Mani Revisited

Beryl Gorbman

Mani church and convent (picture from the www)

Mani is a small town about 70 miles southeast of Merida, Yucatan. It is undistinguished except for the massive church that towers over the small buildings around it.

When we first went to Mani, about 22 years ago, the enormous church and monastery was alive with activity. The sounds of children’s voices and the lovely echoes of the church choir rehearsing broke the spell of the gloomy old building the minute you walked in. The doors were nearly always open and women in huipiles grouped in the corridors talking and laughing. There were always delicious smells emanating from the kitchen, run by Bernadetta, whose specialty was pavo relleno blanco.

And there were plants everywhere. Fruit trees, flowers, tall trees, sweet-smelling vines and a big kitchen garden.

Mani is famous for one thing. It is where Bishop deLanda, a Franciscan friar sent by Spain to civilize this part of the world, sought out and burned 27 Maya codices, almost the entire history of the Maya, enscribed carefully by hand, in lively, sophisticated glyphs. DeLanda did this on the front entryway to the massive building, for all to see, and among great ceremony. He also destroyed five thousand idols. This happened in the middle of the 16th century.

DeLanda had trouble locating the books at first. The local Maya, headed by Nachi Cocom and his extended family, had hidden the codices in a cave. A converted Catholic Maya contingent, lead by Tutul-xiu from Uxmal, sent emissaries to talk to the Cocom, urging them to convert and give up their heathen ways. The Catholic Maya group was not received well in Mani, and were in fact, slaughtered by the Cocom. A Tutul-xiu messenger, blinded by the Cocoms, was permitted to go back and give the Tutul-xius the bad news.

The following part of the history is vague to me, but the Spanish, equipped with firepower, quickly overcame the Cocom and the rest of the indigenous Maya around Mani, and installed Bishop deLanda to take over this unruly spot.

The Tutul-xiu group located the codices and handed them over to deLanda, who said they were inspired by the devil and had to be destroyed. He also destroyed recalcitrant Mayas by burning them alive, hanging them upside down until dead, and torturing and mutilating them. He drowned scores of others.

From the Madrid Codex

An entire history of an elegant, proud, sophisticated people was destroyed in one afternoon on the front entryway of the Mani cathedral. Only three codices remain, two of them now in Europe.

The Maya codices were burned here.

Years later, when deLanda returned to Spain, he had the nerve to write Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, his racist and unutterably cruel account of how he had found these devil-inspired heathens and forcefully tamed them.

Mayan glyphs (www)

Coming back to the present, the church in Mani is no longer the culturally rich center it was 20 years ago. It is as sterile as the day it was created by deLanda, and very, very quiet. And quite empty except for maintenance workers.

Back of church

Restored painting on church wall

Years ago, the priest appointed by the archdiocese of Yucatan to head the Mani church was a small, quiet Maya man, Padre Luis Quintal. Padre Luis was soon beloved by his parishioners and brought the crumbling old building to life with human activities and music. He had a smile for everyone and wore the torments of his flock on his intelligent face and in his sad eyes. He had a wicked sense of humor and a talent for making heavy burdens lighter.

Padre Luis is a compulsive gardener and surrounded the building with fruit-bearing trees and plantings that seemed to lessen the evil pall cast by the church’s violent history. He also taught the villagers how to garden and if you drive through Mani today, you will see fruit trees in nearly every compound.

The population of Mani is 100% Maya. The Padre made room for indigenous beliefs in his Catholicism. He took a huge piece of a Ceiba tree (the sacred tree of the Maya), oiled it beautifully, and turned it into a pulpit, which stood aside the standard one in front of the church.

While at Mani, Padre Luis saw the need for teaching campesinos how to get more out of their little milpas, where they grew beans and corn. He wrote a grant application which was funded by an organization in Germany, and built a school just outside of the town. He named it U Yits Ka’an. At this school, farmers learn to rotate crops, compost, and diversify. They continue to experiment with produce not commonly grown in this area. Alberto Castillo, Merida artist, RIP) painted a stunning mural for the school chapel.The beautiful school, with palapa and stick buildings went up quickly, all owing to enthusiastic volunteer labor. Padre Luis took no public credit for this school, and appointed someone else as director.

Padre Luis packed the Mani church on Sundays, and kept it lively all week with classes, choir practice, and conversations with visitors from everywhere who came to talk to him about the history of the place and his agricultural school project. Universities and environmental organizations got interested in the U Yits Ka’an. Mani was a happening place.

Padre Luis

Perhaps a bit too much was happening. The Yucatan archdiocese, never supportive of Padre Luis’ ways, removed him from the school he had founded, and sent him from Mani to a much smaller church in nearby Teabo. I visited there several times.

Until Padre Luis got there, the Teabo church had been crumbling, the huge doors hanging by single hinges, the place filthy. When I went, there were dozens of villagers cleaning up and fixing things. There were young fruit trees in the back property. Perhaps what touched me the most was the presence of a sick derelict who had apparently lived in the filthy old place for years. No one threw him out of the new, clean building. In fact, he was using his hands to down a plate of food.

I was glad to see the Teabo church being rejuvenated, but a few years later, Padre Luis became ill. He’s had several surgeries now and can’t work. He has moved to a piece of land near Mani where he’s built some Maya-style houses with ecological touches and hopes to make it into a retreat center someday. There is no budget for the place, but workers show up to clear land and plant trees. There are pools stocked with fish that eat insect larvae. There are “dry toilets.” There are no electric lights. There is a pyramid-shaped stack of logs where busy Yucatan melipona bees are getting ready for honey season. Found Maya objects sit on stone foundations. No one steals them. The place delivers a physically palpable wave of peace.

The Padre faces severe physical challenges in the coming months.

Last week, we visited Mani and were struck by the changes in the church. It is silent, no one is smiling, and there are fewer plants. The lovely Ceiba altar has been cut in two and put in a back courtyard in the rain. The church is sterile and austere. We couldn’t help but see parallels, of history repeating itself (minus the hangings, of course).

Remains of Ceiba altar

There is an excellent restaurant in Mani – so good in fact, that Meridians make the long drive there for lunch on Sundays. Unfortunately, it is called the Principe Tutul-xiu, although I understand the owners are not related. I was going to take a lot of pics of it and write an article about the restaurant, but we were so hungry I forgot to photograph anything past the soup.

Tutul-xiu’s specialty is poc-chuc, broiled outside over a wood grill. In memory of the old, warm church kitchen, I had the relleno blanco, which was fabulous.

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About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
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62 Responses to Mani Revisited

  1. Grant says:

    No one ever remembers the buildings made of skulls and other products of the Maya human sacrifice industry. DeLanda knew the Maya better than any other outsider, and he had a clear idea of what would be needed to get them to finally stop killing people in the name of religion. He deserves a lot more respect than he gets. It is a mistake to view him as a racist.

    • BG says:

      I don’t know of any Maya buildings made of skulls (Are you talking about Tzotlil at Chichen Itza which is NOT made of skulls nor does it contains them.) But yes, it’s true that the Maya probably had some unpleasant ways of doing things, most of which were imported to Yucatan by the Toltecs. The question is, whether or not that is anyone’s business.
      During the slaughter in Rwanda, the US gently turned its head. Children’s limbs were amputated, peope’s heads were mounted on poles, it wasn’t a good time. Then there was the Holocaust. Look how many countries turned the other cheek. And when our forefathers who settled the US slaughtered the natives and stuck them on crappy pieces of land, I guess that wasn’t so bad when you consider what heathens they were. But I think if anyone, say France, would have tried to interfere, that wouldn’t have been good either.
      I understand that deLanda did what he thought he had to do, that is, apply extreme measures, mostly because he was outnumbered and needed to make a huge show of terror. Is that a good excuse? Is that Christianity?
      DeLanda “knew” the Maya about as well as we know Martians.

  2. Grant says:

    The tzompantli (I’m not familiar with the term Tzotlil) at Chichen is made of stone covered with representations of skulls. It is the foundation of a wall or several walls made of actual human skulls. There was one at Uxmal and several have been discovered at other Puuc sites. These things were widespread and often of horrific scale, and their existence was well documented at the time of the Conquest (Wikipedia has a good article). Whether these practices originated with the Maya or were adopted from elsewhere doesn’t really matter. They were ongoing when the Spanish showed up and were emerging again as secret rituals when DeLanda was in charge of the Franciscan Mission.

    Beryl, I’m not sure I get your point. You say the question is whether it was anyone’s business, but then you list examples where modern nations have failed to save innocents suffering in other countries because they ‘turned the other cheek’ (I think you mean, ‘turned a blind eye’), saying, in effect that they wouldn’t intervene because ‘it wasn’t their business.’ If anything your examples support the idea that intervention is justified where large-scale state-sanctioned murders of innocents prevail.

    And yes, I would say that that is a proper Christian response.

    • BG says:

      You are right. I made a lot of errors in my last response. I did mean Tzompantli, which is defined (in Wikipedia) which is in the Nahuatal language, not Maya. It was an Aztec construction. The Aztec and other tribes overran Uxmal.
      There are few violent depictions at Uxmal, and the other Puuc sites.
      I would dare to say that for the good Bishop, indians were indians. He didn’t care, when looking at Chichen, that it was not purely a Maya site.
      What I was (badly) talking about above, is that torture and bad behavior takes place all over the world. I seriously doubt though, that subduing the indigenous people was done for religious reasons. The Spanish didn’t come all this way to punish naughty natives. Spain sought gold and jade and whatever else they could rip from the Yucatan, like manpower. They enslaved Mayas on thier plantations for a long time.
      Nations and groups intervene to correct behaviors they disapprove of only if there is something concrete to be gained. The US makes accommodations for brutal country in exchange for oil. The US didn’t invade Rwanda because there was nothing to be gained except saving people.
      As for Spain – aren’t they the humanitarians who held a brutal inquisition?

  3. Grant says:

    No doubt the Spanish didn’t come all the way across the Atlantic to punish the naughty natives, but the Franciscans were there for different reasons than the Conquistadors.

    DeLanda and the Franciscans were a major obstacle of the ex-conquistadors. He prosecuted them before the Audiencia for beating the indians and otherwise taking advantage of them. DeLanda lived among the Maya for years and learned their language and culture in minute detail. His “Relacion” is often sympathetic to them and often compared Maya culture favorably to Spanish ways.

    One of the better books on the subject, “Ambivalent Conquests” by Inga Clendinnen, suggests that DeLanda’s and the other Franciscan monks’ overreaction to the evidence of human sacrifice and secret continuance of Mayan religion was caused by a sense of betrayal. She thinks the Franciscans had identified so closely with the Maya and had taken their side so strongly against the secular Spanish that when they discovered that the Maya had deceived them, their response was embittered by heartbreak. That is a much better way to understand DeLanda’s excesses than to think of him as a racist.

    The indians were supposed to be exempt from the inquisition because of their status as novices. Bishop Torral prosecuted DeLanda for using inquisition procedures, including torture, against the indians, so yes, there was an inquisition, but DeLanda was prosecuted before the Spanish Crown for wrongfully using it against the indians.

    DeLanda wasn’t a racist, the Franciscans weren’t capitalists, the Spanish weren’t lawless oppressors. They did a lot of things wrong, and sometimes they went too far even when they did right. When I read about the constant stream of people taken as human sacrifices, mostly poor people from oppressed minority groups, I find it easy to forgive a lot on the part of the Spanish.

    On a personal note, thank you, Beryl, for taking the time to post this excellent article on Mani. Please don’t let my quibbles about DeLanda and Co. overshadow my enjoyment of your writing.

    • BG says:

      Okay, you have almost convinced me to change my lifelong attitudes about what happened here. I still think that from reading a few pages of deLanda’s book, he was a racist.
      I never thought of the Franciscans and the Conquistadores as having different goals. Even if they did, it worked out well for all of them.
      Since you and Estella both recommend the Clendinnen book, i will buy it. And I love to be wrong. It makes me think. Thank you for the excellent input.

      • Estela Keim says:

        BG, Clendinnen´s book is available at the Mérida English Library…if you reside here. Otherwise, Amazon carries it.

  4. Estela Keim says:

    For anyone interested, the definitive work on the history of the Spanish “conquest” of Yucatán is by Australian scholar Inga Clendinnen: Ambivalent Conquests: Maya and Spaniard in Yucatán, 1517-1570 (Cambridge Latin American Studies). She devotes lengthy sections to De Landa´s role in the peninsula and to the events at Maní. Although a scholarly text based on scrupulous research of primary and secondary sources, the book is highly readable…hard to put down once you get started.

  5. Louis says:

    Actually, Grant is correct in reporting that what enraged Landa was that, after years of efforts to “civilize” the Maya, which to him meant accepting Christianity as the one true faith and abandoning their centuries-old practice of human sacrifice, the Maya were “slacking back” to their old practices. It was the Maya of Mani who, somehow got it into their heads that the best way to emulate Christ was to … actually nail people to crosses! When Landa found out that the Maya were carrying out crucifying people (mostly children and adolescents) clandestinely, he became enraged — he thought surely Satan himself had arrived in Yucatan. (In fact, Richard Perry reports that the enigmatic frescoes at Izamal (where Landa lived) depict nothing less than Satan made manifest in Yucatan. See: What made things problematic was the question of semantics: the Inquisition was an institution that had jurisdiction ONLY over Christians — it was a way of making sure that Christians and converts (Muslims, Jews, others) were really converts. If you said, “Sorry, I’m a Jew,” then you could not be held accountable before the Inquisition. If you said, “I was a Jew, but now I’m a Christian,” then you could be tried for having a menorah in your house. So the question became: Have the Maya been taught enough to be TRUE Christians, or are they somewhere on the continuum from their old faiths to Christianity? Landa said YES. And he set up an Inquisition. His superiors (Bishop Toral in Mexico City) said, NOT SO FAST. Then it became a question of who had authority (jurisdiction) over the matter. It turns out that Landa himself had to explain his actions before the Inquisition in Spain! And there was a cover up: He was not found guilty, but he was not exonerated either. He was found to be in need of perpetual “penance” — and forbidden to return to the Americas, exiled to a monastery, and ordered to reflect upon what he had done, and compile everything he knew about the Maya in a relation — “una relacion.”

    • Estela Keim says:

      Louis, you are absolutely correct in that the issue Landa was playing up was heresy. An uncoverted Maya could never be charged with such a crime, but by De Landa´s time nearly all the Maya in townships had been converted…they were clever enough to accept Christian belief and then go on quietly as they pleased. But where did this conformist, practical attitude go wrong with the Franciscans and De Landa?

      Well, I´m not aware of the Maya re-enacting Christ´s death by crucifying victims…please, let me know your source on this point. Even if that were true, it would have been ritual murder, not heresy…and it would have carried the death penalty (probably by burning) from the perpetrators, not torture to make the guilty parties revert to the “true” faith. What actually lit the tinder box was the charge of idolatry. Two young Maya boys accused members of their families of worshiping idols which had been hidden away in a cave. These were small figurines and probably not representative of Maya gods at all but rather ancestor figures…pretty much the way we today keep handy photographs of our dead to remember and commemorate them.

      Idolatry meant heresy and thus the De Landa persecution of the Maya ensued. By the strict rules of the Inquisition, torture could not draw blood from a suspect…precluding lashing in most cases, for example. Therefore, most commonly the “idolatrous” Maya would be hung from their wrists with heavy weights attached to their ankles for days on end. Those who survived the torment were usually crippled for life and many committed suicide as a result.

      One final note on De Landa: once the ecclesiastical authorities from Mexico City, as you´ve pointed out, question his actions and his situation as self appointed inquisitor became more precarious (he had never been officially appointed by the tribunal of the Inquisition)…De Landa trumped up additional charges against the Maya, of a more compelling sort: he accused them of cannibalism in Sotuta. Why? the repellent practice of cannibalism was the ONE exception to the Spanish prohibition to torture, maim and/or kill those unconverted to Catholicism. Of course, not an iota of evidence exists to prove De Landa´s contention that the Maya engaged in this practice.

      • BG says:

        And not one iota of evidence exists to support most of the statements made by deLanda in Relaciones. Someone in these comments said that deLanda “lived among the Maya and thus understood them better than anyone else.” Anyone else? You mean any other invader? Kind of like Colombus “discovering” America.
        DeLanda may or may not have drawn blood, but he drowned, burned and hung instead.

  6. Jessie Dye says:

    Regardless, Landa committed a terrible crime against history by destroying the Maya codices. I find it difficult to attribute
    generous or even honest religious motives to anything he did. No one is arguing.that the Maya were blushing innocents, butp if they were peaceful they would have been tortured and destroyed just the same. The Franciscians wanted their ownp. empire at the expense of the indigenous, though perhaps not the exact kind of empire the Spanish wanted.

  7. mcm says:

    Clendinnen’s book “Ambivalent Conquests” is available at the Merida English Library.
    I third the recommendation (of Grant and Estelle). The author does an excellent job (in my view) of placing the records (such as they are) of the immediate post-Conquest in their cultural-historical conquest. Not surprisingly, the result is an understanding of, at least, the complexity of the protagonists and political issues (both Maya and Spanish).
    I might add that it’s a good template to follow when trying to “understand” current political and social events in Yucatan.

    • BG says:

      It’s hard for me to accept anything deLanda writes justifying his position. What if the Mayas had left an accounting of their point of view on the Conquest? Nothing he has to say puts anything into perspective except for his justification for his crimes against humanity.

  8. Kinbote says:

    Whether or not the buildings were made of actual skulls is immaterial.

    I shouldn’t have to point out the intellectual dishonesty inherent in equating religious human sacrifice, often voluntary and even more often practiced within widely-accepted cultural norms, with some Europeans showing up with guns and killing people for not believing in Jesus.

    There are many ways to deal with heartbreak. The wholesale slaughter of men, women and children is just one of them.

    Grant’s comments fall within a centuries-old tradition of justifying the violence of the Conquest by pointing to the Maya and saying “But they were violent too!”

    This line of thinking conveniently ignores that the Conquest falls on a continuum of religious violence that raged for centuries in Europe before it ever made its way to the Americas.

    To think that the Europeans, who had long fostered a culture of slaying infidels with the Crusades and with the Spanish Inquisition, just showed up here with a fresh outlook on life, ready to deal with the Maya on their terms, is ridiculous.

    And there were plenty of Europeans living at the time who felt the violence of the Conquest had gotten completely out of hand, including de Landa’s successor and the first Bishop of Yucatan, Francisco de Toral.

    There are also plenty of accounts from the Maya themselves who described the violence as being unlike anything they’d ever seen. One example is this letter written to the Bishop of Yucatan during the height of the Caste War by a group of Maya military leaders assembled at Tabi:

    “And now you remember that there is a True God. While you were murdering us didn’t you know there was a True God? You were always recommending the name of God to us and you never believed in his name…

    And now you are not prepared nor have you the courage to accept the exchange for your blows. If we are killing now, you first showed us the way.

    Twenty-four hours we allow you to give up your arms. If you are prompt, no harm will come to you, nor to your houses, but the houses and the haciendas of all whites who do not give up their arms will be burned, and they will be killed besides, because that’s how they have taught us; thus everything the whites have done to us, we shall do the same and more.”

  9. Louis says:

    Actually, the Maya and the Aztec did leave several views of conquest! It may seem odd, but the Spanish Crown was interested in the perspectives of the conquered. They ordered accounts to be sent to Madrid, and the Spanish clergy COMMISSIONED texts to complie into reports, accounts and “relaciones.” In fact, the world is filled with POST-Columbian codices commissioned by the Spanish Crown.

    Some of these accounts are available today in English-language editions. The most famous one, of course, is The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest, edited by Miguel Leon-Portillo.

    Another terrific one is Maya Worldviews at Conquest by Leslie Cecil.

    As you read all the accounts it’s strange, because since the First Peoples lived in societies of constant war and conflict (the Aztec had subjugated the Maya a century or so before the Spanish arrived, for instance), the feelings expressed reflect this. “The Aztec assholes had it coming to them,” the Maya gloat. “Those asshole Maya, how dare they team up with those hairy, smelly horse-riding European pricks to defeat us!” “It’s always the same,” the Mixtec complain, “if we don’t have to suck up to the Aztecs shit-heads, it’s the Spanish shit-heads. Everyone wants our chocolate and textiles!”

    Here’s a short list of fun books everyone should read (if your local dysfunctional library doesn’t have them, you can buy them through and get a discount by going here:


    The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, by Miguel Leon-Portilla

    The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geograficas, by Barbara E. Mundy

    Victors and Vanquished: Spanish and Nahua Views of the Conquest of Mexico (Bedford Series in History & Culture), by Stuart B. Schwartz

    Maya Worldviews at Conquest, by Leslie Cecil
    Invading Guatemala: Spanish, Nahua, and Maya Accounts of the Conquest Wars, by Matthew Restall

    Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Matthew Restall

  10. Louis says:

    For Estela:
    The edition of Diego de Landa’s RELACION that I use is this one: Landa’s Relacion De Las Cosas De Yucatan: A Translation by Alfred M. Tozzer. It was published by the Peabody about 70 years ago.

    For BG:
    I wonder why Landa didn’t just FAX his report to Madrid. Oh, wait! Fax machines didn’t exist then!

    The point? Well, it had only been a few decades that the “debate” had been settled: Yes, the inhabitants of the New World were humans, and yes, they had souls, and therefore as human being with souls they had to be saved, i.e., the Vatican and not the King had jurisdiction over them.

    This mean that having come to terms with the fact they the First Peoples were human beings, we really can’t get to the discussion of calling anyone back then RACIST. They were SPECIESIST — humans are the best species above any other species. But BG, remember, without RACES you can’t have RACISM. And races are a relatively new concept. In fact, they date back to Charles Darwin. After publication of ORIGIN OF SPECIES, it dawned on Herbert Spencer that what applied to the natural world (survival of the fittest through natural selection) also applied to human societies! And it was only Social Darwinism became a fashionable intellectual movement (post Civil War USA), did “scientists” begin to apply Darwinism to human societies. And it was then that people were divided into three broad “races” — Caucasian, Negroid and Mongoloid. So only AFTER you had RACES, could you have RACISM. (And the same thing applies to “medical science” as well — dysfunctions were identified first, then non-dysfunctions. That’s why “homosexual” was invented first, then the more common “non-dysfunctional” state was named: “heterosexual.” And so it goes for just about everything. A terrific book on the subject is Social Darwinism in American Thought by Richard Hofstadter.

  11. Kinbote says:


    While I do think it’s problematic to call de Landa a racist (there were comparatively few people back then who wouldn’t be classified as racists under our current definition) I don’t think your argument is the answer.

    One only has to glance at the works of William Shakespeare to confirm that race was most definitely a concept that existed in the European mind prior to Darwin.

    And of course, the Spanish idea of pureza de sangre really hit its stride around the time of the Conquest:

    “The notion of pureza de sangre, or blood purity, emerged out of a series of historical efforts to promote something akin to ethnic cleansing in the Iberian Peninsula. These policies were adopted formally during the ninth century and reached their height in the holy Inquisition and reconquest of Spain during the fifteenth century. The notion of limpieza de sangre or blood cleansing was initially adopted by Christians and New Christians (or Jewish conversos) in order to consolidate power by adopting laws to penalize membership in the two additionally established castas (races), namely Jewish and Muslim or Moorish. One of the key effects of policies associated with this pureza de sangre ideology was the institutionalization of a hereditary conception of social status and mobility contingent on genealogy or blood lineage. More importantly this ideology gave the church important political powers because priests were responsible for providing certificates of pureza de sangre.”

    • BG says:

      Tomatos, tomahtos. Racism, classism, etc.
      Are you saying that in merida it makes no difference what womb you fall out of, but what you yourself accomplish? i hope that isn’t what you are saying because I know you are far smarter than that.

      • Estela Keim says:

        OK, I agree with with Beryl that De Landa´s accounts are not to be interpreted uncritically. You cannot use the “Relación…” as a factual narrative of events. For example, Louis confirms that the notion of the Mayas crucifying humans comes from this source. However, the theme of ritual murder is as old as Christianityaitself…and it became very popular in Europe from the Middle ages on. In Spain, before the 1492 expulsion and forced conversion of the Jews, it was not uncommon to accuse them of murdering Christian children either on a cross or on a mock altar. The documented cases are legion. Presumed perpetrators were swiftly burned at the stake, and the victims were often beatified as martyrs of the faith. In my opinion, De Landa´s assertion about the Maya practicing ritual crucifixion smells suspiciously of his own longstanding Spanish tradition. I also agree with Professor Kinbote that usage of the term “racist” in its contemporary meaning is not applicable in the context of the 16th century drama we are discussing. I believe that the divide between De Landa and the Maya was more religious than racial, though I´m not excluding some racial overtones.

      • Kinbote says:

        I have absolutely no idea where you’re getting that idea from, Beryl. I can’t even begin to offer a rebuttal because I don’t see from where in my comment you might be drawing that conclusion. Help me out?

        My point was that the claim that the idea of “race” didn’t begin until Darwin (note that I didn’t say Racism, as Louis seems to have read) isn’t particularly accurate.

  12. Louis says:

    Now wait a second, Professor. There is a difference between racism, and lookism!

    Racism is prejudice based on race. (All Martians are thieves!) Lookism has to do with how one ranks in some social or societal ideal of beauty (see: In our time, “lookism” still refers to height (the taller you are, the more likely you are to succeed in business); weight (the fatter you are, the more likely you are perceived to be stupid or lazy); age (the older you are, the more likely you are to be respected — in some societies — or seen as irrelevant — in other societies); and homely (the plainer you look, the more you are likely to be overlooked).

    Notions of “caste” and “breeding” has a great deal to do with parentage: “I am a descendant of so-and-so.” Remember, the entire origins of “blue bloods” is Spanish — it was a mark of being refined that you didn’t have to venture out to work, meaning that by being indoors, the small capillaries in your skin, over time, give off a bluish hue. And the whole of Spanish nomenclature — compound surnames — has it’s origins in pedigree. Juan Gomez marries Ana Bahamonde. Juan’s a nobody, but Ana is a Bahamonde! So you want the kid to boast this lineage, hence the name their child Junio Gomez Bahamonde! And Spanish tax laws gave an incentive: Nobility didn’t pay taxes, so everyone was desperate to find a way to claim noble blood — to avoid the tax man.

    But this is a digression. The point being that, it was really a meritocracy: If you were of value, you had opportunities. A Jew who didn’t convert, but was talented (he spoke several languages), Luis de Torres accompanied Columbus on his voyage. Oy vey, who would have thought?

    And the Maya understood this kind of mobility based on merit: A Spanish lowlife who washed up on the shores of Yucatan, Gonzalo Guerrero was enslaved by the Maya, bought and sold and traded, but he was so skillful and accomplished, he bought his freedom and went on to become a cacique among the Maya!

    But “pureza de sangre” — pure blood — has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with pedigree, or personal accomplishments. After all there are Maasai princes who were welcomed in European courts as equals, based on their education, upbringing (skills at archery, backgammon, etc.) and it was not on race. Closer to home, Benito Juarez was a full-blooded Zapotec and he was president, and Vincente Guerreo was Afro-Mestizo and was president.

    Yes, there were prejudices based on beliefs — the curls of conservative Jews were believed to be horns (hence, “Moses” has horns as sculpted by Michelangelo), and Muslims were believed to be black (hence, Othello is black), but these are ways of representing individuals, not groups. After all, pasty while Caucasians — Scots, Welsh, Irish, English — have fought one another, and it has to do with reasons other than “race,” while nobles have married each others’ children off for fortunes or power.

    When Miguel Cabrera came up with his list of “castas” found in New Spain in 1763, he was more interested in “lookism” than in race, since he came up with 16 categories, right off the bat!

    Miguel Cabrera, 1763
    De español y d’India; Mestiza
    De español y Mestiza, Castiza
    De Español y Castiza, Español
    De Español y Negra, Mulato
    De Español y Mulata; Morisca
    De Español y Morisca; Albina
    De Español y Albina; Torna atrás
    De Español y Torna atrás; Tente en el aire
    De Negro y d’India, China cambuja
    De Chino cambujo y d’India; Loba
    De Lobo y d’India, Albarazado
    De Albarazado y Mestiza, Barcino
    De Indio y Barcina; Zambuigua
    De Castizo y Mestiza; Chamizo
    De Mestizo y d’India; Coyote
    Indios gentiles

    The whole thing was so unworkable — what happens when a Chamizo has a child with a Mulato? And that child grows up to marry and have a kid with an Albina … and so on and so on and so on?

    It created so many problems that people went back to who you were, or what you have accomplished. That’s why in Merida people roll their eyes at the privileged “juniors” — kids who happened to fall out of the right wombs, or defer to those who have accomplished something on their own: Ana Rosa Payan, former mayor comes to mind, since she is short, fat, homely and not a descendant of the “casta divina” but was very accomplished.

    All you have to do is remember the origins of the Spanish title of “hidalgo” — Don Quixote was an “hidalgo.” “Hijo de algo” — Son of Something (important). Pureza de sangre refers to what your ancestors accomplished, and how that rubs off on you, race being immaterial.

    • Estela Keim says:

      Louis, Louis…your definition of “pureza de sangre” is slightly twisted…it was not just about the merits and social pedrigree of your ancestors…it was about having blood untainted by the infidel, Jew, Moor, or any other brand of non Christian…in this sense it was more of a religious barrier than a racial one. Although the two converged because almost invariably only white Spaniards could pass the “limpieza de sangre” protocols. And some pure Spaniards didn´t. The painter Velázquez failed the test of the 16 generations…and had to be pushed by the King of Spain into the Order of Santiago…the king overruling the screening tribunal who turned down the greatest painter of land at the time. But I agree with you in that in many situations it was (and continues to be) class and breeding what was taken into account, not race or ethnic origin.

    • Kinbote says:

      “Pureza de sangre refers to what your ancestors accomplished, and how that rubs off on you, race being immaterial.”

      I mean this with utmost respect for you, Louis, as a friend (a strictly virtual one, as of this moment anyway) and as a fellow thinker. My response here may sound snotty. I assure you that I don’t mean it to.

      But you know that’s not true.

      To say that race is immaterial in this case, or that religion was the true divining rod, or, my God, that it really all came down to accomplishment, is to completely deny that ethnicity and religious practice always converge, at some point, in one’s genealogy.

      Now, it very well may be that the authors of the pureza de sangre laws didn’t think about it in terms of race in the way that you and I understand it, but you and I know perfectly well that race is what it ultimately came down to.

      And I don’t feel compelled to rebut this statement any further because I honestly believe it would be a waste of time, and it would be much more interesting to discuss this topic in a way that is real and honest and historically accurate.

  13. Louis says:

    I suppose two people can come to different opinions about the same thing. A 10 ounce glass has five ounces of liquid. Is it half full or half empty?

    The only thing I can say is that my conclusions on “pureza de sangre” derive from why they were enacted in the first place: It was to keep non-Christians out of political power in the “Reconquistada” Spain. In 1501 the Spanish kings approved the first royal law on “pureza de sangre” that sought to prevent:

    “ningún hijo ni nieto de quemado hasta la segunda generación pudiese tener oficio de Consejero real, oidor, secretario, alcalde, alguacil, mayordomo, contador mayor, tesorero, ni ningún otro cargo, sin especial permiso de la corona”

    If your parent or grandparent had been found guilty of committing “crimes” against Chrisitianity, you were illegible for a position of authority, without permission from the Crown. This was less severe than what had been passed in Toledo in 1491, the first-ever “pureza de sangre” laws, which sought to exclude Conversos — converts and their children from Islam and Judaism. Again, this was to exclude people based on faith, not race. See: Sicroff, A. A. (1985, tesis de 1955): Los Estatutos de Limpieza de Sangre. Controversias entre los siglos XV y XVII, Taurus, Madrid.

    The Vatican had mixed feelings about this: If through baptism you were born to a new life through Christ our Lord, didn’t that wipe away all sin — from Original Sin to the one committed by grandpa who spat on the Bible when they took away his Torah?

    Five years of argument ended when Pope Alexander VI said, “OK, let’s see where this goes,” and approved the measure for just one group of Catholics: The Order of San Geronimo.

    But again, the purpose was to exclude converts, and two generations of their descendants, from positions of authority. See: “Limpieza de sangre e inquisicion” by Americo Castro. (

    The result was that to be, pardon the pun, a “kosher” Christian, one had to prove he was a true Christian “por los cuatro costados,” meaning the “four sides” of your being: That not only were your parents good Christians, but that your FOUR grandparents had been good Christians. By 1522, many military institutions and universities required such documentation before you could be an officer or a professor.

    These laws continued through the 19th century, with King Fernando VII using them in 1804. It was only in 1865 that these requirements were slowly officially rescinded, first by the military, then by the navy, then by universities, all of which simply ceased to enforce them.

    As for their application in the New World, pureza de sangre laws were in place for people wishing to EMIGRATE from Europe TO New Spain, but on the subject of “pureza de sangre” laws and the indigenous peoples, I’ve been able to find nothing: That tells me that it was clear that the indigenous peoples could never meet the requirements (all four grandparents being Christians in good standing?), so there was no need to even bother. For “pureza de sangre” and New Spain, see: Pablo Iglesias Aunión’s, “Las Licencias para viajar a Indias. Estatutos de limpieza de sangre y requerimientos en el Trujillo del siglo XVI”.

    Anyway, you could be as Caucasian as Cameron Diaz (who is Cuban, by the way), but if your father had been anti-clerical, forget it, you’d have to get a waiver from the king to be dog-catcher in Toledo, the character of your ancestors, for at least two generations, being more important than the color of your skin.

  14. Molly Mignon, Ph.D. says:

    Hi Beryl, I read Mani Revisited, and I am very sorry to hear the padre is in such bad shape. I remember him as a delightful and inspiring person.
    A couple of important facts were left out of the account of Landa. Because of his inhumane treatment of the Maya people, he was recalled to Spain by church authorities and censured. His Relacion de las Cosas…
    was written at the request of the church, both as a disciplinary measure and because they wanted more first-hand information about the people, customs and culture of Yucatan. And this book then became the one and only authoritative ethnographic account of Maya culture from the 16th century, a unique book that has formed the basis of all subsequent research. One VERY important contribution it made is the so-called “Maya alphabet” Landa recorded, from his informant Gaspar Antonio Chi, a member of a Maya royal family who was the official scribe for Merida, and also the organist and choir director at the cathedral there. Chi had learned to read the hieroglyphic script as a child, and was also literate in both Spanish and Latin, which he learned from the padres. He tried to explain to Landa that what he was writing down was not an
    alphabet, since Mayan is not an alphabetic language, but Landa failed to understand him. However, Landa faithfully recorded all the signs Chi gave him, which were finally recognized and reconstructed in the 1960′s by the Russian Maya scholar Yuri Konarozov, and the Maya syllabary was finally reconstructed in full–one of the first and most important steps leading to the final decipherment of the hieroglyphic script in the 1970s.

    • BG says:

      Thanks, Molly. Molly Mignon is an archaeologist speciallizing in Maya anthropology and archaeology.
      Is the Russian’s work published in English?

  15. Louis says:

    BG, I think Molly is referring to Yuri Valentinovich Knorosov. His 1975 is available: Maya Hieroglyphic Codices, published in English in 1982.

    Be aware that his approach (as Landa’s) that the glyphs were PHONETIC was very controversial. And although Landa is credited with giving insights into understanding the Maya script, it was another Russian, Tatiana Proskouriakoff, who made major breakthroughs: She deciphered the glyphs as telling history, and not just recording astronomical dates. This revolutionized the field, since it made archaeologists, epigraphers, ethnographers and linguists understand that the Maya were recording the real history of their political and social life.

    Today, the “genius” of Maya interpretation is David Stuart, at Univ. of Texas, Austin. Mind you, to this day no one can “read” Maya hieroglphics. It’s like saying (as David Stuart, David’s dad famously said) “Cuckoo’s Nest/2 Oscars.” Oh, I get it, it MEANS “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest won 2 Acadamy Awards.” So what we can interpret is, “Lord Pacal/Palenque/throne/ascended/615″ so you say, “Oh, I get it, it MEANS that Lord Pacal became king of Palenque in 615 A.D.”

    This is how David Stuart summarized Knorozov’s work: “Knorosov’s surprisingly simple results, published initially in the Soviet Union, took many years to be accepted in the West. And despite a number of erroneous readings, we know now that Knorosov was essentially correct in his interpretation of the mechanics of the glyphs. Among scholars who had read Knorosov’s original work was Tatiana Proskouriakoff of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, a fellow Russian by birth. Perhaps inspired by Knorosov’s progressive ideas, Proskouriakoff published a breakthrough paper in 1960 in which she elegantly demonstrated that the inscriptions at the Maya city of Piedras Negras contained patterns of dates followed by life histories — the births, inaugurations, and deaths of kings and their kinfolk. Her ideas relied on none of Knorosov’s phonetic evidence, but presented with flawless logic the simple-but-powerful notion that the Classic Maya wrote history.”

    • BG says:

      Wondering why no one has mentioned art historian Linda Schele, who deciphered Maya glyphs at various archaeological sites and was the first person to put them in context with other glyphs to form a meaningful pattern. I have always thought it was fascinating that someone who looked at the glyphs with an artist’s eye was the first to see their contextual meanings.

      • Kinbote says:

        You mean the Linda Schele who wanted to study the Maya because she “wanted to become a Mayan priestess” and wrote extensively about how Maya religion helped her with her alcoholism?

        Personally, I’m sick and tired of looking for good, honest, academic scholarship and finding New Age garbage. Call me blunt, a grudge-holder, whatever, but I think “scholars” like Linda Schele should be sent away to isolated desert islands where they can no longer infect the world with their bullshit “scholarship.”

        And I cannot trust a word that comes out of their mouth, even if it is true, because the rest of their “scholarship” is just a product of their strive for New Age wish fulfillment.

        I mean, honestly. If someone told you they wanted to convert to Catholicism because they really wanted to be a Catholic priest, or to Judaism because they thought being a rabbi would be just awesome, wouldn’t you think they were a lunatic? Who thinks like that?

        Insane people do.

        • BG says:

          Prof. Kinbote, I think you may be confusing Dr. Schele with someone else. She was a Ph.D. who has co-written scholarly books with some of the most respected names in Maya archaeology, including David Freidel and Peter Matthews. I heard her speak once at a professional meeting and she seemed anything but airy-fairy. She was down to earth, likeable, and didn’t seem to take herself to seriously. And she died of cancer in 1998, before the new age stuff unfortunately made its major inroads into Mayanism. Thus, she cannot be banished to a desert island. Alcoholism? Really?

          • Kinbote says:

            Nope. I’m not confusing her with anyone else. I double checked before I posted the comment. The book I was citing is “Maya Cosmos”, written Linda Schele, David Freidel and Joy Parker.

            She mentions her alcoholism in this interview:

            LS: I know. If you go back to the first time I went to Palenque – Maya changed everything that I am. I mean, I never anticipated being what I am. And I’ve also faced two, three, life threatening crises. I’m an alcoholic. I almost died of peritonitis. And I’ve got cancer, and in every one of those situations, the place that I went to find solace, and the strength that I needed to face it, was the Maya. I want to be buried in Guatemala, not in the United States.

            MC: With the Maya.

            LS: Yeah, under a tree, on Freddy’s land.


          • BG says:

            I guess I’m a wack job too, because I can completely understand what she is saying. I don’t see it as nutty.

          • Kinbote says:

            Also, I’m aware she is dead. I was referring to all scholars like her.

            In no other academic field would these people be given such a voice, aside from maybe fiction writing. But in Maya studies, any New Age asshole who wants to go on a spiritual journey and “interpret” the Maya culture to fit their own spiritual understanding can do it.

            So they park themselves out in the jungle, harass some natives, do some drinking, some drugging, really get to the center of their white lady problems, and “interpret” away. They write about how it helped them with their alcoholism and, badda bing, badda boom. A book deal and a grant.

            I just don’t understand why there’s such a shortage of serious scholars in this field. I’ve never seen anything like it.

          • BG says:

            I think it is true that Mayanists have a reputation, perhaps deserved, for being little wild out there in the jungle. But what Schele produced as a scholar is not nutty. And some of the archaeologists are known for having gone to bat for the Maya villagers versus organizations like INAH, helping them protect what is theirs, and keep their legacy in their local surroundings, like what happened in Yaxunah. It was a big deal.
            What is a “serious scholar?” Dried up soulless people who don’t allow themselves to feel the awesomeness of what they were dealing with? Even my father, the most serious scholar you would ever meet (zoology), ocassionally allowed himself to just sit back and marvel at the way the universe fits together. And he didn’t have a romantic or wacky bone in his body.

          • Kinbote says:


            What your father did was perfectly acceptable.

            I’m talking about buying a book called “Maya Cosmos” which promises to explicate Maya religious belief and practice and instead finding a few hundred pages about some gringa’s personal quest to become a Maya priestess and conquer her alcoholism.

            That’s not scholarship. That’s bullshit, and as a person who wants to learn the facts, it’s a waste of my time and money.

          • Kinbote says:

            If your father had written a supposedly scholarly book about how much he wanted to live with the sea otters, to become a sea otter (or be as close to one as he could be,) and how living with the sea otters might help him conquer his addiction to cough drops, I would have a similar problem.

          • BG says:

            Okay, I’m remembering the book differently. I’m going to borrow it from a friend on tuesday and have another look.

          • BG says:

            I see your point. But how I wish he had the imagination to wish he was a sea otter. And laughed more.

  16. Louis says:

    Well, BG, since Linda Schele is most closely associated with Palenque and you wrote about Mani, perhaps that’s one reason. But if anyone is curious, Linda was an epigrapher whose work (with Yale’s Mary Miller) was groundbreaking. Check out A FOREST OF KINGS. Linda, morbidly obese most of her life, struggled with her weight until she went on this crazy liquid diet to lose 100 pounds. After that achievement, as Fate would have it, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died at the age of 55, depriving the world of her brilliance. She was loads of fun, having met her at Merle Greene Robertson’s Palenque Round Tables and then at various meetings of the AAAS in the U.S. (She always knew the best dives for Mexican food, wherever we were.)

    • BG says:

      Not sure exactly what your point is here, Louis. Dr. Schele worked in Tikal and other Guatemalan and Honduran sites and in the Yucatan as well, specifically the Puuc sites. I was simply commenting that while other people struggled to decipher individual glyphs, it was Schele who first successfully strung them together to elicit meaning. Yes, she worked in Palenque, but so did most of the other epigraphers we have mentioned. I am not arguing with anyone – just adding my POV that she was a very important player in the world of Maya glyphs. I have always admired her tremendously. And I am not sure how her possible struggle with her weight has anything to do with her accomplishments. Would you make that comment if she were a man?

  17. Louis says:

    BG, my comment on her weight has nothing to to with gender, just the fact that it was an impediment to her work. Gender has nothing to do with it. In fact, her weight became a matter of debate because the University of Texas, where she worked, threatened to prevent her from going into the field. The heat, the exhaustion, the demanding conditions posed a liability fo the university. It became quite controversial: Were insurance companies going to prohibit others who faced health risks — say, diabetics who require daily insulin? In any case, the entire situation was so embarrassing that it helped Linda resolve to lose the weight, and in such an odd manner: liquid diets. I suppose without knowing the backstory, it might come across as sexist focusing on a woman’s weight, and you’re right, I wonder had she been a man, would university officials have taken the same stance? In any case, Linda, to the best of my knowledge, didn’t think that Landa’s phonetic interpretation of Maya writing were right, nor did she use him in her own work.

    • BG says:

      You are way offbase and may I say, entirely disrespectful of an important scholar. FYI, I called UT and talked to a man named Sergio in the HR office. He said they have no policies in place nor are they considering any about weight being a factor in going into the field in any area of study. He had never heard of Dr. Schele, but he got annoyed when I told him what the discussion was about and asked whether we didn’t have anything to better to do than think about the personal lives of scientists. I believe Sergio used the words “petty” and “ignorant.”

  18. Louis says:

    By the way, Linda, for reasons I won’t speculate, did think she was “chosen” to be the vessel through which the Mayas’ writings were revealed to the world. Other scholars made fun, or rolled their eyes, not quite sure what to make of it. Not sure if it detracted from her credibility, but it did make her seem eccentric. “Let’s smoke a joint, let’s have some drinks, let’s harmonize our energies, and when Venus is low in the sky, I will experience a breakthrough on that pesky little glyph I’ve been having dreams about.” I’m not sure if this approach is consistent with the scientific method.

  19. Jody says:

    This is possibly the most interesting and educational blog discussion I have ever read. Thank you all.

  20. The above discussion merits a few, if divergent, comments.

    As far as Mayan scholarship is concerned, a documentary aired on PBS a few years ago, Cracking the Maya Code, inadvertently touches on a few of the hot-button issues that have so distracted some of the commenters in this thread.

    Without question, Cracking the Maya Code was an extremely interesting, visually imaginative, and even entertaining, documentary.

    However. If my memory is accurate, it’s about 90-minutes long and its every talking-head is a white one. It touches upon the Maya and their appreciation and understanding of their classical culture only briefly, almost as an afterthought.

    Since white people first started poking around Mayan ruins and began trying to decipher Mayan glyphs, white people have spoken and written and behaved as if their interest in these things somehow magically transferred ownership of the entirety of Mayan civilization to white people.

    I don’t have an academic familiarity with the published literature on Mayan studies, but what I’ve read has revealed an astounding lack of interest in what the Maya think or feel or believe about their history.

    On the other hand, I’ve run into a great many “personal testimonies,” almost on the order of the “testimonies” of salvation and redemption that tearful believers deliver in Pentecostal and charismatic churches, from academics working in one field or another of Maya studies.

    The speed and ease with which the objective and empirical are converted to the personal and subjective seems, to me at least, a big fat problem on many simultaneous levels.

    The Maya, their culture, their history, their civilization do not exist for white people.

    The Maya, their culture, their history, their civilization, exist in and of themselves entirely apart from whatever interest white people may or may not have in them.

    The Maya, their culture, their history, and their civilization are not a means to an end.

    At best, it is morally ambiguous for white people to treat the Maya, their culture, their history, and their civilization as a convenient and reliable source of spiritual epiphanies or therapeutic insights.

    Allow me, please, to be even more blunt.

    Since what we know of classical Mayan civilization, particularly its religious beliefs and practices, is so very fragmentary and vague, and so very often self-contradictory, any and all personal interpretation of, or personal reaction to, these things cannot be anything other than wish fulfillment, anything other than a particularly febrile interpretation of a Rorschach ink-blot test, anything other than, simply put, pure projection.

    I find it distasteful to watch privileged white people use the Maya as ventriloquist dummies for the expression of the spiritual irritations and obsessions endemic to privileged white people.

    And while such ventriloquism may be a wonderful way for white people to relieve stress and and lower their blood pressure and feel better about themselves in general, it is not scholarship.

    With regard to racism, as anachronism or not…

    To claim that people living prior to the advent of scientific racism in the 19th century were racist is not to decorate them with attitudes, beliefs, and motives they couldn’t have possibly had.

    If we can all agree that racism, simply put, is nothing more or less than the belief that genes are destiny, then how ought we view the arguments put forth by Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda in 1550 during the (in)famous Valladolid Debate concerning the treatment of slaves in the New World?

    Reaching as far back as Aristotle for support, Sepúlveda based his justifications for Spanish conduct on the fact that Amerindians were “natural slaves” and could therefore be tortured and slaughtered and worked like animals in order to “uproot [their] crimes that offend nature.”

    To say that Sepúlveda’s beliefs were unremarkable at that time is merely tendentious.

    Among Sepúlveda’s contemporaries we can find any number of well-known people, such as Bartolomé de las Casas, Sepúlveda’s debate opponent, and even members of the Spanish aristocracy, who strongly rejected the substance, reasoning, and intent of Sepúlveda’s arguments.

    These people almost certainly never used the word “racism,” or whatever its 16th century Spanish equivalent might have possibly been, when articulating their thoughts, but they nonetheless knew the mistreatment of Amerindians was based on the fact that Europeans believed Amerindians to be inherently less than human.

    • BG says:

      Hugo, you are so damned mean. The Maya Culture and Maya Studies have been the basis for so many Ph.D. theses, it would be a crime to see this work as anything but groundbreaking. In the US, if you go for a Ph.D. in the areas of Navajo Trade Patterns, or Health Issues Among Pre-Contact Haida, you run the risk of being discredited by real Navajos or Haidas. I have the feeling that here in Yucatan, the Maya look upon the whole academic chase for truth as amusement. So here you have this ancient culture understood by few if any contemporary white people, either white Mexicans or foreigners, and a group of people who don’t give a shit what we think. A fertile ground for advanced studies. Lots of “informants.” Shame on you, Hugo – you are just ruining everything.

  21. Louis says:

    May I enter the fray?

    Do you remember the original “Planet of the Apes?” The final scene of that film is Charleston Heston on horesback with his beautiful and mute female companion, fleeing the apes and their civilization. There he is on horseback, galloping along the beach when he comes upon the most horrific sight: The Statue of Liberty half buried in sand.

    It then dawns on him that’s he’s been back on Earth all along, only transported into the future. Whatever befell humanity, it was so devastating that the people around him (including the sexy, human who can’t even speak a word of anything, but she looks like she belongs on the cover of Victoria’s Secret magazine) have 1) no memory of Western civilization, 2) no ability to read anything, and 3) only rudimentary customs associated with the civilization from which they are descendant.

    The point? If you read the POST-Columbian codices of the Maya, the Aztec, and lots of other groups, it’s just mumble-jumble of this myth and that legend, and so on. In fact, the most frustrating thing for John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in the 1830s and 1840s was that no matter who they asked, or where they asked it, the Maya gave the same response. Who built this? Quien sabe? (Who knows?) What is the purpose of this temple? Quien sabe? (Who knows?) And so on.

    The collapse of the Maya civilization was so complete — we forget that when the Spanish arrived in Yucatan ALL the great Maya cities and ceremonial centers had been abandoned and overtaken by the jungle FOR CENTURIES. From its height, estimated at almost 9 million people, today the Yucatan, 500 years after Columbus only supports about 2 million!

    The Maya lost their history, the ability to read their own script, the origins and meaning of their civilization CENTURIES before Columbus or Cortez or Landa or anyone else from Europe for that matter set foot on these shores. Check out the Youtube clip I have about scholars discussing the “find” in a POST-Columbian codice commissioned by the Spanish in the 16th century: That was a sell-out event that left people scratching their heads.

    But this is not unique: Centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, almost no one in what is now Italy could read Latin. And if it had not been for the Rosetta Stone, stumbled upon Napoleon’s army in 1798, we would not be able to decipher/interpret the Egyptian hieroglyphics! The Rosetta Stone, believed to have been created in 196 B.C. on behalf of Plotemy V proved only helpful because it was carved in Greek and Egyptian. Figure out the Greek, you’re on your way to figuring out the Egyptian.

    For the Maya everyone has been looking for the equivalent, and since the Maya themselves have no memory of it, in practical terms, they really have no history. What we have are traditions, passed down by the descedants of the survivors of whatever befell the Maya civilization. Think of it this way: Something happens and New York is abandoned, everyone gone. And the only people left are way out in the outskirts, in places like Lansing and Schenectady, dirt poor communities inhabited by people who live on welfare and in trailers, and then hundreds of years later we are trying to understand New York City by studying the traditions and cultures of people who live in Lansing and Schenectady who, when you ask, Who built Rockefeller Center and what were the Twin Towers all about? can only reply, “Who knows?”

    Who knows? That’s a hard place from which to start!

    • BG says:

      What is your point here, dear Louis? Are you saying that because enroaching foreigners destroyed their written records that they now have no knowledge of their histories? Have we already agreed then, that the deLanda documentation, and all of the post-C0nquest documentation is for all practical purposes worthless since it was written by self-serving invaders?
      Is it possible that whomever was gathering information from “the Maya” asked them direct but complex questions and “the Maya” felt no urgent need to tell them anything, since their experience with their kind had not been good? And could it be that the “logic” of Maya recorded history is written differently from the way “scholars” may have wanted to squeeze concepts we might not understand into discrete, snappy answers? Can it be that there are different ways of thinking on the earth, and that not everyone feels an urgency to explain their thought processes to us? Or that their answers to even seemingly simple questions are considered in a different frame of reference from the way they are structured by Us?
      I remember asking the Maya woman who cleans my house, a few years ago, how many people lived in her village. She gave it a great deal of thought, and finally answered, “bastante.” (Enough)

  22. Louis says:

    I’m not making any point. I’m just reporting that it’s all conjecture, the histories of the squabbles among the Maya city-states over the course of the centuries when they were viable, like pieces of some puzzle that you can amuse yourself by if you put them all together, but really makes no difference if you solve the riddle or not. What I do find odd is that the descendants who built these temples — let’s face it, a great deal of effort went into building ceremonial centers and in having their names carved in stone by the ancient Maya, presumably so they would be remembered for eternity — now mean nothing to the descendants.

    I’m sure most Jews feel some “ownership” of Jerusalem, and Christians feel some “ownership” for Bethlehem, and Muslims feel “ownership” of Mecca. Why don’t the Maya exhibit similar interest in Palenque or Uxmal? How would we feel if, say, all the leading scholars in the world on Judaism/Christianity/Islam were Hindu? If nothing else, it would seem odd.

    And why is it that it’s mostly Europeans and Anglo-Americans who feel that curiosity to try to understand it? Years ago, Ed Kurjack used to say, “Had the Maya been a bit more careful, they’d all be famous today, like Sophocles and Cleopatra.” And I remember how Eric Thompson said that the Maya civilization was “a wonderful mirror in which to see your own civilization,” I suppose in a Freudian sense, since a blank slate can project anything.

    In practical terms, folks at INAH have long resented that 1) they don’t have the money that a Harvard or U of Texas has, and 2) most of the important work is done in English, a linguistic barrier to non-native Spanish speakers.

    But I suppose if there is a point, Beryl, is that of lament: I lament that there aren’t a gazillion Maya youths filling out applications to enter Maya studies and sign up for epigraphy, linguistics, anthropology, ethnography, archaeology to get out there and finally make advances of their own cultural heritage.

    That would be fun.

    And let’s be honest, Beryl. Today the world exists in a market economy, one that demans specific answers to specific questions, exact solutions to exact problems. Anyone who answers “Enough” to the question “How many people live in your village,” is not management material.

  23. Louis says:

    Oh, wait, is Hugo de Naranja right? Is all these Maya scholarship/New Age a load of excrement? Wait!

    MSNBC reports its “2011 Weird Science Awards” and guess who is on it! We of the Yucatan peninsula!

    Here is how we are mocked around the world:

    Oops! Maya doomsday date corrected

    Are we having doomsday yet? Some folks say the ancient Maya calendar’s “Long Count” runs out on Dec. 21, 2012, and that a world-changing crisis will occur at that time. Other folks, including the modern-day Maya, say that’s just a load of llama crap … and that 12/22/2012 will merely mark the start of a new calendar cycle.
    And then there’s Gerardo Aldana, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who says they’re all probably wrong.

    Aldana contends that the calculations we’ve used to match up the Maya calendar to our modern reckoning could be off by as much as 50 to 100 years, and that the Long Count may have already ended. If Aldana is right, the timetable for the apocalypse may already be up. Which might explain why “Apocalypto” director Mel Gibson’s been acting so weird lately.


  24. gypsygringo says:

    How this discussion devolves from BG´s blog on Mani is something of a mystery to me, especially the comments posted by Kinbote, who seems to have an ax to grind with regard to Linda Schele, who, by the way, was an acquaintance of mine. To paint her with broad strokes as a ¨New Age¨academic and a frivolous gringa who aspired to be a Mayan Priestess is astonishingly childish as well as downright incorrect. An art historian by training, Linda devoted her life to the study of Maya verbs, and her scholarships and methodogy are so rock-solid that they are virtually beyond reproach. Discussions of her alcoholism and obesity are petty and irrelevant, and simply have no place in a serious discussion of Maya studies. The book, Maya Comos, while speulative in tone and less academically rooted than A Forest of Kings (Freidel/Schele) is an insightful exploration of Maya cosmological thought, written by a trio of respected Mayanist, David Freidel, Joy Parker and Linda Schele. To describe it as few hundred pages of some gringa´s quest to cure her alcoholism and become a Maya priestess is assinine. End of discussion. Kinbotes postings are not worth the time it takes to read them.

  25. @Gypsy Gringo


    Let me see if I’m correctly following your logic:

    * You reject Kinbote’s criticisms because they’re ad hominem.

    * To demonstrate that ad hominem criticism is invalid, you subject Kinbote to…ad hominem criticisms.

    Since you’re quick to characterize Kinbote as “astonishingly childish,” I’m puzzled as to why you’re equally quick to engage in name-calling of the most facile, uninteresting kind.

    What’s even more mysterious is why you seem to believe that a “speculative” tone and a “less academically rooted” approach somehow magically pre-empt any and all second-guessing and criticism of a scholar’s work.

    You would seem to believe it admirable to defend the dead, particularly if the dead at issue were white and belonged to the rote middle-class intelligentsia.

    You seem rather less concerned with the defense of dead little brown-skinned people, particularly those whose religion and culture have been reduced to a freakish burlesque of the pretty sentiments and nice spiritual musings common to morally coarse white people lacking in taste and commonsense.

  26. gypsygringo says:


    I find your overly combative style distasteful. How you jump to the conclusion that I have no concern for the defense of little brown-sknned people is indicative of a bully syndrome. My defense of Linda Schele´s work has nothing to do with the color of her skin, or the fact that she is dead. The sole point was that attacking her scholarship by pointing an accusing finger at her alcoholism and/or obesity is petty and irrelevant. As for Maya Cosmos, I have read nothing in this interchange that would qualify as legitimate criticism, it´s all just bickering and name-calling.

  27. Kinbote says:

    What you failed to understand, Gypsy, is that A. I didn’t mention her obesity, Louis did, and B. I only brought up her alcoholism because she wrote about it in the book.

    There are plenty of fantastic scholars who are also alcoholics.

    But fantastic scholar does not write an academic book about their subject of expertise and work his or her experience with alcoholism into it.

    My criticism is not an ad hominem attack on her for being an alcoholic–it’s for marketing a book as “Mayan Studies” that has more to do with her quest to be a shaman and to conquer her personal demons.

    That’s not serious scholarship.

    She’s perfectly welcome to write whatever she wants, but to call it Mayan Studies is dishonest.

    • BG says:

      OK, no more comments on the war about Dr. Schele’s supposed flaws. I would love to hear more about de Landa, the Mani church, the Maya interfamilial conflicts, etc.

  28. gypsygringo says:

    Only a footnote, then.
    Dr. Schele only mentioned her own demons. ( i.e. alcoholism ) in Maya Cosmos as a means to express something that did not explicitly have to do with the subject of the text, but rather a means to fully describe her emotional connection to the subject matter. I personally do not think Linda ever equated her recovery from subsance abuse with anything to do with her scholastic research, and I believe she only wrote about it as a means to getter at a deeper truth.

    Now, as to Beryl´s admonition that we get back to the topic at hand (DeLanda and Mani), I would offer up the observation that his ¨Relaciones de las Cosas de Yucatan¨ is not quite as ¨racist¨ as is intimated, especially considering the socio/political atmosphere of 16th Century. DeLanda, in my humble opinion, is one of those tragic figures of history, not easily lumped together with the evils of the conquistadores, and an inidvidual whom, for good or bad, was one of the fathers of modern enthology. I would disagree with BG´s characterization of him in her posting. His time, and his own personality, with regard to the Spanish conquest of Meso-america, is far too complex to dismiss as simply racist rant.

  29. gypsygringo says:

    What´s this? Two days of silence. Nobody wants to say anything when they´re not ranting against some ¨poor, dead, whitebread gringa-alcoholic?¨

  30. Louis says:

    Beryl, if you want something on Mani, how about this:

    “The Apsidal Mural

    The most spectacular find was an extraordinarily well preserved 16th century mural, discovered behind the main altar at the east end of the church. This large fresco, which fills the apse from floor to vault, took the form of a wall retablo and is believed to date from the late 1560s or 1570s.

    The painted architectural framework of the fresco is Italianate in design – unusual for this early date. The two principal niches, framed in Plateresque fashion, contain polychrome murals of animated design and confident execution, portraying the Stigmatization of St. Francis and The Archangel Michael, patron saint of Mani, lancing Lucifer. Still retaining their bright hues of red, blue/green and earth colors, a rarity in 16th century murals, these dynamic compositions have a Mannerist palette and sense of drama remarkable for this early date, possibly indicating the presence of a European artist at Mani.

    The painted pediment shows the Instruments of Christ’s Passion together with the Franciscan insignia of The Five Wounds, enclosed in an ornate strapwork frame flanked by the archangels Gabriel and Raphael. Framed escutcheons of the Spanish royal arms are displayed on either side.”

    This is from MAYA MISSIONS by Richard and Rosalind Perry, a terrific book on all the missions throughout Yucatan State. It’s available at Casa Catherwood.

  31. William says:

    My thoughts on the subject of Mani revolve around the excellent Poc Chuc at the Principe Tutul Xiu restaurant. I also find their hand made tortillas excellent, as is their fresh naranjada. Afterwards, with a severely distended stomach groaning from the abuse, I like to enjoy a cigarette while sitting on the swings on one side of the church/monastery building thing, while contemplating the simpler pleasures of life.

    There is no doubt in my mind that believing in some sort of cosmic being looking out for us is just ridiculous, whether it be Mohamed, Vishnu, that Jesus guy or the Spaghetti Monster (my personal favorite)

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