He chipped away at the plaster as carefully as he could. His wife assured him it was more than simple lines and patterns made by some child a few years back.
As more plaster came off, the bigger picture began taking shape. What he’d reveal would have the government swooping in.
When Manuel Ramirez moved into his grandparents’ home in Chajul, Guatemala, he’d expected to find a place where he could finally raise his family. A native of the region, Manuel had lived his entire life in Chajul and had wanted more than anything to continue his family’s bloodline.
Now a father of two beautiful girls, Manuel knew his ancestors were looking up to him to keep their name alive. What he’d find in his grandparents’ house would do that and more.
Manuel had always been a responsible man. Before inheriting his grandparents’ home, he lived with his aunt on the other side of their village. At thirty-two, he was a respected member of his society.
He was a teacher in the local high school while also serving as their village’s librarian. Manuel knew he’d ascended another step in his community’s social structure when his grandparents left him their house before moving upcountry.
Manuel, his wife Cualli, and their two daughters moved into their new house as soon as possible. But before they could settle in, Manuel realized they’d made a terrible mistake.
For all the beauty that the house boasted, Manuel and Cualli agreed that the whole place, especially the kitchen, was in dire need of a renovation. What would start as a remodeling would result in one of the most significant finds of Manuel’s life.
Manuel and Cualli fell on renovating the house themselves. They started with the kitchen since it was one of the most essential rooms in the house. Manuel’s grandparents had inherited the house the same way Manuel did, through their relatives passing it down.
As such, the house was built in the traditional Mayan style. Although Manuel was keen on changing out several things, he would keep the aesthetic his grandparents had worked so hard to maintain. So, what did he find that would cause such a fuss?
The renovations began well enough. Throughout the first and second days, Manuel and Cualli cleaned the house and transferred furniture to rooms they aimed to renovate last.
By the third day, the kitchen was free of utensils and furniture, and the couple could finally begin reshaping it to what they had in mind. But as soon as they tore down the wall plaster, they saw what had been hidden there.
Manuel and Cualli began by tearing down the kitchen wall plaster, which was old and covered in kitchen grease. But when Manuel hacked at the material and pulled it away, he noticed something that seemed out of place.
There were faded lines and patterns in red, white, and black. As much as Manuel wanted to dismiss it for some children’s paintings, he knew there was more to it. He called Cualli to where he was and showed her the markings, and what she told him made his lips part.
Cualli laughed at Manuel for thinking what he’d found were children’s paintings, undoubtedly by his grandpa when he was a kid. She explained that in a house in lower Chajul, the residents had uncovered similar images.
She urged Manuel to take off more plaster, coming in to lend a hand. What they revealed made both their mouths fall open.
The more Manuel and Cualli kept chipping away at the plaster, the more the patterns and lines took elaborate form. It was a picture!
Excitement welled within Manuel as they continued uncovering the image. They’d opened two walls already, but the lines and patterns seemed to continue deeper. What was happening?
Manuel and Cualli stepped back once they realized they were out of the kitchen and well into the corridor. They put their tools down and walked back into the plaster-covered room.
What they saw made Manuel’s stomach heat up. He saw Cualli’s hand reach out for him and grabbed it, squeezing as they took in the magnificence of what stood before them. So what was it?
Figures in heeled shoes and patterned cloaks danced around what seemed to be a marketplace with musical instruments. There were other figures in colorful headdresses and others in oval caps.
The mural had seemed like a child’s work at first, but now staring at their scope and detailed patterns, Manuel realized something he hadn’t considered before.
Manuel realized the mural wasn’t only made by a professional hand, but it was years old. He’d lived around his grandparents’ house all his life, and not once did they ever plaster their home.
Whoever painted this work of art was likely from a bygone era. Saddled with more questions now that he was critically analyzing what stood before him, Manuel called one of his friends to explain the situation. He didn’t expect what would happen next.
Manuel called Levi, a history teacher from the same school where he taught. Levi was a volunteer from the city who knew a bit about Mayan culture, something Manuel felt was connected to the murals in his kitchen.
Levi came immediately, stepping back as soon as his gaze landed on the wall. He quickly ran through the region’s history, explaining how the Spanish Inquisition colonized the Mayans in Chajul by assimilating their practices. But there was more.
Levi explained that some of the natives didn’t take the change in their country lightly. Seeking to bring back the purity of their culture, they would meet in secret and carry out sacred ceremonies that urged them to immortalize their culture.
Among those ceremonies was mural painting. As Levi continued talking, the weight of the truth finally hit Manuel. His brows drew up as he realized something.
The Spanish Inquisition had been in the 1500s, which meant the mural was more than four centuries old! Levi advised calling in the authorities who would bring in archeologists and the like. Manuel and Cualli agreed, and soon enough, archeologists flocked their compound.
They uncovered more murals all over the building, paying Manuel’s family a handsome fee in return. Although the money was substantial, the idea that his ancestors had been part of why Mayan culture was still alive today was more than enough for Manuel.