Anthropology 1140: Exploring a Non-Western Culture: The Maya

Fall 1998, EDUC 220, 1 - 1:50 M & W. Professor: Payson Sheets, office Hale 160. Teaching Assistant: Michelle Woodward.

The objective of the course is to explore the Maya of southern Mexico and Central America, in the past and present. We will emphasize their origins, their adaptations to varied environments, their political and social organizations, and their religious and value systems through time. We will study their artistic and intellectual accomplishments beginning about 3000 years ago. An understanding of the Maya world view (cosmos) is a key element to the course.

Week Dates Topics Readings

1 24, 26 Aug Shamanism, discovery of Maya H Ch. 1

2 31 Aug, 2 Sep Environments in the Maya area H Ch. 2

3 9 Sep Earliest inhabitants H p. 65-72

4 14, 16 Sep The Olmec (Zoque) H p. 73-81

5 21, 23 Sep Preclassic Maya H p. 81- 109

6 28, 30 Sep “Popol Vuh” video (60 min.), Michelle lecture T

h. read 1 p handout w syllabus

7 5, 7 Oct Early Classic H p. 110-117

Wed. 7 Oct: EXAM I.

8 12, 14 Oct Early Classic H p. 117-137

9 19, 21 Oct Late Classic: Tikal H p. 138-161

10 26, 28 Oct Late Classic: Copan. "Fall of the Maya" video (25 min)

H p. 161-197

11 2, 4 Nov Terminal Classic, Chichen Itza H p. 198-239

12 9, 11 Nov Postclassic & Perspectives H p. 240-268, 44-63

Wed. 11 Nov: EXAM II

13 16, 18 Nov The Contemporary Maya G ch 1-5

14 23, 25 Nov The Contemporary Maya G ch 6-9

15 30 Nov, 2 Dec The Contemporary Maya G ch 10-13

16 7, 9 Dec Overview and Review, Prep for Final. none

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Examinations: Midterm Exam I is Wed 7 Oct. 20% of grade.

Midterm Exam II is Wed 11 Nov. 20% of grade.

FINAL EXAM is Sat 12 December, 3:30 - 6:30 pm, same room (35% of grade).

--->>No makeup examinations; you are responsible for being present<<--- RECITATION SECTIONS: 25% OF GRADE.

Texts: Henderson World of the Ancient Maya (2nd Ed.) 1997 Cornell U Press, and Gonzalez A Mayan Life 1995 Yax Te Press.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%% Notes on the "POPOL VUH"

The Popol Vuh is the name of the document that expresses the creation beliefs of the Quiche Maya of highland Guatemala, who live about 1/2 way between Guatemala City and the Mexican border. All Maya groups share the core elements of the creation of the universe and of the Maya people, so we will take it as representative of all Maya. Most Maya continue to ascribe to these beliefs, and this film is a unique window into the Maya mind and world-view. There is clear archaeological evidence that these beliefs were well-developed in the Classic Period, and they must have originated during the Formative (Preclassic) Period or earlier. It was handed down as oral history for many generations, and was written in Quiche Maya, using Spanish letters as phonetic symbols, in 1550. Apparently, hieroglyphic versions existed in codices in the Maya Classic period, but none survived. The two principal characters in this Quiche epic, the Hero Twins, are depicted on Classic Period stelae and on numerous polychrome painted pottery vessels.

The original Classic period painted vessels that show events in this epic drama of the Hero Twins are the basic designs for this animation by Patricia Amlin. The film took ten years to complete, because of the need for accuracy, the time in research, and the need to do thousands of drawings used in the animation.

Of all Native American creation myths, this is the most complete to survive to our time. As an epic poem it gives us an insight into the Maya view of their universe, ethics, values, obligations to kin, and thought. It shows the importance of tests (challenges, "tricks"), as how one handles those tests indicates if they are prepared for an increase in status, for the next stage in life, or if they have overstepped & should move down a "notch."

The universe began when the creator gods (heart of sky & heart of earth) had made water. They cried "earth" and land appeared, then they made trees, rivers, animals, and other elements of nature. Most things were mute, (nothing was paying homage to the gods) so they created people out of clay. That was not satisfactory because they melted when they got wet. So, they destroyed these early versions of people and made them out of wood. That was better, but they had little spirit and would not adore the gods, so they were destroyed. Even the pots and pans revolted against these wooden people because people msitreated the pots and pans. Some of these early wooden people escaped the destruction and these are now monkeys. The third creation of people (initially males) was very successful because people were made of a thick mixture of ground yellow and white corn, patted and sculpted to shape. It was too successful, as people could see to the end of the universe, so their vision was "misted" and females were created to occupy much of their attention. Finally, people were paying homage to the gods, but they were not overly capable and "seeing" all of the universe, and the gods liked it. So, the universe with people in it began really functioning when the sun came up and there was light.

The epic action part of the story concerns two sets of twins: the older ones created before people were created, and the younger "hero twins". The father and uncle (1 Hunter and 7 Hunter, or Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu in Maya) of the hero twins were ball players, and they were invited to the underworld (Xibalba) to play against two underworld gods (1 Death and 7 Death). The latter tricked the former and decapitated them. The head of 1 Hunter was hung in a tree, and continued to live. The maden Little Blood visited the tree, and the head spat into her hand, making her pregnant. That outraged her father but she tricked him by substituting copal sap for her supposedly-removed heart. She convinced the hero twins’ grandmother that she was truthful and worthy. She gave birth to the hero twins. (Note associations of corn seeds and human skulls, death and rebirth, vegetative cycle symbolism.) The twins grow up and learn to trick their older brothers(1 Howler and 1 Monkey). Their grandmother did not want the hero twins to play that game, and she gets very upset when she learns that the hero twins are going to play the same underword deities that defeated 1 and 7 Hunter. Two corn plants are indicators of how they are doing. The ball symbolizes the sun's passage, affected by various forces including human activity. A rat helps the hero twins get the ball game equipment, and is rewared with access to food for all time.

The hero twins are named Hunahpu and Xbalanque in Maya, or Hunter and Jaguar Deer in English. They face tests, tricks, & challenges in growing up. Consistently false pride and arrogance are defeated by intellect and bravery. They have many tests of wit and courage in the underworld as they battle various forces and play the ball game. Animals & insects are rewarded for helping the hero twins. A mosquito bites the underworld gods to learn their names for the twins; knowing the name diminishes the evil. The twins are imprisoned in a house of knives, a house of cold, a house of jaguars, and a house of bats. While sleeping in his blowgun, Hunter extends his head and is decapitated; but a temporary subsititute of a pumpkin and a lost ball in the ballgame allows his real head to be reattached. It is during the game, when the pumpkin bursts, that the lords of Xibalba learn that the twins survived. The lords build a fire and the twins voluntarily jump into it; their bones are thrown into the river so the lords think they finally are killed. Not! The twins' ultimate trick is to disguize themselves as beggars/magicians who can burn down houses and rebuild them, decapitate and re-capitate individuals, and so forth. They cleverly omit a couple of key re-capitations at the end! They became the sun and the moon, and the world began functioning properly.

Payson Sheets ~