Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lobo Sosa Celebrates the End of the World

"Did the ancient Maya believe December 2012 would bring the apocalypse?"

Now can we get on to real issues?

Apparently not.

News media in Honduras are reporting that Porfirio Lobo Sosa is off to help open a new museum exhibition in the US. As the University of Pennsylvania PR website describes it,
Porfirio Lobo Sosa, president of the Republic of Honduras, and Penn Museum Director Richard Hodges will lead a ribbon cutting.

The quote at beginning of this post comes directly from the press release for the Penn Museum opening. The weirdness of having museums, which are supposed to combat ignorance, playing off the pseudo-science claims of an impending apocalypse supposedly predicted by the prehispanic Maya, is something we guess we will simply have to get used to for the rest of this year. Certainly, it has already become clear that Honduras is going to try to milk 2012 in a so-far vain, and quite bizarre, effort to increase tourism to Copan.

The oddest thing about both the Spanish and English articles, though, is that there is no acknowledgment of the controversies in the town of Copan Ruinas that were triggered by the loan of objects from Copan to Penn.

Proceso Digital reports that Lobo Sosa will be accompanied by his wife and a string of Honduran government notables: María Antonieta Guillén, Arturo Corrales, and Diana Valladares from the executive branch; Copan Ruinas's representative in Congress, Julio Cesar Gámez, who has been instrumental in the campaign to alienate resources from the Instituto Hondureño de Antropología e Historia and redirect them to Copan; and Helmy René Giacoman, the mayor of Copan Ruinas who gained illegal concessions as a result of the so-called "Copan Accord".

While both the minister of Tourism, Nelly Jerez, and the replacement Minister of Culture, Tulio Mariano Gonzales, are listed, notably absent from the list is Virgilio Paredes, who has been functioning as the director of the Institute of Anthropology and History since the last days of the de facto regime installed by the coup d'etat in 2009.

Returning to the University of Pennsylvania's coverage of the museum opening, it says the exhibit will cover "end-of-the-world prophecies and many other intricacies of Maya culture". It goes on amazingly-- and utterly inaccurately-- to say that
the ancient Maya reigned over what is now southern Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize, and El Salvador...Though their culture was largely destroyed by the Spanish conquest, people of Maya descent continue to live today.

This kind of writing is supposed to have disappeared from global archaeology.

For the record:

There was no ancient Maya political hegemony that can be described with the verb "reign". The Classic Maya were organized in a series of independent states, some of which joined in coalitions to oppose other coalitions.

Much of Honduras and El Salvador were occupied by people who were not Maya in language or culture; the largest such groups were the Lenca of Honduras and El Salvador, the Pipil of El Salvador, the Tol or Torrupan and Pech of Honduras, but there were many others, whose histories are erased by exaggerated claims like this. (We could even include the Xinca of Guatemala, a people whose history has simply been erased by sloppy scholarship.)

Maya culture was not "destroyed" by a "Spanish conquest". Maya populations (like those of the other peoples named) were decimated during the first century after Europeans invaded, but using traditional practices and rapidly learning newly introduced legal, economic, social and religious institutions, Maya people (and Lenca people, and Pipil and Tol and Pech and...) stabilized their communities which continued to change throughout history, as all peoples of the world change in history.

The "people of Maya descent" who live in Central America today number in the millions; speak multiple different languages; engage in political struggles, including against the government of Honduras; and have real historical roots in what museums of the world continue to represent as the works of now-vanished people.

And neither they, nor their predecessors, predicted the end of the world.

No comments: