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Born to be a sacred midwife

Born with the destiny of becoming a Mayan sacred midwife, Chona Perez has carried on centuries-old traditional Indigenous American birth and healing practices over her 85 years. At the same time, Chona developed new approaches to the care of pregnancy, newborns, and mothers based on her own experience and ideas. In this way, Chona has contributed to both the cultural continuities and cultural changes of her town over the decades.

In Developing Destinies, Barbara Rogoff illuminates how individuals worldwide build on cultural heritage from prior generations and at the same time create new ways of living. Throughout Chona’s lifetime, her Guatemalan town has continued to use longstanding Mayan cultural practices, such as including children in a range of community activities and encouraging them to learn by observing and contributing. But the town has also transformed dramatically since the days of Chona’s own childhood. For instance, although Chona’s upbringing included no formal schooling, some of her grandchildren have gone on to attend university and earn scholarly degrees. The lives of Chona and her town provide extraordinary examples of how cultural practices are preserved even as they are adapted and modified.

In the video below, Barbara Rogoff talks about the themes in her book, and shows incredible rare photographs and footage from 1941 to the present day.

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Barbara Rogoff is UCSC Foundation Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has been a Fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, a Kellogg Fellow, and Editor of Human Development.

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