Conquest and Religious Change at Chiantla Viejo, Guatemala the Transition of a Highland Maya Community to Spanish Colonial Rule
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn this dissertation, I study the role of religion and public ritual in the responses of native communities facing the expansion of colonial powers. Through a combination of archaeological excavations and archival research on early colonial Maya, I explore how religious change in a small Mam Maya community offered a framework for a negotiation between external innovations and traditional ritual practices during the introduction of Christianity in the sixteenth century. Based on archaeological and historical data collected at the Late Postclassic (AD 1250-1550) site of Chiantla Viejo, Guatemala, I show that the mediation between native pre-Hispanic forms of ritual and external influences unfolded not solely in hidden contexts as traditionally argued, but mainly in open public spaces. I found that Chiantla Viejo experienced a short but strong revival of the indigenous traditional religion in the years following the Spanish military conquest of the area. This revival had a clear public material manifestation in the reconstruction of the site after it was put to fire in AD 1530 by the Mam Maya. Furthermore, I demonstrate that the mechanism of religious revival was employed by the Mam Maya of Chiantla Viejo as a strategy of survival after the Spanish conquest. This strategy had antecedents in the similar responses that Maya groups enacted when they faced the conquest and colonization of the K’iche’ Maya across the highlands, just a few decades before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. At Chiantla Viejo, such mechanism meant the adoption of features and forms of public ritual architecture from Zaculeu, the largest ceremonial center in the Selegua River basin and one of the sites with the longest occupation in the Maya highlands (ca. AD 500-1525). The conclusions of this dissertation emphasize the pivotal importance of public spaces for communal gatherings as arenas of religious transformation, and further prove that the adoption of Christianity in highland Maya communities during early colonial times was not drastic, but left room for negotiation, continuity, and dissent.
Degree ProgramGraduate College