Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: The Destruction Of The Jaguar
Maybe it’s because of the movies. We’ve seen too many apocalypse-themed films and tv series, therefore the concept has been normalized in a totally unrealistic, sanitized manner, making it easier for some to actually cheer an impending, real world collapse.
We saw this phenomena manifest as the millennium approached and Y2K anxiety increased. Would the doomsday declarers finally be validated? Would civilization as we know it come to an end? And when it comes down to survival, what are the real limitations of duct tape?
This CNN tech story, written a week before the 9’s flipped to 0’s, first debunks the doomsday predictions, then comments on why the cultural fervor around Y2K is fascinating:
As a technology story, Ive always found the Y2K computer bug to be a real yawner. No doubt its been a major issue for many computer systems administrators, and an expensive diversion for computerdependent institutions of all stripes. But computers have all kinds of problems all the time, and those samesaid institutions have large staff and budgets dedicated to keeping the machines running. Ive never understood why we would expect this one problem to remain untended, and thus wreak havoc.
As a cultural story, though, the Y2K computer bug is fascinating indeed. Its the perfect proxy for our fears about the future, a vivid symbol of how the world weve made has spun out of control. A lot of people with a bit of Luddite in them are hoping the computers will go down. So are followers of millennialist religions. Its truly a story line for the ages Modern society doomed by its own tooclever creations Pack the food and the guns and head for the hills The suspense about what might happen when the date clicks over to 01012000 is now oddly bound up with what might happen to the economy. The end of the century, against all odds, has coincided with one of the greatest periods of economic expansion in history. Especially for those at or near the top of the socioeconomic food chain, times could hardly be better.
Twelve years after Y2K’s great fizzle, a new apocalypse bubble has inflated and will burst in less than a month, leaving behind the same residue of disappointment for those who want to see a global disruption of business as usual.
And for apocalypse-peddlers, that’s what they are banking on: sucker-consumers willing to purchase a glimpse of disaster before it happens.
Mayan descendants, though, are pissed off that their spiritual/cultural intellectual property is being exploited for profit by the Guatemalan government:
The ‘golden age’ of the Mayan civilization may have occurred over 1,000 years ago, but more than half the population of the Central American nation of Guatemala are of Mayan descent and many still celebrate ancient customs. So, as we approach Dec. 21, 2012, it’s little wonder they’re pissed that one of their calendars has been hijacked and misinterpreted as a prophet of doom.
But this time, the anger isn’t directed at the West’s “messianic thinking,” Maya leaders have accused the Guatemalan government of perpetuating the myth that the Mayan Long Count calendar predicts the end of the world for financial gain.
“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop, told the AFP news agency.
So with all this in mind, I went to my shelves to find a book titled The Destruction of the Jaguar: Poems from the Books of Chilam Balam (City Lights, 1987).
This book is an artistic translation (by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno) of the books of Chilam Balam, a collection of fragmented Mayan writing that has survived the cultural genocide of the Spanish colonizers.
The translated verses are bookended by two excerpts from the Spanish Chronicles of Bishop Diego de Landa, a brutal example of how some Christians sought to subjugate the New World:
Spanish Franciscan friar and the second Bishop of the Yucatan Diego de Landa is best remembered today for two things: his classic account of the pre-Columbian customs, language, astrology, and writing of the Mayas, and his brutal attempts to convert them to Christianity.
Landa was one of the many priests in the 16th century who responded to the Spanish Crown’s call to bring Christianity to the people of the New World. While some friars like Bartolomé de Las Casas worked compassionately with and for the indigenous people, others like Landa resorted to torture and the destruction of native icons, temples, and writings.
Below the fold are two selections; a translated excerpt from the Books of Chilam Balam, and a translated excerpt from the Bishop Diego de Landa.
Xupan Nauat Speaks
Brothers, prepare yourselves.
Make ready for the arrival
of the man with visor,
roaring stick, gaping jaws
and bloody teeth.
Make ready for the humiliation
of the jaguar and the eagle
for the plague of ants
for the defeat of our rulers
who have governed
since the world began.
to carry, like turtles,
your house upon your back
to surrender your white clothes
to see before your eyes
white stone turn to powder,
order evaporate like dew.
to endure like dogs
panting with open mouths,
to live like ferrets
hiding in hollowed logs.
He comes to kill,
to infect with wars,
to spread pestilence
and unending famine.
He comes to destroy
the jaguar and the puma
to raze the sacred houses
to pluck the quetzal’s plumes.
He comes to scatter
all of the great priests,
to hunt down Hunab-Ku,
pierce his side with spears,
to burn even
these sacred books
the prophecies of Hunab-Ku,
these holy texts
which spark my speech.
From the Spanish Chronicles of Bishop Diego de Landa
If it was the devil who put together this compilation of the katuns, he did it, as usual, to glorify himself, or if it was a man, he must have been a great idolator because with these katuns he added to all the principal tricks and omens and deceptions by which these people, in their miseries, were totally deceived. And although this was the science to which they gave the most credit and credence, not even all the priests knew how to interpret it…We found a large number of these books of characters, but since they contained nothing but superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all which caused them tremendous anguish and pain.