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It’s the Journey not the Destination: Maya New Years Pilgrimage as Circumambulatory Movement and Regenerative Power

Author(s): Eleanor Harrison-Buck

Year: 2017

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Maya ethnohistory suggests that burning incense, erecting monuments, penis bloodletting, and pilgrimage were all activities associated with New Year ceremonies. These annual rites were calendrically-linked and aimed at ensuring agricultural renewal and earthly regeneration. Today, Maya New Year ceremonies involve initiation of young men prior to marriage and sexual relations, requiring self-sacrifice and long-distance pilgrimage with male elders. Cross-examining these data along side archaeological evidence, I suggest similar New Year traditions existed in Postclassic and Terminal Classic times (AD 800-1500). Maya pilgrimage was not about acquiring a particular thing or venerating a specific place or destination. It was about the journey or what Tim Ingold (2010) calls "ambulatory knowing." The Maya gained cosmological knowledge, linking the movement of their body to the annual path of the sun and their sexuality and human regenerative power to earthly renewal. New Year circumambulatory rituals express a core ontological principle of dualistic transformation that the Tzutujil Maya call Jaloj-k’exoj, demarcating physical change (jal) from youth to adulthood and transference or replacement (k’ex) of power in official leadership roles. This distinct way of knowing the world emphasizes one’s reciprocal relationship with it, constituting mutual interdependency in both same-sex and cross-sex relationships (sensu Strathern 1988).

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It’s the Journey not the Destination: Maya New Years Pilgrimage as Circumambulatory Movement and Regenerative Power. Eleanor Harrison-Buck. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430765)


Spatial Coverage

min long: -107.271; min lat: 12.383 ; max long: -86.353; max lat: 23.08 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15396

Arizona State University The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation National Science Foundation National Endowment for the Humanities Society for American Archaeology Archaeological Institute of America