Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Recent History - Tikal

The Ceiba tree is the national tree of Guatemala. The Ceiba was revered by the Mayans as the tree of life. This tree’s towering height led the Maya to believe that its branches supported the heavens, while its deep roots were the means of communication between the world of the living and the Underworld. To this day, the modern Maya still hold ceremonies at the base of these trees. In the Grand Plaza of the ruins there is a firepit that showed signs of being used in recent history. We were told that because Tikal is a special Mayan site that thousands of modern-day Maya are expected to gather in Tikal in 2012 which is the end of the long count Mayan calendar. An article in Wikipedia indicates, "The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar forms the basis for a New Age belief, first forecast by José Argüelles, that a cataclysm will take place on or about December 21, 2012, a forecast that mainstream Mayanist scholars consider a misinterpretation."

The Mayans who built Tikal are not gone. Our guide, Oliver, was very proud of his ancestory, very proud of his Mayan profile. As he talked about the Maya, we were left wondering where he stood on the line between the Maya religion to Catholicism.

Just as interesting was his view of the Guerrilla insurgency that began in 1960. It was all about "power" he told us. But it was not an abstract to him. To him there was no difference between the Guerrillas and the Government's soldiers. They both came into villages, killed or kidnapped people then demanded money for their return. With a shrug of his shoulders, Oliver told us that now some of the Guerrilla leaders are in the government in Guatemala City.

When he was a small child the insurgency was so threatening in the jungles around Tikal that his family escaped to Mexico. When they returned six years later, they could not find any of his uncles. They had "disappeared." Now he says, things are good but his heart is sad because he did not learn the Maya dialect of the region as a child. Many people have returned to his village and there are 3,000 people there. The villagers are making a living off of tourism. He and his brother work and his father farms. Together the family is doing okay. He has two children but doesn't want more. He wants to see his children get an education. The State education system is only through the seventh grade and then if he wants them to have more education he will have to send them away to school. It will cost a lot of money. He learned English, and it was very good English, by working with tourist. First as a little boy selling drinks to the tourists but he learned it well enough to earn his official authorization as an English speaking guide.

Oliver isn't worried about the world coming to an end in 2012. He said that he had consulted some of the elders and they seem to think that it would only mean the beginning of another long count calendar. He equated December 21, 2012 to the Millenium. Oliver, the modern Maya, was a great guide. If you go to Tikal, be sure to ask for him.


Babs said...

It's that "connection" with a local that makes traveling so wonderful. I had the same experience with Patrick in San Cristobal, a former Zapatista. HIS perspective was extremely interesting and his Mayan roots ARE extremely important to him. He got his graduate degree in Archaeology at the University of Berkley! THEY are the future of their peoples.........

Anonymous said...

Hi Billie - There is a really good movie that gives a glimpse of Oliver's view is regarding power: "Men with Guns" by John Sayles.