buried mirror: latest reflections

mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: fiestas

Happy Haab 5125

chajchaay, a maya ball game

Yesterday, Sunday Feb. 22, marked the first day of the Maya year 5125, according to the Maya solar calendar, or haab. The haab is also known as the “vague year,” because it did not adjust for the extra quarter day in the solar year. The Maya were, however, perfectly aware of the discrepancy, which they had calculated more precisely than was the case in Europe’s Julian calendar. Because they had several calendar systems it was not important to them that the haab include such an adjustment.

According to Prensa Latina, over the past couple of decades traditional Maya calendrical celebrations, which had been forced underground by centuries of repression, have become less secretive. The photo (by AFP via Straits Times (of all places, shows  men playing chajchaay, which is described in the caption as “an ancient Maya ball game,” in Guatemala City. It is questionable whether this game has any connection to those played on the ball courts of the classic Maya. Below is one of several YouTube videos showing the game.

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Viene el dia de los muertos

tom and friend at day of the dead

With Day of the Dead around the corner, Rafael Jesús González’s blog is well worth visiting. He traces the celebration from its ancient roots through the colonial period and into the present.

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Above: Me (right) and a friend, at the 2006 Dia de los Muertos celebration at the Oakland Museum. Tee shirt image by José Guadalupe Posada, photo by Anne Christensen.

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Dia de los Muertos: A New Beginning

dia de los muertos art exhibition

That’s the name of an exhibit that uns through December 16 at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago, “the nation’s largest Latino arts institution and the only Latino museum accredited by the American Association of Museums.”

On blogs from Mexico and Guatemala this year there has appeared some discussion about whether Mesoamerica should observe Halloween or Dia de los Muertos — apparently Halloween is making some inroads south of the border. According to the Chicago exhibit,

Whereas Americans typically celebrate All Saints and All Souls Days with Halloween, treating dead spirits as frightful ghouls who adolescents emulate while knocking on doors and asking for candy, in Mexico and other parts of the world this time of year is treated as one of remembrance, when the lost souls of loved ones return to be with their friends and families before moving on to a better place. While it may seem like a potentially heavy-hearted occasion, it is mostly one of joy; instead of mourning loss, one looks back fondly at the time the departed had spent on earth, and wishes them off with the best of fortune for their new life—and new beginning—to come.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, the Oakland Museum traditionally does an excellent job of presenting art and programs for Dia de los Muertos.

The Black Christ of Esquipulas

The town of Esquipulas in Guatemala is famous for its black Christ image, carved of dark balsam wood in the sixteenth century. The church is a famous pilgrimage site, and in 1995 Esquipulas was named “the spiritual center of Central America” by Pope John Paul.

The 1987 Central American peace treaty was called the Esquipulas Peace Agreement.

Narration in the video is in Spanish.

More Carnival in Merida

Before we take our leave of Carnival, let’s take a moment to enjoy this character’s colorful costume.

carnival costume, merida, yucatan

Carnival in Merida

The city of Merida in the Yucatan has one of the livelier Carnival celebrations in Mesoamerica. These pictures were taken 19 February, 2007.

a float at carnival in merida

performers at carnival in merida

carnival lights, merida, yucatan

Easter carpets in Antigua

One of the great festivals in Guatemala is Semana Santa in Antigua. On Easter celebrants bear heavy floats depicting images from the passion of Christ; the floats, some requiring dozens of carriers, may weigh thousands of pounds.

semana santa procession, antigua, guatemala

Elaborate carpets — alfombras — of pine needles, corn kernels, flowers, and sawdust are created on the cobbled streets. These beautiful artworks will soften the treads of the bearers of the heavy statuary as they make their way across the hard, uneven cobbles. And they will be destroyed by them.

easter alfombra, antigua, guatemala

These photos were taken many years ago. The corn in this alfombra detail is interesting. The figure appears to be presenting the corn as a form of offering. The corn seems to emerge from a cooking vessel.

Maize has been the main crop of Mesoamerica since time immemorial. One of the chief deities of the classic Maya was the corn god, who is associated with death and rebirth. He descends to the underworld and reemerges in youthful guise much like a young shoot breaking through the surface of the earth at the beginning of the growing season. So it is natural that he would become associated with Easter, a springtime festival that is also associated with death and rebirth.

Palo volador, Chichicastenango

flying poles at the fiesta de santo tomas in chichicastenango, guatemala

During the fiesta of Santo Tomas (Dec. 21), in Chichicastenango in the Guatemalan highlands, extremely tall pine poles are consecrated and erected in the plaza for the ceremony of the palo volador — the flying pole. Pole dancers climb in pairs to the top via platforms and ropes, and then they spin at the end of the ropes dizzyingly (and dangerously) down in great swooping circles. The ceremony’s origins must lie in the Maya tradition of yaxche, the tree of life.

Santo Tomas is Chichi’s patron saint, and with Christmas approaching this festival is one of the years biggest events, perhaps equaled only by the semana santa festivites in La Antigua. The festival attracts a very large crowd from all over the highlands. The rowdy, noisy, alcohol-fueled ceremony extends for several days around the saint’s official days. That day is marked by colorful processions, which include the baile de la conquista, the dance of the conquest, in which masked dancers portray the Spanish conquistados. It is the best market day of the year in Chichi, which is the prime highlands market town.

This picture was taken many years ago.

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