Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Mayans of Mesoamerica

Mayan History

(From administered by The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian)

The Maya World

The early Maya established sedentary communities in the Pacific coastal regions around 1800 BC. By 250 AD, the Maya had developed a vibrant civilization consisting of numerous independent city-states, including the well-known ceremonial centers of Palenque, Tikal, Copán and Calakmul. Many of these ancient sites are surrounded by contemporary Maya towns and villages that have been actively populated for several hundred, and sometimes thousands, of years. The Maya homelands continue to influence their culture and the Maya worldview.

“While traveling through the Maya world, I have seen a great variety of landscapes, ancient sites, and modern cities. Despite local differences, I have found that all of us Maya people share a deep connection to the homelands we walk on, the corn we eat, and the sky we watch.” Julián Cruz Cortés, Yucatec Maya, Architect

The Creation Story of the Maya

The Popol Vuh, or Popol Wuj in the K’iche’ language, is the story of creation of the Maya. Members of the royal K’iche’ lineages that had once ruled the highlands of Guatemala recorded the story in the 16th century to preserve it under the Spanish colonial rule. The Popol Vuh, meaning “Book of the Community,” narrates the Maya creation account, the tales of the Hero Twins, and the K’iche’ genealogies and land rights. In this story, the Creators, Heart of Sky and six other deities including the Feathered Serpent, wanted to create human beings with hearts and minds who could “keep the days.” But their first attempts failed. When these deities finally created humans out of yellow and white corn who could talk, they were satisfied. In another epic cycle of the story, the Death Lords of the Underworld summon the Hero Twins to play a momentous ball game where the Twins defeat their opponents. The Twins rose into the heavens, and became the Sun and the Moon. Through their actions, the Hero Twins prepared the way for the planting of corn, for human beings to live on Earth, and for the Fourth Creation of the Maya.

“Our Creation Story teaches us that the first Grandparents of our people were made from white and yellow corn. Maize is sacred to us because it connects us with our ancestors. It feeds our spirit as well as our bodies.” Juana Batz Puac, K’iche’ Maya, Day Keeper

The Maya Today

Today, more than seven million Maya live in their original homelands of Mesoamerica and in countries all over the world. Two thousand years ago, the ancient Maya developed one of the most advanced civilizations in the Americas. They developed a written language of hieroglyphs and invented the mathematical concept of zero. With their expertise in astronomy and mathematics, the Maya developed a complex and accurate calendar system. Hundreds of restored ancient cities with temple-pyramids, palaces, ball courts, and grand plazas are studied by archaeologists, and are visited by millions of tourists from all over the world each year. Contemporary Maya live and work near many of these archaeological sites. Language, tradition, and a deep sensibility toward the land and the sky continue to shape their worldview. The Maya are guardians of their culture and actively work to rediscover their own past as they look towards the future.

"The Maya today - we are the direct descendants of our ancient culture made up of expert builders, excellent astronomers, precise calendar keepers, and experienced artists. We give continuity to our traditions, our ways of thinking and our language, and we are worthy heirs of our origins. Weyano’one–we are here." José Huchim Herrera, Yucatec Maya, Archaeologist and Architect

Connecting Earth & Sky

For millennia, careful astronomical observations have guided the planting cycles of corn, the Maya staple crop. In much the same way that their ancestors watched the movements of the Sun along the horizon, and watched for the appearance of certain constellations in the east, Maya farmers today use their knowledge of the sky to plan the agricultural cycle of corn, and to plan for the best times to conduct offerings and ceremonies. By observing the natural cycles that link Earth and sky over thousands of years, the Maya have constructed a worldview of the Universe where time is cyclical and all things are interconnected.

“My ancestors believed that the ceiba, our Maya tree of life, is the connection between the Earth and the sky. Today, the ceiba is still considered sacred, and it is often planted at the center of our villages.” Alonso Méndez, Tzeltal Maya, Cultural Astronomer

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Geographic Evolution, Lake & Volcanoes

At 5125 feet, or 1562 metres, in altitude above sea level, Lake Atitlán is an 'endorheic' crater lake in the western highlands in the Sierra Madre mountain range of Guatemala. This means that it is technically an enclosed drainage basin, with just two small rivers flowing from it. Three dormant volcanoes (Atitlán at 3537 metres, Tolimán at 3158 metres, and San Pedro at 3020 metres) tower moreorless the same height above lake level as the lake lies above sea level. The explosive conception of this landscape came with the cataclysmic volcanic convulsion 84,000 years ago that formed a “caldera” lake.

The first volcanic activity in the region occurred in the impossibly distant past, some 11 million years ago, and since then the region has seen four separate episodes of volcanic growth and caldera collapse, the most recent of which began about 1.8 million years ago and culminated in the formation of the present caldera. 

With an ambient climate today composed of a wet season from May to October and a dry season from November to April, temperatures are generally from 20 - 25 C by day, dipping to 10 - 15 C by night. A unique aspect of the climate is what is referred to as Xocomil (of the Kaqchickel language meaning "the wind that carried away sin"). This wind commonly picks up during afternoons across the lake; it is said to be the encounter of warm winds from Pacific meeting colder winds from the north.

The lake runs 12 kilometres east to west. and has a surface area of 130 square kilometres. There are twelve communities formed into Mayan towns and villages dotted around the lake. The largest towns are Santiago Atitlán, San Pedro La Laguna, and Panajachel. Villages include San Juan La Laguna, San Pablo, San Marcos, Tzununá, Jaibalito, Santa Cruz, Santa Catarina Palopó, San Antonio Palopó, San Lucas Tolimán. From Santiago Atitlán  to San Pablo la Laguna, the Mayans are Tzutujil, from San Marcos to San Lucas Tolimán they are largely Kaqchikel. The large town of Sololá, eponymous with the state that takes in Lake Atitlán has a population of 14,000 and sits perched some 600 metres above the lake, over five kilometres by steep, winding road below. The population of Sololá state is 424,000, an amazing 94% of which is indigenous. 

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Magic, Mystery & Mythology

The view from Pasajcap over Lake Atitlan, New Year's Day, 2019

One could look out over the sparkling waters of Lake Atitlán until the end of Time and never have one's fill. set in a landscape that is unimaginably scenic, this magical lake exudes a deeply resonant energy and enchants most of those fortunate enough to experience it.

After a tumultuous history of evolution, the southern and western sides are now protected by three imposing volcanoes – Atitlán, Tolimán, and San Pedro. Lake Atitlán is also a very deep lake. At over 1,100 feet, its most profound depths have never been sounded, giving its waters their unique cobalt-blue/green colour and adding to the lake's mysteriously magical beauty. Not surprisingly, Lake Atitlán is considered to be a sacred site in Maya mythology. 'Atitlan' is understood to be a Mayan word meaning 'where the rainbow gets its colors.' This majestic composite landscape of volcanoes, mountains, lake and sky enriches body, mind, spirit, and soul.

A lancha departing Paxanax, near Santa Cruz

On a sun-drenched morning in the November to April dry season, the aquamarine waters sparkle and shimmer as motorboats, or *lanchas*, ply their way between towns and villages, stopping off to pick up and deliver at residential docks along the way. After noon the Xocomil wind from the south marches speedily across the water, disturbing the calm and agitating the liquid surface into an undulating quiver. The air is breezy yet balmy.

During the May to October wet season, the scene is markedly different as the rains - sometimes heavy, even relentless - stream, pour and teem down and visibility is poor. The distant clear vistas of *el verano* recede from view, hidden in memory. Vegetation becomes vibrantly verdant on the fully forested slopes of the volcanoes, on semi-tropical trees, grasses and shrubs, and in the steep cleared farm fields of the mountainsides spilling into the lake.

At night, the lights of the twelve towns and villages that ring the lake sparkle under the moon and panoply of stars, the volcanoes silhouetting the horizon against the nocturnal sky. In the distance Fuego spits out fire from its cone, reminding us all - as if we needed it - that we are still very much alive. Quiet descends except at festive times when fireworks are unleashed. A zealous and proud population slumbers ahead of another striking sunrise.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

The Mayans of Mesoamerica

Mayan History (From administered by The Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian) The Maya World The...