Peer to Pier: Conversations with fellow travelers
“I recognize in you my other I”
Jose Santos Tamay, 40, lives in the Mayan village of Xcalacoop, near the ruins of Chichen Itza, a Mayan ceremonial center dating to the 7th century in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Xcalacoop is a Mayan name that means “between two dried cenotes.” Jose (on right in photo) is a Mayan eco-cultural spokesman and guest services director at Hacienda Chichen, a Mayan J’Men, or healer, and a founding member of the Maya Foundation In Laakeech. My January journey to the Yucatan ultimately led me to this conversation with Jose, which was translated by a fellow member of the MFIL. In Laakeech translated from Mayan means “I recognize in you my other I,” a philosophy that serves as the foundation of the Peer to Pier column. I was slow to awaken to this concept of “we are all one” and for many years labored under the notion that it was “me against the world.” It is a relief and a joy to instead seek connections and common ground—when I can remember that, like Jose, I can say “I love what I do!”
I hope you’ll enjoy Jose’s perspective on Mayan history and culture, his insight into what December 21 2012 does not mean to the Maya, and his explanation of the Mayan understanding of Chu’el.
Jose: Indeed, I have worked at Hacienda Chichen since I was a teenager. I used to horse back-ride to the property from my home in Xcalacoop, a lovely ride but as time passed the rural road became unsafe for me to do that due to the many tourist buses driving through it sometimes with little care for those biking or riding.
At the Hacienda Chichen, I began working in the food and beverage department of the hotel. I moved to various jobs within the property as I learned a bit of English and some book-keeping—I was able to be the reception desk clerk, later, the front desk supervisor. Mrs. Belisa Barbachano Gordon, owner of the Hacienda Chichen, always encourages us to reach for our dreams, move ahead, learn new skills, improve our life and reach our goals. Her support and help has brought me to the position I hold now, which I love, as the hotel’s Mayan Eco-Cultural Spokesman and Guest Services Director.
Mrs. Belisa is more than just our boss, she is our mentor in many ways. Her love for the Mayan culture and support to the Mayan healers and our holistic spiritual traditions has been a beacon of hope and encouragement to many of the hotel’s staff members. Working in the tourism industry has brought me so many opportunities to meet so many people from all over the world. I love to share my Mayan heritage and traditions as much as to serve my fellow man and at Hacienda Chichen I do both with great joy.
Meg: Can you give an overview of the history of Maya culture?
Jose: The ancient Maya civilization is the highest cultural legacy of Mesoamerica. The Maya are believed to originate in the Yucatán around 2600 B.C. They developed the mathematical position of zero, along with a highly advanced understanding of many sciences including a unique mathematical system, impressive knowledge about the Cosmos, astronomy, an exact multi-calendar system, majestic architectural achievements, medicinal care including herbal healing, sacred holistic ceremonies, and a complex hieroglyphic writing combining phonetic suffixes, prefixes and detailed artistic symbols.
Ancient Maya had a spectacular and advanced architecture; many of the Mayan ancient cities and pyramids were based on Maya Cosmo-vision and in many instances served as temples to honor the Gods and the royal families. All ancient Mayan pyramids were made of hand-cut limestone blocks carefully aligned to form intricate architectural designs with impressive stone reliefs depicting many aspects of the Cosmos, life, death, warfare, mythology, and royal linage. The complexity of ancient Mayan architecture design and its majestic beauty speaks of the cultural and scientific achievements this civilization reached.
Meg: The Mayan calendar is in the news quite a bit these days—can you describe it generally, and what the significance is to you of Dec. 21 2012?
Jose: The Maya timekeepers created many calendars by calculating various celestial orbits. The solar calendar of 365 days is called “Haab;” it is divided into 18 months of 20 days, each with a period of five days called “Uayeb,” left over at the end of the year. The most important calendar cycle for the Maya J’Men or healers is the Tzolkin, a ritual calendar of 260 days also known as the Sacred Almanac. Every day in the Tzolkin and in the “Haab” calendar has a unique corresponding position in time. Each day’s position in the calendars only repeats itself every 52 solar years. A cycle of 52 solar years, called the Sacred Calendar Round intermeshes with both Haab and Tzolkin calendars to form a calendar system of the Maya’s Cosmo-vision and time.
This Holographic Mayan Calendar System includes the Long Count Mayan Calendar cycle, with its fifty-two thousand solar calendar year periods, counted as units of time/space cycles. The Maya interpretation of time and space was perfected during the 1st millennium A.D. by ancient Mayan wisemen. It still fascinates even today’s scholars for its accuracy and the simplicity of a complex mathematical calculation and interpretation of time/space.
The Maya calculated dates millions of years in the past and the future for ritual purposes with the use of their “Long Count.” The present Haab calendar cycle will end on December 21st, 2012 A.D. in our Gregorian calendar. This date, the Winter Solstice, marks not only the conclusion of the present Haab and Maya Long Count calendar, but in astronomic terms, at such time the Sun will conjunct with the plane of the ecliptic intersection of the Milky Way. This rare astronomical event was calculated with extreme exactitude by ancient Mayan wisemen.
Meg: Could you speak to the popular references being made on TV and elsewhere that the end of the Haab calendar means “the end of the world…?” When I was in the Yucatan, I was told that, to the Maya, it does not mean the end of the world, but a time of significant change, possibly even for the better. Could you explain what you understand the end of the Haab calendar on Dec. 21, 2012 to signify?
Jose: TV programs are commercial in nature, and the easiest way to make money nowadays for TV producers seems to be with bad news, killings, destruction of all sorts to create alarming news when sex is impossible to add to their script. You see this trend even on channels that are known for their “real life” documentaries about Mother Earth and human history, also in current movies, you see it even in video games. It seems like our whole global interest currently is focusing on alarming, negative news. The way I see it is that the media take a topic and spits it out with all type of bad endings, including the Maya Calendar systems, which seems to be the new sales tag of “catastrophic times”… and I do not wish to add to their ways.
Ancient Maya did not predict what was to come after their last calculated Long Count Calendar cycle which will end at the Winter Equinox of 2012. The fact is that this acceptance by the ancient Maya, that they could not describe the world as they knew it would come to be is, frankly, impressive. It is easy to see how ancient man could not relate to us, as our global civilization has changed so much. We almost resemble science fiction, with cellular phones, internet services, wireless communications, live TV, hologram videos, understanding of quantum physics, fantastic cultural happenings! How could anyone from ancient times have imagined our current world?
We are at the end of the Long Count—the significance is that a cycle will conclude, and a new count will start the next day, such is the nature of calendar counts. As for the catastrophes and “signs of destruction and the end of the world,” it is for sure that our Planet Earth has suffered catastrophic global natural disasters, and it is expected to experience them again in the future. Mythological sources, including some Maya writings, speak of times to come when once more the Earth will face massive significant changes but I won’t venture into “The End of The World” like the media producers who love to scare the public. It is true that should a big enough celestial body hit the Earth again, the end of our era will come, just like the dinosaurs. It is also true that nuclear global war will do the same. But Earth will again be populated by other life forms adapted to the new conditions of the planet. All physical forms have a beginning and an end, and our universe and planetary system is no exception. When that end will come, only God our supreme creator knows.