Cofradias were very popular during the 16th-17th-centuries, used as instruments during the Counter Reformation. When they were transferred to Latin-America, they were overthrown into the natives to promote the Christian beliefs. This way they represented the sacred and pagan world in a mythological-ritual system. Consequently, they are believed as a refugee for the survival of the religious, socio-cultural expressions, in which the Maya dwell their wisdom, spirituality and organizing system. Each confraternity is named after one deity or saint which they dedicate to.
The process of becoming the official brother has traditionally been the way for a man inside a community to prove his worth to the village and the gods. Each official is responsible of the liturgical celebrations and activities of the saints’ days. Two and a half centuries after the post-conquest was followed by an intense abandonment of the clergy, a period when the interpretation of the Catholic rituals and symbolisms were syncretized through the natives cosmology. The cultural fusion was facilitated by the cultural-religious trends between the Catholic and Mayan, such as the sacred-holy figures venerated in both cultures.
Many of the Christian saints statutes were easily identified with the Guardian-lords, so that today “ceremonies in the cofradias are concerned less with the cult of the Saint than with the ancestors, and with Christ as the fountain-head of tradition… One can speculate as to why the idea of continuity should be so persistently reiterated in the one aspect of life in which the break with the past has been the most dramatic. “10 Maximi?? n religion represented as Judas of Iscariot11, Saint Michael Archangel, or as the apostle Peter.
Nevertheless, to the Mayan he is idolotrized completely differently. Maximi?? n means “tied with string or lasso” or in Ri-Laj-Mam12 it means the “great grandfather” of all the people. The oral tradition tells the story13 of Maximi?? n as the patron idol of traitors. Recently is believed and venerated as a sacred figure dedicated to cure diseases, remove curses, divine for the future, bless crops and win lawsuits. Even if Maximi?? n is evoked as deity, he also plays a political role, personifying Francisco Sojuel, hero of the Tzutuhiles14 in their resistance against the Spanish.
When Sojuel died his spirit perpetuated in Maximi?? n in order to fight the conquerors with magic. The attendants who dress him, carry and tend Maximi?? n accompanied by countless swigs of liquor and two or three packs of cigarettes. The “dressing” of Maximi?? n is synonymous with the “making” of the icon, for although Maximi?? n has a heart of wood, his body in is layer upon layer of clothing and silk scarves. Resplendent in his new outfit, he is venerated and presented with gifts. He is carried through a procession around the village between the figures of Christ and Mary.
After the March, Maximi?? n will be carried to the home of a member of the indigenous council, where he will remain until the following Holy-Week. The Day of the Dead The cult of the dead in the Mayan cultures is a mixture of their beliefs and the Christian ones. November is the month dedicated to the dead, the time when the dead are allowed to abandon the underworld and seek on earth their homes and families, their ancient lands. There they share food and drinks and when satisfied they can return to their assigned places to experience a new eternal rest for 365 days.
Then, they will return again, a interminable cycle which maintains ties between life and death. The Mayas incorporated to their ritual many the customs brought by the Spaniards. They set-up altars dedicated to the dead, and as symbols of remembrance, they place photographs of loved ones, surrounded by incense, flowers, candles and drinks like ‘aguardiente’15 or ‘atole’16. The rite of “dressing the grave’ is then continued in the cemetery in the pre-dawn hours of November 1st, where devotees leave wreaths of wax-paper flowers and prepare the ‘fiambre’17 which they eat right there, bonding life and death.
In other Mayan villages, in addition to ‘dressing the grave’, they celebrate with marimba-music, fireworks and construct enormous kites measuring up to 3-meters wide. These are taken to the open fields to soar them in the open skies. This way they call to the departed, who are identify by the colours and patterns used in the kites. After they have been used, these are burned so that the dead may return to their world. The Mayan agriculture and daily meals revolve around maize. Due to its importance they believe that this crop is not only a gift from the gods, but a god itself.
The Mayan calendar probably was based on the maize-cycle as well, following the lowland climate. November is the harvest month, and it’s probably why the Mayan took this opportunity to venerate to their ancient god of Maize, Hun-Hunahpu masking it with a Christian celebration. While most of the Christian representations of saints are wooden carved images, Saint Martin instead is a “red cloth bundle with five rectangular corn meal cakes places over it . .it’s kept in carved wooden-chest bearing the images of a split ear of maize, a leaping deer, and other symbols representing animal and vegetal fertility”18.
The natives believe that the representation of Saint Martin is the benefactor of the maize harvest, and a blessing for their next cultivation, ensuring a prosperous harvest. The ritual dance consists of two men wearing jaguar costumes, continually pawing other two wearing deer costumes. One, being the priest responsible of the Saint Martin bundle. This priest is ‘killed’ by one of the jaguars and is carried to the altar as a sacrificial offering. The ancient Mayan, believed jaguars to be inhabitants of the underworld, who accomplish the wishes of the patrons of death and sickness who reside there.