Maya symbols associate cultural interpretationsof biological reproduction with gender roles within acosmological model of the natural world. Thesetraditional symbols were used in a ceremony performed to cure the pubescent daughter of a modernizingfamily. She was suffering "ataques de nervios"(nervous attacks, including muscle spasms and loss ofconsciousness) believed to be caused by a delay in the onset of menarche. Analysis of thesymbols relied on multiple approaches that alloweddecoding of ceremonial symbols as references to (1) thegendered pairing of marriage, (2) the socialreproduction of gender through the generations, (3) thereproductive aspects of human bodies as symbols ofinterdependency, and (4) maleness and femaleness asprimary forces of the Maya cosmos. The traditionalsymbols, combined with the teachings of the healer,provided an interpretation of the biological differencesbetween male and female bodies within an overarchingcosmological system. The primary symbols referred explicitly to male and female genitalia andmenstrual blood as symbols for the reproduction ofgender through generations of mothers and daughters,fathers and sons. The ceremony was apparentlyeffective-despite a context of rapid modernization in whichfamily planning, formal education, and new economicopportunities increasingly result in employment of womenoutside the home.
Sex Roles – Springer Journals
Published: Oct 6, 2004
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