Summoning rain, appeasing the earth, and expressing gratitude for what has been received: different Maya rituals carry on the ancient spirit of cities such as Dzibilchaltún, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá. The lineage of Maya priests continues to our days, now accompanied by scholars and advocates. One of them is Dr. José Enrique Vidal Dzul Tub, general secretary of the National Union of Workers of the Ministry of Culture. I spoke with him regarding Maya ceremonies, whose validity and importance are unquestionable.
There are several ceremonies that show a wide range of intentions, explains José. When the Aluxes or Yuntsiles start with their mischief, or when lands begin to be settled, it’s important to make peace: “Jets’ Lu’um,” the ceremony of appeasement, is the way to go. Jo’olbesaj Kool is a ceremony that praises and thanks the spirit lords of nature for good harvests, while Ch’a Cháak prays for rain that will grant life.
José says that the downpour following the ceremonies is no mere coincidence: corn becomes masa in the ovens dug in the ground. The right selection of wood achieves the heat that cooks the Pib (a special Tamal), which is offered to different deities. The spirit’s thirst is quenched with Báalche’, a fermented beverage made from the bark of the tree of the same name. The only original record of these practices might be in the mural paintings of processions and events of gratitude, prayers, and prophetic acts; to this day, they all allow the interaction with forces of nature, water, earth, and fire, recalls Dzul Tuyub.
I’m near a table of light trunks, sheltered by an arch of green branches. The Jícaras with the Báalche’ pass from the hands of Marcial Mahla Can, J-men (a Maya priest, like his ancestors), to the mouths of the people there. In the offering, the Maya language is sprinkled with the Spanish words “Dios” (God) and “Espíritu Santo” (Holy Spirit). José explains to me that there is syncretism in the prayers. Not only the words but the catholic Spanish symbols come together with the ones from Yucatecan Maya, as is the case with the Cross of Palenque (which dates from before the Spaniards’ arrival) or the Cruz Parlante (Talking Cross) that aided in military divination in some towns decimated during the Caste War.
José believes that these Maya ceremonies are, for the Maya population, a mirror to the search for the collective good: you request rain not only for yourself, but also for your neighbors. They still preserve much of their true sacredness, which supports, with fervor and respect, a faith that allows recognizing the divine in chants, the vehemence in circles, in greetings, and in the living offerings made to the elements of nature. The favors are echoed by the cosmos’s powers because of its connection with Maya priests.
But these cultural signs – usually made in Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, and Chiapas – are going through a crisis. We can see the budgetary constraints that affect México’s cultural sector, as José points out. In archaeological sites, under the responsibility of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH), many workers interact, regardless of their area: administrative, custodial, dissemination, educational advisory, restoration, architecture, research, anthropology, and so on. It’s them who make it possible to research, preserve, and share the ancient knowledge that’s still alive in México. The ceremonies are full of life and retain their heart; appreciating, safeguarding, and respecting them are everyone’s responsibility.
It is important to clarify that these ceremonies take place in Milpas, and are, in truth, an intimate sign of identity among the communities. This means that being identity and cultural practices, they are not open to visitors or spectators. However, you can be part of the authentic recreations in places such as Chichén Itzá or the Choco-Story Cacao Eco-Museum in Uxmal, where there’s a daily presentation of Cha’a Chák, the rain ceremony.
By Dave S. Mayoral
Dave Mayoral (1998) thinks it’s difficult to write in the third person without laughing in the attempt, but his background in Modern Language and Literature, Contemporary Art History, and Cultural Management tends to help him a lot…
Photography by Dave S. Mayoral for its use in Yucatán Today.
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