We travel to Guatemala, one of the Latin American countries counting the highest proportion of Indian population (60% are Maya) and the highest density of Amerindian language speakers (over 6 million on a 110000km² large territory).
Kaqchikel is one of the 30 Maya languages (21 are spoken in Guatemala, 9 in Mexico). It belongs to the K’iche’ branch, and is close to K’ichee’ and Tz’utujiil. Most speakers of Kaqchikel live in the volcanic region of Chimaltenango, in central-western Guatemala, near Lake Atitlán.
One of the objectives of our team, who shot the videos on the Kaqchikel language, was to attend a traditional Maya New Year ceremony, this year precisely taking place on February 22, 2009. Sorosoro was granted the rare opportunity to film this celebration.
During the shooting our team interviewed the New Year master of ceremony, B’alam Tija, who told us how sad he was to witness the decline of the Kaqchikel culture among the younger generations.
The ceremony was held near the ancient Kaqchikel capital, Iximche’, and lasted a whole day. Here are three excerpts from the original movie, commented through by master of ceremony B’alam Tija.
Colour symbolism in the Maya New Year ceremony
Offerings to ancestors during the Maya New Year ceremony
Predestination in Maya society
Linguist : Nikte Sis Iboy Image and sound : José Reynès Editing : Caroline Laurent
The Maya Calendar
The Maya developed 3 types of calendars:
- the Choltun (the Long Count calendar)
- the Chol’ab’ (365 days solar calendar)
- the Cholq’ij (sacred/lunar 260 days calendar)
Time is calculated by use of these three calendars combined.
The Maya New Year is based on two calendars, the Chol’ab’ and the Cholq’ij.
This calendar counts 18 months of 20 days, and one month of 5 days (18 × 20 + 5 = 365). A month starts on day 0 and ends on day 19. The 5 day month starts on day 0 and ends on day 4.
The first month of the Chol’ab’ calendar is called Pop, and the last (the 5 day month) is called Wayeb’. Therefore, a solar year starts on Pop day 0 and ends on Wayeb’ day 4.
The Cholq’ij calendar counts 20 days combining with 13 numbers (20 × 13 = 260).
In Kaqchikel, the days of the week are: Imox, Iq’, Aq’ab’al, K’at, Kan, Kame, Kej, Q’anil, toj, Tz’i’, B’atz’, E, Aj, I’x, Tz’ikin, Ajmaq, No’j, Tijax, Kawoq, and Ajpu’.
Here is how days combine with numbers:
Jun (1) Imox
Ka’I’ (2) Iq’
Oxi’ (3) Aq’ab’al
… all the way to Oxlajuj (13) Aj.
When the calendar reaches 13, the last number, it continues back to number 1 combined with the day that follows. Therefore:
Jun (1) I’x
Ka’i’ (2) Tz’ikin
Oxi (3) Ajmaq
… until the last day, Wuqu’ (7) Ajpu’.
The calendar then goes back to the first day (Imox), while the counting continues along with number 8:
Waqxaqi’ (8) Imox
B’eleje’ (9) Iq’… and so on.
According to this system, the calendar returns to Jun (1) Imox when it has reached 260 days, and a new cycle begins.
What are the Mam, the “cargadores del Año”?
Among the 20 days of the Cholq’ij calendar, 4 of these days are called Mam, the “cargadores del Año” (those who carry the year).
There are several “cargadores del Año” systems used around different areas of the Maya territory, but the most common is the one that matches the days Iq’, Kej, E, No’j.
The “cargadores del Año” days bear the responsibility to “carry”, to protect their corresponding year. And that is how the solar and the lunar years combine, because each “Cargador” is to protect the universe during 365 days.
The Maya New Year
In short, the Maya New Year is the 0 Pop day, which brings a new “Cargador de Año”: precisely that of the 0 Pop day. This year’s “Cargador” is Julajuj (11) Iq’, last year’s was Lajuj (10) No’j, next year’s will be Kab’lajuj (12) Kej, an so on…
The Maya New Year does not match the Gregorian calendar. It regularly takes place in the first days of April but the date changes every 4 years because of the Gregorian leap year. It took place on April 4th between 2004 and 2007, April 3rd between 2008 and 2011; it’ll be on April 2nd between 2012 and 2015, etc.
Nowadays, however, the date of Maya New Year ceremony differs in certain areas. It is celebrated on the Guatemalan Altiplano 40 days before it is celebrated in the Maya lowlands (northern Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, south Mexico), where the ceremony takes place in April. One of the reasons for this difference is the exclusively oral conservation of the Maya calendars over the last centuries.
The month of Wayeb’
The last month of the year, Wayeb’, is very important for the Maya: the whole 5 days of this month are “reserved”, devoted to the transition of authority. One thanks the ending Mam and prepares to receive a new one. Everything that has happened during the year, good or bad, at personal or community scale, all the past year’s events are thought over and evaluated. Offerings are presented as a sign of gratitude, with hope to be washed from anything negative the ending year might have brought along. Objectives and ways to fulfil these objectives are planned for the following period.
The “reserved” days end on the 0 Pop day, where the new year and new Mam are received. It’s a huge celebration, a very joyful celebration. On that day, all the new projects are submitted to the new Mam, to whom we as for support in the fulfilment of these projects. We ask for his protection, for wealth upon crops and herds. We ask for harmony within all natural and social elements.