Jéets’ Méek’, also known as Hetzmek, is a Maya ceremony with a significant symbolic load. It is a pre-Hispanic tradition that is carried out to this day all over the state, especially in places where Maya is the most widely-spoken language, and it is also the name by which a certain way of carrying a baby or toddler is known locally.
Its name comes from two Maya verbs: jéets’ means to place; méek’, to hug or embrace. This references the position in which the godparents carry the child (on their waist) through the “separation rite.” The baby is placed with one foot on either side of the godparent’s body so that in the future they will walk right, and be an upstanding citizen.
This Maya baptism of sorts has several goals. In addition to presenting the baby and signaling their part in the community, it represents the beginning of their responsibilities and activities within society, while, at the same time, providing them with skills and well-wishes to become a good person.
The ceremony, our cultural richness
The Jéets’ Méek’ ceremony requires plenty of space within a home, whether the child’s parents or godparents. The food and other items used throughout the ceremony are placed on the table, dressed with a tablecloth. These include the tools that will be useful later in the baby’s life, such as school supplies, or hunting, fishing, cooking, or embroidery tools, depending on their parents’ hopes for their future. With the help of a “priest,” known as J-men, the godparents hold the tools in the baby’s hands while they walk around the table nine times. Afterward, all three of them try a bit of different traditional foods.
The entire ceremony is based on the symbols, beliefs, and cultural practices of the Maya. The food that is harvested from the Milpa fields (considered the sacred home of the ancient gods), the tools provided to carry out the expected activities, and the age of the children at the time of their baptism, according to their gender (four months for boys, three months for girls).
According to research carried out by anthropologist Hilaria Máas Collí, the Maya names of the food used in the Jéets’ Méek’ reference their given meaning. For example, Je’ means egg, but it also means “to open,” and it is used symbolically to open one’s understanding; Pinole (ground corn), K’aj, is used for memory, as its name is similar to the word K’a’ajs, which means “to remember.”
Like many other practices, Jéets’ Méek’ is carried out by families at home, privately. If you attend a public one, it’s highly likely that it will be a performance. If you are invited to one of these ceremonies at a family home, remember to be very respectful.
By Goretty Ramos
Feminist communicologist with delusions of being an artist and silk-screen printer. Researching, learning, and sharing.
Photography by Yucatán Today and Emanuel Duarte for use in Yucatán Today.
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