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

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- Helping visitors

How some people work as ajq’ijab

We have a function of recommending, of guiding and, sometimes, of curing with medicinal plants. Apart from that, we have a function of carrying out ceremonies to ask and to give thanks. To ask that the illnesses are cured and to give thanks because we have been allowed to carry out our tasks for Ajaw. Ajaw is the Heart of the Heavens or the Heart of the Universe, the infinite. That’s the function of the ajq’ij, to be a spiritual guide.

- Juan

Every ajq’ij, depending on their nahual, has certain qualities. For example, if we start with Batz, those who are born on a Batz-day. So, Batz is the nahual of artists, it is also a nahual of merchants. And so, the [ajq’ijab with the nahual Batz] are specialists in performing marriages, or, say, if there’s a girl, for example, who can’t find a boyfriend, a husband. The Batz are specialists for that. [...]

Another example, let’s say, those who are born on Tz’ikin, with numbers eight, ten, twelve, are specialists in helping traders, merchants, in making sales and so on. A number of issues. Or, say, the Kame, for example. Eight Kame, or ten, or twelve are specialists in curing the ill.

- Byron

The ajq’ijab have many tasks and responsibilities. They are called upon to solve a large variety of problems, to cure illness, to give blessings and to give thanks. But no ajq’ij would be able to do everything well - some ajq’ijab are better at curing illnesses than at blessing harvests, for example. Several of the interviewees also mentioned different levels of involvement - some ajq’ijab work only for themselves and their families, others receive visitors as well.

Thomas Hart mentions such a distinction: In Momostenango and some other areas, a person who is “just” an ajq’ij works only for her or his immediate household. An ajq’ij who also is a chuchqajaw1 works by receiving visitors in addition to her or his family.[1] [2] None of my interviewees used this term, however, although nearly all of them receive visitors.[3] It seems my interviewees do make a distinction between ajq’ijab who receive visitors and ajq’ijab who do not receive visitors, but they did not use any specific terms to designate the two types.

The lines aren’t very clearly defined, but certainly some people for instance do ceremonies which are much more for themselves and their families, they’re offerings basically. Others attend other people as well, those are more ... Others have a gift, let’s say, for divination. Others have a gift for reading signs in the fire, in the ceremony. Others have a gift for their words, the prayers they use. Others for curing. Others for communication directly with the spirits of the dead. There are differences, and I think nobody does everything, as it were. Nobody does everything, but everybody does ceremonies.

- Martin

The most common tasks the interviewees had were solving problems and curing illnesses. This they did both physically, using counselling, herbs and medicines, and spiritually, using divinations and ceremonies. In this chapter I will look at some of the practical work of the ajq’ijab and some of the challenges they face when working.

  • [1] A K’iche’ term, usually translated as ‘mother-father.’ Hart, Ancient Spirituality: 232,note 9; Tedlock, Time and Maya: 9.
  • [2] Hart, Ancient Spirituality: 97-98, 232, note 9.
  • [3] All except Byron, as he is not an ajq’ij. He is, however, a regular visitor. Manuel onlyrarely receives visitors, and then only for counselling.
 
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