This is the third round of workshops in our educational project together with the local NGO Loq’laj Ch’och’ or “Sacred Earth” in Q’eqchi’ Maya, funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung.
It is a familiar scene: adventure channels delivering cool documentaries on the mysterious Mayan civilization in the rain-green jungle of Guatemala, a civilization that has suddenly disappeared! It appeals to the imagination of the viewer. It is much less exciting to have to tell that the Maya are still alive and that many of their descendants are suffering from discrimination, poverty and unemployment. You often hear the claim - even from experts - that the current Maya are different from the Maya who built the ancient pyramids.
The little Maya girl who died a few months ago on the US border when being in custody, seeking a better life with her father, was called Jakelin Caal Maquin and came from Raxruha, one of the towns where we are working. Her last name Maquin is a direct reference to the nearby Classic Maya site known as Cancuén, famous as a port of trade on the Pasión River but also for its second largest palace complex of the Maya world. The Emblem Glyph of the site reads Mak K’in which today is hispanicized as Maquin, still a very common surname in the area. It was the surname of little Jakelin - though she will never know. There are many surnames among modern Q’eqchi’ Maya which are originally Ch’ol , the language of the ‘great’ pyramid builders, who are now absorbed by the Q’eqchi’. The Maya never disappeared!
In this workshop we focused on the lineage history of the Maya, in my opinion the most productive way of reconstructing their history. Maya artists often painted anthropomorphic images on their pottery which in fact represented linages. From the nearby Late Classic site of Chama we have a score of beautiful ceramics and if you examine the images you see they represent an armadillo (Ibooy), a taltuza, that is some sort of gopher-mole (Ba) and a nosebear (Sis). Ibooy, Ba and Sis also happened to have been important lineages in the area, and still are common last names. The participants are now investigating the Maya surnames of their own communities. Which ones are the most common heard, what do they mean, what were the last names of the founders of the community and what was their origin?