Tz'utujil - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Until about 1960, Tz'utujil beliefs were closely associated with the cofradía systems in the various towns and revolved around a blending of pre-Conquest elements with the Catholic cult of the saints. Since then, cofradía hegemony has given way to both orthodox Catholicism and Protestantism. The rate of that disappearance has varied: San Pedro, which entirely abandoned the system between about 1955 and 1970, contrasts with Santiago, where it remains vital. Of continuing importance in several Tz'utujil towns is Maximón, a cofradía deity who combines Mayan calendrical and fertility attributes with a persona loosely linked to Judas of the New Testament.

Religious Practitioners. Practitioners of traditional religion in the Tz'utujil area fall into two basic categories: shamans and rank-and-file cofradía members. In contrast to cofradía rituals, which entail highly routinized procedures linked to the individual positions, Tz'utujil shamanism tends to be idiosyncratic. Increasingly, the most important religious practitioners in Tz'utujil life are the Catholic priests or the Protestant pastors.

Ceremonies. Most religious ceremonies in Tz'utujil towns are tied to the saints' calendar of Catholicism, with the fiesta of a given town's patron saint being particularly important. To the participating community, however, the relationship to a Catholic saint may be only nominal. For instance, in Santiago the fiesta of San Martín pays homage to an ancient sacred bundle associated with agricultural fertility.

Arts. The religious arts of the Tz'utujil range from exquisite textiles woven for cofradía use to the ritual dances that are occasionally performed. In some towns, those dances are informed by local variants of the rich corpus of myths and legends for which the Tz'utujil area is noted.

Medicine. There are several types of traditional medical specialists found in the Tz'utujil area, most of which could be classified under the generic category of "shaman." Among the most important are the iyoma (midwives), many of whom have a shamanic relationship with the moon, and the aj'kuna ("hunters"), who typically have relationships with the deities of certain medicinal plants. Other types of shamans found in the Tz'utujil area include the lsay ruki kumats (snakebite specialists), the ruki kik 'om (spider-bite specialists), and the aj'mes (mediums). In addition, the aj'q'umanel (herbalists) may be shamans, as may by the rukoy bak (bonesetters), those of San Pedro being particularly renowned.

Death and Afterlife. Many Tz'utujil have traditionally believed that after death one's life essence ( k'aslimal ) is regenerated in one's descendants. Depending on a person's station in life, another part of the soul ( q'aqal ) may go to the sky and assist the movement of the sun. The people of Santiago believe that those who have drowned inhabit the bottom of Lake Atitlán, and they are particularly feared. Increasingly, the Tz'utujil embrace either Catholic or Protestant views of the afterlife.

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Jan 17, 2014 @ 6:06 am
If I assist the Tz'utujil people in regaining their traditional practices, am I standing in the way of Christianity finally embracing them?

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