February 1st, 2008

Cross Cultural Experiences

for posterity I'll leave my eyewitness account of a dying cultural phenomenon.

Last week our village organized a Mayhac; which is the most contemporary form of the Ancient Mayan sacrifice/prayer ritual/all night vigil.

For three days the elders of my village were out preparing the Catholic church with flowers and candles. They constructed a makeshift altar outside using slabs of quarry stone and cement, and set up a chickenwire fence to keep out dogs and pigs. 

The ceremony was flanked by eighteen evenings of catholic masses, presided over by the leity (meaning no Eucharist consecration), with the ritual starting at ten pm on the ninth night.
The whole catholic community gathered in the church and it looked like any other Sunday morning; until the pig was slaughtered. If you have never heard porcine death, I'll just tell you it's the most bloodchilling sound that will give you nightmares for weeks. The blood from the pig was splattered on the altar, and then we were bombarded with more incence than I've ever seen or smelled at one time. I literally could not see three feet in front of me after two minutes. This was coupled with much singing in Kekchi (catholic tunes), and a ceremony involving triangular arrangements of candles. then, at midnight, everyone went outside and gathered around the secondary altar and kneeled down to; ostensibly worship a burning pot of incense covered in pig blood and cacao drink. This went on for another hour or so; when everybody went to the community center to eat pig caldo.
Caldo is the basic maya dish; it's a spicy chicken broth (or in this case, pork) which is colored a bright red by a berry grown here, and with a big chunk of meat in the middle. This culinary masterpiece is eaten with corn tortillas, or on special occasions, potch, which is simply balled up masa (cornmeal) steamed in a banana leaf. Mmmm-mmm good.
          I'll leave it to you to decide whether I'm being sarcastic or not.
This shindig then moved to the hill at the top of our village where there is a deep dark cave filled with water. There was more candle lighting, incense burning, singing and praying. I was asleep at this point; but when I woke up at seven the next morning, I found the whole congregation still at the same spot, children passed out sleeping on the ground; nobody had been to sleep.

         It's fascinating to watch this ritual in conjunction with the Catholic Church, who is obviously none too pleased with the obvious pagan underpinning, but it was something cool to watch. I mean the missionaries who settled these villages converted everyone to their religion and thus bled Western ideals and trends to a culture; the best way we know how to kill an indigenous society. James Michener's Hawaii is a great read about this stuff.

Okay have a great day!
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