Watching Lacandon Maya Lives: Final Study Guide
This is a comprehensive book Study Guide
∙ For 150 years explorers in the Lacandon jungles created a view of them as being very primal peoples living in sync with the jungle or as being ancestors of Classic Period Maya society. It was assumed that since the Lacandon Maya were non-Christians living near the ruins of Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Bonampak they were also direct descendants of the ancient Maya that occupied those ruins. This view was spread by the writings of 19th century travelers such as John L. Stephens, Desire Charnay, and Alfred Maudsley.
∙ The mythology of the Lacandon revolves around three themes; o The Lacandon are the descendants of the builders of the great Maya sites such as Palenque.
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o Looking at Lacandon culture as it exists today is a window into ancient Maya.
o The Lacandon have preserved the ancient culture because they were isolated from the rest of the world.
∙ Linguistic and historical study have shown that the Lacandon Maya do not speak the Chol Maya that was commonly spoken in the civilizations of Palanque, etc. Rather they speak a separate dialect of Maya known as
Yucatec Maya. There is no longer a large population of Chol Maya speakers due to being killed or removed by conquering Spaniards.
∙ Initial contact with the Chol- Lacandon was in 1530 when members of the Davila expedition found Lake Lacandon but finding no wealth moved on. ∙ Continuing through the late 1500’s the Chol- Lacandon were forcibly removed or killed by explorers through disease, war, and slavery. The last attempt to pacify the Chol was conducted in 1695 when an advance into the Lacandon Jungle was headed by Jacinto de Barrios Leal. The city of Sac Balam was peacefully occupied by the Spaniards. In 1696 the last two Chol- Lacandon towns were contacted by missionaries and settled.by the end of colonization the Chol- Lacandon population had been reduced from 4-7 thousand to only one thousand.
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∙ Due to a lack in support the Chol- Lacandon cities were abandoned in 1712. The Spaniards were unwilling to attempt settling the jungle further due to its lack of human and wealth resources. This created a safe zone for Maya escaping Spaniard rule. Yucatec- Lacandon Maya began filling in these free zones and became the ancestors of modern Lacandon.
∙ First contact between the Spaniards and people that were certainly Lacandon was in 1786 when Father Manuel Calderon encountered Yucatec- Lacandon several leagues southeast of Palanque.
∙ Despite continuous attempts to convert the Lacandon to Christianity the always reverted to their old practices and ways of life. The Lacandon were not isolated from contact with civilization and in fact traded and even married people that lived in surrounding towns. During the 1790’s contact between the townspeople and the Lacandon was common andIf you want to learn more check out What is peche merle?
eventually some Lacandon men married Palanque women and their children were baptized.
∙ The Lacandon method of surnames was to have a patriarchal ancestral “animal name” known as an onen.
∙ Today there are two distinct Lacandon communities; the Northern Lacandon that live primarily in the communities of Mensabak and Naha and the Southern Lacandon that live in the community of Lacanha Chan Sayab. Both groups are linguistically and culturally distinct although a small group of Northern Lacandon live in Lacanha. However this separation is due to twentieth century immigration and land distribution policies as well as the creation of the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in 1971.
∙ Alfred Marston Tozzer lived alongside the Lacandon for a short period of time and wrote detailed descriptions of life and religious practices that were part of the Lacandon culture. He also took note that some of the members in the society had begun adopting a Mexican lifestyle and that (again) while the Lacandon may have avoided contact with the outside population they were not completely isolated and were willing to integrate themselves into the outside environment. He took note of their marriage practices (polygynous and child brides) as well as religious practices (relighting of incense burners).
∙ In the 1940’s Franz Blom and his wife traveled extensively in the Lacandon jungle and made note of the settlements they discovered, reflecting that the scattered settlement practices of the 19th century were still in use and that the Lacandon population was fairly small. Don't forget about the age old question of When is the industrial revolution in america?
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∙ Lumber companies during this time (second half of the 19th century) set up logging camps to harvest the tropical hardwoods in the area. ∙ Before WW2 the Lacandon traded on their own terms, avoiding civilization the rest of the time. However after WW2 the Mexican government began to open up land reform policies in the jungle and began colonization. This brought the Lacandon out again for trade and many moved to set up new towns, including the Tzeltal Maya that settled the town of Lacandon and were granted ownership in 1954. In the 1970’s the settlement of the forest in eastern Chiapas was encouraged and peasants were granted land to live in the Lacandon forest.
∙ The traditional Lacandon pattern of small scattered communities shifted to larger condensed communities. To encourage immigration and slow deforastaion the Mexican government created the Zona Lacandona forest reserve and relocated almost 6000 Tzeltal and Chol Maya into new settlements outside the zones boundaries. Lacandon were encouraged to live inside the zone and were given 614,321 hectares of land. If you want to learn more check out What is bargaining?
∙ After the crash of the oil economy in Mexico the tourism industry boomed. Lacandon men began to produce goods to sell to tourists, their trips eased by the new road built during the 1970’s. In the 1990’s electricity was introduced to the society, quickly followed by modern privileges including television and internet. The old non- Christian religion was soon abandoned and faded away, and the men ceased to practice a religion.
*There are a lot of descriptions of early Lacandon life by explorers in the later sections of the chapter, but I’ve been told multiple times that these are not important for the test. The biggest things you need to know I’ve bolded for emphasis.
∙ It is difficult to make generalizations about the Lacandon people due to their historical lifestyle of living in small isolated groups. Because of this the statements made reflect the people making the statement rather than the culture as a whole
∙ The Lacandon people view having a Lacandon father as being the single characteristic that makes a person a Lacandon Maya
∙ Evidence of traditional Lacandon behavior and beliefs are often biased and are inaccurate and largely made from ethnographic imagination
*The easiest way I’ve found to break down the next section of the chapter is to make two separate graphs listing men and women’s roles in the society based off of traditional reports.
• Spinning cotton thread, weaving on back strap looms, cooking, process goods of the milpa, gather firewood, weave baskets, cleaning laundry, supervised care of children
• Due to the time consuming variety of tasks that needed to be completed the most time saving device for a Lacandon women was having daughters • Wore multiple strands of glass beads and feathers in their hair, as well as the traditional tunic
• Hunting game and bow fishing, working in the milpas, home construction, community projects, religious rituals
• Were polygynous, performed religious ceremonies in small huts (god houses) built on the outskirts of the communities
• Traded forest products for manufactured goods
• Wore a long one piece cotton tunic (xikul) and had shoulder length hair
• Lived in large multifamily compounds by the 1900’s, helped the community keep up with the tasks necessary for everyday life.
• Religious tasks dealt mainly with health and production of crops/ harvest • When farming in the milpas the Lacandon alternated crops, for instance between hills of corn they planted black beans and sweet potatoes • Hunting provided a huge range of game and the Lacandon bows were very advanced. Men also hunted in abandoned milpas due an increased animal presence attracted by a concentrated food source
• Lacandon religious ceremonies revovlved mostly around offerings of incense and food stuffs to the deities through the lakil kuh, or god pots, dedicated to each god. God pots were conceptualized as living beings and viewed by Lacandon men as being alive.
• Balche, a fermented mead drink was often a part of religious ceremonies as it put the drinker into a good mood to make requests of the gods, in other words they got drunk. They believed this drink allowed them to communicate with the gods, although no one admitted to it actually working.
• Due to the extent of responsibilities expected of a household it is impossible to live as a single person in a Lacandon community, in fact the only noted individuals that were single were children and elderly women being cared for by their families.
• By the 1940’s some small changes had been noted, men hunted with shotguns, women used steel needles rather than bone and enamel cookware rather than pottery and houses commonly had steel corn mills although some women still ground corn by hand. People had begun to wear cotton cloth and steel tools were used in the milpas
• Today several things are different from the original style of Lacandon life. Today the typical home has a cement slab floor and a tin roof, have television and video recorders, some have satellite programming. Some men make milpa while others produce goods to trade and sell goods to tourists. Women still make meals but prefer to use instant tortilla mix, rice, and pasta. Traditional xikuls are worn alongside pants and shirts while young women wear modern dresses and makeup. However trading is not a new practice for the Lacandon.
• The traditional Lacandon religion has been abandoned and has not been replaced by any other form of religion. Three questions were raised by this; why have the rites that allowed the men to communicate with the gods been abandoned, what changes interrupted the ability to communicate with the gods, and why didn’t a new religion replace the old one?
o The religion ceased to work for the Lacandon, which is likely why they were abandoned
o Men traditionally drank balche, but also smoked milpa grown tobacco and practiced bloodletting (Bloodletting = slicing parts of the body to offer blood to the gods. Now they use the red dye that represents blood); the latter two were abandoned which has possibly led to the inability to communicate with the gods due to not having the medical consequences those behaviors have on a person (could have created the buzzing sounds Lacandon believed were the voices of the gods).
o Much of Lacandon religion was associated with agriculture which is no longer a large part of their society, as well as health of the family which now has clinics at their disposal.
o Lastly television opened the Lacandon to a world that did not go with their religious views and could not be explained by their traditional beliefs. Children also do not go to their elders for information or
knowledge, rather they play video games and attend school. The elders have lost their sway on the younger generations.
• To define what is traditional and what is not is very difficult since the roles while being well defined were sometimes overlapped. For instance men sometimes helped around the house, and women sometimes worked in the milpa, it just depended on necessity.
• A boy became a man and could marry once he had built his own milpa based on traditional beliefs and proved he could support a family. Women grew up at their mother’s side and learned how to weave, cook, etc.
• Abandoned milpas were used to grow wild trees and plants as well as to attract game to hunt while working in their milpa
• Religious exercises were a man’s responsibility, but women were responsible for making the food for sacrifice and also to feed the men while they stayed in the god houses.
• In farming households women were responsible for weeding and harvesting and many had small gardens by their homes to grow herbs, some vegetables and flowers. Some plant flowers that produce bright seeds to make into necklaces.
• To produce milpas the Lacandon burned sections of rainforest, then planted seeds before the rainy season, weeded over the course of the summer, then worked together for the harvest. Men did most of the work, but again women helped when it was needed.
• There is a short story about a young girl named Nuk that was murdered, possibly by her husband Leo, the son of another anthropologist studying the Lacandon. There is nothing really to note other than the fact that Leo was released from prison by rebels that took occupation of the town and was never taken to trial. His father, Robert Bruce, was close friends with Chan Kin Viejo but was unable to return to Naha until after his death when his ashes were scattered alongside Viejo’s.
• Infant mortality is a big issue in Lacandon Maya culture due to a lack of medical resources. Many infants and young children die at a very young age. Because of this birth and death of children is fairly ignored. In fact it is noted that often it went unnoticed that the children were gone until a family tree was attempted to be built.
• By bringing his pregnant wife with him he was able to start investigating and understanding the women’s side of life including pregnancy, menstruation, etc. This opened a new side of the culture to explore and encouraged him to bring more focus on women’s lives in the Lacandon society.
• There’s an old practice where a young baby is brought into a household and called a possum and if it is held enough it will turn into a human.
Ok guys so I’m running out of time for this study guide so I’m going to have to cut this short, what follows is comprehensive notes on the other chapters, not as detailed as the previous ones. However I know that there
are other notes available online and through the lectures. If there are any questions email me (email@example.com)
Naha Lacandon village/city that McGee did his work in
- 1980 1st trip for McGee
- Electricity came in 1993
- McGee ran into burning building to save children
What are the 3 ritual places associated with Ex-Lacandon Religion? -Classic period ruins (Yaxchilan & Palenque)
What flower does myth say that the Lacandon Gods were born from? -bak nikle flower
Palenque temple of inscriptions and the burial place of the "Kax xiw xa'an Hachakyum"
-Lacandon associated Pakal's bones with the K'ax xiw xa'an
-site of the ceiba tree that once connected the earth with the sky
Structure 19 house of Itsanal?
- the labyrinth
Base of Temple 33 important to Mayans
- believe that Hatchakyum is buried there; his home
When was the last human sacrifice?
-principle sacrifice was decapitation
-also partook in cannibalism
What are the ritual objects/offerings?
4. Chak hu'un
8. Sak ha'
9. God pots
-incense burners (believed to be alive)
Pom copal incense
-symbolic for tortillas
Xikal incense board - rows of incense alternate to represent male and female
-symbolic for human offerings
K'ik' rubber figure
-symbolic for servants to the gods
Chak hu'un red black cloth/bark headbands
- created by cutting designs into them
-symbolic for blood-soaked cloth
K'uxu red vegetable dye used in place of blood for ceremonial sacrifice -from annatto tree (annatto/achiote)
-symbolic for human blood
- Honey or sugarcane, and bark of balche tree
Sak ha atole
-symbolic for corn gruel
-symbolic for human flesh
Balche ritual offering to gods by drippin Balche on lip of God pot (face of incense burner)
-mead balche mix
-covered with banana leaves and left to ferment a day or two
-once ripe, men assemble to give gods their portion and then drink the remaining liquid
-BUT first you give the gods the balche by pouring it on the lip of the god pot
How does the Balche purify the Lacandon?
-they believe it purifies them both physically and spiritually (a cleanse if you will)
Previous generations of the Lacandon talked to who during the Balche ritual? -their Gods voices sounded like bees buzzing
-they no longer do this just because a lot of old ways have disappeared
What do the men do when finished with ritual?
-they return home and the bark is left to dry
-the balche bark is saved and dried for later use
Several factors from 1970 caused change in their economic interactions - what were they? 1- 1970s oil boom in Gulf States
2- Road building, development of ruins, etc. makes tourism easier 3- Cheap airfares from Europe
4- Road into jugle in 1979 gives Lacandon easy access to tourist market & get out 5- Devaluation of the Peso
Lacandon have been trading with outsiders since when?
Sales to tourists are most common from what Lacandon souvenir? -Bow & arrow
Consequences of tourism 1- men aren't home to farm (changed womens roles) 2- Without milpa products to process women have time to manufacture goods that men sell
3- Changes in diet - processed foods
4- Access to material goods – TV
The earth's umbilical stump at Yaxchilan monument
-stalagmite that was taken and place outside
-religious carvings on it
Temple 33 roof comb model of the Lacandon sky
-figure at the top center is the god T'uup, the deity that carries the sun through the sky
- also the son of Hatchakyum, only loyal son
Geographical features are sometimes seen as homes to whom? -the Gods; hill is the home of Ho'ol Chan aktum
Main Gods of Lacandon
1. K'a Koch
8. Ak Nah
K'a Koch God that is the creator of bak nikte
Hachakyum creator of humans
Sunkunkyum Lord of the underworld
Akyantho' God of foreigners
Kisin Lord of death
Mensabak god of rain
Akinchob god of milpa
Ak Nah "Our mother" - moon goddess
1. Nahwah - tamales
2. Sak ha' - atole
3. Kakoh - "cacao"
4. K'uxu - "achiote"
The following is what you should focus on for chapters 4-6
4th chapter –tourism in Chiapas. Focus on things mentioned in class for this chapter e.g. family size, gender roles, work, wedding practices, diet, religious practices, health, etc. FOCUS ON HOW THINGS CHANGE!!!!
5th Chapter – Religion. Ritual offerings, implements, what things symbolize, who some of the gods are and what they do. THIS IS OUTLINED ABOVE IN BOLD!!!!
6th chapter – Healing practices important, this you will have to email me for but remember that hot is balanced out by cold, each item, herb, etc. has hot or cold properties and balancing them out is what will make a person healthy.