Introduction / History The Mam are modern day Mayan Indians who live in southwestern Guatemala and parts of southern Mexico. They are divided into many groups, one of which is the Tajumulco Mam. The Tajumulco Mam, like other Mam subgroups, have little or no tribal identity. Rather, they identify themselves by their communities. The Tajumulco Mam live in the municipio (county) of Tajumulco, near the Tajumulco Volcano in southwestern Guatemala.
Mam-speaking Indians have lived in western Guatemala for at least 2,000 years. They were part of the great Mayan Empire of the first millennium A.D. Although the Mam were conquered by the Spanish in the 1500s, they were allowed to remain somewhat independent. In the 1940s, the Mam began migrating to coffee plantations in search of work. Today, the Mam remain second-class citizens in Guatemala, surviving as farmers or wage laborers.
What are their lives like? Most Mam make a living as subsistence farmers. Their primary crops are beans, maize, and various types of squash. Some Mam grow coffee as a cash crop on a small scale. Many Mam travel to large coffee plantations during the harvest season, and the whole family works in the fields. Traditionally, many Tajumulco Mam produced items such as cloth, pottery, and furniture during seasons in which they were not occupied with their farms. Nearly all of the women still weave on traditional looms.
Most of the Mam live in small settlements that have less than 500 people. The majority of the Tajumulco Mam live in small, single family homes. Their houses are made with dirt floors and mud walls. They have tiled or corrugated metal roofs and small windows with shutters. The windows are usually smoky from the indoor cooking fires.
From an early age, Mam children are taught basic cultural skills. Children usually learn by carefully observing others. Since work is given a higher priority than school, most children do not attend school past the primary level.
Young Tajumulco Mam men generally marry in their late teens, while the women marry a few years earlier-as soon as they have mastered the skills of weaving and tortilla-making. Young people have long been allowed to choose their own spouses. Rather than evaluating their potential partners by love or beauty, they look for someone who has practical skills and a good character.
A popular musical instrument among the Mam is the marimba, which is a large xylophone-like instrument played by three or four musicians at a time. The marimba is played at nearly all public events.
What are their beliefs? Most Tajumulco Mam claim to be Catholic. However, many of their religious practices have been mingled with animism (belief that non-human objects have spirits) and witchcraft. The Mam religion glorifies Catholic saints as very powerful spirits. Each village has its own patron saint, whose statue is often paraded through the streets of town and taken to other villages to "visit" other statues. Witchdoctors, called chmaan, also occupy a prominent place in the Mam religion. The chmaan supposedly work to protect the health, crops, and destiny of the Mam. On All Saints' Day, the people decorate the graves of their relatives with food and drink offerings, and marimbas are played at the gravesides.
What are their needs? Though the Tajumulco Mam claim to be Christian, they know nothing of the true Gospel and need to hear about God's saving grace.
In a practical sense, the Mam are in need of better educational facilities, school teachers, and quality medical care. Perhaps Christian medical teams and school teachers will have the greatest opportunities to reach these precious people with the Gospel.
Prayer Points * Pray that Christian resources will soon be translated into the Tajumulco Mam dialect.
* Ask the Lord to call people who are willing to go to Guatemala and share Christ with the Tajumulco Mam.
* Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the few Tajumulco Mam believers.
* Ask God to raise up prayer teams who will begin breaking up the spiritual soil through intercession.
* Ask the Lord to save key leaders among the Mam who will boldly declare the Gospel.
* Ask the Lord to bring forth a strong and growing Tajumulco Mam church for the glory of His name!
Huehuetenango department: San Sebastián and other towns; Quetzaltenango and Retalhuleu departments; San Marcos department: Ixchiguán, San Juan Ostuncalco, San Martín Sacatepéquez, Sibinal, Tectitán. (Source: Ethnologue 2020)