From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual

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These acts, in fact, increased the Moon's power over the various Maya peoples. But how did she convince the other gods to engage in sexual acts with her? The ethnic groups that created those gods certainly wanted to maintain their power over their own communities. They wanted to continue to establish this power in local gods and goddesses.

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This allowed them to maintain a certain sense of authority. But in the end many of the gods were shown engaging in sexual acts with the Moon Goddess, thus allowing her to be positioned as the mother goddess for almost all of the Maya peoples. She became, for a while, perhaps the most powerful god of all, surpassing the power of the Sun. There are six parts to this tale that are relevant to a deconstruction of the power of the Moon Goddess. These elements add up to the status of the Moon Goddess as a privileged signifier that represented the transformation of Maya society during the colonial years.

From Moon Goddesses to Virgins The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire By Pete Sigal

The six parts of her story are central to the theoretical framework of this book. In sum, all of the changes in gendered presentation and sexual desire can be related to these six parts of the Moon Goddess story:. The Virgin Mary Moon Goddess hybrid signified a colonial coding of gendered performance and sexual desire.

This signification developed meaning only through the cultural matrix in which it existed. This cultural matrix was a colonial hybrid. At the first class meeting of my sexuality in the Americas course, I ask my students one central question: "What is sex? Yet, as we begin on the first day to analyze non-Western societies, the students quickly learn that the question is complex.

The Maya considered various acts to be sexual, including many e.


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For other acts e. The problem is that the boundaries of the answer to this question what is sex? The modern constructions of sexuality and sexual desire can be used to understand the colonial Maya only if we contextualize these analytical categories in terms of power. Two premises of this study are that sexuality is a socially constructed phenomenon, and that all sexual desires have been influenced by sociohistorical forces.

People's desires are not simply based in biology and nature, but rather are influenced by the societies in which they live. Family, community, media, work, and politics all influence whether and what people seek for erotic fulfillment. Western society, since the nineteenth century, has developed taxonomies, lists designed to categorize what people do sexually, and, importantly, to make people believe that those sexual desires are internal to their senses of being. The colonial Maya had no such taxonomic obsessions.

Nor did the Maya at the time of the Spanish conquest understand sexual behaviors and ideas in the same ways as their European conquerors, who were developing the notion of sexuality as a discrete category of experience. The sociohistorical creation of sexuality as an ingrained identity based on a set of shared experiences was a complex process, and the Maya did not view sexual desire with the same types of taxonomies as either modern Western categorizing people as either homosexual or heterosexual or early modern European classifying acts as sinful or nonsinful, and within certain parameters, basing identities on these acts peoples.

Although there were many similarities in these understandings, the Mayas and Spaniards approached sexual desire in very different ways because of their different historical experiences. The concept of desire is used here for the purpose of elucidating particular aspects of Maya society and culture. Many scholars from several different disciplines, at least since the days of the classical Greek philosophers, have debated the importance and meaning of desire, a broad analytical category which describes the state of mind needed for a person willingly to commit a wide variety of actions.

But desire here does not and cannot mean a set of feelings free from power, free from the political, economic, social, and cultural implications of any such thoughts in any society.

Desire is part of the societal codes created in order to develop meanings out of people's thoughts and actions. Colonial and colonized desires related directly to conceptions of sexuality and libido in that the colonial construction of hybrid desires in fact created the sexual desires of the colonized. This is not to say that the colonized did not have desires of their own. Nor is to say that such desires were constructed only by the process of conquest and colonization.

Rather, sexual desires did not and do not exist without social constructs, and these social constructs during the colonial years were by definition colonial. Many colonial desires to defeat the opponent, to extract wealth, to differentiate colonizer from colonized, to alter the colonized in a variety of ways were scripted onto the human body along with sexual acts. Scholars in this postmodern age almost incessantly debate questions of power: what is it, who holds it, how is it constituted, and how is it deployed? The texts that I discuss in this manuscript were colonial productions, and thus were implicated in the creation and maintenance of a colonial society, so they were evocative of colonial power.

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This, of course, does not mean that the texts mostly written in the Maya language were intended to support the power of the colonizers. Instead, the texts were part of the colonial framework; they were cultural productions within a broader colonial cultural matrix. Power is understood in this book as a mode of analyzing thoughts and actions utilized by people or groups in order consciously or unconsciously to gain dominance over the actions and thoughts of others.

In a colonial society power is manipulated in a wide variety of ways in order for the colonizers to gain as much effective control as possible over the colonized. In that sense, hybridity, the mixture of cultural traditions, is formed as a result of colonial power and its interaction with the traditional power relationships of the dominated groups. Colonial hybridity formed sexual desires and acts which were no longer Maya, but nor were they Hispanic: they were formed by the interactions involved in colonial power relations. For the colonial Maya a person may have engaged in particular behaviors, but she or he most often did not receive a specific, unchangeable identity based on this behavior at least until his or her death.


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Without such an identity, the concept of the homosexual or the heterosexual as a category of person was unimaginable. The Maya used homosexual sodomy to understand particular historical stories, and they condemned other groups because of a supposed endemic sodomy. They thus understood or at least played out a connection between sodomy and power, but not one between sodomy and identity politics. One's identity was based on one's relationship to the lineage, the political hierarchy, the community, and the gods.

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None of the colonial documents show any terminology used to separate heterosexuals from homosexuals. Rather, many show that sex was divided between appropriate sexual behavior, which maintained society, and excessive sexual behavior, which destroyed Society.


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These were attempts at creating, understanding, and controlling desire and power through discourses of hierarchy and conquest. The Maya, like other early modern peoples, did not discuss sexual behavior extensively, but they, like others, did leave evidence of a wide variety of sexual acts. The Maya at the time of the conquest knew of and participated in vaginal and anal between men and women, men and men, and men and youth intercourse, oral sex, masturbation, pederasty with boys and girls , bestiality, and unspecified sexual acts between women.

They engaged in sexual acts with gods and in ritualized sexual acts between shamans and other people. They appear to have known of and participated in digital stimulation. The commoners were supposed to practice serial monogamy, and all but the higher levels of nobles engaged in monogamous marriage. Polygyny was the rule for kings and the higher-level nobles. Divorce was readily available for most of the population. The Maya had defined categories for adultery, incest, and rape. This book does not attempt to reconstruct Maya sexual behavior, as any such reconstruction necessarily is problematic.

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A social historian might look at the criminal trials and Inquisition cases to understand more about colonial Maya behaviors. However, the documentation of these behaviors specifically focuses on those who fall outside of the perceived "norms. More than "what did the Maya do? The cultural matrix of the colonial Maya was developed by a hybrid discourse. This matrix was created through psychocultural and psychosocial processes in which Maya minds were altered: the very forms of Maya thinking were changed in this process. The Maya at the time of the conquest did not devise a discrete category of sexuality which divided sexual acts from other elements of life.

This, of course, does not mean that the Maya would not have understood the concept "sex. The broader category for the Maya had to do with the creation of life amidst the threat of death through some sort of ritualized penetration. As the Maya were colonized, they were faced with a radical rupture of these activities and ideas, a rupture which created hybridization. Given this context the reader may legitimately ask how it is possible to understand "sexuality" among a people seemingly so far removed from the current Western notion of a sexual identity.

Here I follow other historians and anthropologists in discussing the frameworks of sexual desire, rather than allowing the concept of identity to be the core of the analysis. The acts cited here did not and could not correspond to modern Western notions of sexuality because the colonial Maya did not have a similar way of conceptualizing and categorizing sexual desire. Ideas of gender for the Maya at the time of the conquest were related closely to their concept of sexual desire. Gender formed a category in which male dominance was the rule.

The Moon Goddess's power did not extend to any significant power for women. And, in fact, much of her power was based on aspects of Maya life that were associated with feminine submissiveness. The Maya metaphorically gendered much of the world and the cosmos by asserting supposed male aspects as dominant and female aspects as submissive.