hope in the face of on going disaster

One Mayan city-state managed to hold out against the aggressive onslaught of the Spanish conquistadors. Hernan Cortes and his Honduras bound expeditionary force first encountered Tayasal in 1524-5.

One Mayan city-state managed to hold out against the aggressive onslaught of the Spanish conquistadors. Hernan Cortes and his Honduras bound expeditionary force first encountered Tayasal in 1524-5.

For more than 170 years after that the Itzá preserved their post classical Mayan way of life.

One of the many peoples in southern Mexico and Central America who share Maya heritage, the Itzá were initially spared the horrific cultural and human disaster of conquest because they lived on an island in Lake Peten-Itzá. With a Spanish rival to confront further south Cortes decided not to chance a costly siege of the eminently defensible island.

In 1697, though, the Spanish returned with a vengeance. They destroyed all evidence of Tayasal. A church, Guatemalan government building and the main plaza in the renamed town of Flores obliterated the probable area of the last functioning Mayan ceremonial centre.

A green canopy of jungle dominated the gently undulating landscape as we drove east through the Peten rain forest from the island town of Flores, Guatemala. Our goal was the ancient Mayan city-state of Tikal 65 kilometres to the east. Cortes had no idea of the splendour hidden there.

The lofty, ornate, limestone roofcombs, which stretch the pyramid temples skyward, break through the surrounding green cover of the ceiba, tropical cedar and mahogany dominating the forest there. The roofcombs are the first thing you see of Tikal as you approach. From on top the Temple of the Jaguar, rising some 47 metres above the Great Plaza, though, you can survey the grandeur of the site.

On my first visit to Tikal 38 years ago many of the buildings now uncovered were still wrapped in jungle foliage under mounds of earth as they had been for a millennium.

Tikal itself at its height of power in the 700s had an estimated population of between 75,000 to 90,000 inhabitants. However around 900 A.D. it and most other lowland Mayan city-states had collapsed. Endemic warfare coupled the effects of overpopulation on a fragile ecosystem and other possible environmental stresses are thought to have brought about the catastrophic end to Tikal.

The much hyped film 2012 draws on a fanciful interpretation of Mayan calendaric lore to tell a wildly speculative global disaster story lavishly laced with blockbuster special effects. The Maya truly did face their own civilization threatening disasters. Today the more than 7 million Maya continue to face poverty and marginalization. However from the highlands of Chiapas to the lowlands of Honduras they have survived.

Co-operatives, self-help artisan collectives and Fair Trade coffee producer organizations are just a few tools Mayan villagers use across the region. These help communities to develop the needed economic basis for continued cultural survival. They still have hope in the face of centuries of culture-crushing poverty and oppression.

This Saturday, November 21st in the Old Firehall at the foot of Main Street the Yukon Development Education Centre will host the 18th annual Global Village Craft Fair from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

There crafts from self-help groups and Fair Trade goods from Guatemala along with a wide array of other countries will be on sale to support their producer’s communities. This fair also promotes the vision of a just, sustainable, disaster resilient world.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Namaste notes

Sunday, November 22 – Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. A suggested reading is John 18: 33-37.

Tuesday, November 24 – The martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur calls Sikhs to remember those who have suffered for their faith.

Wednesday, November 25 – The Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, begins.

Thursday, November 26 – US Thanksgiving is an interfaith celebration of creation.

Friday, November 27 – Eid al Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, concludes the Hajj and begins a three-day festival recalling Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to Allah.