The Maxwell Blog


I’m a Tulane professor. I’ve been working in Guatemala since 1973. Currently, I’m here working on a Chuj grammar, a history of Mayan language revitalization, a second-year Kaqchikel language textbook, and a book of interviews with Mayan daykeepers (ritual specialists) detailing what will “really” happen on December 21, 2012.

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The Maxwell Blog



Wednesday June 1, 2016

The Grand Canyon Colloquium River Trip 2016: the view from the right side tube

Day one. My iPad keyboard quit working, so no extensive journal, just short notes. On the way down to the river from Cliff Dwellers Lodge, where we spent the night, we stopped at Navajo Bridge to look for condors. Steve Hatch  ..... 
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Tuesday July 16, 2014

Maya Ballgame in Kaqchikel class

The cultural topic for the week of July 14-18 is the Maya ballgame. A team of teacher-ballplayers from the Ministry of Education of Guatemala have come to our class site, in Antigua Guatemala, to instruct us in the historical and cosmological  ..... 
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Tulane at Tunica-Biloxi Summer Camp, showing off our corn dart craft

Tuesday July 1, 2014

Tunica-Tulane Language Summer Camp

In an intensive two-week course, Tulane students learned theories of language death, revitalization, second-language pedagogy, and the Tunica Language. Then in a week-long Language Summer Camp on the Tunica-Biloxi ..... 
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Nankoweap granaries, Grand Canyon Colloquium folk- Branton Nelson, Jessica Stapleton, Anna Currey, Rachel Vuchinich, Molly Fink, Grace Martineau, Houston Sudekum, Sarah Rappaport, Helen Hild, Harry Tarpey, Brett Nelson and the bandana

Tuesday June 3, 2014

The Grand Canyon Colloquium 2014 Goes to the Eponymous Natural Wonder

So today was a pilgrimage. It began for me before dawn; a dedicated friend picked me up at 4:45 and drove me to the airport. Blessed with TSA Pre, I was able to enjoy sunrise over the tarmac at Gate B7.....
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Friday June 7, 2013

Grand Canyon Reflections

Looonggg bus ride to Cliff Dwellers. Driver does NOT stop at any place near a drug store or market. I have to get sun block and lotion at Cliff Dwellers, little selection, really no hand lotion. Bill Keck and his wife drove out.....
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Wednesday, January 23, 2013


The Dawning of the New Maya Era

I made the pilgrimage to Guatemala to be with my Maya friends and colleagues for the dawning of the New Mayan Era at 6:13 a.m. December 21st. I arrived here in Guatemala on the 17th to find celebrations already underway....
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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Reflections on the “International Day of Indigenous Peoples

Monday, August 8, I went to a Mayan ceremony on the Cerro de la Cruz, a hill overlooking Antigua Guatemala.  We were opening the celebrations for the International Day of Indigenous Peoples.  Reigning Indian princesses (beauty and culture queens of their respective communities) from throughout the highlands attended..... 
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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon Colloquium (COLQ 4120) semester finale is an 8-day float trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.During Spring term we learn about the geology (lots of it), the biology (especially desert biota), the anthropology (mostly of Native Americans), and the history (from the arrival of the Spaniards to American explorations) of the Grand Canyon area. On this field trip we experience it from the foaming tops of the white and Colorado waters rushing down the gorge (this year at 20,000 + cf/s).... 
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Friday, September 10, 2010

The Great Smoky Mountains

I returned to the US, New Orleans and Tulane on Thursday night August 5 to find the Anthropology Department ensconced in a new-to-us and newly new-ified building, Dinwiddie Hall. Friday I began unpacking with a vengeance and a plan: find the books I need for the courses I'm teaching this semester. Thanks to the wonderful packing job done by Joyce Bennett in my absence, I found...
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Sunday, June 6, 2010

San Luis Peten Post-Agatha

So, in the aftermath of Agatha, I made a trip to San Luís, Petén. I had been invited by the Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala (ALMG) to give a presentation on “Strategies for the recuperation of languages in danger of extinction” to the Mopán Linguistic Community, headquartered in San Luís, a bittersweet assignment, since Mopán is on the UN’s Red List of Endangered Languages...
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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The mountain, staying on it

So some of you may recall that two years ago, I fell off a mountain, free fall for 10 m, with a hard stop at the bottom. I knocked myself out hitting a rock with my head. I have since conquered that mountain, reached the Mayan altar which was...
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Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fieldwork, pilgrimages to sacred sites (Alta Verapaz installment)

For the past six years, I’ve been visiting and documenting Mayan sacred sites in Guatemala. The goals of this research range from contributing to the Mayan legislative initiatives to preserve, protect and guarantee access to these altars to linking...
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Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Thursday and Good Friday

Semana Santa reaches its climax here in Antigua Guatemala today, April 2, 2010, on Good Friday. Sábado y Domingo de Gloria, Easter Saturday and Sunday, very little happens. But yesterday and today have been packed with activities...
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Monday, March 29, 2010

Lunes Santo, Good Monday

Monday, March 29th, 2010, the procession from Sta. Inez, the sub-urb southeast of Antigua lying along the road to Guatemala City, came by our house. We mobilized to make a rug, choosing the pine needles and flower option for both...
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Sunday, March 21, 2010

Lenten Procession from San Bartolomé Becerra

Sunday, March 21st, I got up before dawn and was out the door by 5:30 a.m. Paulino, who complains that he is the only one of Ana Luisa’s children for whom I am not a godmother, and I were off to see alfombras...
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Friday, March 19, 2010

Vigil at San Bartolo

Another part of the pageantry of Lent here is the preparation of tableaux in church naves. Artists prepare painted backdrops before the retable; sawdust rugs are created and adorned with fruit, harbingers of Spring and the rebirth of the land to follow the Lord’s sacrifice. Today we went out to...
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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sta Inez Lenten Procession

Blessed is she who showers after a hard day of documenting sawdust and flower street rugs and Lenten processions for she shall be as fresh as a head of lettuce in the supermarket sprinkler bins. Today’s parade departs from the church in Sta. Inez, the suburb of Antigua that lies just across the Río Pensativo, stretched out along the highway that links Antigua with the Pan American Highway. The procession leaves the church at 1 p.m., so I went out to see the construction of the rugs around 11. Most of the rugs were in early stages of creation. The foundation of sawdust had been laid; artists were wetting down this base to hold it place as designs...
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Evil Eye

My godchild, Gabriela, was over last evening, with her three boys. The youngest, Saúl Andrés, is just about a month old. He was fussy and holding, bouncing, and soothing him was wearing out successive kinfolk. Gabriela noted that Saúl would tense up every few minutes, grunt, then relax or cry. Ana, the proud grandmother, observed that babies do this for the first three months of life. But the fussiness continued and Cira, an aunt, declared that the child was ojeado “eyed”.
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Friday, February 19, 2010


We are now in Wayeb’, the last month of the Mayan year. The Mayan ab’ (haab’ in Yucatec) consists of 18 months of 20 days and a final month-let of five days. These five days are sometimes referred to as the “Nameless Days”. Each of the other months has a patron; these last five days do not. This is a time of reflection, a time for purification and for centering...
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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Hermano Pedro

As I was walking home Tuesday, from Ajpub’s house, where I park our pick-up in which we commute to Guatemala City, I noticed a plaque on a house three doors down from Ajpub’s. Of course, I’ve passed this house every work day since January 4, but Tuesday I noticed the plaque. It read: "Here lived Fray Pedro de San José Betancourt, Apostle of Charity. He was born in Tenerife in March of 1626 and died here on April 25, 1667."
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Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Saints Win in Antigua Guatemala

So Super Bowl Sunday… I’m at home in Antigua, being very productive, working on revising a book chapter and outlining a solicited journal article, but the clock ticks toward 5 and concentration goes out the window....
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Sunday, February 6, 2010

altar offering 120

Waqxaqui' B'atz', 8 Howler Monkey

Today (February 6, 2010) is Waqxaqi’ B’atz’, a holy day within the cholq’ij (aka tzolk’in), the Mayan ritual calendar of 260 days.  In 1995-1996 when I was working with Kaqchikel Cholchi’, the Kaqchikel branch of the Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala, my colleagues, all Kaqchikel Maya, did not observe the “national” holidays, such as Día del Ejército (Army Day) and Independence Day; they realized as we worked while the non-Maya partied, that while they were getting a lot done, they didn’t have a common celebratory date.
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Monday, December 7, 2009


This Devil’s for Burning

What does one do on December 7th? In the United States, we commemorate the attack on Pearl Harbor, which cost the lives of 2400 people and assured our entry into the war of the Pacific. In Guatemala, people celebrate the Quema del Diablo, "Burning of the Devil"... Continue Reading ->

Sunday, November 22, 2009

chicken bus 120px

Gang Christmas Spirit in Guatemala

Bus transport in Guatemala is all private enterprise.  The government simply regulates the routes and, supposedly, safe carrying capacities.  The gangs in Guatemala, Salvatruchas, Calle 18, …., demand "taxes" (aka protection money) from bus drivers.  To enforce compliance, they regularly assassinate "wildcat" drivers or companies. 
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Kites for Ancestral Spirits

November first and second rest at “cross-corners” in the solar calendar, falling halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. Many cultures mark this juncture. Celtic peoples celebrate Samhain, when the veil between our world and that of the departed becomes thin. This, filtered through Catholic lenses, becomes Halloween (All Hallows' Eve). The Catholic Church observes All Saints' Day followed by All Souls'. Mayan peoples go to the cemeteries to commune with their family members who have passed on...
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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Rilaj Mam, Great Grandfather

Yesterday, I went out to Santa Catarina Barahona to help my friend, Tojil, celebrate another year of his service to Ma Ximon. Tojil is a daykeeper, a Mayan ritual specialist, who was invested with his cane of office through the spiritual agency of Ma Ximon. Just who or what Ma Ximon is is highly contested. One school of thought associates him with pre-Columbian earth lords, wealthy beings who live inside mountains and other natural features, and who can be bargained with to provide...
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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

More than Development

This week-end I attended a conference on "development" in Guatemala. The conference was sponsored by Wuqu' Kawoq, an NGO dedicated to providing health services in indigenous communities. This conference, however, was not your "average bear" conference. It was not held in Guatemala City. It was not at an international chain hotel, no Ramada Inn, Westin, Hyatt, or Hilton. Rather the conference was held in Santiago Sacatepéquez (Pa K'im in Kaqchikel). The papers were given in the...
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Clausura: Ending the Course

Our summer Kaqchikel course, Oxlajuj Aj, has drawn to a close. Final exams, oral and written, have been given, taken, graded, and results reported. The students’ field projects have been written up, orally presented, and await my final mark-up and grading...
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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Going To the Beach

So the Kaqchikel course is ending. We traditionally take a class trip to celebrate, to consolidate the group, to relax, and to enjoy each other. We try to combine all this fun with some cultural relevance... Continue Reading ->



Sunday, July 26, 2009

Me and the Mountain

Three years ago in January, I was deeply involved, as I still am, in researching Mayan sacred spaces. My co-PI, Ajpub’ García Ixmata’, and I were (and are) visiting altars in ravines; by rivers, lakes and streams; in caves, crevices, overhangs; before rock faces; and on mountaintops.
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Today one of the students, Joyce Bennett, completed another year of her life. She came to class this morning wearing a beautiful suit of clothing from her husband’s town, Santa Catarina Palopó.
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Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The Kaqchikel class, Oxlajuj Aj, went to Nim Po’t, the huge artisanry warehouse in Antigua, to see a hand-spinning demonstration by Matea Uj and her granddaughter Ana. They had their wares and the raw materials laid out on finely woven mat...
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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Guatemala Kaqchikel Trip Introduction

For now, let me just talk about the trip to Santiago Zamorra. This village is about a half hour from Antigua and has no regular bus service, so getting there was our first challenge. One of our teachers, Ixnal, is a comadre of the mat-weaver we were to visit...
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