Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Thieves learn ‘a hard lesson’ in Mayan justice in Ixtahuacán

by Dave Dodroe and Jerry Monks, for the Inland Register

(From the July 1, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

Diego Agpacaja, a shoe maker in the Spokane Mission village of Ixtahuacán, Guatemala, is seen at a sewing machine doing the work he loves: making shoes. Sometimes he uses pieces of old tires for the rubber soles of the shoes. Diego was robbed a few months ago, but residents of the village caught two of the thieves and applied locally-designed Mayan justice. (IR photo courtesy of the Guatemala Commission)

Each morning, Diego Agpacaja walks more than four miles over mountain trails to his shoe shop in a remote village of Northern Guatemala. Diego has been putting together a variety of sandals and shoes for residents of his area for over 15 years. He also resoles shoes that are in a condition that many of us would simply discard.

Fashioning custom-made shoes gives meaning to Diego’s life. He even offers traction rubber soles, made from pieces of old tires, to accommodate the local Mayan farmers who work the steep slopes of the nearby volcanic mountains.

Though he loves his occupation, getting to work can be a bit of a struggle for Diego, especially in the rainy season. That is because he must negotiate the mountainous route with crutches and on an artificial leg. One of his legs was amputated over 10 years ago because of a cancerous disease. Nevertheless, he manages the trails in good spirits. He greets others with an ever-present smile and a pleasant sakaric (“good morning”) or La utz awach? (“How are you?”) in his native Quiché.

Diego’s workshop is located in Ixtahuacán, an isolated community of only about 150 families. The most prominent structure of the village is the centuries-old Church of Santa Catarina, where Father David Baronti, a priest of the Spokane Diocese serving in the Guatemala Mission, is the priest in residence. Father David has served the Mayan people of that area for over 30 years, and Diego is happy to be one of his catechists.

In the earlier days of the Spokane Mission, Sister Immaculata Burke helped steer some of the local Mayan people into entrepreneurial endeavors. Diego was one of the students that she guided through the program that trained students how to make shoes.

Most of the previous residents left Ixtahuacán for higher ground in 1998 after the village was drenched by rain from Hurricane Mitch. However, Diego stayed with his shop. It is near the Church of Santa Catarina, and not far from the market square. Over the years since Mitch, Diego’s shop has become the spot where residents share news and trade gossip about local events.

Although Diego’s shop is tiny, cluttered, and ill-equipped by commercial standards, it is one of the small number of business ventures in the village. That made it a good target for robbery a few months ago when four strangers slipped into Ixtahuacán at night. The young men sought out anything that might be of value in the outside world. Their “take” was the money from Diego’s shop, plus his grinder, and seven or eight pair of the shoes he had finished.

Most everyone knows everyone else in Ixtahuacán, and visitors seldom go unnoticed. So it was not unusual that someone noticed the young men and questioned what was going on. With no law enforcement official in the area, local residents took it upon themselves to apprehend the thieves. They caught two of them and brought them to community leaders for judgment and punishment.

After an all-day meeting, the community leaders decided upon an appropriate sentence. The two thieves were to spend a day in public view in front of Diego’s shop, guarded by local residents. Their punishment was to pay some restitution, and kneel on dried kernels of corn for two hours.

The sentence was carried out as directed. One of the thieves nearly passed out before completing his two hours on the hard corn. But for residents of the village, justice was done. And for the young men, “Xc’ aj nuwach” (“I learned a hard lesson”).

(Dave Dodroe has been a volunteer in the Spokane Mission for many years, and Jerry Monks is a member of the Diocese Guatemala Commission.)

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