The Maya people portrayed in the current exhibit, Painted Metaphors, followed some interesting beliefs in their folklore. In ancient times, for example, they solemnized their marriages by having the wedded pair ceremonially drink chocolate.
They have stories about Sisemite, a hairy manlike creature taller and stronger than any man. Sisemite craves to make fire and to gain the power of speech like humans. Elin Danien, curator of Painted Metaphors, wrote, “If a woman sees a Sisemite, her life is indefinitely prolonged, but a man never lives more than a month after he has looked into the eyes of the monster.” So she wrote in the book, Maya Folktales from the Alta VeraPaz.
The Popol Vuh is the creation story of the Quiché Maya. (‘Vuh’ is pronounced ‘Wux’ according to their linguistic phonetic system.) “The Hero Twins of the Popol Vuh rise to become the sun and the moon,” wrote Danien.
The Maya trickster figure was the rabbit. In one story, he bagged up some gravel and offered it for sale as hard yellow maize, orchestrating the arrivals of the prospective buyers so, as they showed up in turn, their predator was close behind. He realized a tidy profit for his family by reselling the same bag of gravel as maize while the animals all did each other in.
“In the Popol Vuh, the rabbit helps confound the Lords of Xibalba, the Underworld… he thus helps the Hero Twin regain his head and his life….In scenes painted on Classic Maya pottery, the rabbit takes the hat and clothing of God I, one of the gods of the Underworld, for reasons still not understood. On a …vessel the Rabbit acts as a scribe to the Lords of Xibalba. The rabbit is also the symbol of the moon, and is frequently shown with the Moon Goddess in Classic era art. “ somewhat quoted, somewhat paraphrased from Danien’s book.
Guatemala is a volatile country that has been traumatized with earthquakes. The ancient Indians believed it was the legendary horned serpent that lived underground and disturbed the landscape with its movement sometimes belching smoke, flame, and ashes.
Come see the fascinating exhibit, Painted Metaphors: Pottery and Politics of the Ancient Maya, before June 3.