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November 30, 2012

It's All Connected: California Basketry, Cultural Context, and Museum Conservation | Conclusion

In 2009 and 2010, basketweaver Deborah McConnell (Hoopa/Yurok/Quinault); cultural heritage specialist Robert McConnell (Yurok); and Briannon Fraley (Tolowa), a former summer intern at the National Museum of the American Indian, joined members of the museum's Conservation Office in a program centered on Northern California basketry and its broader cultural context. This is the last post in a series that presents multiple perspectives on their collaboration. To read earlier posts in the series, see:

1. Introduction to the Project, Acknowledgments & Contributors 
2. NMAI Internship Programs 
3. The Collections Visit, Consultation & Workshop
4. Practices and Beliefs 
5. The Visit to Northern California 


Hupa na´wehch (Jump Dance basket), ca. 1880. California. Yew wood, maidenhair fern, bear grass, spruce root, hide, woodpecker feather, sinew, paint; 65 x 10 x 7 cm. 2182. Photo by Walter Larrimore, NMAI.

When Deborah and Robert McConnell and Briannon Fraley came to the museum to conduct a basketry consultation and workshop their goal was to introduce conservation fellows and interns to the greater context of baskets in Native cultures. Consultants and conservators connected through the materials and processes as basketry techniques were taught in a hands-on workshop. The opportunity to share museum experiences and methodologies, such as storage, cleaning, re-shaping, and repair, was also of interest to Ms. McConnell and Ms. Fraley. The workshop provided a fertile environment for an exchange of ideas that may lead to new treatment solutions incorporating Native expertise, which has often been overlooked. 

The conservators' understanding of basketry's cultural context was further enhanced through a visit to Northern California to experience current cultural issues, the socio-political environment, and land management/resources challenges, all of which impact basketry production today. Conveying the interconnectedness of a museum object and the culture that craeted it is paramount to understanding: There is more to a basket than just materials and techniques.

Asked to assess the value of this educational experience, Anne Gunnison, an Andrew W. Mellon fellow in the Conservation Office from 2008 to 2010, commented:

Not only participating in the consultation with Ms. Fraley, Ms. McConnell, and Mr. McConnell at NMAI, but also attending the California Indian Basketweavers Association gathering in Ione, California, and being invited to the Brush Dance and to visit Hoopa, was an invaluable experience. This opportunity was made possible by the mandate of conservation programming at NMAI and by the generosity of the McConnells and Ms. Fraley, who were so willing to share their own experiences and comprehensive knowledge of the physical and cultural landscape of Northern California. It has underscored the importance of forging and fostering relationships and partnerships in order to best approach the conservation and care of Native American cultural material in museums and institutions. It is my intention, following my time at NMAI, to develop similar types of relationships with invested community constituents to guide my work in the care of collections.  

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Briannon Fraley weaving a basket at home. Hoopa, California, June 2010. Photo by Marian Kaminitz, NMAI.


"Basketry: It's All Connected" was originally presented in September 2010 at a basketry workshop organized by the Institute of Conservation

To read more short essays by the NMAI Conservation Office staff, fellows, and interns, scroll through the Conservation archive on the NMAI blog.

The museum's website includes further information about the Conservation Office, including outreachresearchstaff publications, and training, including internships and fellowships. 

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November 29, 2012

It's All Connected: California Basketry, Cultural Context, and Museum Conservation | The Visit to Northern California

In 2009 and 2010, basketweaver Deborah McConnell (Hoopa/Yurok/Quinault); cultural heritage specialist Robert McConnell (Yurok); and Briannon Fraley (Tolowa), a former summer intern at the National Museum of the American Indian, joined members of the museum's Conservation Office in a program centered on Northern California basketry and its broader cultural context. This is the fifth post in a series that presents multiple perspectives on their collaboration. To read earlier posts in the series, see:

1. Introduction to the Project, Acknowledgments & Contributors 
2. NMAI Internship Programs 
3. The Collections Visit, Consultation & Workshop
4. Practices and Beliefs

The June 2010 trip to Northern California exposed us to the complex and interrelated social, political, economic, and cultural aspects of caring for indigenous collections. Participating in the California Indian Basketweavers Association (CIBA) Gathering with Native weavers, attending a traditional Yurok Brush Dance ceremony, and spending time on Hoopa tribal lands with the McConnell family elucidated aspects of Native survival, cultural determination, resilience, and self-reliance. The realities of living in the 21st century while simultaneously maintaining and practicing centuries-old cultural traditions are evident in the McConnell family, who live on their ancestral homelands and actively work to reclaim and maintain access to their natural resources for the continuance of their people.

Formally organized in 1992, CIBA is the oldest association of its kind in the United States. CIBA describes its vision as, "[T]o preserve, promote, and perpetuate California Indian basketweaving traditions while providing a healthy physical, social, spiritual, and economic environment for basketweavers." CIBA’s goals include accessibility to and protection of natural resources used in basket-making, and discouraging the use of pesticides in areas where materials are gathered. Overall, the organization strives to act in a manner that respects their elders and Mother Earth. Although CIBA is open to weavers and nonweavers, and to non-Native supporters of California Indian basket weaving, its cultural importance is to promote solidarity and broaden communication among Native American basketweavers. CIBA publishes the newsletter Roots & Shoots and hosts the annual gathering specifically to enlarge "the network of weavers and their supporters, . . . enabling the continuation of the art and its passage to the next generation." 

The 20th Annual CIBA Gathering, in Ione, California, included weaving circles, presentations, displays, demonstrations, and sellers’ booths. Handouts available to participants addressed pesticide and land management issues. Representatives from the USDA Forest Service and IDRS Inc.—Indian Development Resources and Services, a national Indian-governed non-profit organization that works with tribes and government agencies to assist in conflict resolution—spoke on ensuring tribal input in forest planning with federal organizations; staff members from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spoke on better communication and a chemical data availability study. The available literature and speakers illustrated the ways in which CIBA provides a forum where the voices of basketweavers can be heard and creates partnerships with federal agencies and allied organizations.

Deborah McConnell and her niece, Louisa Hunsuzker, in the weaving circle at the 20th Annual CIBA Gathering. Ione, California, June 2010.  


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A basket-start in Louisa's hand. Ione, California. June 2010.

















Accomplished weavers taught basketry techniques in weaving circles. This provided another valuable opportunity to study with Ms. McConnell. Space in her circle quickly grew past capacity, a reflection of her reputation as a skilled weaver and teacher. In her circle, we learned how to add more willow sticks, (warps) to a basketry start to expand the circumference of the basket. Ends of the willow sticks were chewed slightly to flatten them before inserting them into the start. This small chewing action illustrated an important component of contemporary basket-weaving: If the willow is treated with pesticides prior to collection, the act of flattening can, in fact, be toxic to the weaver. This underscores the importance of the inclusion of basketweavers in the management of land where basketry materials are collected, as well as the extent of the issues surrounding the procurement of these resources.

We also gained more experience with the overlay design technique using white bear grass, alder bark-dyed woodwardia fern, and black maidenhair fern. The technique calls for even more dexterity and design foresight than that needed simply to twine the willow-root weavers (wefts) over the sticks. Trying our hand at this type of weaving has given us an even greater appreciation of the expertise required to weave the baskets in the NMAI collections.

Following the CIBA Gathering, we attended a Yurok Brush Dance at the McConnells’ invitation. The dance was held at Sumêg Village in Patrick's Point State Park. Yurok tribal members and local park staff built the village on land traditionally used by the Yurok for seasonal encampments and dedicated it in 1990 to be place for seasonal ceremonies and an educational component of the park. Seeing dance regalia actively used in its traditional ceremonial context, as opposed to preserving it statically in museum storage or on exhibit, was an instructive juxtaposition. The sound and the sight of the regalia as danced and worn gave us a more complete understanding of its form and function, its communal, spiritual purpose. The dance—with the aromas of the surrounding woods and the fire in the dance area, the tinkling and swooshing sounds of the regalia in motion as the dancers approached, the group and solo singing, the reflected light on the abalone shells as the dancers moved around the fire in their regalia—was a sensory feast. Nothing in the museum context could begin to compare. The cultural impact of using older ceremonial regalia for the dances was brought home to us. It was made all the more relevant because many ceremonial items from the NMAI collection were about to be repatriated to the Yurok Tribe and would immediately go back into active use. 

Willow plants along the banks of the Trinity River. Hoopa, California, June 2010. 

During our time with the McConnells and Briannon Fraley in Hoopa, we were able to see materials we had used in the basketry workshop, as well as some materials used to make dance regalia, in their natural context. Ms. McConnell pointed out ferns and other basketry materials that were growing in the fields and the forest as we drove the Bald Hill Road into Hoopa Valley. When the McConnells took us down the Trinity River on their boat, they pointed out willow used for basketry sticks and weavers, and the pines trees on the bluffs that produce the pine nuts used in dance regalia. As we visited the ceremonial sites along the river where the dances are held, the valley’s resources surrounded us with impressive beauty and proximity. We were reminded of the impact of interconnectedness on these communities: When healthy, resources are plentiful, life is abundant, and cultures are sustained. 

—Susan Heald and Marian Kaminitz, NMAI

All photos by Marian Kaminitz, NMAI.


Handouts available at the CIBA Gathering included:

California Indian Basketweavers Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Pesticide Program, Pesticides. . . What Basketweavers Should Know, (undated).

United States Environmental Protection Agency, The National Pesticide Tribal Program: Achieving Public Health and Environmental Protection in Indian Country and Alaska Native Villages, (Washington, DC: Office of Pesticide Programs, October 2009).

United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Working Together: American Indian Tribes and the Forest Service: Improving Forest Service Policy, Programs and Projects through Consultation, (Washington, DC: USDA, September 2005).

Next: Conclusion

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November 28, 2012

It's All Connected: California Basketry, Cultural Context, and Museum Conservation | Practices and Beliefs

In 2009 and 2010, basketweaver Deborah McConnell (Hoopa/Yurok/Quinault); cultural heritage specialist Robert McConnell (Yurok); and Briannon Fraley (Tolowa), a former summer intern at the National Museum of the American Indian, joined members of the museum's Conservation Office in a program centered on Northern California basketry and its broader cultural context. This is the fourth post in a series that presents multiple perspectives on their collaboration. To read earlier posts in the series, see:

1. Introduction to the Project, Acknowledgments & Contributors 
2. NMAI Internship Programs 
3. The Collections Visit, Consultation & Workshop 

Baskets woven by (clockwise from top left) Ella Johnson, Deborah McConnell, unknown (gift from Susan J. Tweit), Deborah McConnell, Fanny Rube, Deborah McConnell, and (center) Ella Johnson. The photograph is called Full Circle. Deborah writes, "Please read Susan Tweit's blog 'Completing a Circle; An Artifact Returns Home' to further understand the title." Photo © 2010 by Deborah McConnell, used with permission.

We are from the earth. Our creation stories define who we are. Since time immemorial our ancestors have maintained the land and handed down cultural knowledge so that we may continue to live in harmony with all living things.

We are basketweavers and keepers of the land of the Northern California tribes—Tolowa, Yurok, and Hoopa. Our cultural perspective is unique to our culture but can be applied across the many Native American basket weavers past and present. We believe that everything is alive like you and me. We, as basket weavers bring forward new life with each stick added, with each root twined.

It is our responsibility as cultural bearers to help educate not only our youth, but also others who have been touched by Northern California basketry. The weavers of baskets tell their story through the design and materials used. We are the keepers of this knowledge and information.

We share our perspective on basket collections, basket-weaving, gathering of the plants used for weaving, to provide a broader understanding of how all these subjects relate to our land, water, and fire. We need the health of the land to produce baskets of the highest quality. You cannot have one without the other. Basketry traditions and practices promote healthy ecosystems, and social, physical, and mental well-being.

We were taught to view all living things as being integrally connected. 

—Briannon Fraley & Deborah McConnell 

It's All Connected

Northwestern California tribes indigenous along the regions of the mountainous Trinity River, Klamath River, and coastal Pacific Ocean, the Hoopa and Yurok are neighboring and separate tribes, but have similar core beliefs and ceremonies. Both groups use the same types of baskets, plant materials, and style of weaving. Durable stick-on-stick open-twine weaving is for baby baskets, food baskets, work baskets, and eel traps. The finely woven close-and-overlay twine method of weaving is for ceremonial and work caps, storage baskets, cooking and eating baskets, and the like. It literally takes a year-long process to make a basket if you consider all that is involved, including managing the land, gathering the plants when in season, and making the basket. 

Basketry traditions, practices, and beliefs remain an important part of our lives today thanks to the determination of a handful of elder basketweavers from this region who continued to weave baskets even though there were only a few of them left from the old school of weavers. They joined forces with the California Indian Basketweavers Association in the early 1990s in the hopes of making their voices heard. They feared that basketry was on the verge of being lost due to the influences of modern-day life on the younger generation. Additionally, they were concerned about the detrimental activities occurring in areas where they gathered plants used for basketry. Harmful logging practices and the application of herbicides and pesticides in gathering sites, inability to access gathering sites, erosion from road development, poor land management practices, and unnatural water flows in the rivers due to the installation of dams on the Trinity and Klamath rivers are issues that basketweavers of this region continue to face today.

Each year, beginning in 1990, basketweavers throughout California meet to share stories and discuss issues with other weavers and public and private landowners. The California Indian Basketweavers Association and the elder basketweavers’ determination have accomplished much to improve conditions for basketweavers today. Their voices were heard, and small steps have been made to provide access to gathering areas and to improve the health of ecosystems.

Deborah McConnell shows a hazel plant used for basketry construction. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California, June 2010. Photo by Marian Kaminitz, NMAI.
After the advent of federal and state fire-suppression regulations in the early 20th century, local basketweavers were unable to practice traditional land management using fire—until recent times. With traditional land management there was regular, seasonal burning of underbrush. During these times, natural lightening fires would remain small, contained to the understory of forests and not reach the tops of large trees. When traditional land management ceased, underbrush was allowed to grow into dense thickets of ladder fuel in many areas, which acts as kindling during thunder and lightning storms. Fueled by a dense understory of brush, thunder and lightning storms cause catastrophic fires that crown out at the tops of large trees, annihilate entire forests, and destroy potential basketweaving materials. Throughout the years, the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, and California Department of Fire have begun to learn the benefit of our traditional land-management practices using fire to promote healthy ecosystems. Now, with the same public land managers and local tribes, basketweavers are able to provide input for locations of controlled fires in gathering areas. Low intensity fires in areas where beargrass and hazel grow rid the forest of diseased and insect-infested plants. Fire promotes healthy, supple, and insect-free plants used for basketry. It is imperative that we burn the hazel and beargrass the season prior to gathering to ensure the quality basket materials our ancestors once used. The practice of using controlled burn methods also encourages a healthy ecosystem for all living things. 

The rivers are our life blood and provide us sustenance. The dams on the Trinity and Klamath rivers have affected many aspects of our traditional way of life. Dams on the upper Klamath and overuse by agri-business have led to low water levels causing warm water temperatures that far exceed a safe environment for salmon. In 2002, the Trinity and Klamath rivers experienced a traumatic fish kill in which over 60,000 adult salmon and many more uncounted juvenile salmon died. In recent years there have been incidents of toxic blue-green algae blooms sickening animals and humans by causing bacterial infections and skin irritations. Mycrosystin, a cyanotoxin produced by blue-green algae, is deadly to dogs and children if ingested. Through the tenacious efforts of many people including local tribes, fisherman, farmers, eco-businesses, and many more, dam removal is now a reality. 

Basket weavers are dependent on water quality and the ebb and flow of the rivers. High waters wash away insects from the sandy ground where various species of willow grow along the riverbanks. In the winter season, when the river subsides, weavers dig willow roots used for the warp of finely woven baskets. Come spring, they cut and de-bark the new shoots of the gray willow used for the weft of basketry.

Basketry was used for nearly every aspect of life and for events justifying a ceremony, e.g. a baby being born, the first spring salmon, a young girl’s Flower Dance (a rite of passage ceremony when a girl reaches puberty), gathering of acorns, the acorn ceremony, Brush Dance, White Deerskin Dance (a world renewal ceremony), Jump Dance, and more. Basketry was used to prepare and contain food; carry wood and other heavy loads; collect seeds and berries; trap fish, eels, birds and small animals; carry babies; and for the traditional ceremonies. Today we still use the same types of the baskets that our ancestors used. However, with the introduction of modern amenities like pots and pans we mostly use the cooking baskets during the ceremonial dances.

Our holistic outlook on life is inclusive of our social, physical, and spiritual environments. All things are relevant and have a purpose. Respect for self and others is of utmost importance. This ideology helps create a balance within our selves so that we may accomplish life goals in a good way. When we gather plants used for weaving we pray, giving thanks and never taking more than we need. Plants used for basketry are alive, and so is a completed basket. When weaving baskets, weavers must be in a good frame of mind because the quality of their work is a reflection of themselves. Once a weaver completes a first basket, she gives it to a special person to promote sharing and to honor the receiver. Basket- weaving traditions, practices, and beliefs promote cultural continuity between generations, building healthy communities and ecosystems.

Hoopa Valley-4
Hoopa Valley seen from the Bald Hills Road. July 2010. Photo © 2010 Deborah McConnell, used with permission.

In summer 2010, Robert and I had the pleasure of inviting and hosting the National Museum of American Indian conservators Marian Kamintz, Susan Heald, and Anne Gunnison during their visit to our part of the world. They participated in the 20th Annual California Indian Basketweavers Gathering in Ione, California, and wove a small basket; traveled to the Northern California coast and camped amongst the tallest trees in the world, the coast redwoods (Sequoia semperviren); and attended the Yurok Tribe’s Brush Dance, a healing dance for an infant child at the Sumeg Village site near Trinidad, California. They then traveled over Redwood National Park's historic Bald Hills Road through the high-country prairie of the Chilula to the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation in Hoopa, California. There they visited the Hoopa Tribal Museum and Takmildin and Matildin villages, and were later taken on a boat trip through the Hoopa Valley on the Trinity River.

Their experience while visiting this part of the country hopefully provided a brief insight to the Hoopa and Yurok cultures and an understanding of our belief that everything is interconnected and relevant.

—Deborah McConnell


On the fire-potential of a dense understory in unburned forest: Louisa McCovey, Hoopa Tribal Environmental Protection Agency staff, personal communication, 30 July 2010.

On contolled burning and halthy ecosystems: Jennifer L. Kalt, professional botanist and Resource Protection Associate, CIBA, personal communication, 30 July 2010.

On mycrosystin cyanotoxin: Robert McConnell, Yurok Tribal Heritage Preservation Officer, personal communication, 30 July 2010.

On dam removal: Ty Beaver, "No action planned on KBRA," Herald and News, Klamath Falls, Oregon, 7 August 2010. The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was signed by the governors of California and Oregon, U.S Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and proponents in February 2010, but federal legislation is necessary before it can be fully implemented.

Next: The Visit to Northern California

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November 27, 2012

It's All Connected: California Basketry, Cultural Context, and Museum Conservation | The Collections Visit, Consultation, and Workshop

In 2009 and 2010, basketweaver Deborah McConnell (Hoopa/Yurok/Quinault); cultural heritage specialist Robert McConnell (Yurok); and Briannon Fraley (Tolowa), a former summer intern at the National Museum of the American Indian, joined members of the museum's Conservation Office in a program centered on Northern California basketry and its broader cultural context. This is the third post in a series that presents multiple perspectives on their collaboration. To read earlier posts in the series, see:

1. Introduction to the Project, Acknowledgments & Contributors 
2. NMAI Internship Programs 

Participants in the workshop gather in the Conservation Laboratory to discuss the museum's Northern California basketry collections. From left to right: Briannon Fraley, Luba Dogvan Nurse, Stephanie Cassidy, Ainslie Harrison, Francis Lukezic, Marian Kaminitz. NMAI Cultural Resources Center, Suitland, Maryland, 2009.


In October 2009, following informal emails and phone calls, a formal letter of invitation was sent to Robert and Deborah McConnell and Briannon Fraley for a three-day consultation and workshop that December at the museum's Cultural Resources Center. The visit would focus primarily on Northern California basketry materials and weaving techniques, as well as the cultural context and issues of access to state and federal land to gather materials. The letter explained that as an institution training many conservation interns and fellows, NMAI endeavors to teach a comprehensive approach to conservation that acknowledges that the objects within the museum’s collection are not static, but are tied to living cultures. Through the consultation we, as conservators, hoped to deepen our understanding of their cultural items in the following ways: 

With the consultants and conservation staff, fellows and interns, to look at and discuss the Northern California items selected for Infinity of Nations, a permanent exhibition that opened at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York in fall 2010, and other items from the consultants’ communities in the NMAI collections.

To discuss the way basketry is made from the consultants’ perspective including the cultural, political, and technical aspects on gathering materials, how materials need to be processed for weaving, and traditional weaving technologies.

To provide a hands-on opportunity for the conservation staff, fellows, and interns to learn from Ms. McConnell and Ms. Fraley how to weave a basket in the Hoopa tradition. 

The letter further outlined the financial details: the museum would offer each participant an honorarium, would cover all transportation costs, hotel accommodations, per diem, and reimbursement for weaving materials.

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Susan Heald discusses Northern California basketry items selected for the exhibition Infinity of Nations with Deborah McConnell, Robert McConnell and Briannon Fraley.
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Deborah McConnell demonstrates preparing woodwardia fern for basketry construction with Kelly McHugh looking on.

The schedule was left flexible to allow for change as needed. On the first day, Ms. Fraley gave a presentation on materials used for basketry; her work was augmented by discussions from the McConnells. We viewed a video produced in the 1990s by California Indian Basketweavers Association (CIBA)“Through the Eyes of a Basketweaver” describes the life of Vivien Hailstone (1913–2000), a master basketweaver of Yurok, Karuk, and Hupa descent and member of the Hupa tribe who was instrumental in continuing and teaching the weaving traditions of her communities. The afternoon was spent examining and discussing Northern California and Great Basin baskets. 

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Briannon Fraley (right) demonstrates pounding alder bark dyestuff to Anne Gunnison and Francis Lukezic (in the background).
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Briannon Fraley shows Angela Duckwall and Luba Dogvan Nurse how a Hoopa ceremonial skirt and apron in the museum's collections are properly worn.















On the second day, a hands-on basketry workshop led by Ms. McConnell and Ms. Fraley gave the conservation staff, fellows, and interns the opportunity to prepare materials and construct a small basket. It not only allowed the participants to learn about basketry-construction technology, but it also imparted a new respect for the immense skill required to make a beautiful, functional basket—a level of skill that can be easily underappreciated when working in a museum with thousands of beautifully made baskets.

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Kelly McHugh demonstrates basketry repair technique to Briannon Fraley.

On day three, Mr. McConnell gave a presentation on revitalizing the Yurok canoe tradition and discussed issues of water and land resources and imposed restrictions. Following a potluck lunch honoring our consultants, the conservation staff discussed methods we use to reshape and stabilize basketry. We looked at native iris fiber Ms. McConnell had brought with her as a possible repair material for broken baskets alongside materials used by conservators such as Japanese tissue, Tyvek (high-density spunbonded olefin sheet), and both natural and synthetic adhesives.  


Luba Nurse, one of the Mellon fellows attending the consultation and workshop, summarized her experience as follows:

I came to the fellowship inspired by and eager to learn more about the collaborative approach to conservation of material culture, and to explore the different ways for conservators to serve communities. This consultation provided me with such an opportunity.

The format of this consultation was very effective because it combined object-focused discussions, presentations by both conservators and Native consultants and a hands-on practical weaving workshop. I benefited greatly from the knowledge that the Native consultants and my colleagues shared during the three days we spent together. The weaving workshop session taught by Deborah McConnell using traditional plant materials was key in my understanding of material properties and the condition of the baskets in the collection. What I learned from the consultants about the spiritual meaning of the baskets and their role in communal events informed me later, when I conserved a Hoopa ceremonial skirt and apron and prepared them for display, which resulted in a more appropriate treatment that recognized their significance and role as ceremonial garments to the originating community.

—Susan Heald, NMAI

All photos courtesy of the NMAI Conservation Office. 

Next: Practices and Beliefs

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November 22, 2012

This Day in the Maya Calendar (Thanksgiving)

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). Glyphs representing the Day lords appear throughout Maya Country; these were painted by Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya) of Cobán.

For more background to this series, please see Jose's introduction, "Living in the Practice." For further insight into the role of the Day lords in everyday life, please see the Maya Journal. For the complete year so far, please see the Maya calendar archive.

Illustrations: Esteban Pop Caal (Q'eqchi Maya), calendar glyphs. Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; 2003. Paint on wood. Purchased from the artist. 26/2685. Photos by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. 

4 Ajpu  |  Friday, December 21, 2012 

262685_AjpuCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 4 Ajpu. Ajpu is Caracol, Spiral Shell; 4 is a balance. Ajpu is the Sun, captain of Time, a day of personal strength and for good to triumph over evil. Ajpu, who cares for boys and guides men, begins the men's cycle. This is a day to connect with the ancestors, who can reward and punish. Death is reachable and amenable; spirits can ask permission to enter el Mundo, the living world. Day of the warrior and blowgun hunter (cerbatanero), Ajpu is the strong blow of the dart that hits its target, a good day to pray for stealth or for a break in enemy lines. Ajpu is also a good day to start building on a house, a good day to make prayers for women and for success in lactation. —Jose Barreiro 

3 Kawoq  |  Thursday, December 20, 2012


Corresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 3 Kawoq. Kawoq is Turtle, also Sky Serpent; 3 is a rotor. Kawoq is a high woman day—a day of duality in all of nature and a guardian of contentment. It is the day of woman and man, lightning and thunder, fecundity and imagination; a day of midwives; a day of prayer for unity within the home, strength within the family, renewed strength for convalescents, and the smoothing of all irritation. This is a good day to turn bad medicine back on itself. Kawoq attends to young women in pregnancy, labor, and delivery, and to full realization for all women; it is a day of their sash. Kawoq is also a good day to commemorate the Staff of Authority, a good day for the men of a family and community to pray for the coffers (good fortune) of the women and for the protection of the home. Good midwives, writers, and architects are born on this day. —J. B. 

2 Tijax  |  Wednesday, December 19, 2012

262685_TijaxCorresponding with this day in the Gregorian calendar is 2 Tijax. Tijax is Fish, also Obsidian; 2 is duality. Tijax is a day of doctors, good to pray for surgeons and all medical practitioners; a day of sacrifice and liberation from suffering; a day of sharp, cutting objects, of knives and scalpels and scissors. Tijax is a safeguard for domestic animals against predators, a good day to pray for all animals that are sacrificed, both in ceremony and in everyday life. Tijax is a good day to use metal (a machete, scissors) to "open the sky"—to solicit rain, solicit life, split black clouds. Gossip, calumny, and sorcery, on money and sexual matters, can be overcome on this day; on a high-number day, disputes can turn public and become debilitating. Tijax is a good day for seasoned masters to fortify daykeeping trainees against ridicule by envious countrymen or evangelicos. It is not a good day to plant. —J. B. 

Continue reading "This Day in the Maya Calendar (Thanksgiving)" »

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any chance to give the reat of teh month like ..9.november?Thank you

Silverwing: Thanks for asking! You can find the rest of November here:


More days are available via the handful of posts in the Maya Calendar archive:


this is my first time to hear about the maya calendar.

The Maya calendar is a system of calendars used in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and in many modern communities in highland Guatemala and in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico...