In Guatemala, Mayan families ask for wisdom, health, and strength for 2023

Photo by the author Juan Bautista Xol

This story by Juan Bautista Xol was published by Prensa Communitaria (Community Press), and republished and edited by Global Voices under a media agreement.

The Mayejak (in the Maya Q’eqchi’ language) is a Mayan ceremony that takes place every first month of the year with the purpose of asking for wisdom, health, strength and resilience for the people who engage in this practice at the beginning of the year. It is carried out in several communities or in the urban area of the municipality of El Estor, Guatemala.

The Mayan people make up 41.7 percent of the total population of Guatemala, according to the 2018 census. There are 22 Mayan languages in the country, of which the Maya K’iche, Q’eqchi, Kakchiquel, and Mam languages are the most widely spoken. El Estor is a municipality in the department of Izabal, in the northeast of the country, whose population is made up mostly of Q’eqchi’-speaking people.

Juan Xol’s family in El Estor used to carry out the Mayejak ritual every year. This year, on Jan. 6, 2023, under the energies of the Waqib’ Q’anil*, with mortars and the sound of the marimba, the spiritual guides were in charge of the ceremony.

Two or three hours before lighting the fire for the ceremony, the elders prepare all the materials that will be used. They hold a prayer to summon ancestral spirits, the living hills, and the creator of the universe himself. After that, they light the ceremonial fire.

For Xol's family, the fire of the ceremony lasted more than three hours. At the end, the community enjoyed a farm-raised chicken broth prepared by the family.

“We carry out this Mayejak to ask permission from our Mother Earth, the hills and valleys that surround us and the 20 nahuales** that represent the days of the Mayan month. [We hope that] the members of our family go to work, continue their studies, or think about solving a project, and the Ajaw*** will take care of us,” Xol said.

Photo by the author Juan Bautista Xol

The meaning of the materials used in the ceremony

For Mayejak the spiritual guides mostly use copal pom****, candles of six colors that symbolize cosmic points, candlesticks, the ocote and the b’oj (a fermented drink of fresh cocoa and carnation branches).

José Tot, a spiritual guide, said that in order to take up a new challenge or project it is necessary to ask the ancestors for protection, and they also pray for their loved ones.

“It is important that families get their children used to participating in the ceremony, since this makes them aware that we must all be grateful to Mother Earth and value what the creator and teacher gives us,” Tot said.

Dina Cho, a young student from El Estor, said that the ceremony is a way of spiritually connecting with the energies of nature. “It is a very special moment for everyone who appreciates this celebration,” she said.

Photo by the author Juan Bautista Xol

* Waqib’ Q’anil: Waqib’ means the number six and represents the sixth day in the Mayan calendar. The Q’anil refers to a specific day on the calendar, such as Monday or Tuesday. It signifies fruit, harvest, abundance, and money. If a family wishes to have a ceremony for the beginning of a new project, they have to wait for the Q’anil to arrive.
** Nahual: We could say that the nahual is a zodiac sign of each person; a person can be born on a date from the Gregorian calendar, but grandparents prefer the Mayan calendar date to know what is the persons nahual. According to them, the nahual of each person represents the energies, strength, and wisdom, depending on which date of the Mayan calendar the person was born.
*** Ajaw: In the Q’eqchi’ language it means God or Creator of the Universe. If a Mayan ceremony is conducted in Q’eqchi’, Ajaw is mentioned; if it is conducted in Spanish, the Creator of the Universe is mentioned.
**** Copal pom: Gum or resin from the copal tree. The elders use it since, according to them, our ancestors used it, especially for Mayan ceremonies.

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