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Colonial K'iche' in Comparison with Yucatec Maya: Language, Adaptation, and Intercultural Contact

  • Author(s): Jones, Owen H.
  • Advisor(s): Patch, Robert W.
  • et al.

In "Colonial K'iche' in Comparison with Yucatec Maya: Language, Adaptation, and Interethnic Contact," I examine K'iche' and Yucatec Maya language and literacy and its relationship to the development of indigenous social, religious, and political structures in the period from the 1540's, when indigenous literacy using Latin letters began, to 1825, the end of Spanish colonialism. It focuses on how native peoples in Guatemala and southern Mexico were able to adapt Spanish imposed institutions according to ideologies of community structure from their common Mesoamerican culture. It reveals Spanish colonialism from an indigenous perspective and highlights the adaptive conservatism of native societies in Mesoamerica.

K'iche' government provided protection from exploitation - the family protected its interests with the aide of chinamitales who protected them as their vassals from the indigenous governor and municipal council who protected the tinamit amaq' from colonial officials. The K'iche' people were the creators of the Popol Vuh, "The Book of the Mat," the mat being a symbol of marriage and the adjective "popol" a metaphor for an elite lineage. The family and its extended lineages were the basis for K'iche' and Yucatec Maya social structure.

Even though Spanish colonialism aggressively attempted to impose the Spaniards' preclusive religion the K'iche' adapted and grafted in Christianity to their inclusive religion. Male town council members, indigenous lay religious leaders, and moiety leaders received a title, the q'a chuch q'ahaw, "our mothers, our fathers," which identified them as diviners and made them mediators between their communities and the outside world as well as mediators between their living charges and the community's ancestors.

K'iche' ideologies of land conjoined the concepts of their community's sacred space with the practical life-giving sustenance of the cornfield. Elites protected the right to work it and allowed commoners usufruct rights and familial possession. Community leaders made ritual processions to measure lands and marked off terrain with border markers, calling them by the name of individuals, families, saints, or chinamitales. It identifies the adaptation of colonial K'iche' and Yucatec Mayan languages to Spanish and Nahuat. The K'iche' language in colonial texts is somewhere between "Modern" and "Classical" K'iche'.

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