The Covid pandemic presented the world with substantial changes in the way of doing things that were recommended to be simpler and more banal on a day-to-day basis. Getting to or leaving home, going to visit friends or going to the market, everything changed. Traditions in Guatemala were no exception.

By: Diana Fuentes

Within the traditions in Guatemala, like Mexico and the Central American countries, there is a day to celebrate the deceased.

On the first of November, altars are made with the faces of those who have died, and around them families share food, drinks and music.

The Guatemalan tradition is to make giant kites (which are what would be called kites in some countries, only with special designs) and they will be flown that day at the cemetery to honor the dead.


Barriletes día de los muertos, tradiciones de guatemala

Tradiciones de Guatemala
On Day of the Dead in Guatemala, families raise kites to remember their relatives. Photos: Canva.

During the pandemic, Guatemalan families experienced internal chaos due to not being able to give their deceased loved ones a traditional burial. Traditions in Guatemala had to change.

Likewise, the pandemic totally changed the way of relating and social filters were created in which courage, creativity and resilience reappeared to be able to continue with the typical traditions in Guatemala.

One of the unions most affected were that of doctors and nurses who experienced discrimination and precariousness in carrying out their work successfully. but that was not an impediment for some to give their last battle against Covid-19, maintaining ethics and altruism during the pandemic.

bury their dead

The customs and traditions in Guatemala regarding death are strong; there is a series of rituals where they accompany the deceased on their journey to eternity. This helps relatives cope with grief accompanied by the family and community, and the deceased is treated with dignity within each family until their last breath.

With the start of the pandemic, these customs were severely interrupted, bringing chaos to the interior of each home. Everything was fast and there was no dignity to bury their relatives, causing them irreparable trauma.

farewell rituals

Santa Clara la Laguna is located in the south-western region of the department of Solo lá, of the Republic of Guatemala, it has an approximate population of 10,340 inhabitants, for the year 2021, according to the Population Census of the year 2018.

Santa Clara la Laguna is very small, the majority of the population is indigenous and their mother tongue is K’ich’e.

They strongly maintain their culture and have rituals to bury their dead.

They bathed them, they put on the best clothes, especially the ones the deceased wanted.

They say goodbye to their family member for nine days and keep vigil for one night and one day with the body present inside their home or funeral home where all the relatives, friends and neighbors come to offer their condolences.

During this course of time, food and drinks are shared with the attendees; Also, memories are shared and the loss of a loved one is mourned. This is one of the most common Guatemalan traditions.

A pandemic that interrupted traditional

But during the pandemic throughout Guatemala and in Santa Clara La Laguna, many traditions in Guatemala had to change.

Two young people, Ingrid Ixcamparic and Juana Ajsoc, tell us how they had to bury their aunt Maria Chiyal in a way that was far from traditional and undignified for them.

“They only took off her gown and wrapped her in bags, fumigated her, and in a matter of two hours she was in front of the house, and they took her to the general cemetery,” the young people narrated.

«We could only see a transmission that was made on Facebook and directly to his pantheon,» the young people say.

Ingrid narrates that after the death of her aunt, a crisis was triggered in the rest of her family, “after that my uncle became very serious, no longer because of Covid-19. but because of sadness and bad news, my other cousins who were recovering were also very bad.

Tradiciones de Guatemala
Ixcamparic and Juana Ajsoc are originally from Santa Clara la Laguna, Solo lá, Guatemala. Photo: Diana Fuentes

The emotional impact of a duel

Emotions play an important role in the health of the human being and being able to manage them is one of the biggest challenges that each individual must face.

The psychologist Linda Rivera explains: «The emotional impact of not keeping the duel to which they were culturally accustomed, if the duel is not channeled and lived, repressed emotions are generated and even trigger very serious diseases of the digestive, endocrinological and nervous systems.»

Social media went dark on an obituary

Social networks were the space where thousands of Guatemalans expressed their pain from a distance with their families and friends, gave their condolences and posted photos of their deceased every day.

“Many people only saw on Facebook how they were buried, a year later we went to visit their pantheons and we cried for everything that happened and we are waiting for it to happen and everything to end. This affected us a lot, financially, morally”, comments Ingrid Ixcamparic.

The populations do not recover from the loss and imagine that their relative is still in the hospital and that perhaps they will arrive home soon. it is something that Guatemalan families still have.

«Low moods and prolonged levels of sadness, dysthymia, minor and major depressions, showing effects on health, reducing the proper functioning of the immune system and being probable to any disease caused by viruses and bacteria,» says Linda Rivera, Psychologist.

The battle against the virus, from the trenches

Several health professionals gave their lives and full time to contain the Covid-19 crisis; due to their experience and years of work; they knew how to act with certainty for what was coming.

Alicia Pérez Gálvez, 68 years old, had a degree in nursing, worked 35 years in the community health area, during the pandemic she was head of the health area of the Department of Quetzaltenango, this 2022 she recently retired.

Área de Salud del Departamento de Quetzaltenango,Guatemala.
Alicia Pérez Galvez former head of the Health Area of the Department of Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. Photo: Diana Fuentes.

“At that time we were very afraid and the media attributed this terror to creating, the disease was not known, it was something unknown to everyone, we began to look for information and learn about epidemiological aspects to understand the virus,” Alicia comments.

“We experienced an emotional crisis and lack, because we were not prepared, nor was the government prepared, nor were the health workers at that time, nor was the population, with the few resources we had we began to promote, we went to each community to speak as much to the personal and community what they should do to prevent this disease and we try our best to fulfill our duty ”said Alicia Pérez Gálvez.

Health workers in the pandemic

At this time, many health professionals died; others resigned because the stress was too high; the way they had worked all their lives did not compare to what they were assuming, the

In the case of Alicia, within the family nucleus they recommended that she resign, something that she never saw as an option, her motto during this time was «This is the moment to work to the maximum and demonstrate the experience of years because it is my duty ”.

She did so, because during 2020 and 2021, she never gave up or left her team; on the contrary, her conviction was fierce, for her it was vital to remain as a block to face the crisis.

Listen to Alicia’s testimony in the podcast of this report:

The health system in Quetzaltenango

In Quetzaltenango there are approximately one million inhabitants, and during the first year, the health authorities could only generate preventive conditions to contain the pandemic, even though they encountered serious difficulties.

Alicia says that «the health workers were sometimes taken out with stones, they scolded us, insulted us and told us that we carried the disease in our bodies and that we were going to transmit the disease to them, we suffered all these humiliations from the population»

«The population did not want to know anything about the health personnel, when we reminded all the compañeras of what we had suffered during that time of great fear, anguish, stress and the health services did not have the capacity to care for a disease of this nature. » finished Alicia Pérez.

Despite the discrimination and atrocious attacks suffered by health personnel, committed professionals such as Alicia sought alternatives to be able to attend to and care for the citizens of Covid -19.

In populations so far away and without resources, they knew that the virus would be much more lethal.

They never gave up and implemented various strategies to reach every corner of Quetzaltenango, the second largest department in Guatemala.

Mission Impossible

The obstacles to working in the most remote communities in Guatemala made it an impossible mission, Alicia Pérez tells us, “but always with shortages because there were more and more needs, because each health post needed a computer or internet, and over there in the The most remote health posts in the country did not have this type of equipment, even in many communities there is no electricity”

And to keep the vaccine, you had to have electricity, it was one of the important requirements, but there were none and we didn’t have vaccines, only preventive measures, highlighted Alicia Pérez.

The necessary equipment to face the crisis arrived slowly in Quetzaltenango.

Alicia Gálvez says “as head nurse we began to hold virtual meetings with all the health services, they began to equip themselves with more computer equipment and the Internet to create these communication networks and then equipment for the conservation of the vaccine arrived: 60 freezers, 150 refrigerators, 4 solar refrigerators”.

The tasks of medical workers

When the vaccine arrived in 2021, they received 600 doses to cover a population of 1 million people. 800 nursing auxiliaries were trained and 300 nurses and more auxiliary personnel were hired, as well as data entry clerks to manage the computer equipment and train them regarding the disease.

The objective was for everyone to maintain the same criteria to prevent this disease; they met with all the staff to plan the actions, and it was a year of training, especially for the new staff.

The desire to eradicate the virus

Juana, who works as a firefighter, narrates that during the pandemic drastic measures were taken to eradicate the virus; many of them had to be led by the relief forces.

For example, the belongings of the infected people had to be burned, «many had a lot of clothes and they had to grab and put them in bags and burn it because it was no longer useful, since the patient had contact with their things and everything that was in the rooms was useless and all that had to be burned immediately and this pandemic affected a lot, ”says Juana.

The fabrics of hope to survive by creating

The confinement was plagued with great sadness, but in the midst of it, the creativity of the women of Santa Clara la Laguna, Solo lá, who clung to traditions in Guatemala in order to get ahead, stands out.

Tradiciones de Guatemala
Embroidery has always been a tradition in Guatemala that has passed from generation to generation. Photo: Diana Fuentes.

Some of them found embroidery a way to bring money to their homes. This is part of the traditions of Guatemala, which in addition to being a source of income, was an aid to distract their minds and cry out the desperation that was experienced by the situation of the community.

Juana Ajsoc, who is a Firefighter, tells us: “during the pandemic they no longer found what to do, housewives became too depressed. Now we are used to being locked up and I go out only if necessary, in the pandemic I subsisted doing these typical embroideries that are called crossheads ”.

Tradiciones de Guatemala
Photo: Diana Fuentes.

The creation of new outfits marked with colors and feelings during confinement is an important process to improve the economy of each household in Santa Clara «after the pandemic, many women took out their very pretty outfits because they cut them,» says Juana Ajsoc.

Tradiciones en Guatemala
Women from Santa Clara, La Laguna found in embroidery a way to deal with the pandemic. Photo: Diana Fuentes.

Also read: An X-ray of the Covid in Ecuador.

Coping with grief and anguish during the pandemic

During the months of confinement and multiple infections, the emotions of Guatemalans were a roller coaster that had no control.

Each person, within their individuality, looked for different alternatives to be resilient in the face of adversity.

Expert psychologist Linda Rivera tells us:

“Some population used coping mechanisms for an adverse reality, disbelief and decreased severity of the pandemic, which in their perception contributes to better confront and normalize their activities as soon as possible, exposing themselves in some way to the virus, but on a personal level due to their perception of denial, adapted much more quickly to the circumstances and were coupled to the demands of society”.

At present this thought is maintained in many citizens, and in this way they managed to cope and collectively build strategies to face these difficult moments, even reinventing traditions in Guatemala.

Read Also: Guatemala decreta nuevo estado de calamidad por la pandemia

In Guatemala, are we prepared for another pandemic?

“We are not prepared for another pandemic, we must create greater health services with greater complexity, more trained personnel with a higher resolution team and the good intentions of the workers, because I believe that when one likes to work with the few resources that one counts, wonders can be done in the services” says Alicia Pérez, a retired salubrious.

Higher education and all levels must be excellent, but if the system expels poor-quality professionals, there will be no suitable personnel in hospitals, schools, and any professional area. The challenge for the state is great, but there is joy and commitment that characterizes many Guatemalans. To advance his country. Inter-institutional work must continue to create strong progress and ensure the population has better care and quality of life.

Citizens must have substantial changes in their lives and thus improve their quality of life. It is important that the authorities have much more emphasis on community programs to gradually teach the population and give them more education at the national level. Only in this way can a real successful social change.

The hope and resilience of each Guatemalan was incredible, being a country in constant change and permanently in social conflict. It promoted their resistance during the pandemic to be successful even though they lived through the worst every day. At times it seemed impossible that the crisis would end. The radical changes In every aspect of life, some feel proud of what they did; others simply feel that it was the right thing to do. but what they do know is that if another pandemic arrives, they know how to act.

Lea también: Despite the efforts of the Government in Guatemala, the economy and the health system have not yet recovered from the passage of the pandemic



Por favor ingrese su comentario!
Por favor ingrese su nombre aquí