Offering rituals among Poqomchi’-Maya

Vinogradov I.À. (Moscow, Russian Federation)


                   page 118127


This paper provides an ethnographic description of traditional ceremonies, during which the Poqomchi’ people (Mayan language family, Guatemala) make offerings to supernatural spirits and natural forces. Poqomchi’ rituals have not received sufficient research attention yet; this accounts for the relevance of the topic. These ceremonies are analysed against a general background of Mayan ritual practices. Special attention is paid to the process of altar preparation and to the peculiarities of the ritual language within which Poqomchi’ spiritual guides make requests to their divine authorities. The study considers burning rituals during which the Poqomchi’ ritual specialists collect the offerings and place them on the altar in a specific way. Then they light it with fire so that the flames transfer the offerings to the world of supernatural spirits and forces. While the fire is burning, ritual specialists invoke the deities, inviting them to the ceremonial place and bringing to their notice the petitions of the humans. A special discursive genre, different from an everyday language, is used for this ritual communication between the two worlds. The paper also describes some basic notions and concepts of Mayan spirituality, such as the 260-day ritual calendar, nahual, copal resin, daykeeper (or shaman), colour symbolism and interpretation of colours in terms of the four cardinal directions, among others. The most of them are shared with other ethnic and language communities in the Guatemalan Highlands. It is shown that some of the properties of the Poqomchi’ ritual language, such as the abundant use of semantic and syntactic parallelism (couplets) and different kinds of borrowings from Spanish as manifestation of religious syncretism, have been observed in other Mayan languages and in the Mesoamerican area in general. Other linguistic properties, such as the use of future or potential verb forms in the optative sense, seem to be more language-specific. The article is based on the fieldwork data obtained by the author in 2017 (with the financial support from the Firebird Foundation for Anthropological Research). The working corpus comprises three offering ceremonies, recorded in different places of the Poqomchi’-speaking area (Santa Cruz Verapaz, Tactic and Pajuil) and with different spiritual guides performing.

Key words: Poqomchi’, Maya, ritual language, offering ceremonies, Guatemala.


DOI: 10.20874/2071-0437-2018-42-3-118-127




I.À. Vinogradov

Institute of Linguistics RAS, B. Kislovsky Ln., 1/12, Moscow, 125009, Russian Federation