A Yazoo City native is making headlines in Mexico for her first film and documentary following the story of a Mayan midwife. There are even talks of major awards. But for Amanda Strickland, the biggest accomplishment of her work is preserving a way of life that is on the verge of extinction.
Strickland’s work is called “Jats’uts Meyah,” which in the Mayan language means “beautiful work.” The documentary follows the story of Mrs. Bacila Tzek Uc, the last midwife from the remote Maya community of Yaxhachén.
"If people want to see it, it is the only thing that matters to me,” Strickland said. “More than winning an award, it is more important that many people know the history of Bacila.”
The film focuses on Bacila’s role as a midwife in her small community. In fact, she is the only midwife who remains in her town, with over six decades of experience in plant-based medicine and natural birth. In the Maya world, work is the most important cultural value. But a lack of paid jobs forces men to immigrate for work, while women stay in the pueblo and carefully tend the Maya way of life. Led by the midwife, the women believe that when she dies, they’ll all die right behind her.
Bacila, who is 92 years old, shared her traditional way of life with Strickland. With great knowledge, Bacila has helped bring thousands of babies into the world. It is a practice that is slowly being forgotten in the modern world.
The film production began six years ago when Strickland and photographer Allie Jordan met Bacila in the remote pueblo of Yaxhachén. Immediately entranced by Bacila’s wisdom and charisma, Strickland was excited when Bacila asked her to record her story. Bacila didn’t want the tradition of midwifery to end with her death.
Nearly three years after making this promise, Strickland located funding and joined hands with Yucatecan producer, Oscar Estrada. Together, they put together a tri-lingual crew in the true spirit of independent filmmaking. They lived in the pueblo for two months, sometimes without running water, always without cell phone service.
“This low-budget grit helped us to achieve our one common goal: empowering Bacila and the people of Yaxhachén to tell their story in their own words,” Strickland said.
The documentary also focuses on the daily work of women and the social and economic problems that prevail in the region.
“As Yaxhanchén is a very remote location, the production went through various difficulties,” Strickland said. “But that did not stop us from achieving our goal…to empower Bacila and the people of Yaxhachén to tell their story in their own words.”
The film also showcases indigenous traditions that are in danger of extinction such as midwifery, milpa farming and cooking over an open fire. Bacila hopes to spread the importance of maintaining these traditions to younger females within her community. She hopes to inspire the younger generation to be proud of their indigenous roots.
Strickland’s film premiered last Wednesday, on Bacila’s birthday. The film is produced in Yucatec Maya and Spanish, but there are English subtitles. It is available for viewing on Vimeo and OnDemand.