Home Sociology Balancing the World: Contemporary Maya ajq’ijab in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
Problems of practise
Like all jobs that bring with them responsibility, the work as an ajq’ij can put a strain on the lives of the interviewees. Some problems are personal, like Odilias falling out with her spiritual husband. Other problems are more practical, like the dangers that come with working in remote locations in a country with a high crime rate. There can also be tensions with people from different religious and secular groups.
Bearing the burden
The interviewees normally call their work a gift, but they also regularly call it a burden. This can be a metaphor for the large amount of work, but it is also thought that an ajq’ij carries with her or him a large amount of energy for others. An example is illness, which may be caused by negative spiritual energies. A visitor can seek the ajq’ij, and since the ajq’ij is seen as stronger spiritually, he or she can carry this spiritual energy for the person in question.
Isabela finds that her husband lacks an understanding of how important it is that she carries out her work. This strains their relationship.
Well, I still have problems with my husband, but the spirituality has to come first for me.
If people call me, I’ll go. If my husband is angry, I’ll leave him to it. And if he’s still angry when I return, I’ll hear him out and he’ll calm down.
The work of an ajq’ij comes in addition to her or his day job and all the responsibilities of daily life. All of the interviewees said they loved working as ajq’ijab, but that it sometimes could be tough to find strength to do it. Still, they all said that it was something they had to do, they practically had no choice. If an ajq’ij should stop doing her or his work, it can have very bad and very direct consequences.
The consequences of not doing the ceremonies you’re supposed to do are significant. The consequences of not respecting the altar that you’re present at are significant. The consequences of taking on the burden of other people’s illnesses are significant, or giving people advice - it’s not something to be done lightly; it’s not something to be treated lightly.
You become a servant - God’s servant, the community’s servant - and not many people willingly become servants. And taking on the burden of other people’s sins, and suffering, and illness, and problems, and concerns, is something that takes its toll on anybody unless they’re properly prepared for it - and born to it, to be honest.
And it’s not something to be treated as a pastime, or something to be treated as a hobby, or something to be treated as a toy or an entertainment, because when people do so, they soon find out they made a mistake. And they’ll end up a lot sicker than they used to be, and they’ll end up having all sorts of crises, accidents, illness, death - all sorts of things.
I mean, a car may be a useful thing, but you wouldn’t put a seven year old child behind the wheel of a sports car. It’s too powerful for them to control, or it’s not something that they have the capacity to handle. And too, that would go for being an ajq’ij, as far as I’m concerned.
As described in the previous section, Odilia has stopped working for a while herself, and she said she felt very direct consequences because of it.
I told my father: “I don’t know what’s happening to me,” I said, “why is this happening to me? I don’t feel well at home. I’m always angry at my children. I don’t feel well.” I said this to my father. And so, my father said to me: “no, dear, this is happening to you because you left and abandoned your table. You’re not taking care of your mesa. You have abandoned your nahuales. They are angry with you because you’re not serving them. That’s why they are angry with you.”
And so, I said to him “that sounds right.” And he said “Now, make an effort to do your work, to make ceremonies for the 20 nahuales. Make ceremonies to regain your strength and the energy of the nahuales. Afterwards, you’ll feel well.”
Manuel, Odilia’s friend, also noticed the change in her personality. He thinks it is because she followed the advice of her Christian friends.
The Catholics told her “that’s not good,” and they brought her to the Catholicism. Later, an Evangelical friend said to her “no, dear, don’t do that,” and she went with them. She became sick and wasn’t at peace spiritually, she had problems with her conscience. But now she has recovered; now she is in the process of regaining her gift.
Isabela, Rosa, Teresa and Manuel all know people who stopped working as ajq’ijab, and who have suffered from it.
I had a friend who was an ajq’ij, I went to all the ceremonies with her. But one day, she abandoned her spirituality to become an Evangelical. Now she’s Evangelical. But she’s also suffering. She’s worse than she was before.
If you lose your spirituality, you’ll get an illness. [...] Even death. Yes, there are two or three ajq’ijab who died after taking advice from [non-Maya]. They threw their altars in a ravine and they died. They did not get well again [from their illnesses].
In addition to getting ill, Byron warns that ajq’ijab may lose their power if they do not pay the sacred respect. They may not even notice it themselves.
The ajq’ij isn’t necessarily conscious that he’s lost his honour. For example, if I’m an ajq’ij and someone comes to me and, because he needs it, says “do a ceremony for me,” and I say “well, no, I can’t,” and he says “please, buddy!” and I say “no, I can’t, I’m busy!” But I’m watching TV, just having a good time.
Well, then, towards the society I didn’t lose any honour, that’s normal, I just didn’t accept. But towards Ajaw, yes. What if that man was dying? I would get some kind of punishment. So that’s how one loses one’s honour towards Ajaw.
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