By Allen J. Christenson
This research matters the level to which the sacred structure and huge sculpture of Santiago Atitlán, a Tz'utujil-Maya-speaking neighborhood in Western Guatemala, displays the worldview of traditionalist contributors of its society. The valuable altarpiece of the town's sixteenth-century Roman Catholic church is my basic concentration. initially built at an unknown date in the course of the early colonial period (1524-1700), the altarpiece underwent large reconstruction after it collapsed in the course of a sequence of serious earthquakes within the 20th century. The reconstruction attempt happened from 1976 to 1981 lower than the course of the town's parish priest, Stanley Francisco Rother. To help craftsmanship in the neighborhood, Father Rother commissioned a neighborhood Tz'utujil sculptor, Diego Chávez Petzey, and his more youthful brother, Nicolás Chávez Sojuel, to reerect the monument and to carve alternative panels for these sections that have been too broken for reuse. instead of strictly following the unique association of the altarpiece, the Chávez brothers changed many broken panels with totally new compositions in accordance with conventional Maya non secular ideals and rituals ordinary to their modern experience.
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Extra info for Art and Society in a Highland Maya Community: The Altarpiece of Santiago Atitlán
Maize god motif. The maize god was one of the most important deities among the ancient Maya. He oversaw the creation of the world, and his life paralleled the cycle of death and rebirth that characterizes all existence. (a) Maize god motif from the central altarpiece. (b) Maize god from Dresden Codex 12a. ) (c) Maize god from the one-quetzal note, the standard of currency in modern Guatemala. The themes the artists chose for the altarpiece reflect traditional Atiteco beliefs. They made little attempt to resurrect notions that were no longer current in their community.
In Momostenango, Maya “daykeepers” continue to utilize the ancient ritual calendar of 260 days to time their rituals and offerings, as well as to interpret the significance of recent events (Schultze Jena 1954; B. Tedlock 1982). In Santiago Atitlán, the 260-day count has largely been replaced by the European variant of the solar calendar. But even though the Tz’utujils adopted a foreign calendar to The Altarpiece in the Context of Tz’utujil History 23 022-048 UTPR christensen 9/14/01 12:52 PM Page 24 determine the timing of important ceremonies during the year, the structure of these ritual events remains to a great extent Maya in origin and structure.
These are the only personal names that I cite, a practice which is adopted by many researchers who work in Santiago Atitlán because of the danger that future political instability in the area might threaten those perceived to foster Maya cultural identity (Mendelson 1956, 1957; Carlsen 1997). The technique Nicolás Chávez and I jointly developed to talk about the altarpiece became the model that I employed in all my subsequent discussions with members of the Santiago Atitlán community. This procedure involved using visual cues to initiate conversations, such as a drawing, photograph, videotape, or direct observation of an art object or ritual.