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Renewing the Maya World

Expressive Culture in a Highland Town

By Garrett W. Cook

Publication Year: 2000

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 by Costumbre (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 the Popol 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.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

List of Narratives

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xii

I began research in Santiago Momostenango, Guatemala, in January 1974. From January through May, I conducted a survey of agricultural practices sponsored by the Agency for International Development and directed by Dr. Robert M. Carmack. During this time I developed basic fluency in Spanish, began to study the Quiche´ language, and observed...

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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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, a juyup, 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...

PART 1. THE INSTITUTIONAL CONTEXT

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Chapter 2. Religious Sodalities of Momostenango: The Communal Cult Institutions

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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 the cofradías in Chichicastenango was the propitiation of their ancestors and the cofrades who had come before them (Bunzel 1952: 249; Schultze Jena 1954: 38),...

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Chapter 3. Traveling Saints

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pp. 64-103

The colonial Cristos in the calvario, 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...

PART 2. THE RITUAL SYMBOLS AND THEIR MEANINGS

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Chapter 4. Cosmogonic Tree Raisings and Sunrises

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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...

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Chapter 5. Secrets and Ordeals of Holy Week

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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 Maya hermandades accompanied...

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Chapter 6. Continuity in the Quichean Expressive Culture Tradition

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pp. 185-222

In the 1970s and early 1980s ethnographers and ethnohistorians reconstructed the intellectual foundation for investigating continuity in Maya 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...

Notes

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pp. 223-261

Glossary

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pp. 263-273

Bibliography

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pp. 275-284

Index

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pp. 285-292


E-ISBN-13: 9780292798243
E-ISBN-10: 0292798245
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292712249
Print-ISBN-10: 0292712243

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 22 photos, 1 figure, 3 maps, 4 tables
Publication Year: 2000

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Quiché Indians -- Guatemala -- Momostenango -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Quiché mythology -- Guatemala -- Momostenango.
  • Quiché cosmology -- Guatemala -- Momostenango.
  • Cofradías (Latin America) -- Guatemala -- Momostenango.
  • Momostenango (Guatemala) -- Religious life and customs.
  • Momostenango (Guatemala) -- Social life and customs.
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