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God and the sacred

As mentioned, the interviewees seem to have an idea of a “spiritual sphere.” When referring to this sphere they would mention a wide variety of spiritual forces or beings, often several at a time and interchangeably, like “God” “the universe” “the world” “Mother Earth” “Tepeu and Gucumatz”[1] [2] “nahuales”s “ajaw” “ancestors” “everything” and “the sacred” Sometimes one or several of these are thought to belong within the spiritual sphere, and sometimes these words will be used about the spiritual sphere itself.

The interviewees refer to the spiritual sphere in two ways, either as a personified being or as an impersonal dimension or concept. When I refer to the spiritual sphere, I have chosen to use “God” when talking about a being, as the interviewees normally use the word Dios, ‘God.’

When I refer to this spiritual sphere as an impersonal dimension or concept, I use “the sacred”, as sagrado, ‘sacred,’ is one of the words the interviewees use most frequently when referring to the sphere in general. Even though this usually refers to “the spiritual” as a whole, it is important to remember that when I refer to “the sacred” in this text, it may imply any or all of the terms mentioned above depending on which of the interviewees I refer to.

Ajq’ij and ajq’ijab

Ajq’ij can be divided in two: aj and q’ij. Aj signifies an action and q’ij is a complement. [Q’ij] is the day, the sun, the clarity, and so on. And time as well.

- Teresa

As with spirituality, there are many names that could be more or less appropriate to describe the function or role that most of the interviewees have. I found that my interviewees preferred to use the name ajq’ij in the singular and ajq’ijes or

ajq’ijab in the plural. The word was used by both the K’iche’-speaking and the Mam-speaking interviewees. The term ajq’ij is not gender-specific, and so there can be both male and female ajq’ijab.

As explained in the quote by Teresa, the word aj can mean ‘to do,’ ‘to make,’ or a doer or maker of something. The word q’ij can mean ‘sun,’ ‘light,’ ‘day,’ or ‘time.’ Ajq’ij therefore often has been translated as ‘daykeeper,’ both because this is close to a literal translation and because keeping the days, or working with the calendar, is a central task for the ajq'ij.

Aj is ‘the one who makes’ [...], but I wouldn’t say “the one who makes the day,” no, rather

“the one who counts the days,” “the one who maintains the days.” It is the ‘dayworker.’

- Byron

Another common translation among my interviewees highlights the function of the ajq'ij as a counsellor or a guide.

Aj is the prefix of ‘to make,’ ‘to make light.’ Q’ij is ‘sun,’ [so] ajq’ij means ‘make sun,’ it’s

a person of light, and the light orients and reorients humanity onto enlightened paths.

- Manuel

  • [1] K’iche’ names. Tepeu: ‘King,’ ‘sovereign’ Gucumatz: ‘Feathered snake,’ often seen asan equivalent to the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl. The names are mentioned in the K’iche’text Popol Vuh. Translations from Adrian Recinos, Popol Vuh: las antiguas historias delQuiche, 9 ed. Coleccion Clasicos (Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Economica, 1974):163-165, note 3. Even though they use two names, the interviewees usually use both totalk about the same deity. It was common for both the interviewees and other peopleI met to repeat the same concept twice, with different names, to emphasise the point.Martin told me another example of what he called ceremonial language: ‘to kneel’ inK’iche’ is called ‘xukulem, mejlem,’ or literally ‘kneeling down, bending the knee’
  • [2] See Chapter 4 below.
 
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