Saturday, 14 April 2012

The Destruction of Images in Colonialism & The Mayans of Central America

Mayan carving

The Mayans of Central America were initially established in the Pre-Classic period around 2000 BC. They were based in Southern Mexico and northern Central America. They numbered about 9 million people, consisting of about 30 different groups.

The Classic period between 250 AD and around 900 AD saw amazing developments in the Maya as a civilisation: Society, Science and Order, Advances in Architecture, aqueducts and irrigation systems for a well advanced agricultural system, unique and original written language. They left an abundant written record of their times, Only four written texts survived the Spanish destruction.

They practiced Epigraphy, had a very advanced form of mathematics and astrology. Maya priests predicted the precise time and place of solar eclipses. The cycles of the moon were mapped out and they had a very developed calendar. In terms of images of the Maya they had a very developed art system: Dabbled in sculpture, painting, hieroglyphics and ceramics. They were also people obsessed with the bloody gods of the underworld. They used mind-altering drugs and drank a lot of alcohol to communicate with their ancestors and sacrificed humans. In terms of Politics: Unlike Aztecs and Incas in that they had no capital city. Were relatively divided among independent city-states, which had a king as a ruler and different classes of society.

There are numerous theories concerning the fall of Mayan Civilisation (around 900AD). These are- Foreign invaders, peasant revolt and social turmoil, epidemic disease, worsening agriculture, civil war and Drought.

The Spanish conquistadors were paramount to the fall culturally. They replaced the worship of any Gods that also had a tangible form with an invisible God. This polytheistic religion with Gods that are easy to relate to (as they can be seen or experienced in the mortal world as well as easily represented pictorially) contrasted to the monotheistic Catholic religion with a God that relies on belief without seeing. Often the monumental pyramidical structures that contained sophisticated hieroglyphics, carvings, other art forms and historical records were not only destroyed, but a Catholic structure was then built directly on top of the site.

David Morgan in his essay “The Violence of Seeing” addresses this common historical event in the first few lines, saying: “When an idol falls, its place does not long remain vacant… when smashing monuments, save the pedestals – they always come in handy.” The Great Pyramid of Cholula, is an example of such an occurrence. Today the pyramid at first appears to be a natural hill surmounted by a church. This is the Church of Our Lady of the Remedies. Also on this note, The Iglesia de Santo Tom├ís is a Roman Catholic church built around 1545 on top of a Pre-Columbian temple platform. The original steps that lead to a temple of the Mayan civilization remains venerated.

Model of Church of Our Lady of the Remedies

A central figure in the destruction of Mayan images that kept coming up was the Bishop Diego di Landa, he wrongly claimed to have translated the Mayan alphabet to the Spanish one, he also burned as many Mayan books as he could get access to and burned five thousand idols.

The Mayan people were stripped of a lot of their culture and as a result images through the tactics of colonization employed by the Spanish conquistadors. Throughout hundreds of years of outside efforts to oppress and assimilate the Maya people, they have continued to hold on to their unique way of life. Modern Maya religion is a colourful hybrid of Catholicism and ancient Maya beliefs and rituals. A main Maya legacy they left behind was their prediction of the end of the world in 2012.There are still more than 6 million who live mostly in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...