Friday, January 15, 2010
Mayan connections to the sea
This blog entry comes from the Maya Mountains of Belize which is filled with breathtaking beauty where I have been perusing exploratory studies in what I like to call comparative ethno-ecology. For many years I have worked cooperatively with traditional indigenous peoples around the world from the Tiwi of Australia to the Valley of Mexico to the Pacific NW. Human Ecology has been at the heart of this work in terms of practices of sustainability, decision making processes regarding future generations balanced with commercial development objectives, and the relationship of people to their immediate environment and the cosmos. Through this work, it has become apparent to me that no one culture holds the answers to my questions yet all hold pieces of a larger puzzle. However, through these studies, I have gained valuable insight into ecological cycles and ecosystem connectivity.
While on travels to Tikal, Caracol and Cehal Pech (relatively easy access from Belize City), we met many people who clearly demonstrated that the Mayan peoples are still alive and some we spoke with still hold tradition knowledge of traditional medicine and cultural intricacies. At the archeological sites we saw evidence of the connections of these inland sites to the sea, the most readily apparent of which was amongst the burial regalia of a so-called Mayan king at Tikal. The regalia was adorned with ~16 lbs. of jade beads (reportedly their most precious stone) and large scallop shells, many of which still contained rows of the fragile external processes rarely seen by beachcombing shell collectors. Further, a wide variety of sea shell and coral fragment beadwork were noted amongst these sites, some of which dated to 700 B.C.
Pictographs at the Tikal museum also documented the existence of a Mayan Fishery although no navigable waters were noted in close proximity to the center of this site. It was also interesting to note a much replicated pictograph of another Mayan king on his journey to the spirit world where a fish is one of the animal effigies rowing the long canoe. None of this information came as a great surprise since I’ve seen tropical conch shell horns and macaw feathers at an archeological site in Ohio or Mayan style ball courts in Puerto Rico; however, finding validation for suspected connections is always a pleasant outcome.