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- What is an ajq’ij?

Martin holds up two fingers and points. Throw two more into the fire, he signals to me, never breaking his swift stream of speech, a rapid, repeating pattern of words in Spanish and in the Mayan language K’iche’. “... poco de tiempo, un rato, una hora, una media hora,” ‘just a little while, just a moment, an hour, half an hour,’ he says again, like he has done several times already. He is talking to the ancestors, to God, to the universe and to everything, just asking for a little of their precious time. We are standing in front of a fireplace, and I put two more pieces of copal incense into the fire as I have been told. We are asking for blessings and permissions for the work we are about to begin.

There is a cross hanging on the wall above me. In the room we just left, there are more of them on a little house altar. For the ceremony, I brought fresh flowers which now bring colour to the little room in Martin’s backyard. There is also a picture on the wall; it shows Martin in front of a large group of people doing a ceremony.

“Close your eyes, this may sting a little" he says, before he takes a swig from a bottle with a clear liquid. I do not realise what he means before the picture turns blurry and, not very surprisingly, my eyes sting. After spraying my face with alcohol, he proceeds to spray my neck and both sides of my head. I am now purified, ready to start my fieldwork.

Martin is what is known in several Mayan languages as an ajq’ij, a Maya “day- keeper" The people in the picture, and the people that I talked to in the weeks after our ceremony, are ajq’ijab1 like him. Most of them live in or around Quet- zaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city. They practise Maya spirituality,[1] [2] and most of them are of Maya ethnicity themselves.

It is hard to pinpoint what an ajq’ij is. In Spanish, many of them call themselves guias espirituales, ‘spiritual guides.’ They have been called Maya priests, or diviners, or shamans, or witches. All of these terms imply something the ajq’ij is, or can be, from a certain viewpoint. They give a clue about the position of ajq’ijab in Maya communities, but these terms can also be misleading. I wanted to find out what the ajq’ijab themselves thought, and the result of my research is what is presented in this text.

  • [1] This is the plural of ajq’ij.
  • [2] The term “Maya spirituality” is discussed in Chapter 3 below.
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