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XXI Simposio de Investigaciones Arqueológicas en Guatemala


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This work focuses on the Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions in the cave of Naj Tunich, reviewing the topic of elite interaction between Classic Maya cities referred to in these texts. Andrea Stone has already noted that during the Late Classic period, the lords of many cities in the Peten were accustomed to performing groups of hierarchical rituals in sacred jungle locations, like Naj Tunich. Here, I further explore this theme through the study of the cave inscriptions, taking into consideration some observations and proposals not only in specifically how this elite interaction developed but also what role these relationships played at a site like Naj Tunich. To conclude, I propose a model that can be applied for all of the Maya area. This exhibition focuses on the historical content of the inscriptions of the cave of Naj Tunich. It takes up the observation made by Andrea Stone in recent years (Stone n.d.) about the importance given in these hieroglyphic texts to the hierarchy existing among the participants of the events that would have developed in this cave. The work will consist of showing that the inscriptions in question can provide more details about how specifically these range differences were expressed. Considering that the events that occurred in Naj Tunich are of a ritual nature, and that they ultimately reflected the political situation prevailing at that time in the region (Stone 1998:152-153), in this study two scales of hierarchy will be handled: a ritual and a political one. Such an exercise will lead in the end to consider some proposals not only on the strategic significance of the hierarchical events of Naj Tunich, but also on the role that this cave played in the socio-political reality of the region. The implications that these proposals may have on the understanding of the phenomenon of Mayan caves will not be omitted. As Stone has emphasized, the various visitors to Naj Tunich gathered in this cave to perform ceremonies of religious order (Stone 1998:153). Therefore, as the inscriptions show, the hierarchy that was established underground was of ritual order and therefore had as actors basically priests or shamans, although sometimes (when apparently it was required) also the rulers themselves. Two types of priestly hierarchical relations in caves are those that the present revision of the legible inscriptions of Naj Tunich yields: Relation aj naa[h]b' and chich winik. This relationship is reflected in the text of drawing D29 (Figure 1). The first ritual character is a specialist of aj naa[h]b' title whose exact function is not fully understood. Dorie Reents-Budet has proposed that it is probably a scribe (Reents-Budet 1994:69). Alejandro Sheseña has recently explored this enigmatic figure and has come to the conclusion that he is a priest closely linked to the caves and who fulfilled various sacred functions, some of which were effectively the elaboration of hieroglyphic texts, the count of time and forecasting (Sheseña s.f.). He will be called in this work "priest scribe". The second ritual character, called chich winik, is identified by Barbara McLeod and Andrea Stone as a storyteller (McLeod and Stone 1995:174). Indeed, in the colonial Yucatecan the expression aj chijch refers to a person "skilled in telling stories or remarkable facts" (Martínez Hernández 1929:84). This "narrator" can be illustrated in the image of the drawing D26 of this cave, image in turn similar to the one seen in the so-called Speaker's Board in Palenque. Between the two ritualists there were, according to drawing D29, differences in rank. This distinction is expressed in the inscription referred to through the term itz'in "younger brother". In Zinacantan, Chiapas, the terms its'inal "younger brother" and bankilal "older brother" serve not only to indicate kinship but also to express hierarchical relationships precisely (Vogt 1992: 105). In the case that occupies here the narrator chich winik appears acting as the yitz'in winik or "younger brother" of the priest scribe aj naa[h]b', which would clearly indicate that between these two specialists the one of greater hierarchy was the scribe. Relation aj ts'ib' its'at and mam-na. This relationship is found in the texts of drawings D28 and D66 (Figure 2). By its title the first character is easily identifiable as a scribe (aj ts'ib' its'at) (Stone 1995:170). As will be recalled, the scribes aj ts'ib' its'at were not only artists in charge of hieroglyphic writing, but also intellectuals versed in history and religious knowledge (Reents-Budet 1994:49-59). If Sheseña's proposal about the enigmatic aj naa[h]b' is correct, then aj ts'ib' its'at and aj naa[h]b' would turn out to be two titles for virtually the same religious official. Another term to designate the same specialist would be aj k'in because, according to Eric Thompson (1997:212-213), this title was carried by the priests in charge of reading the sacred books and making the corresponding forecasts. It is therefore not fortuitous that in the text of a monument at the Xcalumkin site the god Itzamnaah, the first priest in history, is explicitly called aj ts'ib' (Stuart 2001:50). In fact, the Maya considered the script to have been created by Itzamnaah himself (Reents-Budet 1997:27). These elements reveal the functional equivalence between aj ts'ib', aj naa[h]b' and aj k'in. Such an observation is of the utmost importance that in the text of drawing D52 by Naj Tunich, at position B4, reference is made to an aj k'in which is accompanied, apparently on equal terms, by an aj naa[h]b' precisely. Returning to the relationship of hierarchy reason of this paragraph, it is observed that the second character is a specialist of mam-na title "grandfather-mother". Its exact function, as well as that of aj naa[h]b', is also not entirely clear. Stone has described him as a "shaman of great reputation" since judging by his denomination, he presents strong parallels with the prestigious shamans of the current Tzotzil and K'iche ́ called totilme'il "father-mother" and chuch-k-ahaw "mother-father" respectively (McLeod and Stone 1995:170; Stone 1998:153). Among the Tzotzil of Chenalho and the K'iche' of Momostenango these shamans are characterized by their ability to ensure the health and prosperity of their entire community, which is why they are considered "great men" (Guiteras Holmes 1986:140; Tedlock 2002:30). If the established parallel is correct, the mam-na would be a kind of ancestors of these important contemporary shamans. And in the same way as it happens today, in the pre-Hispanic past this title would have been synonymous with a very high rank of ritual specialists. Indeed, the texts of Naj Tunich in question underline the superiority of the mam-na shaman over the scribe aj ts'ib' because despite the fact that both ritual figures are called chan ahk "heavenly turtle", and despite the fact that even both come to carry glyphs-emblems that are identical (tok' tuun ajaw), only the mam-na shaman is qualified with the ostentatious title (deciphered by McLeod and Stone) waxak b'akab' "b'akab' upright". The title b'akab' was carried by the rulers. The scribe aj ts'ib', on the contrary, is relegated in this relation to a lower status by being qualified only with the term ch'ok "young". Finally, although there is no inscription in Naj Tunich that expressly indicates this, it would not be incorrect to affirm, given the functional equivalence they present with the aj ts'ib', that the aj k'in (like that of the D52 drawing) and the enigmatic aj naa[h]b' have also been subordinated to a mam-na. As you can see, the two relationships explained above complement each other. The combination of both originates an interesting scale of hierarchies that can be schematized as follows: mam-na aj k'in (aj ts'ib', aj naa[h]b') chich winik This proposal recalls the priestly organization registered by Barbara Tedlock in Momostenango (Guatemala) and by Evon Z. Vogt in Zinacantan (Chiapas). In Momostenango the chuchqajawib' "mother-fathers" are, as indicated above, responsible for ensuring the health and well-being of the community. Also, which is very important, they make pilgrimages to the sacred mountains on special days. The "mother-fathers" are above a special class of priests called ajq'ij, who, as the name implies, are engaged in the counting of time and divination. The superiority of the chuchqajaw is manifested in the fact that they are responsible for the training of the ajq'ij specialists. It is curious to observe that these ajq'ij usually specialize in very specific activities, among which is that of ajb'ix "cantor", who has as his duty to recite countless sentences in Latin and K ́iche ́ (Tedlock 2002: 29-31, 39-45, 62-63). In the case of Zinacantan it is the shamans called h'ilol "seer" who are in charge not only of divination but of practically all the religious life of their community. Although, unlike their counterparts in Momostenango, the h'ilol zinacantecos are not explicitly subordinated to anyone, it is necessary to emphasize that on certain ritual occasions these require the advice and supervision of the totilme'iletik "father-mothers", personalities curiously considered as the most respected of the whole community (Vogt 1992:103; 1993:147-148). As can be seen, there are several coincidences between the priestly hierarchies of the aforementioned communities and the one obtained from the inscriptions of Naj Tunich:


Mayan Epigraphy, Petén, caves, Naj Tunich, Late Classic

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