Saturday, July 3, 2010
Mayans for Dummies
This last week in Copan has been simply great. With the best Spanish teacher in this world - Julia - we have been laughing about my spanglish that seems hard to improve (http://www.guacamaya.com/). Nevertheless my stay here has been wonderful. Copan is situated in midst of lush green mountains and was a Mayan Capital from 400 to 800 AC.
Yesterday I was able to visit the Ruines. $15 to get in, but you really need a guide to appreciate and learn about the site (additional $25, but if you wait for other people to join, you get to split the cost ; )
Up front: I knew, and still know, pretty close to nothing about the Mayan culture. Apparently the guys started settling in the Copan valley 200 BC, but emerged as one of six Mayan capitals in 400 AC. The Royals lived actually inside the capital, where the temples are (next to the river, where they had easy access to water), while the peasants lived in the mountains.
Only about 3 percent of the population were royals (sound familiar?). 16 Rulers in total, before the civilisation collapsed .... the father chose among his sons to decide who will be his successor (no female rulers). Religion was important, or maybe even the most important tool, to keep the community going (as a German writer called it: opium for the masses) The Ruler did regular sacrifices to appease the gods (animals) - most important gods: sun and rain.
These guys seemed to have been pretty good with number as well and loved their calenders. Every 52 years things had to be ¨re-started¨. So they burried their old city and build a new one on top of it (which took about five year). To purify the new grounds, they held a ball game (at the end of the 52 year cycle) in which three vs. three of the royals played. Two captains - in which the captain for the winning team was sacrificed to purify the land (i believe they cut out his heart after feeding him mushrooms ....).
Copan is not the biggest Mayan side, but the most magnificent in its details. Apparently the artists of the Mayans were hanging out here (FYI this is what Jasmin thinks) ... so all buildings, steps, monuments ... where decorated heavily and painted in red, yellow, green and blue...since they build on top of each other, many older temples are actually wonderfully preserved, even though you can only see the upper (latest) level.
Once you stand on top of one of the exposed temples you feel like a ruler yourself (and maybe get a climbs at why power corrupts so easily - its a pretty f... amazing felling)
So why did it end: poor resource management combined with too many people - a revolution of the peasants! ... the entire Mayan empire collapsed and for a short time the capitals actually fought each other, before the folks simply dispersed into the country...(Mayan territory included: Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Southern parts of Mexico)
Issues today: Pollution- acid rain, plus wind and sun... they spent 6 million in the last 4 year on preserving this site; and stopped digging, since there is no money to preserve it ...
All in all an amazing lesson in humanity and the rise and fall of societies - highly recommendable.
Today was my last lesson of Spanish and since Julia is not available next week i might be moving on to Guatemala...
PS: checked out the musem today - $7 - only in Spanish ... not so much worth it : (
PPS: besides being busy with spanish we had regular outages in copan - a delay in posting blog entries and the missing sense for grammar and langauge during the last entry : )
lots of love
Posted by jam at 3:16 PM