Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Tiempo, Religión y Discursos Sagrados del Pueblo Ayuuk

Time, Religion and Sacred Discourses of the Ayuuk People

European Research Council (Advanced Grant 295434). European Research Council (Advanced Grant 295434).

Short abstract

This research project focuses on the religion of the Ayuuk (Mixe) People in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. It aims at documenting and analyzing both the religious concepts and the ritual practices, in particular the use, meaning and symbolic associations of the traditional Mesoamerican calendar which is still operating in economic, political, social and religious contexts. The project will pay particular attention to the profound community narratives and to the sacred discourses pronounced by the Ayuuk priests during offerings and other acts of worship.

Research question

How are the religious worldview and ritual practice of the Ayuuk people structured? What is their internal logic and how do they influence society, spiritual experience and traditional healing? How are the religious values transmitted in ceremonial discourse, in calendar divination and in communitty rituals? What is the role of the perception and symbolism of time? How can links be established with the symbolism in the precolonial Mesoamerican codices?

Social relevance    

The project results will give insights into the wealth of knowledge, religious ideas and ritual practices of one of the native peoples of Mesoamerica. It will create greater interest among members of the people itself, so that they will value their tangible and intangible heritage and protect this against colonizing, discriminatory practices that have sought its eradication. In short, this project aims to work towards a better scientific understanding and social appreciation of the linguistic and cultural continuity of the Ayuuk people.

Reading the oracle (divination) in Chuxnabán, Mixe (Oaxaca, Mexico).

In this context of contributing to the conservation and transmission of the religious wisdom of the Ayuuk people it is expected that this research will produce valuable teaching materials to support the education of Ayuuk children and adolescents at different educational levels.

Scientific relevance

The project aims at describing the religious worldview and symbolism of Ayuuk culture in its own terms, on the basis of original interviews and collected texts (narratives, ceremonial discourse), with linguistic analysis and ethnographic documentation of their specific contexts. These materials are largely unknown outside the Ayuuk communities; their register will contribute to a better understanding of the Mesoamerican religious concepts and rituals. This is also important for decipherment of ancient religious visual art.
It is expected that in an intercultural context, the results may be useful for comparative purposes either for students or for other researchers who want to delve deeper into the knowledge of Ayuuk religion or to investigate the knowledge and religious practice of other peoples in Mesoamerica and the world.

Why Leiden University?

This project is being conducted at the Faculty of Archaeology of Leiden University of Leiden in the context of a research tradition and a concrete (ERC funded) project that aim at combining an in-depth study of Mesoamerican languages and civilization through time with an interest in the present-day social reality of Indigenous Peoples, with the wish to contribute to their decolonization and development through the collaboration with indigenous experts.

Material & Methods

The research implies long-term fieldwork to gather data in a systematic manner (approximately six months per year) in combination with desk work concerning the relevant regional specific and general theoretical literature, as well as with seminars to achieve shared reflection and understanding.  

The methodology used is that of direct interviews in the natural context of the members of the Ayuuk people, of collecting oral tradition and participant observation, all in the Ayuuk language. So far we have been allowed, religious practices have been recorded on audio and video for later transcription and translation to Spanish.

Results & Conclusions

Healing / protection against envy and ill-wishes in Chuxnabán, Mixe (Oaxaca, Mexico).

So far important progress has been made in documenting and analysing the Ayuuk agricultural and ritual calendar, the main components of Ayuuk religion, sacred landscape, religious rites and ceremonial discourses. A corpus of narratives that express the vision of Ayuuk world is in the process of being transcribed and translated; a glossary of religious terms and a vocabulary of couplets and parallelis expressions is being elaborated.

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