Definitions of Mayan Terms
Below is a list of common cultural items and Kaqchikel terms with their definitions. They are ordered alphabetically.
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Ajq'ij - literally means the keeper of time. It is the traditional word used to refer to the Mayan shaman who is viewed as the one who knows and uses the Mayan calendar.
Back-strap loom - a weaving system consisting of a leather strap and rope that are warn behind a woman's back as she sits to weave. It is the traditional tool used by Mayan women in their weaving.
Cal - the mineral lime. It is a chalky white dust that is used to fortify the masa used to make the majority of Mayan foods. It is also used on the surface of the comal to ensure it's longevity.
Chuj mos - the Kaqchikel Mayan way of saying crazy gringo (or ladino).
Cofradia - the traditional Mayan brotherhood that maintains the traditional Mayan religion. Though the cofradias were set-up by the Spanish priests upon conquest, the Mayans quickly adapted them to their own religion. Their beliefs are rather esoteric, however, they revolve around the idea that certain rituals must be realized at certain times according to the Mayan calendar in order to maintain the sacred cycle of life.
Comal - is an indispensable part of the Mayan kitchen and traditional cooking apparatus. The surface of the comal is normally made out of flat iron or stone and is dusted with cal before it is used. The rest of the comal is made out of adobe mud brick or cinder block. The comal is heated by burning logs that are placed under the cooking surface.
Güipil - the traditional women's blouse. It is hand-woven on a back-strap loom. Every village has its own unique color and style. This clothing is a true art form and is one of the most beautiful things you can see in Guatemala.
Ixcot - the ixcot is the two-headed eagle. It is considered the nawal or animal spirit of some villages in the highlands of Guatemala. In many villages it is viewed as a bringer of good luck. In Santa Catarina it is revered as the saviour of the village. According to legend, the ixcot was blamed for destruction in the village caused by wild dogs, however, it turned out that the ixcot was not responsible. Instead the ixcot was sent by the patron saint of the village to destroy the dogs. Upon the completion of this task the ixcot became the guardian and saviour of the village. For this reason it is sometimes displayed in the weaving. Read more about the ixcot on pages 35 - 38 in the research.
Kaqchikel - one of the indigenous peoples of the Midwestern highlands of Guatemala. They are the descendants of the ancient Maya. Many of them continue to practice the same customs and traditions of their ancestors. These traditions are thousands of years old. The term Kaqchikel also refers to the Mayan language spoken by these people. Other Mayan tribes inclued the Quiche, Mam, and Tz'utujil.
Masa - from maize, cornmeal mixed with cal, used to make a vast majority of Mayan foods. It is the staple of the Mayan diet and is used to make the foods eaten every day by most Mayan people. Masa is used to make hand-made tortillas, chuchitos, tamales, and a variety of atoles.
Maximón - also known as Saint Simon, is believed by many to be a form of the pre-Columbian Maya god Mam. According to the Mayan shamans of Santa Catarina Palopó he first appeared in the town of Zunil. In places where he is worshipped, Maximón is represented by an effigy or saint statue similar to those used by the Catholic church. This effigy statue, however, is normally found smoking cigarettes and cigars or drinking alcohol. He is normally dressed in 18th century clothes and often wears a cowboy hat and sunglasses. He is taken care of by the cofradia, however, some Mayan shamans maintain smaller versions of the statue as well. The most famous effigies are located in the villages of Zunil and Santiago de Atitlán.
Mecapal - a leather strap used by traditional Mayan men to carry things. It is normally worn on the head and attached to large heavy objects that are carried on the backs of the men. The strap helps distribute the weight evenly and makes it easier to carry heavy objects long distances.
Nik - the Mayan number zero. Though it means zero, the number does not imply "nothingness" as it does in Western thought. The Mayan concept of the zero is connected to the completion of a cycle. It is the beginning and the end. It is genesis and rebirth. A good example of this is the corn plant. In death, at the "end" of its life, it drops its seeds to the Earth and gives birth to new life. It is the beginning and end of a cycle. The number is normally represented by a flower, seed, shell, or face glyph with a hand. It is also referred to as the wa'ix. Read more about the Mayan number zero here.
Pulique - often pronounced pooliek in the Mayan languages. It is a traditional thick Mayan soup made out of masa and is usually reddish-orange in color. It is the traditional Mayan food for celebrations, birthdays, ferias, and other special days. It is most often served with chicken or turkey.
Q'ij - the Mayan word for day and/or sun.
Wa'ix - the Mayan number zero. Though it means zero, the number does not imply "nothingness" as it does in Western thought. The Mayan concept of the zero is connected to the completion of a cycle. It is the beginning and the end. It is genesis and rebirth. A good example of this is the corn plant. In death, at the "end" of its life, it drops its seeds to the Earth and gives birth to new life. It is the beginning and end of a cycle. The number is normally represented by a flower, seed, shell, or face glyph with a hand. It is also referred to as the nik. Read more about the Mayan number zero here.
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