Contagion and Alterity: Kowoj Maya Appropriations of European Objects



ABSTRACT  From initial contact with the Europeans until their conquest (C.E. 1525–1697), the Itza and their political rivals, the Kowoj, dominated Petén, Guatemala. Colonial artifacts at Zacpetén record the initial appropriations of European objects by the Kowoj. All such objects rested in ceremonial contexts, indicating that the Kowoj considered them positive sources of sacred power. The Kowoj were in contact with the Spaniards and knew they were the source of the valued materials; hence, the materials also signified otherness. Social elites frequently retained objects obtained from long distances, even those of oppressive colonial groups, as positive contagion. I argue that the Kowoj incorporated colonial objects into their rites to harness the power of alterity.