Archetypal Harbingers: Ethno-ornithology and the Ch’orti’ Maya

Hull, Kerry
Rob Fergus

In this paper, based on our field research data among the Ch’orti’, we describe the various ways in which the Ch’orti’ interact with birds in daily life and in ritual contexts. We first examine local knowledge of birds, such as the cultural relationship between birds and spirits in Ch’orti’ thought. Furthermore, we investigate the role of birds as messengers and harbingers, tracing the development of this notion from the Classic period of the ancient Maya to the present-day Ch’orti’. Much more than simply a food source, birds are viewed as semi-divine seers, capable of foretelling a wide range of future events. Through an ethno-ornithological analysis we show how birds function as the principal messengers of future happenings, prognosticating positive and negative events such as love, sickness, death, and poor or successful hunting. Finally, we also discuss the use and presence of birds in ritual practice among the Ch’orti’.