The name Pampojilá is believed to come from a forest of trees called Po’j (Amate) which were abundant in the area, and from a Kakchikel word “Chu Poq’olaj” which translates to a swirly dust site. The first European owner of the land we call Pampojilá was Ms. Monica Barrios. Ms. Barrios lived in San Andres Semetabaj, a town located between Godinez and Panajachel. Later in her life, Ms. Barrios gave the land to her son: Eduardo Diaz. The “finca” or the coffee plantation began to take shape in the 1920s. The initial peasants or campesinos working the land came from San Andres Semetabaj. These families originally migrated from Tecpan and Iximche; places inhabited by the true Mayan Kakchikel distinguished by their clothing, language, culture and spirituality. The need for more workers grew as the finca increased production, so other Mayan groups arrived in Pampojilá.
In the 1930s and 1940s, still under Mr. Eduardo Diaz, coffee was a big export product that made coffee plantations like Pampojilá a place to work that ultimately gave room to a stable community of families. Cultivating coffee needed men, women and children to harvest and take the coffee beans to ports for commerce. In subsequent years, Pampojilá was a community of about 250-300 families. Among them, just a handful of workers had some education, like bookkeepers or electricians, otherwise campesinos were illiterate. In the late 1950s Mr. Eduardo passed away. His son Oscar Diaz took over but he was less friendly. The challenges of the times were countless, including: lack of healthcare and schools, risky working conditions and lack of protection against abuses. Houses were given to families to use, but living conditions were precarious. Water was only available from the mountains, and a school was built for the administrators’ children to be educated and included only some campesino boys. Catholicism was the norm those days and the owners were no exception so they built a church which is still standing today. Their patron saint was San Andres.
In the 1960’s, the presence of North American priests was felt with the arrival of Fr. Greg Schaffer, then Fr. Stan Rother and Fr. John Goggin. With Fr. Greg’s programs the Catholic Church was tangible and active in all the plantations or fincas in the area of San Lucas Toliman. Because it was close, Pampojilá was a welcoming place to evangelization as well as projects led by Fr. Greg and the Sisters of Notre Dame. This new beginning was also a reflection of the times of Vatican II, with a renewed focus on Social Justice by walking with ALL people and making the Church a church of the poor. In Pampojilá, the campesinos barely understood the ramifications of this new type of evangelization with its emphasis on education and empowerment. However, the rich and educated owners began to suspect something.
This movement was reminiscent of key events in the life of Pampojilá that took place in the 1950s and 1960s with a “campesino movement” and the land reform movement that resulted in the resettlement of Colonia Pampojilá in the 1970s. It was a peaceful movement and it produced a profound transformation in the lives of the campesinos when they were able to own a plot of land to plant corn and other products for sustenance. It gave them a dose of independence and respect as well. With years passing, the Mission kept building schools for the poor, developing housing projects, buying land, providing medical assistance and making local employment accessible so families could stay together and avoid the hardship of working on coffee or sugar plantations. This was a saving grace for the people and it provided a window to visualize a new way of life.
When the finca was partially destroyed by a mud slide in 2010, the families were rescued and moved to a new community (Sanikya’) where their patron saint is again, San Andres. The formation of this new resettlement was possible thanks to Fr. Greg and the Mission.
So, in spite of poor wages, exploitation and other destructive forces working against their human dignity, the Mayan Kakchikel people of Pampojilá lived out the rich legends of their ancestors: to believe in a creation filled with gods that make life good for all; and to believe that mother earth is sacred and gives life by nourishing their planted seeds and crops. Today, Mayan ceremonies continue to be a source of blessings and invite everyone to turn to our creator in gratitude for its goodness. With these rooted beliefs of Mayan spirituality, all people of Pampojilá origin continue to find refuge in the Christian faith. This journey, like an exodus to the promised land, has been possible thanks to the San Lucas Mission and the countless number of missioners, donors and volunteers. God bless all!
By Emiliano Chagil, M.A.
A. A publication of “QAB’EY” (nuestro camino). Historia, Vida y Futuro del Micro Parcelamiento Pampojilá. Patrocinado por el Consejo Nacional de Educacion Maya
Autor: Edgar Emilio Choguaj Chajil
Fecha: Diciembre 2000
B. Personal Anecdotal Evidence by Emiliano Chagil, born and grew up in Pampojilá during the late 1950s until the 1970s (in consultation with Andres Chajil)
Coffee: In 2019, 20 growers from Pampojila sold their coffee to the Mission.
Construction: Since 2015, the Mission has built 1 block house, 3 hybrid houses, 6 wood homes and 129 fuel-efficient stoves in Pampojila.
Healthcare: In 2019, Pampojila was served by 4 visiting medical groups who conducted a total of 192 consults. There were 127 children enrolled in the child nutrition program with 17 families receiving the supplement.
Each community in the municipality of San Lucas Toliman has elected leadership specific to that community. These groups of elected leaders are usually referred to as a COCODE. People from the community are elected and usually serve 1-2 years. The COCODE usually has about a dozen members.