In the Footprints of the Rain

In the Footprints of the Rain

In November 2022 I found myself participating in the Expert workshop on possible ways to enhance the participation of Indigenous Peoples in the work of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. As the discussions progressed my mind was spinning a brief argument to propose that Indigenous Peoples’ participation in UN forums should also include the use of Indigenous languages because they convey our ways of feeling, thinking and relating to the Earth and her non-human inhabitants.

As an Indigenous Mayan, I have attended the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York (PFII), the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP) in Geneva and working groups in defense of water that took place in the Mayan region of southeastern Mexico. One of the great obstacles I encounter in these spaces is the difficulty of translating Indigenous concepts into the official UN languages.

It was during a breather after the Rain in the surroundings of Villa Diodati (Geneva) that I began to think of an argument to contribute to the Workshop. 

As I walked through the curving streets of the municipality of Cologny, the sound of the rippling water was guiding me down the streets towards the Léman lake. Along these streets, moss abounds on the sidewalks and walls. Without realizing it, my thoughts took me across the ocean to the Mayan communities. There I found myself talking to my relatives about the moss growing on the rocks and on the sides of the way in the Rain season. It is a distinctive moss that we know as Xanab Cháak, the sandals of Cháak.

Cháak or rather Yuum Cháak is the Yucatec Maya for Lord-Lady Rain.

Moss on the wall of Villa Diodati. Photo Manuel May 2022

You may wonder why I write Rain with capital letters? Well, because in Maya people refer to Rain as a being and not so much as a thing. In fact, the pronoun Yuum is also used to respectfully and ceremoniously address older people, for example, our parents, or non-human beings. For this very reason, it is not strange that in the Mayan communities of Mexico the Christian churches, in their interpretation of Mayan concepts, write on their facades U Náajil Yuum K’u: The House of Lord God. Interestingly enough, the congregation of these churches committed to an in-depth ontological translation equate the metaphysical nature of Rain with that of God.

While I was photographing the moss on the walls, the streets and sidewalks were showing me the path of water. For his part, Yuum Cháak was helping me to spin my first arguments for the workshop…

Muro de Villa Diodati. Foto Manuel mayo 2022

All of a sudden, the voice of a couple of neighbors brought my thoughts back to Geneva. It was an elderly couple who seemed very interested in me as I photographed the wall’s moss of Villa Diodati. Most likely they thought I was one of the many tourists taking selfies every day in front of the mansion where Mary Shelley is said to have conceived her Frankenstein. Most likely they would be right, only partially though, because at that very moment I was tracking the footprints of the Rain on her pilgrimage to Lake Léman.


These entries in this blog are meant to open a window to have a look at the work of RIVERS. In these posts I am pleased to share some experiences in the context of my work as a postdoctoral researcher within the research line II: UN Human Rights System.


Manuel May – Postdoctoral Researcher at RIVERS project (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid)

Ana Garcia