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T H R E E Framing Maya Sexual Desire The colonial Maya deployed a system of categories in order to distinguish a recognizable “Self” from an equally recognizable “Other.” Before the Spanish conquest, the Maya people (particularly the nobles, but also the commoners) worked to distinguish various ethnic groups, lineages within the ethnic groups, individual city-states, and social classes; but with the advent of Spanish colonialism, the effort at distinguishing Self from Other took a different turn.1 The Spanish colonizers asserted their own ideas of selfidentity , notions that were to be grafted onto the Maya in various ways. The Europeans had methods of categorizing class, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality that were different from Maya ways of understanding Self and Other. This system of categories was developed partly based on notions of gender and sexual desire. In a colonial society one strategy used by colonizers in the attempt to establish hegemony is to assert difference. The establishment of a stable sense of Self, contrasted with the necessarily inferior (and often exotic) Other, allows the colonizer to maintain a secure hierarchy. Similarly, some (noble) members of the colonized group attempt to solidify the group’s notion of Self in order to maintain traditional privileges. The subaltern members of the colonized group may attempt to maintain their own ideas of Self in order to resist what they perceive as a difficult future under colonial rule.2 For many people in both groups, assertions of difference are vital. However, the colonizers, in order effectively to control the colonized population , necessarily attempt to control their cultures and thus their minds. To gain this control, the colonizers must attempt to alter the cultural matrix of the colonized in such a way as to make the colonized more similar to themselves (in order for hegemony to be established, the colonized must accept the legitimacy and/or necessity of the colonial system). In doing this the colonizers are in a sense working against the desire to assert stable notions of Self and Other. In fact, the colonizers use hybridity as a strategy: they place concepts related to the colonial culture in the cultural matrix of the colonized.3 For the colonized, this strategy of hybridity has a different meaning: individual members may use such a strategy to reassert their privileges during colonial rule, and the collective group may use hybridity as a form of resistance. At the time of the conquest, the Maya distinguished between themselves and outsiders based on the notion of the autonomy of the local city-state. Evidence suggests that, in earlier times, despite the presence of kings who claimed rulership over larger areas, both ethnicity and identity were localized.4 Local ethnicity and pride combined with the presence of large ethnic groups attempting to dominate regions. The Maya used warfare to distinguish between Self and Other in a variety of ways. Wars, until the end of the Spanish conquest, were very common. Warfare promoted the pride of the local ethnic group and the power of the local gods, and the winner of the war received tribute, slaves, and captives for sacrifice. In associating warfare with local pride, the Maya used their warriors to promote the differences between Self and Other, differences which metaphorically and symbolically were gendered and sexualized.5 In each case, the Maya viewed the winning group as masculine and as penetrators in sexual acts. The losers were viewed as feminine and as those who were penetrated by the penises of the opposing warriors. This distinction formed one core of the cultural matrix around which the Maya organized their perceptions of sexual desire. But the advent of colonial rule destroyed many of these distinctions. The metaphors of warfare remained present in colonial era documents, but primarily based on memory of past wars. Many cultural metaphors related to sexual desire shifted from concepts related to war to those related to sin. The idea that sex was sinful was itself a theory alien to the Maya, who believed sex to be related to creation, pollution, destruction, and power. But the advocates of sex as sin were powerful, and the Maya by the end of the colonial period 4 0 From Moon Goddesses to Virgins understood the idea (at least, as we will see, in its altered form). This attempt to establish sin as the primary cultural matrix in which sexual desire was understood was an attempt at making the colonized Other more similar to the (idealized notion of the) colonizing...


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