Guatemalan stories told through the British Museum's mask collection
The Dance of the Conquest was encouraged, possibly even imposed by Guatemala’s colonial officials and friars, as it painted the outcome of conquest and conversion to Christianity in a positive light. Over time, it has become accepted as tradition, and remains one of Guatemala's most well-known dances.
Conquest dances are not unique to Guatemala. Mexico has it's own versions, such as the Danza de la Pluma from Oaxaca. Many aspects of the dance are thought to have been carried over from pre-Conquest times, such as the great feather headdresses seen here. Like in Guatemala, they adapted the dance to be palatable to the conquering Spanish. Many of the characters also overlap between the Dance of the Conquest in Guatemala and those in Mexico.
The deer hunt was often a group activity in which animals were rounded up with the aid of dogs and whistles and killed with spears propelled by atlatl. Based on archaeological evidence, deer appear to have been the Ancient Maya’s favourite meat, but it is not known whether they were consumed routinely or only on ceremonial occasions.
For the Maya, deer were powerful embodiments of natural forces, like the sun and the rain, and their ritual sacrifice and consumption is associated with annual renewal festivals and the accession of new rulers. The deer dance probably originated with the pre-Columbian deer hunt and remains symbolic today.
All images © Trustees of the British Museum
Text and image selection: Kate Jarvis, British Museum
Thanks to: Jonathan Mortemore, Christos Gerontinis, Claudia Zehrt and other BM Google Maya Project collaborators