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“Quiche” on 2012 Movie Menu Tastes Old, Bitter

Actualizado: 20 jul 2019

2012, released Nov. 13, 2009 and very popular worldwide. Also treat yourself to a visit to Sony’s supporting Website Courtesy of 2009 Sony Pictures Digital Inc.

Roland Emmerich’s 2012 refers ominously to the calendar of the “Quiche Maya,” mispronouncing the name of the “K’iche’” (key-chay) people such that it sounds instead like an exotic new item on a brunch menu rather than the largest of some 30 contemporary Maya ethnic groups. This error adds unintended levity to the film’s caricature of the Maya that falsely implies that ancient prophecies from their millennial culture foretold the end of the world in 2012. The movie’s uninformed approach inadvertently reinforces a centuries-long tradition of misrepresenting the original inhabitants of Middle America.

2012’s flawed depiction of their world is innocent relative to that of Mel Gibson’s 2006 Apocalypto, a visually engrossing film that unfortunately reiterated prior racist portrayals of Maya as barbaric savages by generations of oppressive Hispanic elites in Guatemala and Mexico. For nearly 500 years, clerics, novelists and politicians have inaccurately described Maya according to their own narrowly limited understanding of indigenous ways, almost always to the detriment of the Maya.

Maya culture, like those of other millennial world cultures, has its unique genius. Maya astronomical accomplishments reveal remarkably advanced insight into celestial movements and sophisticated mathematics. They developed a brilliantly abstract artistic tradition and wrote in esthetically pleasing hieroglyphs. Maya built intricately carved temples shaped like terraced limestone waterfalls and developed a profound and genuine respect for their sacred grain, corn, the revered basis for human life.

Today’s Maya raise their babies with extraordinary nurturing, weave uncommonly tight community bonds, revere their elders and ancestors, and live with experientially derived respect for the natural world. Even so, the perception of Maya by outsiders has often been shaped by violent racism or arrogant paternalism, both based upon profound ignorance of indigenous sensibilities. A non-intentional form of such insensitivity appears in a brief scene in 2012 showing bodies strewn on the ground at a ancient ruins site in what resembles a Maya-style Jonestown group suicide. While few of today’s Maya would recognize the cult suicide reference, some older Maya from the Guatemalan highlands would immediately recall in horror the very real scenes of scattered Maya bodies on the ground after the massacre of tens of thousands of civilians by government troops in the late 70s and early 80s. These wounds are still fresh but the pattern of abuse from foreigners is hundreds of years old.

When Spain first invaded Maya lands in the 1500s, Christian priests explicitly depicted Maya spiritual practices as works of the devil. Diego de Landa, Bishop of Mérida, went so far as to torture the Maya under his care to locate more of their sacred texts and burn them in inquisitional fires so as to rid his realm of their demonic contents. Early regional literature from Guatemala and Mexico included cartoonish, highly romanticized depictions of the Maya as well as ugly generalizations of them as violent alcoholics. Later works of fiction by esteemed writers such as the Nobel Prize-winning Guatemalan Miguel Angel Asturias and the much-admired Mexican Rosario Castellanos wrote novels that, while attempting to promote better treatment of their Maya compatriots, severely maligned the Maya’s nature-based spirituality as a product of brutish ignorance and psychological damage in unloving Maya family environments.

Misrepresentation of Maya ways has now reached new extremes in the 2012 phenomenon, the rapidly growing social movement surrounding the Dec. 21, 2012, date on the Maya Long Count calendar. There are already millions of references to this much-anticipated date on-line that complement a quickly expanding library of books on the topic. Even though most of these materials claim the Maya as their primary source; in fact, extremely little in the 2012 phenomenon has any substantive basis in the diverse cultural traditions of the some 8 million Maya living today.

The stunning computer-generated apocalyptic images of the richly entertaining 2012 movie will no doubt draw even greater public interest in this extraordinary date in a way that may already exceed the dimensions of the earlier Y2K phenomenon. Unfortunately, the film only adds to the confusing amalgam of misinformation concerning the date’s significance.

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