altar. Santiago is known throughout the country for his woodcrafters. They carve anything from jewellery boxes to furniture. Their speciality is small statues of people performing a specific task; a woman making tortillas, a man fishing in his cuyuco (dugout canoe), a man carrying a load of wood on his back; or a woman making a handmade textile.

When visiting Guatemala there are a number of places you can see replicas of Maximon. Antigua has one in a craft market, Panajachel sells replicas in its market and other cities and towns offer different versions. However, the only place to see the “real” Maximon is in Santiago Atitlan and it is well worth the trip to get there.

Date posted: 26th January, 2015

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