But he accompanied me nonetheless to the headquarters of Chilam B'alam so I could meet up with the others. Their locale is on a corner about a block and a half from the central plaza of Santa Cruz, and I found a place for the car and we went inside. There were five or six people there, and Leonardo introduced me to everyone as an anthropologist from the U.S. who was living in Guatemala. We all shook hands, and I was invited to make myself some tea while we waited for everyone to assemble.
We were waiting for some young people to show up, and so there were a couple of phone calls back and forth to locate htem and then we piled into the pick-up and set off. It has been over a year since I headed out on the highway that leads toward San Andrés Sajcabajá.
There were some people already there, gathered around a fire. The fire was built on a circle of candles and incense, around which there were four triangles made of flower petals, forming the entire assemblage into a 4-pointed star. At first I didn't realize that they were a different group, but when they finished their prayers and offerings, and started to leave it became clear.
Then they spoke about the importance of the day, its significance, and also the importance of reclaiming sacred sites such as the one we were using. Toj is the nahual that corresponds to fire, and also to offerings. All ceremonies involve building a sacred fire and making offerings, but in a ceremony devoted to Toj the fire and the offerings take on an especial weight (this is what I could understand). I was introduced at one point and invited to speak and introduce myself to the people present. I was a little surprised since I hadn't expected to be included in that way; I realized, of course, that I could not exactly be a fly on the wall here -- or anywhere in highland Guatemala, for that matter.
There is no way that I can be invisible or inconspicuous. In many of the social circumstances in which I find myself, I am usually the only non-Maya present and nearly invariably the only extranjera (foreigner -- that is, in most of these settings, there are rarely any Ladinos). No one makes me feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, but I often feel highly visible. When my friend Caterino's two-year old son Brandon, with deep brown skin, decides he wants to go to the local market with me, and toddles along holding me by the hand, prattling to me as I select tomatoes or cooking greens, we attract stares from both Maya and Ladinos in the market square. But this is a subject for a different blog entry, perhaps.
I hadn't prepared anything to say, and I was self-conscious about my extremely limited vocabulary in K'iche', so I said good morning and introduced myself in K'iche' and then apologized for not speaking the language and switched to Spanish. I explained briefly what I was doing in Guatemala --that I did a lot of work in the U.S. with immigrants, particularly with Maya K'iche' in New Bedford, which was how I came to Guatemala in the first place, and that I was working with a Maya women's organization in Quiché, and that I was grateful for their invitation, and felt privileged to be able to participate in something so important. All of which was true...
I was allowed to take photographs and shoot videos up to a certain point, during the preparations, and and then once the ceremony formally defined started, they asked me to stop -- this was fine with me. Ironically, afterwards, they asked me for photographs, and the person who came to copy my photographs from my hard drive onto his flash drive said he regretted that I had not taken photographs during the ceremony, because the ones
There is a wide variety of views about the appropriateness of photographing ceremonies. Some people believe that it interferes with the energy (which was why Doña Fermina and Doña Matilde asked me not to take photographs when we went to do a ceremony the week before the election (or at least not after they had set up the altar and started to make the offerings).
On the other hand, the ajq'ij'ab (plural of ajq'ij, or Maya priest) who work with Ixmukané and who have done the ceremonies at the center do not mind (I know because I have asked them; even when someone has told me once that he does not mind if I photograph a ceremony, I will always ask again the next time because it is possible that different kinds of ceremonies have different kinds of energies, and different sets of restrictions might apply).
The ceremony was run by Juan Ixcop, but there were several others, mostly men but also at least one woman, who were actively involved. The participants were mostly people from the area surrounding the sacred site -- that is, from some rural communities along this highway.
The weather was cool and misty, and the ceremony went on for a few hours. Toward the end, the marimba played a son (a musical style or rhythm, not related to the Cuban son), which is a kind of music that is relatively danceable, Juan directed everyone to dance around in a circle that then spiraled inward and then again outward. The ground was uneven, and it was hard to keep balance and also keep the rhythm. There are several different ways that people dance son, or rather, different relationships to the somewhat stately beat, and I am undoubtedly committing the sin of pride to say that I think I do a pretty good job of staying on rhythm.
At the very end, before the fire was put out, people cleansed themselves in a set of gestures that I easily recognized, and again, the similarities to Afrocuban religious ceremonies were striking. They removed a piece of outer clothing -- a scarf, shawl, or jacket, and swirled it around in the smoke above the fire, and then put the clothing back on.
Over lunch I chatted with a few people; one man who sat at the table with me had spent some time in the U.S. and so we talked about the difficulties immigrants face.
Writing this entry is a lesson to me: I have to write stuff down more immediately after it happens otherwise I forget too much and the entries just ramble on without a lot of interest. Of course, not the most useful revelation to have three weeks before my departure .. or rather, three weeks before my departure is perhaps not the most useful moment to have this revelation....