Itza' - Religion and Expressive Culture



Religious Beliefs. Until the 1980s, all inhabitants of San José were Catholic. Women are more actively involved in worship services than men. Mass was said weekly by a visiting priest until the violence of the 1970s and 1980s, and less regularly since then. In the 1980s about half the town converted to evangelical Protestantism, which stresses moral rectitude and abstinence. Belief in forest spirits or goblins ( duendes ) is common.

Religious Practitioners. The visiting priests are the chief practitioners, but local men may become church stewards, who are responsible for festivals, and sextons, who take care of the church. Both men and women may be catechists.

Ceremonies. Baptisms, girls' 15th birthdays, weddings, deaths, one-year anniversaries of death, All Souls' Day, and the town's saint's day are celebrated with masses.

San José is known for an annual ceremony performed on All Souls' Eve. A skull is carried in procession from the church around the town and is returned to the church at dawn. Three skulls, said to be of former church stewards ( priostes ), are housed on an altar in the church and are brought out in three-year rotations.

Formerly, 3 May, the Day of the Cross and planting time, was observed with a procession that included masked celebrants dancing with a pig's head. A feast followed the procession. There also were Mayan ceremonies in the fields, in which food was offered to the winds at planting time.

Arts. Traditional women's arts include embroidery, crocheting, and pottery making. Men made henequen hammocks and worked wood. Traditional musical instruments included marimbas, drums, flutes, mandolins, and harps. The marimbas and flutes are still played. Modern musical groups playing guitars and drums are now popular.

Medicine. Folk medicine is increasingly limited. Most medical services are provided at a local clinic or at the hospital in San Benito. Some midwives ( parteras ), native curers ( curanderos), herbalists ( yerbateros ), bone setters, and massagers ( talladores de hueso ) continue to practice; yerbateros are especially recommended for treating snakebite. Itza' suspect that sorcerers ( brujos ) practice in neighboring towns.

Death and Afterlife. Family members typically mourn for six months to a year, during which time they abstain from fiestas. A mass is celebrated one year after death.

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