Pretty young women sashay across stage, thoughtfully answer questions and perform dances but the Rabin Ajaw pageant, which picks Guatemala's Maya Indian beauty queen, is no typical beauty contest.
Instead of bikinis and high heels, the 78 female contestants dress in traditional Mayan knee or calf-length skirts, headdresses and shawls embroidered with flowers and animals. Parading on a stage that was covered in pine needles, some contestants carried woven baskets or ceremonial candles from their home regions. Others bore corn stalks, carved gourds, fresh fish or a copy of the Popol Vuh, the Mayan holy book.
During a four-day festival in the city of Coban that ended Sunday with a traditional feast of turkey leg soup and spicy chili, the girls gave speeches in their native languages for judges to select one Rabin Ajaw, or "daughter of the king."
The judging is based on contestants' knowledge of Mayan culture and the beauty of their costumes. Some used the stage at the often solemn six-hour pageant to highlight racism against indigenous groups, which account for more than half of Guatemala's population but suffer the highest levels of poverty and have little access to political power.
This year's winner, Mariana Sales Jacinto, 21, spoke in her native Mam language about environmental damage caused by international companies that exploit resources on lands traditionally used for agriculture. Jacinto won $1,000 and a trip to south Florida to visit a community of Guatemalans in exile who left during country's civil war.