Posted by: Johan Normark | March 29, 2009

Genderized chaosmology – the timespace of Yaxchilan

Although I am against direct historical analogies for several reasons, the contemporary use of calendars give insights to how the calendars can be used as indices of something else apart from what is directly expressed in glyphic writing. However, the important point here is that we need to find evidence of continuity, not assume it as something a priori.

Ten years ago I wrote a BA-thesis in social anthropology which later was published as a monograph called Genderized Time and Space in Late Classic Maya Calendars (2000). I have not worked along these lines of thought since then but in my next project I shall develop some of these ideas. However, I have a far greater battery of perspectives now than I had then and my next project involves neuroscience seen from a Deleuzian perspective.

Anyway, my old monograph concerned the relation between gender, time and space in the Late Classic calendars. My hypothesis was (and still is) that the calendars reflect a specific gender ideology which existed among the lowland elites. The monograph dealt with this hypothesis on the basis of two assumptions which have to do with calendar inscriptions and their relation to human agents. (1) The ages of human agents at the time of the performed rituals reflected a view of the human body which was tied to the concept of time. (2) The “Maya chaosmology” indicates that time and space were genderized and that this must have been reflected in the selection of calendar inscriptions. Central in the essay were various analyses of calendar dates and their relations to gender ideology and practice. These analyses were made on 136 calendar inscriptions from Yaxchilán in Mexico. Clearly, great developments in deciphering of the texts at Yaxchilán have taken place since I wrote this monograph, but the underlying connection between calendar dates and the gender of the performing agent still appears to be valid.

Stela depicting a woman

Stela depicting a woman

The ethnographic data I used was primarily the tzolkin calendar that is used in divination among the modern Kiché in Momostenango in highland Guatemala. During divination, the “shaman” recites the names of the days of the calendar at the same time as he or she feels the blood “speak” within the body. The diagnosis comes from a complex interpretation of blood movement, days and their coefficients. In this context, the “shaman’s” body and the days reflect macrocosmic conditions as well as gender relations. This relation is also evident in ritual practice.

The logic of my line of thought was that similar names of days and coefficients are shown in Classic Maya monumental art. The ruler and his female counterparts were placed within a striated space, either natural (caves) or man made (temples). In the scenes, humans can be seen in ritual contexts, such as blood-letting, warfare and ballgames. These ritual activities partially followed the ritual calendars. There was a relation between time, space, practice and humans. By analysing the chaosmology, in which time and space had significant importance, the fields in which practice shaped the habits of the individuals, their life cycle, and their concepts of the body, I sought to explain the iconic rationality behind the monumental art. This art reflected the gender constructions which mainly the elite shared.

Lintel depicting bloodletting by Lady Xook

Lintel depicting bloodletting by Lady Xook

Two main conclusions were drawn: (1) post-menopausal women may have played an important part in rituals and they may have been the only women allowed to perform certain statehood rituals. Inscriptions showing younger women performing rituals are not contemporary with the actual persons´ ages or phases in life. The monuments could have been made years after a celebrated event. (2) Some of the days were more associated with women, and certain rituals or events and the calendar can therefore be used to understand gender ideology and why the Maya used some days for certain rituals and not other days.

Today, I would not use ideas of socially constructed roles or gender ideology, but that is of less concern. In my next study, that will follow my cave and climate study, I shall broaden this study by taking a posthumanocentric turn on the human body as registered on Late Classic monuments.

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