Order (Structure) Versus Disorder (.Anti-Structure): A Ritual Structuring of Cyclical Agricultural Time

The postclassic Yucatec New Year rituals may have been a socio-psychological and moral renewing ceremony where a resolving of social conflicts and relief of psychological stress were ceremonially achieved. Turner asserts that the liminal period creates a concept of solidarity and unity among the initiates living in anti-structure, i.e. the liminal phase outside the values and categories of the community where there is no social hierarchy. Ideology and social values are created during the liminal phase. There is a “moment in and out of time” of the secular social structure during the rite the passage. In the liminial period is society “an unstructured or rudimentarily structured and relatively undifferentiated comitatus, community, or even communion of equal individuals who submit together to the general authority of ritual elders” (Turner 1969: 96). Communitas comprise free and equal comrades. Rituals pass through a timeless condition from structure to structure, through communitas in an eternal present (“a moment in and out of time”) (Turner 1974: 238). The liminal period accordingly express ideological and social values where a negation of social differentiation creates solidarity. Man is in the liminal position both compelled and incited to reflect about the community, cosmos and the supernatural world and being that generate and sustain them. “Liminality may be partly described as a stage of reflection” (Turner 1967: 105).

In a rite de passage an inversion or behaviour of role-reversals with a resolving of social conflicts and psychological stress occurs. A licensed reversal or ritual inversion, where status quo is taken apart and reconstituted and revitalised, is taken place during the liminal phase. Symbolic inversion and chaos characterise disorder or anti-structure. Authority is mocked or repudiated during this period of transition. The ritual installation of the New Year was accompanied by disruptive behaviour, which altered the social behaviour of the postclassic Yucatec community (Taube 1988: 8) in this inter-structural ritual. Landa writes of the ritual of separation, the Sabacil Than:

And so great was the excess which there was in these festivals during these three months that it was a great pity to see them, for some went about covered with scratches, others (with bruised skulls), while others had their eyes inflamed with much drunkenness, and all the while with such a passion for wine that they were entirely given up to vice through it (Tozzer 1941: 166).

The liminal Wayeb period was conversely filled with many rituals but moreover with inactivity concerning daily work and routines (Tozzer 1941: 166). A psychological relief and an enhanced sense of communal solidarity transpiring in the period of incorporation (of Pohp) when everyone went back to normal life might have been one of the principal effects of the New Year festival.

Taube maintains that the New Year festival was a public event that functioned as a normative code of the community by reinforcing the social and moral values through purification of the corruption of the old New Year days (Taube 1988: 310). Taube argues that moral and ethic behaviour was essential in the Wayeb period of the New Year rituals. The danger of the Wayeb period is owing to the wrong deeds that were committed in the last year. This is illustrated by purification of the dumping and renewal of clothes and household goods. The old trash, dust and the Mam effigy were destroyed and brought outside the city. Landa report a placement of a pair of stone piles at the four entrances of the community as a central part of the Wayeb ceremonies (Tozzer 1941: 139). This was where the worshipped Wayeb figure was placed after being carried out of the entrance that represented the previous year. The piles of stones symbolised the New Year, whereas the aged Mam figure represented the evil and the anti-social forces at the introduction of the Wayeb period. When the Mam effigy is removed or destroyed, just before the New Year, the community is restored and purified (Taube 1988: 300). Taube cites the expression u taah haab: “lo que sucede, trabajos, hambres, muertes, pestilenciasa, dentro de un ano (Barrera Vasquez 1980: 750), which he translates as “the filth of our year” (Taube 1988: 288). A cleaning and renovation signified morally purification of the community (Taube 1988: 299-300).

The Year Bearer is called, Iqom hab’il and the ceremony is named Xahanb’al (Cahampal) (“sacrifice”) among the Jacalteca (La Farge and Byers

1927: 173-176) Xahanb’al is said to derive from xahan, which can be rendered as “sin”. The ritual may therefore be an expiation of sins (La Farge and Byers 1927: 177-178). The sins have to be confessed before the New Year starts at the Mam of Santiago Chimaltenango (Oakes 1969: 101; 191-193). The people are purified and expiated of their sins at the same time the social and moral values of the communitas are renewed. A moral renewing in the postclassic Yucatec New Year festival is, however, never mentioned in Lan- da’s commentary as a rationale for celebrating these ceremonies. He would surely have recognised such intentions, in his evangelical endeavours as a missionary, as significant and as encouraging for the cause of religious conversion. A moral renewing might be probable although not necessarily a Catholic influence of contemporary Maya (or Mesoamerican) celebrations of New Year ceremonies.

As noted, in the tripartite rite de passage schema—separation, transition and incorporation—the five day-period of Wayeb corresponds to a period of anti-structure. A time of chaos and inversion reigned at this stage of the rite de passage. The liminal[1] period of the transition rites or “rites de marge” or “rites liminaire” has been thoroughly examined by Turner. This type of ritual corresponds, in a society, which is a model of “structures of positions”, “a period of margin” or “inter-structural situation”. The lim- inal situation is an ambiguous state, a condition where the ritual subject, an individual or a corporation, is betwixt and between states. The ritual subject or “passenger” (individual or corporate) is later re-aggregated or reincorporated with a new status and structural position when re-entering the structural realm (Turner 1967: 93-94; 97). A ritual passage from order or structure (Sabacil Than) to disorder or anti-structure (Wayeb) and again to order or structure (Pohp) featured the New Year festival of the postclassic Yucatec.

Fieldwork by Girard among the K’iche’ in Momostenango, Guatemala may explain why the five days Wayeb period was considered to be unfortunate and fateful days or a period of anti-structure. There are four regents or bearers of time (Year Bearers)—Ik’, Kiej, Ee, Noj—called Alcalde or Mam in the K’iche’ 365-day calendar of Momostenango. Ik’, Kiej, Ee, Noj are the deities of the four cardinal directions and respectively associated with the four mountains, El Tamanco, El Kilaja, Zocop and Pipilj in Momostenango.

The reigning Mam rule the year and the world[2] [3] (Girard 1966: 281-282). The Mam reigns for 360 days. When this period is over is it the ‘”termino su cuenta, complete su ano”’. But his rule does not include the five days of affliction at the end of the year. This has a religious and socio-political explanation. The Mam and the head of the community, the Alcalde, who are both regents presides over a council of 20 dignitaries corresponding to the 20 Lords or days of the veintena. The Alcalde cannot do anything when this number is incomplete. The Mam cannot act during the last five days of the year because his “staff” (Sp. “sequito”) is not complete. He has to rest. The five days of affliction have names and numbers like the rest of the days but they, as deified beings, cannot operate because they lack a Lord or an Alcalde who can give them guidance or protection since the five left over days functions outside the chrono-theogonical unity of the 20 day Lords. The informants of Girard assert that the 20 day Lords are “sueltos y tienen dueno, porque su dueno que es el alcalde, esta ausente’J6 This principle is reflected in the socio-political institution where the individual cannot be reckoned with if he is not a member of or incorporated into the community. The religious, calendar, social and political organisation hence derives from cosmic models. During this condition of the five days of affliction the religious specialists cannot protect the community because they neither can exercise ceremonies invoking the Alcalde of the year and the world and the Lords of the five days, since they do not have any power (Girard 1966: 282-283).

Because the Wayeb days are dangerous and fateful, people do not leave the house or go to work until at the end of the period of five days when the new Alcalde takes over from the old one (Girard 1966: 283). The same principle applies to the contemporary Jacalteca (La Farge 1947: 123-124). Oakes reports that a similar idea exists among the Mam of Santiago Chimaltenan- go. There are five days that completes the year according to the various religious specialists. These are the retiring alcaldes (Year Bearer day), always the four days: K’nel, T’coj, T’ciik and Batz (Oakes 1969: 191; 256). The Year Bearer is the “alcalde del mundo” in Todos Santos. There were five bad or evil days preceding the New Year. The people cannot work, eat too much, eat meat or have sexual relations during the five evil days (Oakes 1969: 101;

191-193). The Chiman (religious specialist), Domingo Calmo, said to Oakes that:

During the last four days of the year there is no justice in the world. Nothing is received; there are no alcaldes. A chiman cannot work with his mixes for he will be punished and die. The world is suspended until the new alcalde of the year enters (Oakes 1969: 191-192).

The Spanish ethnographer missionaries reports that the five last days of the 365-day calendar were not counted e.g. that they did not have calendar names. This refer to the fact, according to Seler and Caso, that there were held no celebrations and that these days did not have any patron deities (Broda de la Casas 1969: 34-35). The Year Bearer did not rule time and the world during the Wayeb period, an anti-structure or disorder thus reigned, which created the dangerous liminal period of the Wayeb period. Rituals of transition are being conducted during this period of anarchy to install a new ruler of time. Time is ordered and structured through a rites de passage of calendar time. Time of the cyclic 365-day year represents a shift from the normal order of existence into the abnormal order and back again. The ritual practices of time are techniques changing the status from normal to abnormal and back to normal again. We can establish, following Leach, that the calendar year contains four phases: the ritual of separation, marginal or liminal state, aggregation, and the time intervals between the New Year ceremonies. The ritual practices systematise, orders and computes, in this manner, time. Time is accordingly created, structured and measured (in calendars) by rituals (Leach 1961: 134-135).

The liminal five-day Wayeb period was reported by various sources to be a period of affliction and anxiety. Can apocalyptical and eschatological notions be detected in the postclassic Yucatec New Year rituals as motivating renewals of cyclical time? Song 3 of the Cantares de Dzitbalche—called h’uayahyaab t’kaal kin ek, “the wayeb, the twenty black days” consist of 47 lines[4]—narrates a threat of an annihilation of the world where sin (keban) is the ultimate concern (Taube 1988: 291). ? ю Perez describes wild beasts and dangers that threaten the society during the Wayeb period. The first day of the New Year is celebrating a return to order of the community and the world from the threatening disorder of Wayeb (Taube 1988: 299). Cantares de Dzitbalche, a manuscript detected in the eighteenth century, was most likely under influence by Catholic apocalyptical/eschatological ideas.

We have seen that the flood story precedes the relation of the New Year rituals in both Landa’s Relacion and the postclassic codices. The account of the cataclysm of various world ages demonstrates that the deities had indeed destroyed worlds and its inhabitants before. But the most likely reason for the ‘angst’ in the Wayeb period was rather due to the fact, as stated above, that this five day-period was not under rule of a (agricultural) Year Bearer deity. Consequently it was a period of anti-structure and disorder.

The manner of the rituals of the New Year exhibits that the agricultural year had to be secured by conducting sacrifices in order to avert calamities concerning the harvest in the coming year (Tozzer 1941: 142-149). The New Year ritual were accordingly performed to avert potential catastrophes of the following agricultural year and not to avoid an annihilation of time or the world. Order (structure) was ritually restored out of disorder (antistructure) where the 365-day calendar New Year ritual implied a symbolic termination and renewing of (agricultural) time through renovation ceremonies.

  • [1] Limen, lat. “threshold” (Turner 1969: 94).
  • [2] The Quekchis and Pocomchis have also this concept of the Mam (Girard 1966: 281282).
  • [3] The same calendric-theogonical concept exists among the Ch’orti’ because when thestars, deities or days of the calendar are separated they cannot work because they are nottogether (Girard 1966: 282, note 5).
  • [4] Taube has concentrated his analysis to the first 37 lines due to the poor condition ofthe manuscript (Taube 1988: 290-291).
 
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