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Recovering the Maya Constellations in the Highlands of Guatemala

Presentation #336.02 in the session “Collaboration with Integrity: Partnerships with Indigenous Communities in the Americas and Polynesia”.

Published onJan 11, 2021
Recovering the Maya Constellations in the Highlands of Guatemala

For many generations, the Maya people of the highlands of Guatemala have been engaged in continual knowledge creation emerging from a deep and sustained relationship with the Earth and the sky. Maya elders and youth who are Day Keepers, or Ajq’ijab’ in the K’iche’ Mayan language, curate calendars with roots in pre-colonial times. The pressures of colonial invasion, civil war, and globalization have eroded the oral tradition and ancestral memory in the community, causing the loss of invaluable cultural information. Today, certain sectors of Maya youth are engaged in cultural revitalization, including the traditional Maya ballgame (Kaqulja Maya Ball Players Collective) and the recovery of ancestral astronomical knowledge through elder interviews combined with observations (Ki’kotemal School). Elder knowledge is extremely important for strengthening the oral tradition, since it channels the historical, scientific, and cultural knowledge of the night sky. We describe a project of recovery of the Maya constellations, ancestral observation sites, and measurement techniques. As direct descendants of the original peoples of this land, this work acts as a cultural self-investigation motivated by a cultural need to recover Maya ancestral knowledge, seen from the perspective of the community. For elders and other knowledge holders, a deep connection to place along with spiritual concerns shape a worldview tied to natural cycles as applied to meet the needs of the community. This ongoing research, focused on the Maya people of the Highlands of Guatemala, motivates participants to return to the roots of ancestral knowledge, its place of origin, and the voices of the original peoples of this land.

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