~ ONE JOURNEY ~
~ There is only one journey: going inside yourself. ~
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Lost Cities of the Maya ~ Saturday, December 04, 2004
I was looking over our photos of our visit to Chacchoben yesterday and thinking about the whole notion of the lost cities.
A bit of background: during our "winter getaway" holiday last year, we visited a newly-opened Maya ruin called Chacchoben (which means something like "red corn" or somesuch--and is the name the archaeologists gave the place, not necessarily the name the Maya used). It was all but deserted, unlike what we've heard of other ruins in Mexico, and so we had the rare priveledge of being able to imagine what it might have been like for the explorers, discovering this sleeping city, buried under the green layers of humid jungle and posterity.
It was also possible to try to imagine, during some rare moments, what it might have been like for the Maya people themselves, living in a city that was admittedly built during the decline of the Maya civilization. Did they know they were in decline? Did they look out over these magnificent plinths and pyramids of theirs, and see the significance of the encroaching jungle, dense with entropy?
This absolutely fascinated me, as the reverent visitor, years after all who built or thought of building or even remembered the city when it was inhabited, were gone. I wondered how they would feel about this attitude, on the part of someone who comes as a modern product of the same European culture and sensibilty, which, in its more primitive and intolerant form (it's all right to call the Conquistadores primitive and intolerant, isn't it?) destroyed large swatches of its peoples, its declining culture, its archives.
What would it be like, to imagine that these records, intended for one's own descendants, are instead being perused by the very conquerors and enemies that you currently fear and perhaps even hate? That this culture of conquerors, whom you likely think of as barbarians, will someday evolve into people who respect and admire the achievements of your civilization?
It might be like us imagining that Islamic extremists (note emphasis on extremists, here) eventually prevail over our Western culture. They establish an oppressive regime, but over the generations, the culture evolves and relaxes and suddenly yearns to learn more about the peoples and the cultures their ancestors decimated. And when they do, they discover that we had some good things going for us. Some wisdom, some insights, just barely glimpsed in the tiny fragments of literature that survived the Gileadean Empire that preceded it. (Gilead is the name of the extremist religious state that is established in _The Handmaid's Tale_). That's sort of what has happened with the Maya, I think. Perhaps.
I heard the story of one priest who befriended a Maya archivist in the time of the Conquistadores. He attempted to transcribe some of the Maya ideograms, wrongly assuming that they were colloquially-based (such that all his notes were ultimately useless). And, when the archivist showed him all the sacred texts and family histories that he had been charged with guarding and keeping for generations to come, the priest took them all and burned them. I think there were close to fifty books there. And he burned them, because he was convinced they contained religious heresy. The number of Maya texts that we know of, which survive to this day: three, I believe. In fragments. The loss makes me want to weep--even as it tightens my chest with fury and gets my blood hot enough to boil. What an utter, complete tragedy. The things we might have learned from those books. The aspects of the culture that might have been preserved. The glyphs that might have been deciphered.
How devastating, for the archivist, to find that his trust had been so violated by the priest, and that in turn, the trust of his ancestors and his descendents had been unwittingly violated in him--he had failed them, and failed his duty. How utterly tragic.
::Posted by Anduril Elessar @ 11:47 AM::::