mesoamerica and the maya world

Month: September 2007

View of temple 1, Tikal, from east plaza

This is a watercolor I did some years ago.

watercolor by thomas christensen, first view of temple one, tikal, from east plaza

Maya stela

 de young stela

This stela was purchased by the de Young museum in San Francisco in 1999. According to the museum, the stela’s origins are unknown. “It could not be identified by site, epigraphy, or style, and its imagery represented a blend of elements from works found in both Guatemala and Mexico,” said the museum in a statement. “This fact was corroborated by the many key art historians, archaeologists, and epigraphers whom we subsequently contacted.”

The relief appears to depict a standing female ruler. A snake wraps around her body, and out of its head appears the deity K’awil. This is the iconography of the vision serpent. Dates on the sculpture give the dates March 13, 761, and August 10, 760. Both the dates and the style suggest an origin in the southern Maya lowlands.

The Black Christ of Esquipulas

The town of Esquipulas in Guatemala is famous for its black Christ image, carved of dark balsam wood in the sixteenth century. The church is a famous pilgrimage site, and in 1995 Esquipulas was named “the spiritual center of Central America” by Pope John Paul.

The 1987 Central American peace treaty was called the Esquipulas Peace Agreement.

Narration in the video is in Spanish.

The motmot

This handsome bird is a motmot, who may be seen in thickets and forrests throughout Mesoamerica. His name comes from the sound he makes (often heard in early morning).


motmot birdI had always heard that the bird modifies his tail himself, plucking away at the midfeather to leave the barbs at the end. But now I read that the middle feathers are weak and fall off naturally.

The Mayan word for motmot is xukpi.

The sound is from Dan Merrill’s excellent Bird Songs of Santa Rosa. The image, blue-crowned motmot (Momotus momota) is from Wikipedia.

More Carnival in Merida

Before we take our leave of Carnival, let’s take a moment to enjoy this character’s colorful costume.

carnival costume, merida, yucatan

The Maya vote

the maya vote, from the new york times

The NYT has a nice slide show of images related to the Maya vote in Guatemala’s elections, and why Rigoberto Menchu didn’t do better (she was sixth out of 14 candidates, with 3 percent of the vote).

Rudy at La Antigua Daily Photo is inviting comments on the slide show.

Carnival in Merida

The city of Merida in the Yucatan has one of the livelier Carnival celebrations in Mesoamerica. These pictures were taken 19 February, 2007.

a float at carnival in merida

performers at carnival in merida

carnival lights, merida, yucatan

El Bus

On the chicken bus.

chicken bus

Bonus: another chicken bus photo

Platanos en mole

A dish for any time of the day. Serves eight.


  • 3 ripe plantains
  • 0.5 lb. high-quality chocolate
  • 2 ounces “pepitoria” (pumpkin seeds?)
  • 2 ounces sesame
  • 0.5 ounce cinnamon
  • 2 chiles pasa (a kind of red chile pod similar to chile pasilla)


  • Slice the plantains horizontally in slightly diagonal high-centimeter strips and fry until golden
  • Roast the pumpkins seeds, sesame, cinnamon and chile in a pan
  • Mix the chocolate with two cups of water and combine with the spices; blend until smooth
  • Drip the sauce on the plantains, sugar to taste, and boil for five minutes

This recipe is via

Pink Floyd and Chichen Itza

I’m not a big Pink Floyd fan, but the juxtaposition of their music with a family visit to the Maya site expresses something of how the public views Chichen Itza.

Mas trafico con BlogRush?

Un nuevo servicio llamado BlogRush ha lanzado, que promete conducir tráfico a su blog. El servicio requiere la instalación del código del Javascript que carga un widget en su sitio.

Easter carpets in Antigua

One of the great festivals in Guatemala is Semana Santa in Antigua. On Easter celebrants bear heavy floats depicting images from the passion of Christ; the floats, some requiring dozens of carriers, may weigh thousands of pounds.

semana santa procession, antigua, guatemala

Elaborate carpets — alfombras — of pine needles, corn kernels, flowers, and sawdust are created on the cobbled streets. These beautiful artworks will soften the treads of the bearers of the heavy statuary as they make their way across the hard, uneven cobbles. And they will be destroyed by them.

easter alfombra, antigua, guatemala

These photos were taken many years ago. The corn in this alfombra detail is interesting. The figure appears to be presenting the corn as a form of offering. The corn seems to emerge from a cooking vessel.

Maize has been the main crop of Mesoamerica since time immemorial. One of the chief deities of the classic Maya was the corn god, who is associated with death and rebirth. He descends to the underworld and reemerges in youthful guise much like a young shoot breaking through the surface of the earth at the beginning of the growing season. So it is natural that he would become associated with Easter, a springtime festival that is also associated with death and rebirth.


Our landlord’s gardener’s son, from the days of the Mixco casita (in the background). What a charmer.

felipe in mixco

Lycaste skinneri var. alba

monja blanca

This orchid, called the Monja Blanca in Spanish, or White Nun, was proclaimed the national flower of Guatemala in 1934 by the dictator Ubico. (Another version of the Latin name is Lycaste virginalis var. alba.)

This rare orchid is found in Alta Verapaz, in the northwest of the country. It is fragrant and showy, but difficult to grow; commercial use is prohibited in Guatemala. It is said to symbolize peace, beauty, and art.

Image from Heckeroth Orchids.

The Art of Political Murder

the art of political murder, francisco goldman on guatemalan murder caseIlan Stavans reviews Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder in the Los Angeles Times. The book is a look at the 1998 murder of bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, vicar-general of Guatemala City. Goldman’s book apparently imlpicates current presidential candidate Otto Pérez Molina in the murder. Stavans criticizes the book (which I have not yet read) as lacking focus and style; in Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, Trent Olson says that “Goldman manages a clear narrative,” asserting that “his journalism isn’t so much a departure from his fiction as an extension of his concerns with the fraught landscapes where ‘truth’ is as contested as the soil underfoot, yet central to battles waged over it.”

(image links to book page at amazon)



To no one’s surprise, no presidential candidate in the Guatemala elections received a majority of the vote. Early reports show Colon at 36 percent and Perez at 29 percent. Menchu received less than 3 percent.

The second-round election will take place in November. According to Prensa Libre, Perez would win a runoff election against Colom with 52.6 percent of the vote.

LINK: Que significa el 3% de Rigoberta?

Guatemala election polls

Polls are currently showing a close race with Colom holding a tenuous lead.

Vox Latina: Colom 32, Perez 32
Ultima Hora: Colom 35, Perez 27
Borge: Colom 31, Perez 28

Perez Molina was the head of military intelligence during Guatemala’s horrible civil war. Colom is a businessman and economist. Rigoberto Menchu does not appear to have mobilized a lot of support.

via bloggings by boz

The Garifuna Journey

This 45-minute video, shot entirely in Belize, presents an overview of the history of Garifuna people of the Central American Caribbean coast, as told in their own voices. (Around 18 mins. are some historical photos.) The Garifuna are an ethnic mix of Carib, Arawak, and African peoples. To the outsider, Garifuna drumming is the most immediately striking and characteristic aspect of the culture. There are some examples around the 15 minute mark in the video. Around 21-22 mins. is a taste of punta, the contemporary expression of traditional Garifuna rhythms. There is a female chorus around 39 mins.

I am still looking for the perfect Garifuna drumming video — there is a lot of touristy stuff, much of it shot in restaurants or at staged performances, on the web, but the authentic experience seems elusive.

Photography of Ivan Castro

guatemala photography by ivan castro

The image above is a detail from a photo by Ivan Castro. Mr. Castro’s Guatemala photo set on flickr offers an excellent selection of images. He is adept at subject, composition, tonal range, and color. This is a great introduction to beauty of Guatemala.

Below are clickable thumbnails from his Antigua, Guatemala photoset (just one of those available), via the crossroads plugin.

Rigoberto Menchu campaigning in Poptun

This image is from the websites of the municipalities of San Luis, Poptun, and Dolores in the Peten. Despite killings and intimation, Rigoberto Menchu continues her campaign for the presidency.

Poptun has a population of about 30,000 people. It is the base for Guatemala’s counter-insurgency jungle warfare special operations military elite, the Kaibiles. The name is derived from Kayb’il B’alam (Kaibil Balam), a Maya leader who led opposition to the forces of the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and successfully evaded capture. During the civil war the Kaibiles were implicated in the massacre of civilians.

rigoberto menchu campaigning in poptun

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