Archive for August, 2008

Maya and Other Indigenous Groups Demand Protection for Native Languages

August 30th, 2008 by ejalbright

A group of indigenous writers, whose compose their literature in their native language, met in Mexico City this past week to lament what is at the least a stagnation of their culture, and at the worst, a systemic destruction of their heritage.

Two writers of Maya heritage specifically pointed to the “commoditization” of Chichen Itza, which is part of an effort to disconnect indigenous peoples from their cultural heritage, according to an article in the Mexican journal, La Jornada.

Indigenous writers from around the Americas met at the Colegio Nacional Thursday and Friday to participate in Encuentro Internacional de Literatura en Lenguas Indígenas (International Meeting for Literature in Indigenous Languages). At the end of the congress, the group issued a manifesto that included the following calls to action:

–Create a catalog of indigenous languages of the Americas to clarify and reflect the hemisphere’s cultural richness and diversity
–Create a library of literature in original languages
–Create an organization on each continent of contemporary indigenous writers
–Make governments understand that indigenous people have the right to speak in their own language because they can say things better than in Spanish

The group also included ongoing demands of indigenous peoples, namely greater legal recognition and support for the proposals of bilingual and intercultural education. The group combined the demands into a synthesis of respect for “human rights and cultural rights.”

The congress of indigenous writers concluded that “interaction with other groups, especially those who despise Indians, has led to the loss of certain cultural traits such as language, traditions and customs.” This has resulted in a stagnation of indigenous languages. New words are no longer created, the group concluded, and if languages do not grow, they are less likely to survive.

But not UNESCO
The group stopped short, however, from petitioning the United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organization (UNESCO) to recognize indigenous languages as a “World Heritage,” just as it does archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza.

Natalio Hernández, a Nahua writer from Veracruz, said that certain indigenous writers have been shunned by authorities because they believe the designation of World Heritage Sites has resulted in native peoples being banned from using these locales.

Feliciano Sánchez Chan, a Maya writer from Yucatan, said that a declaration UNESCO would give indigenous languages a stronger legal status on the international stage and open possibilities for financing for projects in favor of strengthening it. However, indigenous peoples mistrust UNESCO because of what is happening with archaeological sites. The Maya have been “robbed” of ancient cities such as Chichen Itza, which is managed as a commodity by catering to tourists, constructing hotels and nomination in contests such as the recent naming of the site as a “Wonder of the World,” Sánchez Chan said. Martín Gómez Ramírez, a writer from Chiapas, agreed, saying Chichen Itza is “ultimately controlled by businessmen.”

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Placido Domingo to Fulfill Dream of Singing at Chichen Itza 10 Years After Being Replaced

August 28th, 2008 by ejalbright

It may not have been funny at the time, but today Plácido Domingo laughs about how he was replaced by Luciano Pavarotti in a concert at Chichen Itza.

“Domingo remembers April 1997 and laughs,” was how a reporter started his story. Domingo told the writer, “I was about to sign the contract, when suddenly, one day, I learn that the concert will feature Pavarotti.” He added, “My colleague, Luciano, had a manager who was very … fast. I don’t know how, but suddenly he was announced.”

The Spanish tenor said he has no hard feelings being bumped from the bill in favor of Pavarotti for the 1997 concert at Chichen Itza. He will get his chance to perform at the ancient city of the Maya on Oct. 4 at what is billed, “Concierto de Las Mil Columnas” (Concert of a Thousand Columns).

The opera singer was asked about the dynamics of singing outside versus in a closed auditorium, and, in this case, performing in an archaeological zone. “We sing in a lot in open areas and I can assure you that it is very different from singing in a football stadium or an arena than singing in a wonder of the world such as Chichen Itza. It is a privilege to sing in these historical sites, there is a special magic, because on those nights something happens; people hear music, see and feel in a place so wonderful, and if there is a full moon, it will be something one remembers forever.”

“A full moon would put the audience close to happiness?” the reporter asked him.

“And the gods,” Domingo said.

He was asked about the controversy over staging concerts in sacred sites of patrimony. “I am in favour of protecting these places and I am sure that the organization behind this concert has taken precautions to abide by the rules,” Domingo said. “I, by love of heaven, would not want to cause any problems.”

For previous articles on the Concert of One Thousand Columns, click HERE.

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Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Chichen Itza Greatest of Them All?

August 26th, 2008 by ejalbright


Photo from the Online Museum of Precolumbian Jade

Mesoamerican people were fascinated by mirrors, believing them to be a portal to another world, according to a researcher with Mexico’s INAH, the agency that investigates and oversees the nation’s pre-Columbian ruins.

The mirror was believed to be the door of communication with the gods or with ancestors, and therefore, acted as a source of hidden knowledge, oracles or omens, according to Gregory Pereira. Pereira, a researcher for INAH, is a member of “Las formas expresivas en México, Centroamérica y el Suroeste de Estados Unidos: dinámicas de creación y transmisión” (“Expressive forms in Mexico, Central America and the Southwestern United States: The dynamics of creation and communication”), a group of scientists and scholars from around the world who study objects such as mirrors.

Reflective substances, such as the mineral pyrite, were long valued by the ancient civilizations of Mexico and Central America. One of the best expressions of that fascination is a mosaic of jade and pyrite found at Chichen Itza (pictured above). “The explorations in Tula and Chichen Itza revealed the existence of large mirrors, manufactured on wood discs and on which were placed complex mosaics of pyrite and other materials such as turquoise and metal,” Pereira told Mexico’s El Financiero newspaper. “In this era mirrors are linked to the sun,” he said, due to the physical properties of pyrite as a way to concentrate sunlight to produce fire.

Pyrite mirrors were used since the time of the Olmec, a civilization that preceded the Maya. Their use spread across the region, and were held sacred by the Toltecs, the Maya and the so-called Aztecs. Mirrors were of special fascination by the Maya, Pereira said, and large numbers of them have been found at the ruins of Los Altos in Guatemala.

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Before Chichen Itza, Placido Domingo Will Swat a Fly

August 23rd, 2008 by ejalbright


Photo illustration by SF Signal.

Placido Domingo will not be spending the next weeks preparing for his performance this fall at Chichen Itza. Instead, he will be mounting a production of an opera based on a horror film, The Fly.

The Fly tells the story of a scientist for whom an experiment goes terribly wrong and his DNA is mixed with that of the common house fly. As the tale progresses, he begins to change, and not in ways that promote an appetite among theater goers.

Domingo premiered the opera in Paris last month at the Théâtre du Châtelet in the role of conductor, while the director of the film version, David Cronenberg, did similar duty on the stage. Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore wrote the score and Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright David Henry Hwang wrote the libretto. Despite the pedigree of the production, French critics hated it.

Undeterred, Domingo will move the production next month to the US West Coast, where he is artistic director of the Los Angeles Opera. The “buzz” is that he does not intend to bring any of the production or music when he performs October 4 at Chichen Itza.

For previous articles on the Concert of One Thousand Columns, click HERE.

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Visualizing Chichen Itza at Night

August 20th, 2008 by ejalbright

A couple of years ago I wandered the ruins of Chichen Itza at night. A friend brought a powerful flashlight, and we jacklighted the ancient monuments one by one. The effect was spectacular.

INAH, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza, is planning to illuminate the ruins at night and open them to tourism. Until that happens, a Mexican/Argentinian/US marketing firm, acuatro producciones, has created a clever short film that gives you a taste of what it would be like. “Chichén Itzá Recorridos Nocturnos” (“Chichen Itza Night Travels”–I think), a computer animated film, flits through the ancient city and illuminates the monuments one-by-one.

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Placido Domingo Concert at Chichen Itza to be Broadcast Free in Plazas in Yucatan

August 19th, 2008 by ejalbright

“El Concierto de las Mil Columnas: Plácido Domingo en Chichén Itzá” will be broadcast on large screens in plazas and theaters across Yucatan–for free.

Previously it had been announced that the Oct. 4 concert will be broadcast on Pay-Per-View, and the later rebroadcast over commercial television. Now it will be made available all over Yucatan, an initiative of Governor Ivonne Ortega and Jorge Esma Bazán, director of patronato CULTUR.

Screens will be set up in plazas, parks, theaters and other open spaces throughout the state. No locations have been announced so far.

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Member of Beatles Nearly Dies in Sky over Chichen Itza

August 17th, 2008 by ejalbright

Okay, this post really isn’t fair. It’s not news, but it involves two of my favorite subjects, The Beatles and Chichen Itza.

Ringo Starr’s former girlfriend, Nancy Lee Andrews, will present an exhibit of photos of 70s rock stars at the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. Entitled “Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Pinch of Country,” the exhibit includes photos of Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Duane Allman, Harry Nilsson and boyfriend Ringo Starr, all as they were 30 years ago.

One of the photos on display is of Ringo at … wait for it … Chichen Itza. When Andrews pointed it out to a reporter from the Tennessean, she said, “”As you can see, Richard’s (Richard Starkey, Ringo’s real name) got a camera in his lap. We were camera-crazy people. Imagery was very much a part of what happened between us, and our friends.”

Unfortunately, the photo isn’t on the Web. You have to go to Tennessee to see it.

In another interview at the Beatles fan site Day Trippin’ Magazine, Andrews described how she and Ringo almost died in the Yucatan:

“We were having a nice time in the Yucatan for about a week until Ringo suddenly became restless. He woke up one morning and said, “Get me off this island. I don’t care how you do it, but get me outta here.”

In a matter of hours I managed to book a twin-engine plane to Merida that seated six people. Our party of four, the two pilots and our embarrassing amount of luggage put us well over the plane’s weight capacity. Despite that and a looming tropical storm, no one could talk Ringo into staying another day.

The pounding storm forced us to fly so low that the bottom of the plane was brushing against the tops of the trees. I was trying to calm my friend Susin S. Fair down, who was sure that our plane was going to go crash in the jungle and our remains would never be found. Hilary Gerard, Ringo’s manager, was holding Tibetan prayer beads up against his third eye, furiously chanting and wishing for a cigarette.

While everyone was frantic and on the verge of breaking down, Ringo was as calm as could be. He said very matter-of-factly, “Don’t worry, it’s not my time to go, so we’ll all be fine.”

For those who can’t make it Nashville to see Andrews’ exhibit, you can buy her book of photography, A Dose of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

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Mexican Archaeologists Find ‘Oldest’ Skeleton in Americas near Tulum

August 15th, 2008 by ejalbright

Archaeologists working at Chichen Itza’s sister city of Tulum have found the skeleton of a woman that dates back 13,600 years, which, if true, makes it the oldest human skeleton found so far in the Americas.

The skeleton’s discoverers call it Eva de Naharon (“Eve from Naharon”). The bones were found 23 meters underwater in a cave system some 45 kilometers southwest of the ancient Maya city of Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. Experts estimate the skeleton belonged to a woman who was 45 at death, and who had been 1.41 meters tall.

Previously the oldest skeleton found in the Americas was “Mujer del Peñón de los Baños” (“The Woman from the Rock of the Bath”) which had been found outside Mexico City and was dated to 12,600 years ago.

Find the complete story of the discovery in the Mexican magazine, Milenio, HERE (in Spanish).

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Wife of Mexico’s President to Attend Placido Domingo Concert at Chichen Itza

August 14th, 2008 by ejalbright

The wife of the president of Mexico will be among the throngs who thrill to the golden throat of Placido Domingo when he performs at Chichen Itza on October 4.

Margarita Zavala, wife of President Felipe Calderón, has notified Yucatan governor Ivonne Ortega of her desire to see the “Concierto de las Mil Columnas” (“Concert of the Thousand Columns”). Mexico’s First Lady send a letter to the governor and to Jorge Esma Bazán, director of the Patronato Cultura confirming her attendance, according to promoters of the concert.


Mexico President Felipe Calderón and his wife, Margarita Zavala.

For more stories about the “Concert of One Thousand Columns,” click HERE.

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‘The Lost Gods’ Beautiful Shots of Chichen Itza, Skimpy on Facts

August 13th, 2008 by ejalbright

I wonder, sometimes, how television programs get made in the first place.

A perfect example is “The Lost Gods,” hosted by Irish writer Christy Kenneally. This six-part series traveled the world to look at the religions of six ancient cultures. One episode focused on the Maya. Shot in high definition, the program featured some of the most beautiful shots of the Maya cities of Tikal, Palenque and Chichen Itza ever broadcast. But the script purporting to be fact was instead chock full of apocrypha.

As the host wanders the ruins of Chichen Itza, he dramatically repeats every single popular (yet mistaken) believe about the Maya: That they sacrificed virgins in the Sacred Cenote, that the winners of the ball game gave up their lives, that the Chac Mool statue was built to hold hearts of the freshly sacrificed. I’m hard pressed to find a single, verifiable fact, at least in the section that features Chichen Itza. But boy, did the producers get some amazing shots of the place.

Below is Part II, and Chichen Itza gets introduced about 3 minutes 30 seconds in:

The show is entertaining enough, but I wonder why INAH, the federal agency that oversees Chichen Itza, allowed the producers access to the site? This, incidentally, is pure envy on my part. I would love to photograph in all the places the producers of this program were allowed to go.

I did not watch the other parts of the program, but you can find them here:

The Lost Gods, Part I

The Lost Gods, Part III

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