Frank Waters and the Maya

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Frank Waters and the Maya

Post by edniz » Wed Mar 31, 2010 7:44 am

My brother, John Nizalowski, teaches creative writing at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. Although he hails from upstate New York, as I do, he has become immersed in the culture of his new locale to such a degree that he has been given the nod to be the official biographer for Frank Waters, a writer of 25 some books that represent much of the culture and civilization of the American Southwest. Waters was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in literature. To read about my brother John's transition from a denizen of upstate New York to a desert dweller, pick up his multi-genre book Hooking the Sun from Farolito Press.
I have been working my way through Waters’ last major piece of writing entitled Of Time and Change [a memoir]. One chapter recounts a visit that Waters had to the Mexican state of Chiapas to visit the Lacandones, the last surviving full-blooded descendents of the Mayas. His host was Gertrude “Trudi” Blom, widow of archeologist Franz Blom. The Bloms had come to Chiapas in 1950 to study the Mayan ruins and the Lacandones and started providing living quarters for other anthropologists and archeologists engaged in similar activity.
Waters came for a visit around 1970 and one of the most rewarding experiences of the trip was spending time with Old Chan K’in of Naha, an eighty year old religious leader of the northern Lacandones. I want to quote several paragraphs I feel distill the philosophy of the ancient Maya and the fears that Chan had for the future of his culture:
“The stories he told as he lay in his hammock and smoked cigars were earthy and often humorous. Most of them were of the creation of the world by the gods as well as the interdependence of men, animals, trees, stones, and stars. He was not reluctant to tell these stories to us outsiders, nor was he self-conscious about his easy, intimate relationship with all living things in heaven and earth.
“One of his stories struck me as being especially significant. Whenever a tree is felled, a star falls from the sky. Hence, a Lacandon before chopping down a great mahogany asks permission of the forest and of the stars above. So too do the pueblo Indians back home in the Southwest ceremonially ask the great pine they are about to cut for permission to sacrifice it.
“The Lacandon belief explained Old Chan K’in’s fear of the growing interest of Mexican officials in the mahogany trees of the Lacandon rain forest. Accompanying this threat were Lacanda’s abandonment of traditional beliefs and adoption of Christianity, the steady influx of modern gadgets and cheap whiskey, and increasing numbers of visitors like ourselves”. [p. 239]
Gertrude Blom (1901-1993) was quite an interesting individual in her own right. She spent five decades documenting Mayan culture and was a “pioneering environmental activist”. Her home has been preserved as a cultural and resource center “devoted to the protection and preservation of the Lacandon Maya and the La Salva Lacondona rain forest.”
Her Wikipedia entry has this to say about this senior citizen activist: “The systematic deforestation of La Selva Lacandona by loggers, immigrant settlers, and the Mexican government changed the direction of her life yet again. In the 1970s, Blom decided she must speak out, and thus became one of the first environmental activists. She traveled the world, lecturing from first-hand experience about the death of the jungle and showing slide shows of her documentary photographs. In three languages, she wrote hundreds of articles protesting Mexican policies. In 1975 she started El Vivero, a tree nursery that still distributes free trees for reforestation. Blom said, ‘I am hopeless, but I plant trees.’ Here is another quote worth repeating: “If mankind continues abusing the planet as we are today, the effects in the near future will be far worse than the devastation that would be caused by any atomic bomb”
Here is another interesting point: her academic training was actually in horticulture. I couldn’t help but think that the travails of the Lacandones have parallels with the themes in the movie Avatar.

Ed Nizalowski
Newark Valley, NY

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James Parton
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Re: Frank Waters and the Maya

Post by James Parton » Wed Mar 31, 2010 3:59 pm

Ed N,

I really enjoyed reading this.

If a " star " fell every time a tree was cut, this day in time we would have a constantly running meteor shower of great magnitude.

James E Parton
Ovate Course Graduate - Druid Student
Bardic Mentor
New Order of Druids ... Itemid=145

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