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Quiché Mayas of Guatemala had a Knowledge, Custom, or Ancient Tradition of Eternal Marriage

 << Elder Milton R. Hunter

Conference Report, April 1956, pp. 48-53,
The following is only part of Elder Hunter's talk.

Marriage Customs of the Quiché Maya

"The Quiché Mayan Indians have a great heritage and an unusual culture. They are a very religious people. Their religion became definitely paganized following the Book of Mormon period; however, a study of their religious beliefs and practices readily reveals the fact that the roots of many of their religious practices extend back into Book of Mormon times when the true gospel of Jesus Christ was had by their ancestors.

Following the Spaniards conquest of the Quiché Mayas during the sixteenth century, the Catholic padres soon found that they could not stamp out the Indians' religion; thereupon they imposed as many of the Catholic beliefs and practices on the Indian religion as the natives would take, making the Quiché Mayan religion of today a conglomerate.

It is my personal belief that the Quiché Mayas of Guatemala are as directly descended from Book of Mormon peoples as any of the Indians of the Western Hemisphere. Through my research and personal contact with these people, I have learned that they have many traditions that have a kinship to the Book of Mormon teachings. This fact holds true in the written works, such as the Title of the Lords of Totonicapan, the Popol Vuh, and The Annals of the Cakchiquels, as well as in their oral traditions, many of which have been handed down from generation to generation to the present day. The fact that many of the Quiché Mayas do not speak Spanish but have retained their native tongue has made it possible for their traditions to be carried forward unpolluted to our day.

I had been informed that the Quiché Mayas of Guatemala still retained many of their ancient traditions, some of which evidently had their roots in Book of Mormon times…I…arrange…to interview some of the old Quiché Maya Indians at Totonicapan. I…found that the missionaries had engaged the services of a man named Jesus Caranza Juarez. Mr. Juarez was a very intelligent person. He not only spoke Quiché Maya, but he also was very apt in the use of the Spanish language. He had been initiated in all the rites and rituals of the Quiché Maya religion and had a thorough understanding of the traditions of that people. For these reasons he was an ideal person to interview.

Since I do not speak Spanish, I asked one of the missionaries to act as interpreter. I said to the missionary, "Do not give Mr. Juarez any lead questions that might indicate to him the kind of answers that we desire to receive. I want to know the exact and accurate traditions of his people; and so I would suggest that you ask simple, straight-forward questions; for example, the first question I suggest that you ask is: 'What are the Quiché Maya practices and teachings regarding marriage'?"

Once again I warned the missionary to make no explanation to Mr. Juarez but merely to give him the direct question as I had suggested. This procedure the missionary followed. In response to the foregoing question, Mr. Juarez immediately replied:

"Marriage is the most sacred, the most revered, the most holy, and the greatest of all the religious teachings and practices in the Quiché Maya religion. We have two kinds of marriages. In one kind the ceremony is performed by the priest. Only the good people marry in this kind of marriage. By good people I mean those who do not get drunk, those who do not steal nor lie, and those who are morally clean—in brief, the people who live in accordance with all the teachings of the Quiché Maya religion."

Then he said, "The priest performs the marriage ceremony for those good people; and when he marries them, they are married not only for this life but for the next world also. They remain husband and wife forever."

I was surprised, in fact astonished, to get such an explanation regarding the marriage custom of the Quiché Maya Indians, and so I injected a question at this point. I said to the missionary, "Ask Mr. Juarez where the Quiché Maya people ever got such a teaching and practice in their religion. Ask him if they got it from the Catholic Church?"
The missionary asked Mr. Juarez the question as directed, and Mr. Juarez immediately replied:

"Oh, no! Certainly not! We did not get that teaching from the Catholics. The Catholics do not have that kind of marriage, and they never have had that kind of marriage."

Then Mr. Juarez explained: "We got that type of marriage from our ancestors. It came down from generation to generation through tradition. Our people practiced that type of marriage and had a belief in marriage after death many, many years before the Spanish conquest. In fact, it dates back as far as our traditions go."

I have never read in the writings of archaeologists or other students of the Quiché Mayas that these Indians perform marriages which they will endure after death. The fact that these Indians believe that their marriages continue for the next world would not be of interest to most people who contact them, and so authors would neglect to make a record of that practice even if they had been told that such existed.

Although I was greatly surprised to find that the Quiché Maya Indians practice a form of marriage which they believe will endure throughout the next world, I was pleased to cam that such was their tradition because I have understood that every time the gospel of Jesus Christ has been on the earth in its fulness that God's true law of celestial marriage constituted part of that gospel. I also know that the true gospel of Jesus Christ was had in ancient America in Book of Mormon days, and certainly the Nephites would have had the true order of celestial marriage. Thus the Quiché Maya Indians of Guatemala, being descendants of the Book of Mormon peoples, have preserved in their system of marriage certain things which hold a resemblance to the true order of marriage as given by the Lord to the Nephites.

Mr. Juarez continued his description of the Quiché Maya custom of marriage by describing the other type of marriage in a rather interesting terminology. He said:

"The other kind of marriage our people call the renegade marriage. Those who receive this kind of marriage are the people that the priests will not marry because they are not good people. They do not live in accordance with the teachings of the Quiché Maya religion.

Then he explained why they were not good people, pointing out that their lives were opposite to the lives of the people who were married by the priests for this life and for the world to come. He said:

"These people who receive the renegade marriage get drunk. They are not honest. They are immoral, and they are not people of good integrity. Their marriages last only until death. They are not married for the world to come."

Mr. Juarez also described to us the various orders of the Quiché Maya priesthood. He stated that the priests were selected from among the spiritual-minded or psychic boys just as they merged into adolescence; and then he explained how these boys were trained for their appointments as priests. He also described to us the Quiché Mayas' system of baptism and the various other rites in their religion, as well as the tradition of their origin.

As you probably already know, the Quiché Mayas have a tradition that they are descendants of Abraham and Jacob, being of the house of Israel. Their traditions maintain that their ancestors came from over the sea and that they were brought to America by the Lord, being led by a prophet of God. They also maintain that that prophet had a peculiar instrument which guided them here which instrument operated in accordance with the faith of the people. Certainly one readily recognizes that instrument as being the Liahona, which is described in the Book of Mormon (Alma 37:38). All of the foregoing claims made by the Quiché Maya Indians are recorded in their early writings, and of course they correlate quite closely with the account given in the Book of Mormon.

The following day after interviewing Mr. Juarez at Totonicapan, the mission president, his wife, some missionaries, and I drove to Chichicastenango, Guatemala, for the purpose of attending a Quiché Maya religious service. At eight o'clock in the morning in the St. Tomas Cathedral, erected for the Indians by the Catholic Church, the Catholic priest conducted mass for the Indians, it being a Catholic religious service.

As soon as the Catholic mass ended, the Indians conducted their own religious services, which in general were definitely pagan but in which I could also readily recognize some factors which evidently had their origin in Book of Mormon days.

I was intensely interested to see twelve Quiché Maya men on the stand at the front of the cathedral presiding over the Indian services. I asked a young Quiché Maya man who was serving as our guide who those twelve men were. He replied:

"They are the twelve high priests who are in charge of the Quiché Maya religion."

I then asked, "Why twelve?"

The answer I received was: "Custom, tradition!" And then the guide explained that the twelve men were the best men that could be found among his people. He said that they were selected to be head over the church because of their good characters, because of their abilities of leadership, and because of various other good qualifications which he enumerated..."  (1956 April General Conference talk by Elder Milton R. Hunter, of the First Council of the Seventy, pp.48-53)