Political cosmology among the Quiché Maya


John W. Fox


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Factional Competition and Political Development in the New World


The Lowland Mayan ancestors of the Quiché entered the Guatemalan Highlands at the close of the Classic period (AD late 800s), and confederated during the Early Postclassic (AD 1100s). Factionalism permeated these political fields. This chapter examines the political and ideological transformations that resulted from competition (1) between the contending Quiché groups as well as (2) between the Quiché and the peoples they subjugated. In both contexts, the Venusian calendar for lineage identities and for timing battles intermeshed with the 260-day calendar for personal prognostication (e.g. Popol Vuh 1971:243–4); the solar calendar bound competing lineages within a state. The inter-digitating of the three calendars furnished an ideological calculus for spacing the contentious descent groups and for allotting political prerogatives. In essence, as celestial bodies traveled through various calendrical repetitions, the social actors vied for identities and privileges that mirrored cosmic orderings. The incessant competition for prestige and political leverage provided a dynamic propelling transformation of egalitarian alliances to successively more coercive and hierarchical social exchange. The chain of political contests from ethnohistory correlates with successive transformations in settlement patterns. That is, power relations are reflected in site plans where specific architecture of known lineages is keyed to specific solar, lunar, planetary, and stellar positions and clusters, especially solstices, equinoxes, conjunctions, and helical risings/settings.

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