Desktop version

Home arrow Sociology

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

The temporal context

Is an ajq’ij today the same as an ajq’ij was to the classical Maya more than a thousand years ago? Did the classical Maya have ajq’ijab or something similar at all? How and why is a connection with the past important to contemporary Maya spirituality and its practitioners? These questions may be problematic in themselves. The further back in time one tries to go, the more one will find that the evidence for continuity of Maya traditions is lacking.

Attempting to trace the roots of contemporary practise may be interesting because several of the interviewees argued that a “connection with the past” or the “inheritance from the ancestors” were important to them.[1] To some, heritage was important for the authenticity of ajq’ijab and their practise in general.[2]

Jaloj-K’exoj as a continuous concept

Robert S. Carlsen and Martin Prechtel[3] have looked at the relationship between the ancient and contemporary Maya culture based on research among the contemporary Tz’utujil Maya of Santiago Atitlan. They compare this material to the text Popol Vuh and data from the archaeological site of Palenque, Mexico.[4]

Carlsen and Prechtel claim that the literature until their time of writing in 1991 had maintained an idea that contemporary Maya culture arose as a reaction to Spanish colonialism. The most extreme form of this idea, of which Severo Martinez Pelaez was a proponent, claims that contemporary Maya culture was a direct opposite to Spanish culture, and therefore could not have existed before the Spaniards arrived.[5] Carlsen and Prechtel claim that “[some scholars recognise] that the huge indigenous population had a role in the determination of post-conquest Indian culture, [while] a number of scholars consider the Indians’ input to have been virtually nil.”[6] However, they recognise that the work of writers such as Barbara Tedlock and Nancy M. Farriss[7] may help in changing this perception. Farriss claims that a “central core of concepts and principles [has been preserved,] serving as a framework within which modifications could be made and providing a distinctive shape to the new patterns that emerged.”[8] Carlsen and Prechtel aim to prove that this applies to several highland Maya.[9]

They do this by presenting the concept of Jaloj-Kexoj, a Tz’utujil term referring to continuity of life, “a concentric system of change within change, a single system of transformation and renewal"[10] The term can be used to describe agricultural events, such as a maize plant which lives and dies, but transfers life through its seeds. Life will then continue even if the plant dies, creating an idea of immortal life which is multiplied by every death - the one dead plant lives on through several seeds. The same term is used for humans - ancestors are thought to live through their descendants.[11] A result of this concept is that all people are connected, like branches on a tree, and if one goes far enough back in time, everyone has a common trunk.[12] Carlsen and Prechtel present interpretations of monuments in Palenque and of texts from Popol Vuh which they hold as evidence for the existence of the same concept in classical and early colonial times.[13]

My research could contribute to this work by providing views from contemporary K’iche’ and Mam Maya. Although none of my interviewees talked about their ancestors living through them,[14] several mentioned an interconnectedness of all life and the importance of the heritage from the past.[15]

  • [1] See for instance Manuel and Juan’s thoughts on ethnicity and cultural heritage inChapter 7 above.
  • [2] An example is how sacred places become more sacred with time. See Chapter 6 above.
  • [3] Robert S. Carlsen and Martin Prechtel, “The flowering of the dead: an interpretation of Highland Maya culture,” Man 26, 1 (1991). See also Robert S. Carlsen, TheWar for the Heart and Soul of a Highland Maya Town, (Austin, TX: University ofTexas Press, 1997).
  • [4] This site dates from the Maya Classic period, c. 300-900 CE. Carlsen and Prechtel,“Flowering of the dead,” 25.
  • [5] Martinez Pelaez, Patria del Criollo: 280-294; Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of thedead,” 24.
  • [6] Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of the dead,” 24.
  • [7] Tedlock, Time and Maya; Nancy M. Farriss, Maya Society under Colonial Rule: TheCollective Enterprise of Survival, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984).
  • [8] Farriss, Maya Society: 8 f.
  • [9] Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of the dead,” 25.
  • [10] Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of the dead" 26.
  • [11] Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of the dead" 28.
  • [12] The words “branches" and “trunk" are literal translations of words Carlsen and Prechtel have found to mean “younger" and “older" people respectively. Other words usedfor people within the same context are “sprouts," “leaves" and similar words relatingto agriculture. Carlsen and Prechtel, “Flowering of the dead," 29 f.
  • [13] David Freidel, Linda Schele and Joy Parker support Carlsen and Prechtel’s ideas byoffering similar observations from the archaeological sites such as Iximche’ and Bon-ampak’, and from contemporary Yucatan and Quintana Roo. David Freidel, LindaSchele, and Joy Parker, Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path,(New York, NY: William Morrow and Company, 1993): 231-256.
  • [14] Rather, the ancestors were perceived to live with them.
  • [15] See chapters 4 and 7 above.
<<   CONTENTS   >>

Related topics