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

- Gifts and burdens

How some people work as ajq’ijab

In these hills, there are two rocks that are really close to each other. Only those who have faith and are without sin may pass between them. Once, I was there with my friend, and he is thin, so very, very thin, and he said “I will pass between the rocks!” He tried, but he couldn’t pass. He tried and he tried, but it didn’t help, he couldn’t pass between them, there was no space for him! Now, I am gorda, fat, but when I tried, it was easy! I even had extra space. That is because I had the faith. You may only pass if you have faith, and my friend didn’t.

My mother told me, that in the town, there was once a man who wanted to build something, a house, he had come here and bought some land. And he hired many local men to help him clear the land by removing big stones. And they moved many stones, but there was one big stone that they did not move. And the man said “why don’t you move this one too?” and they replied to him, the workers, that they could not because the stone was a sacred stone. But the man said that they should move it anyway, and in the end they did.

The man came back the next day - and the stone was there! How could it be there? It was a big heavy stone! The man was annoyed, and said “fine! I’ll try to move it myself!” And he tried, but when he tried, he got struck by lightning and died.”

- Teresa

These two stories were told to me by Teresa as we were walking towards an altar on a hill near her hometown. While we were walking, she would act the stories out and do dramatic voices at central points. When we reached the top of the hill and had a nice view over the town, she could point out every location from the stories to me.[1]

A lot of the work of an ajq’ij is performed in nature. There will normally be several sacred places near any town in the Guatemalan highlands - on hills, in forests, at crossroads, big stones and old trees - and they may be known to everyone or just a few of the local ajq’ijab.

Being an ajq’ij and working outdoors is seen as a privilege by all of the interviewees, but the job has downsides too. This chapter deals with working in nature and the problems that may come with the work, as well as some of the responsibilities of an ajq’ij when not receiving visitors.

  • [1] The first of the two stories was new to me, but several of the interviewees told me vari ations of the second story, often with exact locations near their own town. Interestingly, the colonial writer Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzman mentions a similarstory as early as 1690, cited in Martinez Pelaez, Patria del Criollo: 121.
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