Dr. Ruud van Akkeren | 10/12/2019 | 402 Views | Articles

Visits to ancient Maya Sites

Reconstructing Maya History and Religion with the Maya people.

An educational project together with the local NGO Loq’laj Ch’och’ or “Sacred Earth” in Q’eqchi’ Maya, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.

Visit to Tikal

Tikal is one of the main Classic Maya centers. It lies in the very northern part of Guatemala. There are many Maya’s who have never been to Tikal because the whole trip is too expensive for them. Although they feel the excitement of visiting, like any other tourist, they would never just enter this city without asking permission, and without honoring the souls of the forefathers who dwelled here. To them, this is one of the most sacred sites of the Maya area. So we asked for permission to do a ceremony on the Plaza Central, in front of the temple built by one of Tikal’s reputed lords, Jasaw Chan K’awiil whose tomb was found inside this massive building. Maya ancestors are part of the here and now. At this moment the lowlands are suffering from a severe drought. So at the ceremony the people took the advantage to ask their illustrious forefathers to support them in their plea for rain.

Visit to the Candelaria Caves and Cancuen

With the other group we went to visit Candelaria and the nearby classic site of Cancuen. Candelaria is the second largest cavernous system in the Maya world, spanning some 20+ kilometers. According to the ancient text of Popol Wuj it is the place where the Maya locate their underworld, Xibalba. Although colonial friars and priests have demonized the name and compared it to the Christian ‘hell’, in the Xibalba myth we may read that it is certainly also a place of creation. It is in Xibalba where the two main elements of the new era were created: corn and sun, food and light.

The people of San Luis Petén prepared their trip to Candelaria the days before by waking and praying over the goods they were bringing to the cave to offer to its divine dweller and owner, Lord Mountain-Valley, in Q’eqchi’ Qawa Tzuul-Taq’aa. These included all kinds of incense, sugar, honey, local spirits, cigars, pine wood and candles. Caves are considered portals to realm of this deity whom is among the most important gods for modern and ancient Maya. One of his aspects is his ability to gather clouds and rain, using his lightning weapon. In this function he is called Qawa Kaaq or Lord Thunderbolt, a direct cognate of his Classic Ch’ol forebearer Chaahk.

An hour drive by car and boat from the caves lies the ancient site of Cancuen, which we mentioned in an earlier post. Cancuen is on the Pasion river and a major trade port used to ship goods from the Highlands to all Lowland cities, like Tikal. We visited the area of the palace of lord Taj Chan Ahk, including the royal ballcourt. While walking through the site we were greeted by the roaring calls of howler monkeys. The Howler Monkey lineage, Batz’ in Q’eqchi’ or Chuwen in Ch’ol, gave name to the site: Cancuen is derived from Kan Chuwen, Sky Howler Monkey.

All participants would like to thank the Gerda Henkel Stiftung for making the workshops and trips possible!

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