September 04, 2007

Monster

The satellite images are just frightening and I can't help but think about the two communities I worked in just a few months ago in the northwest of Honduras near San Pedro Sula. I can only hope at this point that Felix moves fast and doesn't linger like Mitch did in '98, but either way there will be destruction.

Honduras is the poorest country in Central America and most rural communities are simply unprepared for anything more than a heavy rainfall. In June whenever I would ask the locals about the landscape and how they utilize water resources, the conversation invariably mentioned Mitch which killed 7,000 people in Honduras alone. Local infrastructure (i.e. streams and runoff paths) had to be retrenched to allow water and springs to flow freely to collection tanks and the effects of erosion and flooding are visible on the landscape to this day.

The implications for environmental studies in archaeology are profound: one incredibly destructive hurricane in '98 and now a Cat.5 making landfall makes you wonder just how ancient inhabitants of the valley where I work dealt with natural weather events on this scale and how often.

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Posted by Will at 03:03 PM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2007

Maximón

maximon_atitlan.jpgTonight my friends and I are having a Maximón party up in Zephyrhills, FL (beautiful, sparsely-populated town just north of Tampa). While in Guatemala we became acquainted with one of the local folk saints, known as either Maximón or San Simon, depending on where you are and the specific practices. Wikipedia describes Maximón as:

a saint worshipped in various forms by Maya people of several towns in the highlands of Western Guatemala. The origins of his cult are not very well understood by outsiders to the different Mayan religions, but he is believed to be a form of the pre-Colombian Maya god Mam, blended with influences from Catholicism.

Essentially, Maximón is a life-sized mannequin or doll that is dressed up in any variety of clothing styles from traditional 18th century to modern neckties and sunglasses. He is propped up in a chair in a dedicated room, and dozens of candles are lit and baskets placed around him for offering of money and other objects. There are several interesting characteristics of the Maximón cult that I find fascinating. The most prominent is the offerings given to him by the local practitioners: alcohol, tobacco, fireworks, candles, and money are the most prominent. Each year the Maximón shrine is at a different house, with a different family responsible for his maintenance and making sure he receives the necessary offering so he will be pleased.

The Maximón/San Simon tradition runs very deep in rural Guatemala where we encountered him and I'm probably doing a disservice here by lumping the two together. There is a diversity of practices and beliefs associated with the cult and people are very serious about placating him with offering. The locals believe that if they do not do so they will not have their prayers answered. The prayers range from curing an illness to helping with revenge against a neighbor. In this sense, Maximón can be interpreted as both a benevolent and malevolent deity, although I've read that he is mostly viewed as the latter and you commit offerings to prevent Maximón from doing harm rather than entice him to do good.

The first photo below is of the Maximón in Zunil, a decent-sized indigenous town most famous for its shrine. It cost me five Quetzales to enter the shrine and another five to take his picture. You can just make him out in the back but the dozens of candles are quite prominent and created a hot, smelly atmosphere. The second photo shows a store right next to the shrine where visitors can purchase offerings. This is where I bought the alcohol and cigars shown in the third photo. The third is of the little Maximón shrine in my little apartment here in Tampa. You can see the little Maximón in his chair and I have placed a bottle of grain alcohol (too scared to even smell it), a candle with the Maximón story printed on the back in Spanish, two huge cigars (plus a Cuban), and some Quetzales. Finally, the picture at the beginning of the post is of a Maximón in Santiago Atitlan which we also viewed although I didn't feel like paying for another photograph. He is probably the most famous, my guess because the town gets the most tourists thus his photograph and story is overrepresented.

A Maximón shrine in Zunil, Guatemala. July 30, 2007:

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Indigenous Maya woman selling offerings in Zunil. July 30, 2007:

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Maximón shrine in my apartment:

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So at tonight's party in Zephyrhills we are setting up a mini Maximón shrine complete with tobacco and alcohol, although this time there will be consumption of both by the "practitioners." We are even taking it a step further and buying some fireworks and firecrackers to celebrate. Welcome to the bizarre world of anthropology parties. Also, be sure to visit the world's first online Maximón shrine.

Posted by Will at 11:14 AM | Comments (3)

August 08, 2007

Back again

Returned home safely from Central America following a whirlwind tour of the southern highlands. It was an up and down experience over the past ten weeks, with the highlights almost always involving the people. Photos online here. Now all I have to do is write a thesis...

Posted by Will at 01:35 PM

July 28, 2007

Road trip, Guatemalan style

Early tomorrow morning the group and I will be packing up the ol' (well, fairly new actually) Hyundai van and heading out to see the "real" Guatemala. After a successful season of laser scanning and documentation at various locales around Guatemala City and Antigua, our director decided it would be a treat for us to see the parts of the country that tourists don't typically go. This primarily means the small indigenous villages in the southern highlands that are known for their markets and handmade textiles. Our first stop tomorrow will be a coffee plantation that is situated at the Maya Pre-classic site of Takalik Abaj about four hours west of Guatemala City where we are now. Our neighbor here owns the plantation and has a fond interest in archaeology and as a result has been incredibly generous to our project. He apparently has quite a bit in store for us at his plantation. After that is is on to some indigenous villages, including Chichicastenango which has one of the largest indigenous markets in Central America (pictured below).

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Posted by Will at 12:08 AM

July 10, 2007

Guatemala

Working in Guatemala has been going great. We have a relatively easy work schedule but at the same time are being very productive. The laser scanning process involves minimum effort for tremendous results. Since I've been here, we've documented stone monuments and artifacts at the National and Miraflores Museums in Guatemala City and a private collection located in Antigua, Guatemala. The weather is consistently cool during the day and actually chilly at night. I was told the Guatemala highlands are often referred to as "the land of eternal spring." I believe it. The photo is of me at the main Cathedral in Antigua.

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Posted by Will at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

July 02, 2007

Photos online

I have posted almost 200 photos from the past month in Honduras on my Flickr page. I arrived in Guatemala City yesterday to work on another project until the beginning of August, when I return to the States. Honduras was Honduras, and Guatemala should prove to be a rewarding and enlightening experience.



www.flickr.com





Posted by Will at 09:29 PM

June 15, 2007

Tegucigalpa

My two friends and I arrived in Tegucigalpa last night after a four hour bus ride from San Pedro Sula. At first I was worried it would be a "chicken bus" (old school bus) but it was a very nice tour type traveling bus. We are staying at one of the nicer hotels in the city. Already I like Tegucigalpa better than San Pedro, although many people don't like it at all. It's a mix of modern and Spanish Colonial architecture, and is a big bustling city.

The reason we are in the capital city is because we were able to set up a private tour of the former presidential palace where there national archives are housed. Our goal was to get historical information about the Palmarejo Valley where we work. We saw rooms with original documents from the 18th and 19th century...very interesting (and musty smelling). I even discovered that my very own original hand-written field notes from last year are archived there. The photo below is of me at the presidential palace, which was used up until 1992. We even got to see the President's office (it's oval shaped too), which was being renovated.

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Posted by Will at 05:04 PM

June 10, 2007

Comayagua

This weekend we drove to Comayagua, Honduras for an academic conference about archaeology and community. Comayagua is a very beautiful colonial town with some great Spanish architecture and majestic churches (below is a photo of me in front of the main Cathedral named for the town). We are headed back to Cofradia today to continue the field season until the end of the month. Work is going well and I am collecting a lot of interesting data.

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Posted by Will at 11:31 AM

May 22, 2007

Preparing

After an eventful trip to New York City (photos here) and Long Island for a friend's wedding, I am spending a few days here in Wilmington, NC to unwind from a busy semester, spend time with my girlfriend, and prepare mentally for two months out of the country. Two friends and I leave Saturday morning for San Pedro Sula, the nearest big city to the little town where we'll be living for a month. I'm excited about returning and being able to see all the people I met last year, and hopefully become even better friends with the local guys we hire to help us in the field. Research wise I'm expecting a relatively laid back work schedule, as the ratio of time spent collecting data to information yield is in my favor. The first week of July another grad student and I will hop over to Guatemala City to spend a month working on another project. As was the case last year phone and internet communication will be limited, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Posted by Will at 02:01 PM