March 9, 2014

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: The Last Mayan Aristocrat


I tell my high school students that I know more totally useless information than anyone they’ve ever met. Typically I prove it at some point in the school year by blurting a factoid that no one in their right mind would bother remembering. My saving grace is that I typically come up with the thing at just the right moment – so it makes me appear that I “know everything”.

During one of my “following breadcrumbs” events in which I start researching one thing and end up somewhere totally different, I came across this:

“The classic Maya urban centers of the southern lowlands, among them Palenque, Cop├ín, Tikal, Calakmul and many others, went into decline during the 8th and 9th centuries and were abandoned shortly thereafter. Archaeologically, this decline is indicated by the cessation of monumental inscriptions and the reduction of large-scale architectural construction at the primary urban centers of the classic period.”  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classic_Maya_collapse)

Checking the history of each city led me to this:

“During the 8th century, B'aakal came under increasing stress, in concert with most other Classic Mayan city-states, and there was no new elite construction in the ceremonial center sometime after 800. An agricultural population continued to live here for a few generations, then the site was abandoned and was slowly grown over by the forest. The district was very sparsely populated when the Spanish first arrived in the 1520s. Occasionally city-state lords were women. Lady Sak Kuk ruled at Palenque for at least three years starting in 612 CE, before she passed her title to her son. However, these female rulers were accorded male attributes. Thus, these women became more masculine as they assumed roles that were typically male roles.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palenque)

The waning of the Imperial Maya seems a fascinating story with explanations ranging from the prosaic to the mystical to the extraterrestrial – “Some 88 different theories or variations of theories [attempt] to explain the Classic Maya Collapse have been identified.”

I’ve started a list of the theories I could find, but my idea here is to spark a story – which is sort of what I like doing anyway…so here it is:

In the city of Palenque, a descendant of Lady Sak Kuk – Mahaway Nakin Yochi, the Daughter Lord, is the last of the nobles. A crumbling city, she sleeps in a well-appointed hut at the top of the pyramid, noting that every day the jungle encroaches a bit more; every day her authority – such as it is – erodes a bit more; every day more homes stand empty as the people move away.

However, from the north has come not only news, but also writing and books. A captured, pale-skinned woman was delivered to the Daughter Lord for sacrifice to the God that he might return prosperity to the city.

Yochi – as she is known to her friends – is a boy’s name, but she doesn’t care. She’s not interested in boys anyway; nor is she interested in girls. She’s interested in learning. The woman who would be sacrificed has taught her much, not the least of which is how to write. The alphabet of the woman is far easier to use than the cumbersome symbols of her people and she has taken to not only speaking the language she calls Spanish, but journaling in it, etching careful words on plates of aluminum while keeping a sort of shorthand Mayan account beneath it – as the gods move her.
Despair is her constant companion and she has begun to plan to withdraw from the city once she has finished relocating her people in appropriate locations.

One day an excited group of peasants approach her through her single remaining priest – a young man named Kish who is also deeply in love with her. They have something interesting they discovered in one of the increasing number of overgrown villages on the outskirts of what was once the grandest city on Earth. Both she and Kish had observed a sky light streak several nights prior to this…

Anyway, this seems like an interesting story and I have some plans for it. But if you want to steal it, go ahead!

Name: “eternal” () “life” () “hope” ()

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