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Home arrow Sociology arrow Balancing the World: Contemporary Maya ajq’ijab in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala


Just as Guatemalan anthropologists and sociologists seem to write for Guatemalans, non-Guatemalan anthropologists and sociologists seem to write for non- Guatemalans. When I was in Guatemala, some of the people I met expressed concerns with anthropology. They told me anthropologists often do not understand what they see, or that they - even if they do not mean to - present the Maya spirituality and culture in a “bad” way.

An example of what the interviewees saw as “bad” representations can be found in Donald E. Thompson’s article “Maya Paganism and Christianity” from 1954.[1] Although it is dated, it serves as an example of why some people in Guatemala may get bad connotations when they hear the word “anthropologist.” Thompson witnessed a Maya ceremony, and after presenting the ajq’ij as a “pagan” and a “brujo,” ‘witch,’ he built the rest of his description around the fact that the ajq’ij clearly was drunk.[2] Ironically, he did all this right after berating his “leech-like ladino[3] [2] guides” for describing “in derisive terms the Indian customs.”11 If this is what comes to mind when someone presents themselves as anthropologists, then there is little wonder why some people may be sceptical.

  • [1] Donald E. Thompson, “Maya paganism and Christianity: a history of the fusion oftwo religions,” in Nativism and Syncretism, edited by Munro S. Edmonson, et al. (NewOrleans, LA: Middle American Research Institute Tulane University, 1960).
  • [2] Thompson, “Maya Paganism,” 5.
  • [3] A non-Maya Guatemalan. The term “ladino” has had a long and turbulent historyin Guatemala. During the colonial period, it normally referred to indigenous peoplewho were baptized or Hispanicised. Nowadays, it usually refers to non-Maya Guatemalans. See also Greg Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000): 238 f., 243 note 1, 265 note 9.
  • [4] Thompson, “Maya Paganism,” 5.
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