Pregnancy and childbirth were among indigenous Maya women’s most dangerous life experiences, with very high maternal and perinatal death rates from pre-Hispanic times through the first decades of the twentieth century. This article contributes to the knowledge of colonial Yucatec Maya women through the interpretation of documentary evidence of three indigenous rites meant to facilitate women’s perinatal health and successful childbirth. This evidence is contained in the eighteenth-century collection of healing chants known as the “ritual of the bacabs.” The chants include those for cooling the steam bath used in indigenous perinatal treatments, for difficulty in childbirth, and for rites surrounding the disposal of the afterbirth. Through an analysis that combines philological approaches with ethnographic interviews of contemporary Maya speakers, this article provides new insights into the intersection between ritual and culture-specific notions of the body among the colonial Maya.

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