Spanish Ethnographer Missionaries of the 16th and 17th Centuries

The second type of data, which constitute the secondary sources, of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day New Year rituals are accounts from the colonial period written in Spanish and in Yucatec but conveyed in Latin alphabetical script. Scholars at the latter half of the 19th century initiated the history of research of the colonial documents.!2

The New Year Ceremony or festival has first and foremost been recorded by the above-mentioned Franciscan Bishop Fray Diego de Landa’s in his book Relacion de las cosas de Yucatan (c. 1566). Landa (1524 AD - 1579 ad), the second Bishop of Yucatan, has been called the “historiador primordial” of Yucatan (Tozzer 1941: 44, note 218). He is the earliest and most comprehensive Spanish Colonial source to the New Year ceremonies of the 365-day calendar of the Yucatec Maya. The preserved manuscript of the Relacion, an abridgement of the original manuscript copied many times before it arrived into the hands of the French priest Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg in 1863, incorporates a condensed overview of the religion, society and history of Yucatan.[1]

Landa first came to Yucatan as a young friar in 1549 (Tozzer 1941: 44, note 218). He is unenviable notorious for his auto-da-fe at Mam in 1562, where he burned several Indigenous manuscripts (Tozzer 1941: 76-79, note 340; 169), and for his brutal efforts to convert the Maya to the Catholic faith. Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan was probably written as a defence for his (criminal) actions against the Maya. Landa had native informants called Juan (Nachi) Cocom, Gaspar Antonio Chi also named Gaspar Antonio Xiu, Gaspar Antonio Herrera (not mentioned by Landa) who was the son of an aj k’in religious specialist, and Jorge Xiu (Tozzer 1941: 43-46, note 218 & 219). The Relacion is regrettably only written in Spanish and not in the Yucatec language. We therefore lack Yucatecian concepts of the ritual proceedings of their New Year festival of the 365-day calendar. Landa’s work embodies another essential problem, which he shares with other European ethnographer missionaries. This is his bias against the traditional religion and his evangelical missionary zeal to convert the Maya, typical of most colonial accounts by Spanish clerics from the 16th and 17th century of the religious system and religious practice of the Indigenous people of Mesoamerica. The extant copy of Landa’s Relacion endows an incomplete narrative of the Indigenous traditional religious ritual practice. But it is interesting that Landa outlined the New Year festival of the 365-day calendar in more detail compared to other aspects of the religious rituals of the Yucatec Maya. Landa does not give information of exactly when and where his report derives, whether he witnessed the rituals himself or from which source he received the account. It is, however, doubtful that Landa himself ever witnessed the entire New Year rituals. The New Year ceremonies of a certain

365-day year cover a great time span (several months). The New Year festival is also composed of four Year Bearer rituals (cf. below), which means that Landa must have, as an observer, not only followed one New Year Ceremony of a specific year but four different Year Bearer rituals of four consecutive years if he was to witness all the ceremonial proceedings which he later related in his book. It is also indeed improbable that the Spanish ecclesiastical authorities would allow these ceremonies to take place under their Christian government and jurisdiction.

Other Spanish chronicles have also contributed, although only through fragmented data, to the understanding of the postclassic Yucatec New Year ritual. Historia de Yucatan (c. 1660 ad) by Diego Lopez de Cogolludo was published posthumously in 1688 and the above characterised (for the 260- day Burner ceremonies) Codex Pio Perez by Juan ? ю Perez (Craine and Reindorp 1979: 88; 170-171) are, after Landa, the most cited Spanish accounts of the postclassic Yucatec New Year Ceremony.[2] [3] Historia de Yucatan and Codex Pio Perez are both written later than Landa’s Relacion and can accordingly, as Taube suggests, give a record of rituals that were later modified by the Maya. ? ю Perez had surely not himself eye-witnessed the festival. Pio Perez relied entirely on other colonial sources because his narration is independent, but yet similar to Lopez de Cogolludo (Taube 1988: 282-283). Diego Lopez de Cogolludo (? - 1655 ad?) was a Spanish Franciscan missionary who arrived in Yucatan in 1634 ad and later became fluent in the Yucatec language. His Historia incorporate a chronicle spanning 155 years. The sources of information to Lopez de Cogolludo were local Franciscan archives but also after conducting ethnographic field research. Additional information to the New Year festival stems from a compilation of fifteen colonial Yucatec songs in Cantares de Dzitbalche, possible written in the eighteenth century (Barrera Vasquez 1965). The Cantares de Dzitbalche was discovered in Merida c. 1942 and is supposed to derive from the city of Dzitbalche, Yucatan. Song 3 alludes to the Wayeb period of the New Year Ceremony and song 13 delineates the vigil proceedings of the New Year (Taube 1988: 289-290).^

It is important to bear in mind that the colonial secondary source rel- acion of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day ritual is not simply outlined, like the logosyllabic inscriptions of the classic Maya Long Count calendar rituals of time and the fragmented colonial sources of the postclassic Yucatec Burner ceremonies of 260-days, since Landa did not only document the New Year festival (a ritual which he, as noted, must have regarded to be significant since he outlined it in considerable detail) but in addition interpreted the meaning of the ritual. In his narrative of the ceremonial proceedings, Landa demonised many of the rites of the New Year festival of the 365-day calendar.[4] [5] [6] It is for this reason a challenge for the scholar to not blindly accept the explications made by Landa.

Research History

Certain aspects of the postclassic Yucatec 365-day New Year ritual have been analysed by various scholars. Landa’s Relacion, the most informative account of the postclassic Yucatec New Year festival, has been thoroughly analysed by Alfred Marston Tozzer. Tozzer’s translation of Landa’s Relacion (1941) contains an encyclopaedia of archaeological and ethnographic information of postclassic and colonial Yucatan in extensive notes to the translated text.17 In his annotated translation Tozzer compares the Yucatec ceremony to other New Year rituals in a critical analysis of the account made by Landa (Tozzer 1941: 135-149; 151-153).

The doctoral dissertation Yucatec Maya Ritual: A Diachronic Perspective (Love 1986: 169-204) of Bruce Love and the doctoral dissertation by Karl A. Taube, The Ancient Yucatec New Year Festival: The Liminal Period in Maya Ritual and Cosmology (Taube 1988), are the two most influential analysis’s of the postclassic Yucatec 365-calendar New Year ritual. Since the excellent works by Tozzer, Love and Taube, epigraphic advancement has contributed to a better understanding of the New Year pages in the postclassic codices.18 Despite their valuable contributions, Love have not made a full enquiry and Taube has, in his dissertation, written two independent chapters where he separately treats the New Year pages in the pre-European/ pre-Christian Maya codices (Taube 1988: 218-268) and the colonial accounts of the postclassic Yucatec New Year festival (Taube 1988: 269-301). A comprehensive systematic history of religions explication, founded upon the recent epigraphic and iconographic advancement, has consequently not been made of all relevant aspects of this temporal ritual.

  • [1] The only known copy of the Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan presently resides inAcademia Real de la Historia in Madrid, Spain.
  • [2] A Year Bearer ritual was also recorded celebrated in Chiapas of Mexico. See FrayFrancisco Nunez de la Vega account in Consitutciones diocesanas del Obispado de Chiapas(Г702).
  • [3] Song 3 and song 12 of the Cantares de Dzitbalche were first translated into Spanishby Alfredo Barrera Vasquez (Barrera Vasquez 1965: 34-35; 71-72) and later analysed andtranslated into English by Taube (Taube 1988: 290-298).
  • [4] Still, Landa’s account is confirmed by Codex Dresden and Codex Madrid.
  • [5] Alfred M. Tozzer has commented Landa’s Relacion in 1150 notes.
  • [6] Daniel Grana-Behrens has recently briefly investigated the New Year ceremonies,within a succinct representation of the Yucatec Year Bearers, in his doctoral dissertationDie Maya-Inschriften aus Nordwestyukatan, Mexico (Grana-Behrens 2002: 115-126; 154-155).Cf. also Harvey M. Bricker and Victoria R. Bricker (2011: 120-142).
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