By Roberto Rodríguez
Permission to repost by author
This work examines the philosophical foundation of Tucson’s highly successful Mexican American studies program. The foundation included two Maya or maiz-based concepts: In Lak’Ech and Panche Be. What is explored here is actually the larger philosophical universe from which these ideas are derived. The work examines the writings of Domingo Martinez Paredez, a Maya scholar who influenced the Chicano movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This work examines whether those concepts are relevant today, but also whether they are part of an ancient philosophy or part of a living culture.
At the heart of Tucson’s highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) department were several Indigenous philosophical concepts, including two Maya or maiz-based ones: In Lak’ Ech—Tu eres mi otro yo—you are my other me; and Panche Be—Buscar la raiz de la verdad—To seek the root of the truth.
The first concept, is derived from a Maya-inspired poem by Teatro Campesino’s Luis Valdez:
In lak’ ech. Tú eres mi otro yo. You are my other me. Si te hago daño a ti, If I do harm to you, Me hago daño a mi mismo. I do harm to myself. Si te amo y respeto, If I love and respect you, Me amo y respeto yo. I love and respect myself.
This concept is akin to the universal Golden Rule. In the Yucatan peninsula, I have learned it another way, though with a similar meaning: In lak’ ech a laak’ en—I am you and you are me. Panche Be comes from the same philosophical place, and is associated with critical thinking and social justice. These two concepts give us but a glimpse into a much larger Maya-Nahua (Mesoamerican) philosophical worldview, and also into a human rights ethos that is Indigenous to this very continent. And traditionally, these concepts are passed on in the home as opposed to the schools.
When Arizona banned MAS and its books shortly after the passage of the state’s 2010 anti-ethnic studies legislation, HB 2281, it did so in part because the state school’s superintendent, Tom Horne, considered its curriculum to be outside of Western Civilization, resulting in a protracted legal struggle. Horne and his successor, John Huppenthal, objected to the teaching of curriculum that did not emanate from Greco-Roman culture. They also objected to the teaching of critical thinking skills to K–12 students. What Arizona actually ended up banning was an Indigenous worldview(s), arguably the same one that priests violently tried to eradicate during the Spanish colonial era. This banishment was also part of an “Americanization” throwback scheme, an attempt to forcefully separate students from their cultures and impose an “American” one upon them. The good news in all this is that, in the summer 2017 MAS trial, the court found that the state was motivated by racial animus in the elimination of MAS.
While much time has been wasted debating this manufactured conflict, what has not been examined is that larger philosophical universe that explains the nature of what it means to be human. The objective here is to interpret and introduce the reader to that worldview: Maya-Nahua philosophical concepts, which Yucatec Maya linguist and philologist, Domingo Martinez Paredez, argued were common, with variations, throughout the hemisphere.
Exposure to this philosophy in this country is attributed to Valdez’s Pensamiento Serpentino (1973 Valdez, L. (1973) Pensamiento serpentino. N.p.: Cucaracha. [Google Scholar]), who learned it from Martinez-Paredez, one of his mentors. This Maya scholar gifted his knowledge and specifically collaborated with Teatro Campesino during the Chicano Movement, greatly influencing the cultural explosion called the Floricanto movement, before passing on a generation ago. That collaboration resulted in several plays by the Teatro and continues to influence it to this day, Valdez recently told me. This philosophy, as presented here, comes primarily from Martinez-Paredez’s books (see References). The two aforementioned concepts made their way into Tucson’s MAS program in the 1990s, coming to constitute its philosophical core. Though, to be sure, he wrote that the concepts are actually not his, nor even Maya per se, but are maiz-based and common to this continent. Martinez-Paredez was introduced to the Teatro by Conchero (Nahua) elder Andres Segura, who also profoundly affected Teatro Campesino and their work.
He asserted that when Europeans first “learned” Indigenous languages, they misunderstood, mistranslated, butchered, and then demonized them and that Western [trained] scholars continue to quote from the same mistakes to this very day. With missionary zeal, they also destroyed thousands of “idols” and all the native books they could get their hands on, this not just at the infamous 1562 auto de fe in Mani, Yucatan, but during the entirety of the 300 years of Spanish colonialism. They tortured and killed those in the possession of these books and anything that connoted memory (in the Andean region, this included the quipus). In writing, his primary objective was to correct these errors and false narratives.
Here, Sean Arce, former director of Tucson’s MAS department, weighs in on the importance of these concepts to MAS:
In Lak Ech and Panche Be were significant in that they signified a revitalization of Indigenous knowledge, thought and culture. In Lak’ Ech represented a re-articulation of our interconnectedness—an approach or process to remind ourselves as teachers and students why we were engaged in MAS. Panche Be spoke to the need for us in MAS to utilize critical thinking, to dig deeper into issues of history, culture, and colonization as part of the critical process of de-colonization. (Arce, July 2017).
Here now is an introduction to a few of these concepts:
In Lak’ Ech
Beyond the universal Golden Rule, it is about the reciprocal relationship between human beings and all living beings and all life, including and especially with the earth and universe itself (El Hombre y el Cosmos, 1970 Martinez Paredez, D. (1970). El hombre y el cosmos en el mundo Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica. [Google Scholar]).
It is also the search for profound knowledge, knowledge that is usually hidden and that invariably leads one to pursue social justice (Martinez Paredez, 1970 Martinez Paredez, D. (1970). El hombre y el cosmos en el mundo Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica. [Google Scholar]). In Tucson, this may actually have been the primary reason why the program was eliminated. When the program began to be attacked, it was the students who defended their own program, invoking the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples when they took over the school board on April 26, 2011.
Huracan or The Heart of Heaven
The Popul Vuh creation narrative speaks to the elements that created the universe: fire, lightning, and cosmic energy. The Popul Vuh itself tells us that three elements comprise Huracan: The Heart of Heaven (El Popul Vuh Tiene Razon, 1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 108). “The first was called: Caculha Huracan [fire]. The second is Chipi-Caculha [heat or lightning]. The third is Raxa Caculha [cosmic energy]” (p. 109). Here is an elaboration of Raxa Caculha: “…the common origin of everything… cosmic energy… that signifies, the first ray, or the original energy” (p. 204).
Hel Men or Zero
In the “West,” zero means nothing or the absence of value; however, for the Maya, zero marked the beginning of everything. “From nothing, nothing can be created, but from something, something can be created…. The Maya thinker established that the zero is the germinating seed, the beginning of everything, which is why it was illustrated as a seed or a conch shell…” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 9).
Paxil Cayala or Gran Signo Inicial
The end of one era (deglaciation) and the beginning of a new one (maiz); when the Maya marked their beginnings. When the Maya came to be: 4 Ahau 8 Cumhu on their calendars (1970 Martinez Paredez, D. (1970). El hombre y el cosmos en el mundo Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica. [Google Scholar], p. 18). Paxil Cayala: The end and the beginning; destruction and birth (p. 92).
A hybrid Maya-Nahua name for bird-serpent. Quetzal in Maya is bird. Coatl in Nahuatl is serpent. The concept represents solar knowledge; thus, people were considered “solar beings” or “children of the sun.” “Quetzalcoatl (it) is nothing more than the sun” (1970 Martinez Paredez, D. (1970). El hombre y el cosmos en el mundo Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica. [Google Scholar], p. 36). Also known as Kulkulcan, Gucumatz, Chichen Itzam (Maya) and Arara (Andean) (El Idioma Maya Hablado y El Escrito, 1967 Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 117). The Bird-Serpent or Eagle-Serpent comes “possibly from humanity’s most remote times…” (p. 80). In the U.S. Southwest, reputedly the Water or Horned Serpent.
“Ta” is place of origin, “muan” is bird, and “chan” means serpent. “Tamuanchan is the place of the bird-serpent or Quetzalcoatl-Kulkulkan” (Un Continente y una Cultura, 1960 Martinez Paredez, D. (1960). Un continente y una cultura. Mexico City, Mexico: Editorial Poesia de America. [Google Scholar], p. 84). This is the same place where Maya-Nahua peoples creation stories took place per the Popul Vuh and Codex Chimalpopoca. The place of the Eagle/Serpent was the “Land of Quetzalcoatl,” purportedly a civilization, as opposed to a location. That is what the Mexica were reportedly looking for thousands of years later (Mexican flag): migrating from the north, they searched for the eagle-serpent and ended up founding Tenochtitlan. The same idea is memorialized by many of the continent’s cultures (p. 86).
Can, Chan or Kan
A cosmic-serpentine philosophy: “Can constitutes the supreme expression, as a symbol of the great everything, because of its undulating form, to the Maya, signified vitality and cosmic energy. The importance of this thinking climaxed when the Maya declared themselves Can or Chan, Itza or the children of Quetzalcoatl-Kukulcan” or the plumed serpent” (1967 Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 19). “Kan… contains within its name, the following concepts: to learn, to teach, to know, science, philosophy, religion, human being, sun, maiz, water, wind, fire, earth, moon, the Milky Way, etc…” (Hunab Ku, 1963 Martinez Paredez, D. (1963). Hunab ku. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar] , pp. 63–65).
Mazehual or Macehual
Many people of Maya-Nahua-related cultures from Mexico and Central America refer to themselves as mazehual or mazehualob (Yucatec Maya), or macehual or macehualli (Nahuatl). This identity is not based on geography and refers to a common person, the opposite of elite, and also connotes Indigeneity. For some, this is an ancient, not current, identity.
Ixiim or Xiimte
Ixiim is the word for maiz and Xiimte is sacred maiz (1960 Martinez Paredez, D. (1960). Un continente y una cultura. Mexico City, Mexico: Editorial Poesia de America. [Google Scholar], p. 40). For peoples of this continent, maiz is everything. It is who we are, where we come from, and what we are made of: sacred sustenance, thus: gente de maiz. Scientists consider it one of humanity’s greatest feats in that it was scientifically created as opposed to naturally evolved, and it cannot grow by itself. Because it spread from “Mesoamerica” in all directions, its very existence is proof that peoples from the entire continent were/are connected and related via the seeds of maiz. All have their own name for it and their own stories as to how it came to them.
“[I]s derived from three words: Hun, One-Only; Naab, Movement and Measure; and Ku, Giver” (1963 Martinez Paredez, D. (1963). Hunab ku. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 57) “Hunab Ku was not a national or tribal God, but rather: cosmic order” (p. 59). “Hunab Ku was the bone marrow and the essence of their existence, their being, their having, their everything…” (p. 24). “It was the soul of the earth, it was life itself, it was in everything…” (p. 85) “…that cosmic consciousness [that] is called HUNAB KU—The Giver of Movement and Measure (a mathematical concept), which is how they came to understand the concept of zero; how they achieved the creation of the maíz, how they built their pyramids, etc.” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar] , p. 207).
“Creer, crear y hacer: To imagine, create and follow through. It is a power within the psyche, enabling us to do whatever we choose to do. It enables us to create our own reality.” It is how one goes from having a dream to making it happen and seeing it through (Parapsicologia Maya, 1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua. [Google Scholar], pp. 68–69). It is the same idea as SI SE PUEDE! as popularized by Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers of America.
Education with a true sense of responsibility, based on a human rights ethos. “This carga or responsibility makes up our philosophical and spiritual personality; a reflection of that intelligent energy… one is born with and dies with this responsibility. Nothing or no one is able to shirk from it,” giving rise to the expression: “By the ruler we measure, we too will be measured” (1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua [Google Scholar], p. 17).
“Whoever was not educated, was given the name: ‘motherless,’ because education is nurtured and that demonstrates that women were the most solid base for the education of the Maya” (1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua. [Google Scholar], p. 126).
Similarly, those that took part in the MAS struggle to defend and spread it nationwide, viewed it virtually as a sacred responsibility.
Todo se paga (no bad deed goes unpunished), akin to the Buddhist law of cause and effect. Also known as the law of compensation and responsibility and the scientific concept of “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” “No one escapes this law. Each person is responsible for what one thinks, says and does…” (1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua. [Google Scholar], p. 42). Also, what comes around goes around.
A concept that says that without vegetation, there are no animals, and thus no human beings. This gives rise to: “The death of the last tree, signifies the death of the last human being” (1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua.[Google Scholar], p. 79). While an ancient concept, that idea of living in ecological balance rings true even more so today, as the Earth is in extreme peril due to the climate change that is currently wreaking havoc upon the planet.
K’ahlyand—K’hal or Memory and Documentation
The Maya placed great emphasis and importance on remembering and acknowledging their accomplishments, origins, their past, and their future. The two concepts “are intimately related based on the genius of the Maya which managed to leave behind an impressive chronicle that appear to speak to us with a live and fresh voice of the magnificent spirit of the Maya, that left behind with masterful skill each idea (Hobhool) each thought (Tecul) on the surface of stone, in the arts and on clay and on paper
(Huun) in their Analteoob and Uinalteoob (sacred books)… giving birth to the art of writing via hieroglyphics, their language, called Nucul Ttan (instrument of speaking) and writing (Dziib): painting (Bon), reading (Xoc) and giving name to the hieroglyphics themselves that served to preserve the K’ahlay and K’hal (records)…” Even in the post-invasion books, “regardless, they contain the essence of the Maya soul, by way of the intelligence of their children, embedded in the pages of their books (Chilam Balam, Las Cronicas de Chacxulubechen and the Popul Vuh), their K’ahlay of their great past…” (1963 Martinez Paredez, D. (1963). Hunab ku. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], pp. 82–83).
“The three energies within the soul are represented by: Naat understanding. Uolah; will, K’ahlay: memory” (1963 Martinez Paredez, D. (1963). Hunab ku. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 80). Naat is also synonymous with intelligence and prophesy. “Pixan is the universal essence that is unknown, hidden and invisible, yet present in all things; the form—the soul…. And this is how they determined that the form is the soul-pixan and the spirit is the essence of the Being, which is fiery from its solar condition that feeds with its energy, animal life and refer to it as K’inan, which comes from the word K’in-Sol (or Sun), and the conditional suffix an-ser (or being), that is to say that the spirit is fiery owing its condition to the Sun. And this energy, K’inan, they believed, was also contained within animals, plants and minerals” (1968 Martinez Paredez,(1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 201).
Nic Te Katun
Part of the Maya calendar, “marking the arrival of the European; the end of the world as we knew it. At that time, the era of freedom and independence ended for the Maya. At that point, they became subservient in a way they had never been, but also embittered because their way of life and their beliefs were destroyed. It represented a calamity on a previously unknown scale. And worse, it was when all things European were imposed, including religion, ways and worldview” (1967 Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 140).
“To the Maya philosophers the Earth was a living being, intimately related to the existence of human beings, coming from the point of view of the physical as well as the psychological. X’cumane was the Earth similar to Coatlicue and Tonantzin: the living Earth, the one that gives life and then embraces us amorously under her breast when we die; as such her symbols are life and death. The Maya thinker came to the conclusion that life came from death and death from life…” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 53).
“When the Maya exclaim: !IN YACUNAH! They are expressing two things at the same time: My Love and my Pain, because what one loves, hurts. Because pain is contained within the love that two people have for each other. If love unites, pain bonds. That is why the Maya sealed with the genius of their language that thought and sentiment in reference to Love and Pain in Yah” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 144).
Utz Yetel K’az
The Maya did not deny the existence of evil. Rather, they acknowledged that “Utz Yetel K’az—good and evil—existed within all human beings (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 175). As such, the idea is to emphasize the good within all of us.
“My spirit, my experience, my existence, my being. All contained within this one word, within this one concept” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 140).
“All exist within a person, and exists within that which is theirs, including when that which is theirs, can also belong to someone else, including the person’s image, their possessions, etc. But they continue to belong to him/her” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 140).
Yan U Xiutl Ti
A metaphor for someone who possesses wisdom. Xiu translates to herb, but is also synonymous with science, and thus the expression to this day in the Mayab language when referring to someone intelligent: yan u xiutl ti: Tiene La Yerba, Es decir, Tiene la sabiduria—The person has knowledge of the herbs; that is, the person has wisdom (1960 Martinez Paredez, D. (1960). Un continente y una cultura. Mexico City, Mexico: Editorial Poesia de America.[Google Scholar], p. 41).
The belief that we all have a second personality, something akin to the Greek idea of ego (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 177).
“…The Maya were an integral part of that great Intelligent Energy that manifested in the body; wuinclil, that is the vibrant being” (1977 Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua. [Google Scholar], p. 42). “The Maya thinker referred to the human body as wuinclil: vibrant being of energy, which translates to wuinic: being, and lil; vibration…” (p. 46). They believed that all human beings were directly connected to Hunab Ku. “These two words wuinclil and cizin reveal in a most impressive manner that knowledge that the Maya possess regarding human beings, in relationship to their situation and condition, integrated human beings to that cosmic consciousness and that intelligent energy…” (p. 81)
“Exchange; the original idea of sacrifice (distorted). Involved only flowers, birds and animal skins.… their ceremonies did not require human sacrifices, instead hearts of birds, animal skins, maiz and flowers, plus symbolic objects that the Maya call: K’EX or INTERCAMBIO or exchange…. Later, that ritual ceremony arrived, it arrived amongst other peoples. And is it true that there is not a single people on earth that can claim never to have practiced human sacrifice? None…. [Yet] Spanish priests created the trope: Europeans carried out massive genocide, but did so only in response to human sacrifice” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 89).
“Creator energy. Cosmic energy that created the earth/universe. And akin to what Magaloni Duarte says; one could see, but not see; it was the development of cosmic consciousness. It was the idea prior to reality. It existed and it did not exist. Cabaguil existed as potential before materialization, and before action. For the Maya thinker, that consciousness was belief, and by believing, they created, and by creating they caused things to be” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 123).
Cabuil: La Causa Final—The Final Cause: “And this is what is reasonable: And this is what caused Cabuil to project itself, even before acting, and its image was the earth, because it is the final cause; it is the reason it caused it to exist. And that is why Cabuil is double because it is both spirit and soul; essence and form. The visible and the invisible; that which had not manifested, but which finally manifested” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 128).
“…through cooperation they attained their freedom through the recognition that the I does not exist, but rather, Mi otro Yo, my other self: In Lak Ech, that is, a great feeling of fraternity that prevented human beings from being wolves to each other, the enemy of human beings. In this manner, the Maya thinker, seeded the basis for human rights centuries, actually, thousands of years before modern humans began to speak to the issues of social justice” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion.[Google Scholar], p. 209).Philosophy: “These ethos regarding what it means to be human were achieved thanks to the fact that they followed these cosmic guidances and that they lived according to nature, based on living according to these proper and just guidances, without having to surrender one’s intelligence or free will” (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 210).
The Maya language: The key to understanding this way of thinking is the Maya language because embedded within it is their philosophy, religion, math, and science. The language informs us the opposite of the colonial knowledge left behind:
“… The priests transformed the [written] language in a manner so different and foreign that the native peoples didn’t understand their own language” (Fray Beltran de Santa Rosa). The tragedy, Paredez added, is that this invented language was erroneously written down in documents and books that continue to be copied, with all those mistakes, by modern scholars. (1967 Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 39)
A constant battle for Paredez was confronting such and other similar mistaken ideas: “What is curious regarding this case [the Maya language], beginning with the colonial era to the present date, is that writers continue to make the same errors that they critique, being that each of the writers have written their own books based on their own understanding, making the most absurd arguments, that the Maya do not know their own language, and that they need to be taught it, advancing the “logical thesis” that the Maya language that was translated by the priests (and others) differed substantially from the language they spoke. To be sure, in those early works, not all the vocabulary was recorded, but only a portion of the language, therefore, the works are not actual Maya grammar or dictionaries, besides, the art of the Maya language was contaminated by the missionaries who were bent on evangelizing the Maya…” (149).
Penumbras and shadows: Martinez-Paredez comments here as to what happened to the [psyche] of the Maya, as a result of the invasion:
“…their silencing transfigured their response, their actions, because they learned to live among the shadows, without making a sound, without echoes, quiet, became materially integrated and connected to their pathways into their forests and mountains and their rivers and lakes; and finally, they converted into shadows in the middle of nature. And that governed their conduct, and thus the Indigenous campesino walks through pathways and roads, like a ghost in the twilight hours, and just as they appear, they disappear and blur and get absorbed by the penumbra, the outer edges of the shadows. (1968 Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 140)
While this work is preliminary, it appears that the ideas presented here are both ancient and contemporary, and are undeniably Indigenous to this continent. These are ideas that were once decreed by colonial Spanish priests to be both illegitimate and demonic. And yet, to this day, Western society continues to pedal these same erroneous beliefs regarding the original peoples of this continent, concocted by those very same superstitious priests, still living in the dark ages. The effect historically has been to discourage peoples in general from accessing these worldviews or cosmovisions. At best, most [non-Maya] peoples who know about these ideas have come to know them through a badly distorted Western prism.
The notion that the beliefs of peoples had to be eradicated is mind-boggling, yet the idea that those same ideas continue to be considered forbidden knowledge, after some 500 years, defies language.
What is here is but an attempt to give readers a glimpse of that broader worldview. This should not be controversial, yet apparently it is. People from maiz-based cultures and communities have the historic right, minimally, to know about the original and living worldviews or cosmovisions of this continent, primarily because they themselves are part of these same cultures, albeit mostly de-Indigenized. Within this specific context, one can actually see this as part of a re-Indigenization effort, though this is not entirely similar to revitalization efforts undertaken by other Indigenous people on this continent. The communities discussed here did not intentionally seek to revitalize their Indigenous cultures. Many simply continued the tradition of glorifying Mexico’s ancient Indigenous past, while essentially ignoring the living. It was Indigenous elders, including Martinez-Paredez, from Mexico, Central America, the United States, and other parts of the continent, who initiated such contact and have brought with them such and similar knowledges since the advent of the Chicano Movement. Some of that knowledge has come by way of ceremonies and the oral tradition: danza, medicine, language instruction, running, stories, art, music, poetry and song or floricanto.
All this is part of a much larger story, but as many of these elders have taught, peoples from maiz-based cultures—who have been disconnected from their cultures as a result of colonialism and imperialism—are being exposed once again, not to lost knowledges, but rather to these knowledges from which they have been disconnected for generations (many migrants from Mexico and Central America nowadays are not disconnected from their cultures). Over the past generation, most of the knowledge passed on has been Nahua-based. Most of what is here is
Maya-based and, as Martinez-Paredez argued, Maya-Nahua culture is part of the same maiz-based culture. It has served to center peoples to these very lands, peoples who continue to be under ferocious attack as aliens, with the knowledge, as proclaimed at several recent Indigenous gatherings in Guatemala and Peru, that “we can never be foreigners on our own continent.”
With that comes not so much rights, but responsibilities, to resist and to create. It is implicit that, due to language and cultural issues, these concepts minimally are not being pronounced correctly, nor clearly grasped, and probably not understood within their actual context. And yet, what is minimally expected is that these ideas be approached with respect and understood that they are part of that larger philosophical universe of living peoples and cultures, as opposed to being museum relics, and always within the context of peace, dignity, and justice. This brings to mind that adage that we are judged, not by what we profess, but rather, by the footsteps we leave behind.
“If the Spaniards come looking for our corn or our chickens, our corn they will find at the point of our arrows and our chickens at the point of our spears.”
–A Maya Cacique (1967 Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar], p. 46)
Notes regarding Domingo Martinez-Paredez
This essay barely scratches at Martinez Paredez’s body of work, whose primary theme was social justice and the cultural unity of the original peoples of the continent, based on maiz.
Conscious of the uniqueness of his cultural and linguistic background, he once noted that, of the thousands of books written about the Maya, few had ever been written by native-born Maya scholars. He was fluent in the Yucatec Maya language, was academically trained and a professor in the field of Maya linguistics and philology, who inherited his knowledge from his mother, a curandera, along with other Yucatec Maya elders.
Because he has detractors from many quarters, it is important to examine his work, and the concepts he describes, thoroughly. To ensure this, revered elders who worked with him, plus other Maya linguists, language teachers, and elders, have and will continue to be consulted for this ongoing work. At the moment, this represents but the equivalent of an initial review of his works.
To be sure, there is much excitement among the scholars/elders that I am collaborating with that people in El Norte are interested in their philosophy and worldview.
The final objective here, as a result of this collaboration, is to elaborate these concepts further, bringing with it a greater philosophical coherence and also examining how these communities are either contributing to this worldview or helping to develop their own related worldview, in that hostile space called El Norte.
Appendix: Additional Glossary
- Chilam Balaam: Chi—to speak, Lam—profoundly, Balam—hidden. Enigmatic, secret, and mysterious (1968, p. 184).
- Caput Zihil: To be born a second time, akin to reincarnation (p. 152).
- Canil Cuxan—Canil Cuxtal: When we die, we see our entire lives before us (p. 151).
- Bey Uale—Le Ca Ualic: What happened to the Maya after the arrival of Europeans: became shadows in the middle of nature (p.140).
- Helel: “From life surges death and from death surges They had the magnificent conviction that the act of dying is simply but a momentary pause from life” (p. 209).
- Tepeu & Gucumatz—Energy and Water. Creator spirits in the Popul Vuh (p. 61).
- Kizin: the psyche (1977, p. 44).
- Mak’am: The equivalent of handmade or a laborer (1960, p. 130).
- Ueytiuavan—Teotihuacan: Where lords are made (legitimated) (1960, p. 50).
- Noh Yum or Tata Yum: Equivalence of God/Father. Not Hunab Ku (1963, p. 15).
- Ch’Eenel Ik: Calm and silence. When the wind can not be
- Analteoob y Uinalteoob: Sacred books (1963, p. 82).
- Tecul: “to think, in the rich language of the Maya, it is the logical base from where a whole gamut of concepts reveal themselves in stupendous and intellectual form…” (1963, 76).
- K’ahol: Conocimiento—knowledge (p. 77).
- Cin K’aholt Cimba: I know myself (p. 77).
- Ohel: knowledge that would permit one to rise to a higher spiritual plane (Nak O’lal), full of noble and generous sentiments (p. 77).
- Pixan Yocol Cab: The world’s soul (p. 88).
- Lukanoob Tumen Kan: Those that had been swallowed by the knowledge of the Initiates into the deep knowledge of the Maya (p. 89).
- Akab Dziib: Enigmatic writing or difficult-to-comprehend writings (p. 92).
- Canil cuxtal: The serpent of life (1977).
- Nenhool: mirror of the mind (p. 21).
- H’menes: healers, curanderos, [good] magicians (p. 31).
- Ti ma ococ ha tin pol cuchi: Per the writer Nakuk Pech: “Before water had been poured on my head; before baptism” (1967, p. 70).
Martinez Paredez, D. (1960). Un continente y una cultura. Mexico City, Mexico: Editorial Poesia de America. [Google Scholar]
Martinez Paredez, D. (1963). Hunab ku. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar] Martinez Paredez, D. (1967). El idioma Maya hablado y el escrito. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar]
Martinez Paredez, D. (1968). El popul vuh tiene razon. Mexico City, Mexico: Orion. [Google Scholar]
Martinez Paredez, D. (1970). El hombre y el cosmos en el mundo Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Secretaria de Educacion Publica. [Google Scholar]
Martinez Paredez, D. 1977, Parapsicologia Maya. Mexico City, Mexico: Manuel Porrua. [Google Scholar]
Valdez, L. (1973) Pensamiento serpentino. N.p.: Cucaracha. [Google Scholar]