Toward an Understanding of Placentas, Umbilical Cords, and Cauls Among Kaqchikel Maya Midwives of Guatemala

  • Servando Z. HinojosaEmail author
Part of the Global Maternal and Child Health book series (GMCH)


For Kaqchikel Maya midwives of Guatemala, organs like placentas, umbilical cords, and cauls are anything but ordinary. Midwives handle these body parts as they must and look to see that they are intact when they first emerge. But when midwives behold them, they see more than just the agglomerations of tissues, vessels, and blood that clinicians see. When a midwife observes the afterbirth, the cord, and the amniotic shroud, she sees the outcomes of both physical growth processes and of fetal animation. Her understanding of these organs prompts her to enact certain protective procedures to ensure the physical health of the mother, as well as the physical, spiritual, and vocational well-being of the child. In this chapter, I explore the larger meanings of birth organs in the work of Kaqchikel Maya midwives, attending to how midwives and their clients ritually handle these body parts to ensure better life outcomes for mother and child. By walking through the experience of these midwives, this work aims to enlarge the medical community’s understanding of what childbirth means for Mayas and to improve health workers’ relations with indigenous midwives.


Indigenous women Maternal health Guatemala Pregnancy Central America Placenta Skilled birth attendant Midwife Umbilical cord Kaqchikel Caul Ritual Tuj Mayan pregnancy Maya Traditional midwife Mayan belief Mayan medical system Amniotic sac Afterbirth Anthropology Maya midwife 


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyUniversity of Texas Rio Grande ValleyEdinburgUSA

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