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Archive for January, 2017

Shield Jaguar I from Yaxchilan carried out a Jasaw Chan dance on 19 Yaxk’in of year 735 AD (LC: 9.15.4.16.11). That was December 30, which is known by Sun observers to be the last day of Sun’s stillness around solstice. In other words, the Sun’s apparent detention on its southernmost position on the horizon happens on December 20 and December 21, but its slow motion towards that detention occurs during the nine days prior to December 20, and its slow recovery pace occurs during the nine days after December 21. That time lapse is exactly twenty days long, i.e. from December 11 till December 30. It is a time for the observance of a Sun that has the character of a newborn creature. Its radiance, warmth and size are all qualities of the beginning of the Sun’s cycle. That is why the twenty-day long winal or month is called Yaxk’in. It means first Sun.

The Jasaw Chan dance practiced in eighth-century Yaxchilan was consistently related to the conclusion of the Sun’s still days on its southernmost region on the horizon so to begin its journey towards the north. Epigraphic texts on Stela 11 and Lintels 9 and 33, where Shield Jaguar is portrayed holding a flapstaff, show a verbal phrase that incorporates the verb ‘dance’ followed by a ti’ expression and variable element ja-sa-wa chan (Grube 1992), read as jasaw chan.

Chan means ‘sky’, whereas jasaw has the root jas and the suffix –aw which, in this case, derives an adjective from the verb jas (Looper 2003). In the Barrera Vazquez dictionary (1980) Looper finds the entry has muyal, which means “aclarar el tiempo quitándose las nubes” (the sky becomes clear as clouds go away). A similar term on the same page of the dictionary is haatsal muyal, meaning “aclararse el tiempo, descubrirse el sol cuando está el cielo nublado o está lloviendo”(the sky becomes clear, the Sun comes out when the sky is cloudy or it is raining). With some caution –because has sound is softer than jas– it may be proposed that Jasaw chan means ‘clear sky’, so the dance may have been celebrating this meteorological condition.

The relevance of the Jasaw Chan dance is shown by the fact that it was also carried out (and reported) five years later, on 19 Yaxk’in, by both Shield Jaguar I and his successor Bird Jaguar IV. It happened on December 30, 740 (LC: 9.15.9.17.16) (see Figure 1), when the Sun’s position was exactly the same as when the dance was executed on 19 Yaxk’in, December 30, 735. Even more, Bird Jaguar made the same dance six years later, on December 30, 746 (LC: 9.15.16.1.6). Again, the Sun’s position was exactly the same. The reader may wonder about the reiteration of the fact that 19 Yaxk’in kept happening on December 30 through a span of eleven years.

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Figure 1. Shield Jaguar I and Bird Jaguar IV celebrating a Jasaw Chan dance to mark the completion of the Sun’s journey to the south and its last day of apparent stillness around December solstice. Image taken from Noble (2004).

According to the Goodman-Martinez-Thompson correlation, the dates of those three Jasaw dances did not occur on December 30, but rather on June 27, 26 and 25 respectively, about six months after the dates given here. The GMT correlation has that huge problem of producing dates impossible to link to any astronomical cycle. Dates as obvious as those of the Sun ceremonies (the Jasaw Chan dances) lag off from a solar reference when the researcher uses the GMT correlation.

For the Jasaw Chan dances mentioned above, the reader can convert the Long Count (LC) dates provided, in two applications. One is provided online by Famsi (Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies) under Resources and 2012 Phenomenon: http://research.famsi.org/date_mayaLC.php and the other converter is for the correlation I am offering: http://damixi.jl.serv.net.mx/test/. The reader can see and compare the dates obtained for the Long Count dates. Whereas the GMT correlation produces dates that do not enable us to sustain any thesis pertaining the Mayan’s capacity to keep in pace with the Sun’s yearly cycle, the GPE correlation that I offer (note 1) does sustain that thesis and also speaks highly of the rest of the Mayan’s astronomical observances regarding Mars, Jupiter, Venus, the Moon, eclipses and also seasons (note 2).

We have good evidence that the dance for clear skies –which additionally marked the conclusion of the Sun’s journey to the south– was also celebrated by the culturally and linguistically related Otomian group that was widely spread on the plateau of Central Mexico. The Otomian group was a culture that thrived far before the proto-Mayan peoples and which became contemporary with the first Mayance groups some four thousand years ago.

The Otomi twenty-day month during which the dance was executed was called Anthaxme, and it spanned between December 14 and January 3. The painted amate books (note 3) that remain and which show ceremonial practices on each month depict, for month Anthaxme, men holding flap staffs very alike those held by the Mayan. In the case of the Otomian ones, the flap staff banners were made with colored amate paper (Figure 2). According to Looper (2003), the Mayan flap staffs had “tubular fabric banners”.

The Mexica reproduced these December dances after they had settled in Otomian territory in the mid fourteenth century; they called the corresponding month Panquetzaliztli, which derives from pantli (banner), quetza (to rise) and liztli (verb suffix), meaning ‘flag rise’. Codex Borgia shows representatives from different regions participating in the dance (Figure 3). The month for this flag staff ritual spans from December 9 to December 28 in the Mexica calendar, whereas it spans from December 14 to January 3 in the Otomi calendar.

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Figure 2. Reproduction of image from a calendar of Otomian-Mexica design, Codex Vaticanus A. The image shows a dancer of the banner or flap staff ceremony, celebrated around December solstice. The month was called Panquetzaliztli by the Mexica, which means ‘flap staff rise’.

 

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Figure 3. Codex Borgia, p.33. Panquetzaliztli flap staff banner ceremony.

It is interesting to note that on the day after the end of Yaxk’in (i.e., after December 30), there entered a time of weather predictions. This means that, right after having celebrated ‘clear skies’, meteorological experts became involved in the observance of the weather, taking particular note of the clouds. That practice is still carried out by some Aj Men in some communities in Yucatan through January, and it is called Xoc k’in. The original weather forecasting was done during month Mol, that runs between December 31 and January 19. Mol may be alluding to rain deity Chaac Mol. The Otomi rain deity is called Muye by the Otomi. It is very interesting to note that the clouds are called muyal in Yukatek.

For the Otomi and Mexica, the corresponding month was called, respectively, Ancandehe (meaning water comes down) and Atemoztli (also meaning water comes down). Tradition among Otomian peoples in Mexico State is that we must see if four clouds form in a clear sky on the last day of December, and then we must watch for cloud formation and rains from the first days of January on. Their ancestors’ calendar shows the rain deity Muye actually coming down in a torrent of water on month Ancandehe (Figure 4).

 

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Figure 4. Rain deity Muye (Otomi name) or Tlaloc (Mexica name) is depicted in Codex Telleriano-Remensis for Otomi month Ancandehe (from January 3 to 22) or Mexica month Atemoztli which spans between December 29 and January 17.

Everyone who has lived in Mexico knows that, despite the fact that the rainy season spans between mid May and mid October, when January enters, rain falls intermittently for some days or weeks and it helps lay out a neat prognostic of how the year will be like in terms of humidity, drought and rain. Farmers program their planting accordingly.

So all in all, we are identifying a pan-Mesoamerican knowledge that is rooted in deep history and which is still alive today. It tells us how the Sun’s culmination of its journey to the South brings clear skies. Also, it implicitly tells us that the Sun needs dancing ceremonies to accompany or celebrate its reactivation. More importantly, it is meteorological knowledge on how January rains have been used for at least over one thousand years to forecast the weather for the whole December solstice-December solstice cycle.

As we face the crude reality of climate crisis, many wonder if these ancestral practices are of any relevance. Traditional weather forecasters and timekeepers say that, in order to contribute to Earth’s recovery of harmony, it is necessary to continue with such ceremonies as much as possible.

 

Notes:

  1. GPE Correlation has the author’s initials, Geraldine Patrick Encina.
  2. Bird Jaguar celebrated yet another flap staff ceremony much later, towards the end of his life. The LC date was 9.16.17.6.12 (Lintel 9, Yaxchilan), and it happened not on 19 Yaxk’in but on the following day, Seating of Mol. The date was December 31, 767. This is 21 years after the last ceremony had taken place on year 746. In the GMT correlation, the solar date of the dance suffers a lag with respect to the solar date of the first same type of dance in Bird Jaguar’s lifetime. In contrast, the GPE correlation gives the same solar date over and over, no matter how many years have gone by. Such astronomical solidness is only offered by the GPE correlation.
  3. Amate is the paper made from Ficus sp. fiber by the Otomi peoples who are keepers of this millenary biocultural heritage.

 

References

Grube, Nikolai (1992). Classic Maya Dance. Evidence from Hieroglyphs and Iconography. Mesoamerica 3:201-208.

Noble Bardslay, Sandra. 2004(1994) “Rewriting History at Yaxchilán: Inaugural Art of Bird Jaguar IV” Originally published in Seventh Palenque Round Table, 1989, edited by Merle Greene Robertson and Virginia M. Fields. Electronic version. Pre-Columbian Art Research Institute, San Francisco.

Looper, Matthew  G. (2003) “The Meaning of the Maya Flapstaff Dance” In Glyph Dwellers, edited by Macri, Martha and Matthew G. Looper.

 

Further reading

Patrick, Geraldine (2013a). “Long Count in Function of the Haab and its Venus-Moon relation. Application in Chichen Itzá.” Translation of the original article and original article in Spanish on the link for Revista Digital Universitaria. Vol. 5 Num. 5.

Patrick, Geraldine (2013b). “Muye, el Tlaloc Otomi en los Códices. ¿Qué papel juega en las veintenas?” En Tlaloc ¿Qué? (accessible in Academia.edu).

 

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