A Ritual-Symbolic Management of Time

The magnitude of registering “period-endings” within the history of the dynasty and the individual ajaw leads us to the issue of what the grammar of the inscriptions can inform about the lord as a ritual executer or agent of time.

The verbs, tzutz, “terminate” or “complete” tan-lam, “half-diminish” occurs quite regularly as indicators of the ending of a time period in the inscriptions. By employing the notions tzutz and tan-lam in a “period-ending” context, the inscriptions possibly convey that the ritual practice was undertaken to either manipulate and/or celebrate time as an act of religious observance towards the deities. The voice system of classic Maya grammar may conceivably reveal whether there was a participation of an active agent that ritually finished time or whether time terminated itself.

The most common form of tzutz in the inscriptions of the classic period is the medio-passive -Vy; for instance: “the winikhaab was completed” (Hruby and Robertson 2001: 32). Apparently during the early classic period only the active transitive and the medio-passive forms were used for tzutz. The active form of the verb u-tzutzu’w disappeared at the beginning of the late classic period. At the same time, when -h.-aj displaced -Vy as the passive marker, -Vy was restricted to the medio-passive (Hruby and Robertson 2001: 34; 37). Without a personal noun, it is not claimed directly in the inscriptions that a human agent (i.e. the ritual performer) terminated a given time interval of the Long Count calendar. But as we shall see, this cannot be absolutely discounted.

What can be made out of the verb for a “half-diminishing” of time, tan- lam, in this context? There are a variation of grammatical prefixes and suffixes to this transitive verb. But the form tan-lam, “it was the half-diminishing” is the most ordinary half-period expression (Wichmann 2004: 635). Like with tzutzuy, there is not consistently indicated in the inscriptions whether a human agent governed the various time intervals. Time rather half-diminished itself according to the grammatical rhetoric of these texts. There are, however, instances where there is an anti-passive form of tan- lam, tan-lam-a’w, “he/she half-diminished it”. This formula is frequently followed by an execution of different ritual techniques suggesting that time was completed ritually by the religious specialist. As it is the case with tzutz and other ceremonial formulas, the fact that practices of scattering, seating and a wrapping or binding of a stone etc. at half-period endings were conducted manifests a control of the various time intervals by the ritual agent (2004: 640-641).[1] [2]

According to the inscription on Stela 31, Tikal a half-diminishing of involving various deities was supervised or maybe “tended”№2 (u kabij) by the lord, Siyaj Chan K’awiil [II] (A5-A21). The occurrence of the “u kabij’ formula after ritual “time-endings” reminds us of the last sentence of the inscription concluding of the previous Long Count on the east side of Stela C, Quirigua which reads: “It was done under the auspices or under the authority (u kabij) of Ajaw Huk Chan”. Ukabij is a phrase that communicates a political-ritual supremacy well known from many contexts in the inscriptions. The sovereign could announce his/her political and military authority by, in various ritual connections, expressing that the deed was executed under his/her supervision or authority. Ukabij like the formulas y-ajaw, “the ruler of”; y-ichnal, “together with” or “in sight of”; ilaj, “was seen” functioned as concepts for political superiority and subordination. U kabij has therefore been translated as “under the authority of” or “under the supervision of”. This formula appears after a verbal phrase connecting a human or a supernatural being in building and monument dedications, bloodletting and visionary rituals, burial events, war actions, inaugural ceremonies and ritual practices of time (Grube and Martin 1998: II-16; П-29-П-34). Interestingly, also according to the inscription of The Tablet of the 96 Hieroglyphs, Palenque (A1-B4), the lord K’ihnich Janab Pakal not only ended (tzutzuy) the 11th winikhaab ( Like Siyaj Chan K’awiil [II] of Tikal, this ritual was performed (as in the account on the east side of Stela C, Quirigua) under his supervision/authority (u kabij). Both these examples indicate a human ritual symbolic temporal power expressed by the “u kabij formula”.

Despite the grammatical evidence that the ceremonial language not necessarily express a ritual manipulation of time through human agency, the fact is that ritual practices indicate an active participation by a ritual performer. That diverse religious practices were conducted, supervised and performed under the authority of the lord at “period-ending stations” communicate a symbolic management of temporal intervals of the Long Count calendar. It appears that the lord (i.e. ritual specialist) could symbolically regulate the termination and inauguration of a given time unit by undertaking these ritual practices. Moreover, the public manifestation of the ritual-symbolic temporal powers of the sovereign had most certainly politically implications as they kept his/her subjects in awe of the civil-religious hierarchy and of the government.

  • [1] Cf. examples gathered by Wichmann (2004: 640-441).
  • [2] Cf. Stuart (2011: 2-3).
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