Home Sociology Balancing the World: Contemporary Maya ajq’ijab in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
- Balancing the world
Through the stories of the interviewees, we have seen that the ajq’ijab perform a wide variety of tasks that are thought to help visitors, society, their families and themselves. In a country which has suffered centuries of colonialism, oppression and civil war, the past is not easily forgotten. Simultaneously the future holds several new opportunities and challenges for the Maya population. The Guatemalan society is experiencing changes such as the emergence of Maya groups, which has led to new social arenas where culture, tradition, customs and spirituality can be discussed. One of these groups, Manuel’s group, opened its doors to me and my assistant, translator and friend, Victor Garcia. Members of this group, along with a few others, could tell me about their thoughts on what it means to be ajq’ijab in contemporary Guatemala.
Why does an ajq’ij do her or his work?
The interviewees had many reasons for why they thought the ajq'ijab do their work. To some of them, their work, and Maya spirituality as a whole, is centred on giving thanks and offerings to the world and the universe itself. Everything is sacred and has life, and so they give thanks for the life they have been given. Some do their work to give thanks and offerings to the ancestors, the generations that came before and that still are with them to guide them in their daily lives. Some give their thanks to God, to Ajaw, to Jesus or another personified, divine being. For most, the work of an ajq’ij is concerned with several or all of these aspects.
The concept of seeing everything as alive may bear similarities to the concept of continuous life that Robert S. Carlsen and Martin Prechtel present in their findings from Santiago Atitlan and from various archaeological sites. Several of my interviewees told that it was important to them to transmit their knowledge to future generations, and the concept presented by Carlsen and Prechtel might be an example of the knowledge the interviewees referred to.
The subject of the relation between Maya spirituality and Christianity was one of the subjects where the interviewees had the most diverse opinions. Some of them, like Isabela and Teresa, are Catholics who go to mass regularly. Some, like
Manuel and Juan, think the “mixing” of religions is a bad thing, but they accept it. Odilia, who stopped practising Maya spirituality for a while, now thinks what she sees as Christian elements should be completely removed from Maya spirituality. As we have seen, the relation between Maya spirituality and Christianity can be approached and described using Meredith McGuire’s concept of bricolage or Thomas Hart’s concept of “belt and braces.”
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