Time and the Highland Maya

Time and the Highland Maya

Time and the Highland Maya

Time and the Highland Maya

Synopsis

Described as a landmark in the ethnographic study of the Maya, this study of ritual and cosmology among the contemporary Quich Indians of highland Guatemala has now been updated to address changes that have occurred in the last decade. The Classic Mayan obsession with time has never been better known. Here, Barbara Tedlock redirects our attention to the present-day keepers of the ancient calendar. Combining anthropology with formal apprenticeship to a diviner, she refutes long-held ethnographic assumptions and opens a door to the order of the Mayan cosmos and its daily ritual. Unable to visit the region for over ten years, Tedlock returned in 1989 to find that observance of the traditional calendar and religion is stronger than ever, despite a brutal civil war.... a well-written, highly readable, and deeply convincing contribution.... Michael Coe

Excerpt

While the Classic and contemporary Mayan obsession with time has long been recognized, Barbara Tedlock sharply refocuses our vision of time's reading in the highland Guatemala realm of the Quiché. Combining anthropological fieldwork with formal apprenticeship to a diviner in Momostenango and grounding herself in a "human intersubjectivity" whose primary medium is language, she enters into the Quiché context of communicative interaction known as ch'obonic, to divine, to understand.

Her study of the practical knowledge of a master diviner questions and refutes most of the assumptions made by ethnographers to date. Tedlock challenges and dismantles accepted distinctions: between priestly and shamanistic statuses; between "good" and "evil" day names and blood movements (allegedly dualistic); between opposed solar (365-day) and divinatory (260-day) calendars. She finds that none of these can be thus separated in the practice of divination. She demonstrates, against years of misreading, that there is no "first day" to the present calendar and disposes of scholarly fixation on an etymologically constructed symbol system for the days. She finds that this fixation has obscured a far more important mnemonics system referring to ritual practices associated with each day and ultimately linking divination with the most important categories of the social structure. Instead of the accepted view, she offers an integrated picture of rigorous, rational interpretation of the irrational "speaking" of possessed persons and objects as well as the dialectical rather than dualistic relationship between paired terms in divinatory interpretation.

Indigenous theories of the diviner's body as microcosm; the counting of the days conceived as a "speaking of the calendar" tied, by way of the four Year-bearers, to the mountains of the four . . .

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