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Renewing the Maya World

Renewing the Maya World

Garrett W. Cook
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    Renewing the Maya World
    Book Description:

    Each year in the Highland Guatemala town of Santiago Momostenango, Maya religious societies, dance teams, and cofradías perform the annual cycle of rituals and festivals prescribed byCostumbre(syncretized Maya Christian religion), which serves to renew the cosmic order. In this richly detailed ethnography, Garrett Cook explores how these festivals of Jesucristo and the saints derive from and reenact three major ancient Maya creation myths, thus revealing patterns of continuity between contemporary expressive culture and the myths, rituals, and iconography of the Classic and Postclassic Maya.

    Drawing on fieldwork conducted in the 1970s and renewed in the 1990s, Cook describes the expressive culture tradition performed in and by the cofradías and their dance teams. He listens as dancers and cofrades explain the meaning of service and of the major ritual symbols in the cults of the saints and Jesucristo. Comparing these symbols to iconographic evidence from Palenque and myths from thePopol Vuh,Cook persuasively argues that the expressive culture of Momostenango enacts major Maya creation myths-the transformative sunrise, the representation of the year as the life cycle of anthropomorphized nature, and the erection of an axis mundi.

    This research documents specific patterns of continuity and discontinuity in the communal expression of Maya religious and cosmogonic themes. Along with other recent research, it demonstrates the survival of a basic Maya pattern-the world-creating vegetative renewal cycle-in the highland Maya cults of the saints and Jesucristo.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79824-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Narratives
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Chapter 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The bus clanks and grinds down from the cold and barren finger of alpine prairie above San Francisco El Alto, a mountain fastness, ajuyup, where flowering bunchgrass is collected each year to construct the body of San Simón during Holy Week. The rutted dirt road winds down through a misty forest of giant pines and ancient twisted oaks bearded with Spanish moss. Heading north, the bus breaks out of the forest into sunlight, into a world of maize fields, scattered homesteads, and wood lots, a cultivated world ortakaj. Here Momostecan settlement begins on the southern edge of a...


    • Chapter 2. Religious Sodalities of Momostenango: The Communal Cult Institutions
      (pp. 23-63)

      How would the missionary priests and Maya catechists organizing Catholic Action in the western highlands in the 1970s have reacted to this statement? The main preoccupation of thecofradíasin Chichicastenango was the propitiation of their ancestors and thecofradeswho had come before them (Bunzel 1952: 249; Schultze Jena 1954: 38), hardly a Catholic emphasis in the cult of a saint. In Santiago Atitlán some saints’ images are the embodiments of ancestral protective spirits callednaguales—community founders, lightning men, mist men, rain men, earthquake men—who retreated to the mountains leaving the images and sacred bundles behind (O’Brien...

    • Chapter 3. Traveling Saints
      (pp. 64-104)

      The colonial Cristos in thecalvario, together with Santiago and the Niño San Antonio in the church, are the most miraculous images in Momostenango. Only Santiago and San Antonio are transported to festivals in rural hamlets. These sacred journeys return them to their colonial period homes, or to the temporary keeping of the descendants of corporate groups that once maintained their cults, and Santiago is reunited with saintly companions from the distant past. The journeys are ordeals for thecofrades, and provide opportunities for dozens of local festivals at private houses inparajesandcantón armitas. In this chapter the...


    • Chapter 4. Cosmogonic Tree Raisings and Sunrises
      (pp. 107-141)

      At least three distinctive cosmogonies are enacted in the communalistic rituals of the sodalities. Two are presented in this chapter. In one, featured in the Monkeys Dance, a central tree is raised and a four-cornered world is laid out around it. In another, the world is transformed by conflict between liminal beings of an earlier creation and an emerging sun. This chapter explores the sunrise cosmogony enacted in the Conquest Dance. A different manifestation of the sunrise cosmogony, expressed in the Jesucristo mythos, is presented in chapter 5. The third cosmogony, also part of the Jesucristo mythos, ritually depicts the...

    • Chapter 5. Secrets and Ordeals of Holy Week
      (pp. 142-184)

      The Costumbrista celebration of Holy Week takes place against a colorful backdrop of factional displays. There are little services in the Protestant churches, huge masses and processions with hundreds of participants organized by Catholic Action, and crepe-draped and floodlit evening processions by Ladino and acculturated Mayahermandadesaccompanied by rattling portable generators and brass bands playing funeral dirges. The Costumbristas’ unobtrusive performances are staged bycofradíasand dance teams in the cemetery and its chapel, at the cemetery gate, in severalcofradíahouses, and in the plaza in front of the church.Cofradescarry images of Jesús Nazareno and Cristo...

    • Chapter 6. Continuity in the Quichean Expressive Culture Tradition
      (pp. 185-222)

      In the 1970s and early 1980s ethnographers and ethnohistorians reconstructed the intellectual foundation for investigating continuity inMaya culture. The new perspective, given seminal expression by Eva Hunt (1977) and Victoria Bricker (1981), argued that ‘‘deep generative principles, which are essentially metaphysical premises, underlie an extraordinary array of surface diversity in the expression of native Mesoamerican verbal and iconographic ideas’’ (Gossen 1986: ix).

      This loosely structuralist thesis sees ‘‘Indians’’ as ongoing creators of a ‘‘reconstituted Indian culture’’ which, following Nancy Farriss (1984), is a cultural configuration that emerges through adaptation from a central core of aboriginal concepts and principles (Carlsen and...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 223-262)
  9. Glossary
    (pp. 263-274)
  10. Bibiliography
    (pp. 275-284)
  11. Index
    (pp. 285-292)