The Legend of Maximon
This article is presented in honor of Maximon’s birthday, which occurs on October 28th.
Ri Laj Mam/Maximon, The Native American Saint
There are different versions of the story about the Native American Saint known as Ri Laj Mam or Maximon. One of them comes from the story of Ri Laj Mam and the Sacred Tz’ite Tree¹. During the Spanish conquest, all Maya rituals had to be disguised behind the Catholic religion. The Elders used the Cofradias (brotherhoods) to protect and preserve their culture, costumes, spirituality and hierarchy. Amongst other sacred images, the Cofradias worshiped the Sacred Tz’ite Tree, which was hidden behind typical cloths, scarves and a mask, emulating catholic saints. Offerings of incense, candles, tobacco, maize beverages, and cacao – all sacred elements to Maya spirituality – were given to this image.
Long ago, shortly after the conquest, lived a respectable Elder known as Ri Laj Mam. This Wiseman possessed superior knowledge and power. Upset by the abuses that the Spaniards were committing against his people, Ri Laj Mam decided to encourage them to rise up against their oppressors and put an end to this situation. The Spaniards, worried about the revolution that Ri Laj Mam was starting to provoke, sent a large regiment to capture and imprison him. Ri Laj Mam, however, possessed great magic and every time he was arrested he managed to escape and continue his work. The Spaniards couldn’t believe it! Unable to keep him in custody, the captors brought in some Tlaxcaltec sorcerers. When the sorcerers were asked them to guard him through the night, Ri Laj Mam was unable to escape. The following day they took him to the park, where he was decapitated and his head was displayed to send a message and establish a precedent. But the spirit of Ri Laj Mam appeared in the four corners of the park, strongly encouraging the people to put an end to the abuses of the oppressors. It was at that moment the Elders understood that they should speak to the spirit of Ri Laj Mam and remind him of their Grandfathers’ prophecy. They had to ask Ri Laj Mam to stop because his actions would only lead to the complete annihilation of their tradition. They knew that for the moment they had to accept the situation and endure this period of darkness. The time would come in which light and wisdom would return. Ri Laj Mam understood and asked the Elders to search for a tree that would take his spirit. When they found it they cut the tree in four pieces and took them to the four corners of the country (Guatemala) so that Ri Laj Mam could continue his mission as protector of his people and the tradition. The Tz’ite was the tree that accepted the honor taking the energy of Ri Laj Mam.
Long after Ri Laj Mam, by the end of the 19th century, Don Francisco Zojbel (who was also known as Ximon) dedicated his efforts to protect the people, who were suffering abuses by the hand of the governor. Don Francisco was the son of an influential Spanish father and a Maya mother. He was appointed to serve as judge. At the moment he assumed this important position he immediately began setting things right, including revoking the privileges that the governor’s friends had been given and reducing their excesses. He also returned the land back to those who had been stripped of it and protected the Maya tradition. All of his actions, of course, enraged the rich and powerful people, who tried to have Don Francisco assassinated several times, with no success. Word of these events spread and there were rumors circulating about Don Francisco Zojbel being the Ri Laj Mam who had returned to protect his people once again. After he died, effigies of him where made. It was known that during his life Don Francisco was a renowned ladies man who liked to smoke cigars and stay out late drinking. This makes him a very human saint, who understands our nature, our weaknesses and our needs. Offerings of cigars and liquor are still given to Maximon.
The story of Don Francisco (Ximon) and Ri Laj Mam were linked, since people thought that they were both the same being.
Soon this Native American Saint was known as Maximon, a combination of Mam and Ximon.
¹The Sacred Tz’ite or Coral tree gives the seeds used for divination by the Maya Ajq’ijab’ or Spiritual guides.