Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Corn and Maya Time

The Maya sense of time is based on understanding recurrent cycles; this includes the observable motion of the Sun across the sky, the phases of the Moon, the gestational period of human beings, and the growing cycle of corn. In the highlands of Guatemala, Maya calendar keepers describe time as an attribute of the sacred, and make offerings of corn atole every 260 days to welcome a new cycle of time in the Tzolk’in sacred calendar. Traditional farmers in the Yucatán conduct ceremonies and offerings throughout corn’s growing season, which are in tune with the Haab, their solar calendar. In Maya tradition, time is related to natural cycles of the Earth and the sky. From the Maya perspective, time is sacred and worthy of respect.

By spending time at the milpa, I was able to understand first-hand how the growth cycle of corn and the cycle of traditional Maya ceremonies fit neatly into one solar year. The land has a lot to teach us.” Alonso Méndez, Tzeltal Maya, Cultural Astronomer