It has been through cultural contact, that entire civilizations have been destroyed and disappeared while others just have combined, reconciled and coalesced their mutually opposed beliefs and practices into a new conglomerate whole marked by internal inconsistencies. When these cultures blend, a new generation, with its own idiosyncrasy, emerges, different from where it originated, just as the result of new languages, mixture between races, together with the evolution of religions.
The essence of the Mayan culture1 (not referred to the classic Mayas, but to the new indigenous populations that descended from them) reshaped with the contribution of the different populations, especially in today’s Guatemala, revitalizing social patterns manifested through their material and spiritual culture, elements that enclose the conception of the world-life and the idiosyncrasy of the Mayan population nowadays. The traditions of the Mayan people are product of their particular historic development, its cultural specificity and the socioeconomic juncture that provided an irreplaceable view of the world.
These ancestral manifestations have three sources of origin: (1) the pre-Hispanic Maya heritage, whose cosmic vision remains; (2) the occidental link, represented by the Hispano-Arabic that burst in America at beginning of 16th-century; and (3) the contribution of the African population that where brought by the Spanish. However, in Guatemala it’s considered that the popular practice of the Mayan culture has mostly been influenced after the Spanish Conquest.
It consists in a syncretism of the occidental culture with the indigenous folklore, where the “nature of ideas, deities, and practices derive from historically distinct traditions become reinterpreted and transformed in situations of a cultural encounter”2. This Mayan syncretism has been debated from two perspectives: (1) this merging took place between the persistence of the indigenous cult and the acceptance of the Spanish-Catholic costumes, and (2) this syncretism just reflects the exigency of the colonialism, in which the Maya where subjected under the Christian costumes.
3 Nevertheless, these two phenomena have allowed the syncretism and the ethnic relation to take place. Simultaneously, it has been clearly reflected in the configuration of some techniques, processes and specific elements that, historically amalgamated, have given result to the popular arts and traditions, a new social culture and a hybridized religion, constructing the symbolic landscape of the people. Artistic Syncretism
the quetzal4, alluding to the ‘feathered serpent’-Quetzalcoatl5, and jaguars which implied memorial to the Other of the outstanding arts is the ceramics and pottery that keep the Mayan cultural expressions and inheritance of their designs and elaboration techniques syncretized with the occidental procedures. These types of ceramics are characterized for being located in production centers where they used to be before the Spanish arrival.
These centers were prorated by their qualities like the ones in Chinautla, ”””””b churches and cemeteries: among these we can find crockeries, flower vases, incense-holders, earthenware tubs and tombstones. Socio-Religious Syncretism During the Spanish Conquest many Mayan rituals, arts and socio-political powers were abruptly destroyed. Ancient temples together with religious images were destructed, where some were used to build Roman-Catholic churches representing the supremacy of Christianity over paganism.
However, as the Spaniards tried to eradicate the polytheistic Mayan ceremonies, many of their traditional beliefs were kept to attract pagan devotees into the Christian conception, since the doctrine to the natives “appeared to be primarily a set of practices, many of which resembled their traditional practices of prayer, offerings, processions, dramas, fasting and the used of sacred images”8. In other instances, many of the catholic missionaries adapted these traditions to the Christian forms in order to replace the paganism.
The introduction of Christianity and these conversion strategies opened a narrow possibility in the Christian policy that the Mayan believers could undertake. Consequently, these Mayan religious traditions that were secretly fostered, remained in popular forms such as the cofradias9, the introduction and transformation of Mayan deities into Christian ones and celebrations venerating the dead. Cofradias or Brotherhoods The most important communitarian organizations and socio-cultural institution of the Maya is the cofradia.
Its great importance is regarded as a shield of the ancestral culture enforces moral law and social order. Through it hierarchies, the millenary culture has been conserved through the structure of spiritual power between the communities. The colonized Maya transformed this Spanish institution, in the crucible where all the cultural elements of great richness melt. The Brotherhood system is found in all the Christian religion and all their Christian images still remain syncretized with Mayan deities.
Cofradias were very popular during the 16th-17th-centuries, used as instruments during the Counter Reformation. When they were transferred to Latin-America, they were overthrown into the natives to promote the Christian beliefs. This way they represented the sacred and pagan world in a mythological-ritual system. Consequently, they are believed as a refugee for the survival of the religious, socio-cultural expressions, in which the Maya dwell their wisdom, spirituality and organizing system. Each confraternity is named after one deity or saint which they dedicate to.
The process of becoming the official brother has traditionally been the way for a man inside a community to prove his worth to the village and the gods. Each official is responsible of the liturgical celebrations and activities of the saints’ days. Two and a half centuries after the post-conquest was followed by an intense abandonment of the clergy, a period when the interpretation of the Catholic rituals and symbolisms were syncretized through the natives cosmology. The cultural fusion was facilitated by the cultural-religious trends between the Catholic and Mayan, such as the sacred-holy figures venerated in both cultures.
Many of the Christian saints statutes were easily identified with the Guardian-lords, so that today “ceremonies in the cofradias are concerned less with the cult of the Saint than with the ancestors, and with Christ as the fountain-head of tradition… One can speculate as to why the idea of continuity should be so persistently reiterated in the one aspect of life in which the break with the past has been the most dramatic. “10 Maximi?? n religion represented as Judas of Iscariot11, Saint Michael Archangel, or as the apostle Peter.
Nevertheless, to the Mayan he is idolotrized completely differently. Maximi?? n means “tied with string or lasso” or in Ri-Laj-Mam12 it means the “great grandfather” of all the people. The oral tradition tells the story13 of Maximi?? n as the patron idol of traitors. Recently is believed and venerated as a sacred figure dedicated to cure diseases, remove curses, divine for the future, bless crops and win lawsuits. Even if Maximi?? n is evoked as deity, he also plays a political role, personifying Francisco Sojuel, hero of the Tzutuhiles14 in their resistance against the Spanish.