What the Mayans Got Right…

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San Andres, El Salvador

In light of the Mayans’ failure to predict the end of the world in 2012, I thought I would shed light on a couple of things they actually got right.

Over the last few weeks I have been immersed in a work by Leonhard Schultze-Jena where the author records stories and myths that he recorded based on interviews with indigenous people in the town of Izalco where I carry out my research (Indiana II – Mythen in Muttersprache der Pipil von Izalco in El Salvador). What has surprised me the most from these stories is the degree to which Pipil mythology is reflective of everyday life. Of course, as is the case is most indigenous mythology and tales, there are elements involving the supernatural, where people are effectively one with nature.

One of my favourite stories is about a woman who goes out at night to sleep with a man other than her husband. Now this is a very crafty woman, because she leaves her house gradually, in fragments (one body part at a time), which is why her husband never notices this is going on. Her husband who is also very crafty decides to apply some sort of dry mixture on the parts where there are already missing limbs from her body and by doing so prevents the limbs from reattaching themselves. As the story goes, his wife’s head is unable to reattach itself to her own body. The man attaches the woman’s head onto his own body. One translation says that it was the woman that adhered her own head to her husband’s body (Rafael Lara-Martinez). From this point on, the only thing they do alone is sleep. Other than that, they share a unity that is unlike the time when they were separated.

Now, this is where the story get really cool. The attachment of the woman’s head to the man’s body is the beginning of a relationship where man and woman are on equal grounds. Man and woman share a body, but they each have their own head, which in my opinion is reflective of man and woman being equals and each having a voice. There is no room for subjugation in this sense, because any harm caused to the woman (or man), the man (or woman) inflicts upon himself (or herself). In addition, this opens up the ground to other stories that show the fluidity of gender among the Pipils, but I’ll leave that for the subject of another post!

For now, let’s just remember that just because the Mayans didn’t accurately predict the end of the world in 2012, it doesn’t mean that they got everything wrong. In terms of gender relations, there is a lot to learn from them.

Happy New Year everyone!

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