Water and Ritual: The Rise and Fall of Classic Maya Rulers

By Lisa J. Lucero | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Water and Ritual

The environment in its largest sense creates the context in which choice is made,
but the choice is made by individuals.

LEACH (1970 [1954]:259)

I focus on economically stratified (including incipient) agricultural societies, and how and when wealth differences transform into political power. Specifically, how do a few people get others to contribute their labor, goods, and services without compensating them equally? My definition of political power reflects the focus on surplus appropriation, and therefore my perspective is necessarily materialist. Thus, I view resources as a condition for, not a cause of, political complexity (cf. Fried 1967:111; Russell 1938:31) and focus on the way people interact with their natural and social surroundings. My approach is not environmentally deterministic but acknowledges the key role that resources play in surplus production, especially rainfall dependency and the degree to which people rely on water or agricultural systems. Long-term climate change (e.g., rainy seasons begin later than usual or are shorter than usual, temperatures drop slightly, and so on) has various, and sometimes drastic, impacts on agricultural and political systems (see Fagan 1999, 2004). After all, no matter how unique people are in terms of how they think, act, and create, they still need to survive and interact with the material and social world. The way in which surplus is appropriated, however, is another matter; and this is where the role of ritual is crucial.

I discuss water (especially seasonal vagaries) and ritual separately, because to appreciate the whole we must first understand its constituent parts. In doing so, individual factors can only appear as static entities. Nevertheless, my goal by the end of this work is to discuss them as an integrated, dialectical, and dynamic system. Edmund Leach (1970 [1954]: 63; emphasis in original) said it best when

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