5428 - Mythopoiesis and agency after the Maya Yucatec Caste War

In 1847, Yucatec Mayas staged a major rebellion — known as the Caste war — against the oppressive colonial authority in the Yucatan peninsula. After having taken over most of the Yucatan, they lost strength and retreated to the southeast, to a sparsely populated and still uncontrolled region, where they founded an autonomous theocratic society. Its organization was centred on the cult of “talking crosses”, and the Maya resistance was continually infused with religious messages attributed to a prophetic figure of Christian inspiration. Following these events, new stories of foundation and origins emerged, by which the Maya rebels and their descendants recreated their mythical horizon. Based on a combined ethnological and linguistic analysis of the oral tradition of present day Mayas of this region, we argued in previous work that the collective memory of the migration has been rephrased into narratives which present the settlement as resulting from a divine decision and equates the displacement with the cyclical beginning of a new humanity, correlating a spatial rupture with a temporal one. These narratives —which legitimate the new territory — are framed in a genre of which certain rhetorical characteristics are found through the centuries in texts and discourses linked with migrations, but also present innovations, including those that contributed to forge the new value of a future morpheme specialized for predictions and prophecies. In this talk, we further our analysis of the way the Maya descendants of the rebels conceive their history and frame it in typified discourses, by focusing on the specific agencies and forms of causalities that characterize human and non human actions in narratives related to the war and its outcomes, from mythical creations to vivid accounts of the feats of Maya heroes. We show how human intention tends to be ultimately related to an external cause, and explore the role of writings in the course of the events.

Keywords: Caste war, discourse genres, agency, Yucatec Maya, ethnohistory

Author: Vapnarsky, Valentina (EREA/LESC - Centre National de la Recherche - France, France / Frankreich)


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