I had an experience a few days ago and was quite surprised with how much it affected me, so I had to write. That day, in the modern year 2012, I experienced a racial prejudice similar to that in the 1920s. I realize that our society is not so enlightened and there are plenty of white supremacists and such, but wow. I was blown away by the ignorance and prejudice I encountered.
While the remark was not aimed at me personally, I still felt personally affected by it. I am not an easily offended person by any means and was surprised that I became more and more enraged as the day went on. This isn’t about being overly sensitive and wishing for a perfectly politically correct world, it’s about respect and correcting ignorance. The remark read (and I’m paraphrasing): ‘Well the world didn’t end. That’s what you get for listening to Mayans who were worshipping corn.’ The remark went on to further offend Mayan culture but the extremely mature person has since deleted me from Facebook despite my saintly restraint from commenting. (Sarcastic voice: Oh however will I sleep at night knowing that I have been unfriended on Facebook? Really, people? I don’t care).
The remark pretty much insulted Mayan culture and spewed unknowingly an offense to all American Indian culture. I can’t decide if the mockery of Indian culture or the blatant ignorance of culture and history is more offensive.
Without getting too much into cultural or historical detail, here’s a lot of what’s wrong with that person’s remarks. Not to toot my own horn, but I am a historian working on a Ph.D. and the brief history I am providing comes from graduate coursework as well as personal cultural experience. In addition, I will provide some links to Mayan culture.
First, insulting Mayan beliefs offends modern Indians as well
While numerous differences existed between Indian tribes, their culture and religion had a lot in common and they often exchanged this culture when interacting with other tribes. Therefore, Mayan culture has some things in common with modern tribes and insulting their way of life is an insult to all Indians’ culture.
Second, Indians do not worship corn
Most American Indian religion focuses on nature and giving constant thanks to its resources. This is not worshipping corn. They are thankful to the spirits, earth, and ancestors that make the growth of corn and the sustenance it provides possible.
Third, Anglo Americans have no right to ridicule Indian beliefs
If you think about it out of context and logically, all religions have odd stories. While some may think the Indians’ belief in thanking nature is hilarious, they may find the Christian story of their god appearing as a burning bush hysterical as well. This is not meant to ridicule anyone’s religion, just to point out that all are based on faith and entitled to believe whatever they wish.
Fourth, the Mayans were not backwards, savage, heathens, or whatever offensive terms used
One calendar was created by the Mayans in the year 3114 BC and was more accurate than the European Julian calendar revised in 1582. At this time, white Europeans did not live in blissful harmony surfing the web on their Ipads. The 3000s BC marks the Bronze Age for Europe, a time when the “civilized” were conquering and killing each other, marrying their siblings/cousins, farming, and discovering how to smoke weed (in Rome). Every culture has their achievements and ridiculous moments, just please take a few history courses (or maybe read that thing called a book) before you butcher my profession and sound like a moron.
Fifth, the Mayan calendar was not meant to predict the end of the world
The Mayans had several astronomically correct calendars to signify various things. Some reports state their calendars were often accurate to within thirty minutes. Similar to other tribes, the Mayans viewed their world and time cyclically, which can be seen in the circular nature of their calendars. The end of the calendar did not mean the end of the world; it meant the end of an era. The completion of that time meant a rebirth, the beginning of a new time. The Mayan began and ended their calendars according to an astronomically important date-the so-called “end of the world” occurred simply on the Winter Solstice.
Mayan elders still exist; all of their people did not disappear. Most of the end of world predictions come from people that are incorrectly translating Mayan glyphs. (The glyphs are difficult to translate to outsiders due to the closeness of some symbols. I had to translate a few for a final in class). The Mayan elders are angry that this incorrect rumor has prevailed-I would be upset too if someone had butchered my culture as well…oh wait, that’s the point of this post!
In closing, the point of my post was not necessarily to mock the ignorance of the offending person (although I do feel better). I also do not intend to insult any other culture. I am simply striving to point out that no culture really has any right to criticize another. This post serves as my rebuttal to the frequent dismissal of “savage cultures” and the butchering of a people’s beliefs. American Indians still exist, even the descendants of ancient cultures of South America.
For further reading:
There are several great books on the Mayan culture, these are just quick references. If you know of any historic, professionally written books on the Maya, feel free to add!
McFadden, Steve. Steep Uphill Climb to 2012: Messages from the Mayan Milieu. http://www.redrat.net/thoughts/prophets/index.htm (accessed December 28, 2012).
Maya World Studies Center. “The Maya.” Centro de Estudios del Mundo Maya. 1996-2001. http://www.mayacalendar.com/introduccion.html (accessed December 28, 2012).