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243 N o t e s o f M i d d l e A m e r i c a n A r c h a e o l o g y a n d E t h n o l o g y Carnegie Institution of Washington Division of Historical Research No. 62 June 15, 1946 Observations on Altar Sites in the Quiche Region, Guatemala Elsie McDougall In February 1928, while a guest in the Protestant mission house in Santo Tomas Chichicastenango, I was told of a brujeria where Indians worshipped. A group of town picnickers had discovered it on the wooded summit of a hill, about 1 km west of the town. Starting before midmorning of March 1, Harry Grainger, the missionary, a young townswoman , and I visited the hilltop. We took the road west from the convent part of the imposing sixteenth -century Catholic church, where Indians were praying and burning incense in a forge like altar at the foot of the steps and on the terrace at the threshold of the church. The road passes the accumulation of adobe brick, white-washed houses owned by rural Indians. These houses, with rooms opening on an inner court, are occupied only when members of the family unit are in town for trade, for duties related to civil administration and to the maintenance of the two churches (the second is that of El Calvario, on the west side of the plaza, fronting the larger “parochial”), and for religious ceremonies, including those conducted by the resident “foreign” (Catholic) priest. We ascended the hill by a branch footpath through cleared land, partly under cultivation . A few unkempt young Indian girls, pasturing all black as well as white sheep, ran away swiftly at sight of strangers. Locating the place of worship in the woods, largely of pines, was facilitated by the sound of fervent prayer. An Indian was praying on behalf of a seated man (Fig. 62.2). The former was recognizable as a professional officiant, one or more of whom are commonly to be seen in the two churches, performing the required ceremonies at floor altars of temporary construction. On these are placed clothwrapped bundles containing seeds, coins, candles, copal incense, quantities of flower petals, and aguardiente . This last is poured around the candles by the professional prayer man. There is a close relationship between the floor altars in the churches and the altar on the hilltop. The holy place in the woods actually consists of two altars. The main stone of the larger altar is an image, undoubtedly pre-Spanish, and at the time I first saw it, was recumbent and lacking the head. The arms are folded across its breast, and a trophy head, with hair pendant, is attached to the front of a wide-fold girdle (Fig. There are also crosses, in both low and full relief, one or two old mortars , club heads, a large ball or sphere incised and painted with irregularly crossing lines, chipped and broken manos, and flat-based boulders with holes in the center. All these are of stone. Old stone boulders with holes are placed in front of side altars in the town churches to hold the ceremonial staves of cofradia alcaldes while the cofrades are engaged elsewhere. Except for the crosses the stones are probably of preColombian manufacture. Maize cob husks, the discarded wrappings of four or five small cakes of copal incense, littered the foreground. In front, the ground was carpeted with pine needles: Some newly cut boughs of pine, similar to the ones partly covering the smaller altar (Fig. 62.3a), were at the foot of a tree. Copal incense, Elsie McDougall 244 arranged in small piles as it is unwrapped, was first burned, and as it smoked, a row of small candles before the altar were lighted. The well-articulated, fervent prayers were in Quiche; the word “Señor” in pleading tone was frequently interpolated. The informant , a young townswoman familiar with Quiche, told me that the prayers were for good crops, the health of the family, and malediction of enemies. As foreign intruders, we were specifically mentioned. Scowled glances on the part of the seated man also made us aware that we were unwelcome, and so our stay was brief. Visiting the place of worship two days later, again in midmorning, I found that pine boughs lightly covered the altar. Hot ash of copal and the warmth of the stone image on removal of...


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