...and then they cut his head off

Yesterday we trekked to visit the Mayan ruins Iximche. The journey itself was an experience. Beautiful + breath-taking + entertaining. My hosts have a favorite taxi driver they hire (they don't own a car here). In his mid sixties, short with a full thatch of silvery, combed back hair and a trim silver mustache, Don Antonio was a character and definitely a keeper. He has a rich gravelly voice that produces many many stories. He also seems to know everyone in Antigua if not Guatemala, greeting friends with a blare of the horn and a wave. Unfortunately for Maddy and me, he doesn't speak a shard of English so we missed out on many of the (evidently) hilarious details of his stories and their telling. Our friends translated a lot for us and we spoke with him a little but I ached to be able to understand everything myself.

It took us close to 2 hours to arrive at Iximche but it was worth an even lengthier journey. Stunning, really, to imagine the fully developed compound from the worn-down and broken ruins that remain. My guide book told me that the Maya still worship here and, as luck would have it!, there was a ceremony underway when we got there. At first a young woman had spread out a blanket with different colors of corn (Don Antonio said they represented different virtues--hmmm, sounds familiar). She danced around the blanket, sprinkling some liquid on it. Then another girl danced over, bringing a pot of something different. They did an elaborate dance together and then the first girl took the pot, added it to the center of the blanket and circled the whole thing again.

Then, another girl danced out, this time bringing a chicken. Maddy said, "oh look! there's a real chicken!" Now at this point my thoughts (as I'm sure yours are) rushed ahead to "what are they going to DO with the live chicken?" Yes, fair reader. THAT is what they are going to do with the chicken.

After the giving-receiving-sprinkling dance routine, all girls danced out to the blanket. They gathered in a circle, each holding the chicken, and one produced a long knife from the folds of her skirt. They quickly relieved the chicken of his head (and Don Antonio narrated excitedly in his husky Spanish) and danced around the blanket, sprinkling his blood on the whole lot, then adding the chicken to the offerings.

{Maddy was understandably shocked by the turn of events. I leaned over her shoulder and whispered about Old Testament sacrifices and other cultures and being open and how killing chickens is probably a daily part of many families' lives here.}

Different, yes. And yet. And yet so touching, to watch what has been done for centuries, longer than our newborn customs and traditions. Who am I to add my squeamish commentary?

Pictures above (clockwise from biggest):
-Maddy on Temple 2 of Iximche
-Group of costumed girls waiting their turn in the ceremony
-Ceremonial dance around corn
-Girls' procession toward chicken