Kernels of Wisdom: Stories from the People of Corn, March 20

Nicolasa Jerónimo Ramírez, a Mam Maya weaver

Virtual cooking fires will be burning on the large screens in the Marshall & Vera Lea Rinker Welcome Center as two Native guests from different parts of the Mayan world share stories from their millennial cultural tradition on Wednesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. 

The event is titled “Kernels of Wisdom: Stories from the People of Corn.” It is free and open to the public. Special guests will be Patricio Balona Tzib, a Yucatec Maya journalist, and Nicolasa Jerónimo Ramírez, a Mam Maya weaver. 

“Both have a rich repertoire of traditional stories that they will share at the event, and I will add a few of my own stories of personal experiences in the Mayan world from over the past 47 years,” said Robert Sitler, PhD, professor of World Languages & Cultures and Latin American & Latino Studies program director. 

Patricio Balona Tzib, a Yucatec Maya journalist

Patricio (using first names by preference) is a journalist for the Daytona Beach News-Journal and was an accomplished radio personality in Belize. He was raised in a traditional community speaking Yukatek Maya and absorbed Mayan traditions through his parents as well as his famous uncle, the folk healer, don Eligio Pantí. Apart from his mother tongue, Patricio speaks Spanish, English and Belizean Creole. 

Nicolasa is an exceptionally skilled Mam-speaking weaver and storyteller from Todos Santos Cuchumatán, Huehuetenango in the western highlands of Guatemala. She was orphaned as a youngster and grew up under the guidance of her beloved grandmother who taught her to weave and passed on the oral tradition of her people. Nicolasa never had the opportunity to go to school, but as a young woman she won a prestigious award in a regional weaving competition and has continued her fine brocade work ever since. She currently works as a documented agricultural worker in southern Delaware. Nicolasa can speak Spanish as well as Mam, her primary language. She has had a remarkably rich life experience and is a deeply humble person. Through her stories, she graciously shares her vast knowledge of ancient ways.

The title, “Kernels of Wisdom: Stories from the People of Corn,” is based on a common expression used by Maya when speaking in Spanish to describe a personal insight or opinion.

‘Highlighting the Modesty of Their Contribution’

Robert Sitler, PhD, Stetson professor of World Languages & Cultures and Latin American & Latino Studies program director

“They say they are expressing their ‘grano de maiz,’ their ‘kernel of corn,’ highlighting the modesty of their contribution and pointing to the centrality of corn in Mayan cosmology,” explained Sitler.  “Maya consider themselves to be beings created from corn as described in their myths, especially in the Popol Vuh. Since the majority of their diet is corn, this is literally true.” 

Sitler plans to lower the lights at the event to simulate a quiet evening in a Mayan home listening to stories. Mayan incense, called copal, will be burning outside the entrance to the building to add to the atmosphere.

“The point of the program is to help familiarize those in the audience with Native American values and ways of communicating them,” he said. “My own life has been radically transformed for the better through my exposure to the Mayan world.” 

The event is being sponsored by Stetson’s Latin American & Latino Studies Program with support from the Artists & Lecturers Committee. Cultural Credit is available for students who attend. 

-Trish Wieland