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February 10, 2012

Maya Journal

Cholq'ij, the Maya sacred ceremonial calendar of 260 days—a cycle of 20 Day deities and 13 numbers—is the basis of the Maya spirituality that survives to this time, practiced daily among millions of Maya people, in thousands of communities. The interpretation of the days can vary from one Maya people to another. The interpretations given here are based on sustained conversations and participation over three decades with Maya Q'eqchi calendar priest Roderico Teni and daykeeping families in the area of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, by Jose Barreiro (Taíno), head of NMAI’s Office of Latin America, and his wife, Katsi Cook (Mohawk).

For a more detailed introduction to this series, please see Jose's post "Living in the Practice." For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive

Justice and the Kan 

Rio Polochic Valley, Alta Verapaz, September 1989 

We crossed the river by canoe, propelled through the strong current by a long rod in the hands of a standing Q'eqchi riverman. On the other side we walked the kilometer to Tampur, stopping briefly to greet the local leaders, then walked farther into the forested hills of the valley, to a community where local meetings were taking place. Our visit at that time was about the building of a school in the high sierra. But in small, cloistered Q'eqchi corn-farming communities, when elders meet local issues are considered. In this community, a young man was on the hot seat. 

The young man had twice been caught stealing small animals from other's homesteads. The people of his community had him seated in a circle of the leadership men, and a second circle made up of the women who had caught him this time and were accusing him. The women appeared quite disgusted. Still, the young man looked over their heads. 

After muted discussion, a grandfather stood. He explained the case to everyone. He told the young man that he must raise his own animals and leave those of others alone. He explained how the women were ready to beat him severely for his thefts. The young man continued to look up and away. The Q'eqchi grandfather took his time; he took off his hat. "As of this day," he said a bit more loudly, for all to hear, "the Kan will watch you and stay on your heels. We withdraw our protection from your trail. If this happens again, we will ask the Kan to make his own justice." 

The women exchanged glances, one or two gasped, and the young man looked suddenly shaken. His eyes darted around to the people, then settled on the ground as he released his breath. "Kan is in your path now, so think carefully what the people here mean to you," the old man told him. 

This was in Alta Verapaz, on the mountain range past the Polochic River, where the Kan was manifested in a situation of community justice. Kan is the snake, a powerful entity always potentially present to intervene in the lives (and death) of human beings. Respectful connection with Kan is much desired by people in the mountain communities. After that trial by elders, Roderico has told me, the chicken-thieving stopped.

—Jose Barreiro 

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