Time in Intercultural Context

The Indigenous Calendars of Mexico and Guatemala

This project receives funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) / ERC Grant Agreement No. 295434 “Time in Intercultural Context: the Indigenous Calendars of Mexico and Guatemala

Principal investigator: Prof. Dr. Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen

Mexican Codex Vindobonensis: a calendar with mantic symbolism. Ethnography can help to gain new insights into the use and meaning of Mexican codices. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Mexican Codex Vindobonensis: a calendar with mantic symbolism. Ethnography can help to gain new insights into the use and meaning of Mexican codices. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

In this project, the archaeological study of Mesoamerican civilization is combined with ethnography through a collaboration with indigenous experts. It will focus on time as part of a cognitive system and examine how it was, and to some extent still is, embodied, socially embedded, and ritually performed. As well as mapping the linguistic, narrative, ritual and intercultural dimensions of surviving calendars, this project will contribute to the theoretical reflection on the role of perceptions and conceptualisations of time in the construction of individual and collective identities, and how this role is affected by (and, in turn, influences) a situation of intense and prolonged cultural interaction.

Tejido de petate. Palm weaving is an ancient activity that has developed over generations. Studying this activity enables us to become familiar with the social relations and the perceptions that are generated in the environment. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Tejido de petate. Palm weaving is an ancient activity that has developed over generations. Studying this activity enables us to become familiar with the social relations and the perceptions that are generated in the environment. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Ancient and contemporary notions of time

With European colonization, the “Western” notion of time has been introduced in many other cultures. In the early (post-mediaeval) days this notion was also symbolically and liturgically charged, but from the 20th century onwards industrialization and modernity have promoted a view of time as secular “clock-time”, related principally to the production process (“time is money”), in combination with a view of the historical development toward present-day structures of economic power as a form of (“natural”) evolution. The ancient notions about time have not completely disappeared, however, but have been transformed, dislocated and/or adapted. Divinatory techniques have gone “underground”, in the form of “occultism”, and have even found new popularity in new-age contexts in the western world itself. In-depth study of contemporary ceremonial practice and discourse will be a crucial key to decipher ancient religious manuscripts from the Aztecs, Mixtecs, and Mayas and other pre-colonial cultures of Mexico and neighbouring Central America, which currently kept in European libraries and museums, and to understand the underlying ideas. The structuring principle of these pictographic/ hieroglyphic texts is the ancient calendar - a dominant framework for historiography, astronomy, divination, ritual, medical treatment, social organisation and moral codes.

Ritual de la bendición de manantiales. The Ritual of the Bendición de Manantiales which is currently celebrated in the Mixteca Alta shows the synergy that is generated by two cultures. In this image the coexistence of San Marcos and the Ñuhu (“Divinity of the Spring”) in the background can be observed. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Ritual de la bendición de manantiales. The Ritual of the Bendición de Manantiales which is currently celebrated in the Mixteca Alta shows the synergy that is generated by two cultures. In this image the coexistence of San Marcos and the Ñuhu (“Divinity of the Spring”) in the background can be observed. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Interaction and Synergy

On the one hand, authentic knowledge about these symbolic orders is now often an endangered heritage, on the other fascinating forms of coexistence and interaction and synergy have been achieved, while interesting revitalizations are experimented within art and thought. The long-term cultural interaction between Europe and the indigenous peoples of Mexico and Guatemala is a very illustrative case. This project examines how their on-going use of ancient temporal structures and symbols reflects the way in which different religious concepts and experiences have developed and now coexist in indigenous communities. A crucial question is what the effects of European clock-time and of global interaction have been on culturally different concepts of time, as well as on the associated practices, memories, mentalities, and narrative identities. Doing this we intent to contribute to the decolonization of memory and gain insights into processes of social and mental change.

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Project Members:

An international and intercultural team of staff, PhD candidates, postdocs and other collaborators will carry out the research:

• Project director Prof. Dr. Maarten E.R.G.N. Jansen: Mesoamerican symbolism and heritage.

• Indigenous investigator Mrs. Gabina Aurora Pérez Jiménez: Mixtec cultural vocabulary.

• Archaeologist / anthropologist Mrs. Liana Ivette Jiménez Osorio: Mixtec sacred landscape and traditional culture.

• Archaeologist  / anthropologist Mr. Emmanuel Posselt: Mixtec sacred landscape and traditional culture.

• Historian  Mr. Raúl Macuil Martínez: Nahua history and cultural continuity.

• Linguist Mr. Juan Carlos Reyes Gómez: Mixe rituals and ceremonial language..

• Art-historian Dr. Alessia Frassani: Pictorial language and shamanism (Mazatec).

• Architect Mr. Manuel May Castillo: Maya cosmology and astronomy.

• Archaeologist / anthropologist Mr. Paul van den Akker:  Contemporary Maya calendar rituals.

• Museologist Ms. Wang Shu-li: Time concepts in community museums and heritage management, Oaxaca (Zapotec, Mixtec).

• Filmmaker Mrs. Itandehui Jansen: Indigeneity, interculturality, postcolonialism.

Ritual de petición de lluvia. Every 1st of May the Rain Petition ritual is performed in the Vehe Dzaui (“the Houses of the Rain”) to ask for a good rainy season and to thank for a good harvest. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

Ritual de petición de lluvia. Every 1st of May the Rain Petition ritual is performed in the Vehe Dzaui (“the Houses of the Rain”) to ask for a good rainy season and to thank for a good harvest. Image by Posselt & Jiménez Osorio

The team is further enriched by the participation of some other researchers with individual funding from other institutions:

• Archaeologist / anthropologist Dr. Araceli Rojas Martínez Gracida (Fac. Archaeology, Leiden University): ancestor veneration among Mixe and Mazatec.

• Archaeologist Mr. Angel Iván Rivera Guzmán (INAH, Mexico): Mixtec calendar and iconography

• Archaeologist / historian Mrs. Ilona Heijnen (Global Interactions, Leiden University): Nahua colonial astrology

• Archaeologist / anthropologist Ms. Caroll Dávila (FNRS, Belgium): Zapotec ethnography (time, rituals)

Last Modified: 17-12-2015