Tuesday, September 24, 2019

The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part IX

Continuing with Brant A. Gardner’s rationale of John L. Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise, along with our responses.
Gardner: “Archaeologist Prudence Rice puts it clearly: “Maya quadripartite organization of horizontal space is not strictly based on the four fixed cardinal directions recognized in the modern world. Instead, the divisions seem to invoke the solstice-equinox positions and movements of the sun as it rises on the eastern horizon and sets on the western.”
Response: Consider the claim by Marilyn Masson (left), professor of Mesoamerican archaeology at the University at Albany, whose research focuses on social transformation and political economy of ancient Mesoamerican cultures in Mexico and Belize, who states: “Reconstructing ancient economies must consider urban-rural dependencies and patterns for a more robust view.”
    Her research over the past 23 years has focused on the social transformations and political economy of late Mesoamerican cultures, particularly, the Maya of Yucatan peninsula of Mexico and Belize. She has published articles on ancient Oaxaca and Maya religion, politics, and economy, and is the author/editor of three books: In the Realm of Nachan Kan (2000, Univ. of Colorado Press), Ancient Civilizations of Mesoamerica (2002, with Michael E. Smith, Blackwell Press), and Ancient Maya Political Economies (2002, with David A. Freidel, Altamira Press). Currently she is co-director of a research project at Mayapan, the largest political capital of the Maya world during the Postclassic Period.
    She has worked at sites in Belize, Mayapan, Colha, Kichpanha, K'axob, and also in Oaxaca. Her efforts involved the “document and comparison of rural economies to urban ones, and to adopt a regional, rather than site-level approach, which is continuing in forthcoming years” (Marilyn A. Masson, “Review,” University at Albany, New York, paper published by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017).
    This Obviously, suggests that the ancient Maya, both the Lowland Maya and the Highland Maya, are seen quite differently by different “experts” on the Maya, and Gardner or others cannot claim that one view is the only accepted view regarding the Maya.
    To this, Prudence Rice, formerly of Southern Illinois University and head of the Anthropology Department, as well as editor of Maya Ceramics: Papers from the 1985 Maya Ceramic Conference in England has asserted that neither the model of two giant "superpowers" nor that which postulates scores of small, weakly independent polities fits the accumulating body of material and cultural evidence.” Rice actually builds a new model of Classic lowland Maya (AD 179-948) political organization and political geography. Using the method of direct historical analogy, she integrates ethnohistoric and ethnographic knowledge of the Colonial-period and modern Maya with archaeological, epigraphic, and iconographic data from the ancient Maya.
    On this basis of cultural continuity, she constructs a convincing case that “the fundamental ordering principles of Classic Maya geopolitical organization where the calendar (specifically a 256-year cycle of time known as the may) and the concept of quadripartition, or the division of the cosmos into four cardinal directions” (Prudence M. Rice, Maya Political Science: Time, Astronomy, and the Cosmos, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2004; Rice, Maya Political Science, 2013).
The view from Home, showing four directions from the center of wherever the person or object is located

Obviously again, not all Mayanists agree on this point of either the calendar or a 5th direction, though all agree that there were four cardinal directions: East, South, West and North. At the same time, the Maya associated birth and death with the rising and setting of the sun, in association with the sun god. That is, the rising sun is the personification of the sun or Sun God as it proceeds on its journey from east to west, and referred to as k’in (east lak’in) meaning birth and the color red (chak), while West (chik’in, ochk’in) was associated with sunset or death and the color black (ek’). At the same time, zaman (north) was associated with ”up”, and though she wants to relate this to the rising of the sun at zenith, the term north and up has been a part of western cardinal directions for centuries. As for south, it was associated with “down” the Underworld, and its journey back to the east through the Underworld.
    Of course, these are figurative ideas of an ignorant, unknowledgeable society, but not literal directions or any type of change in directions. The rest of Rice’s descriptions fall more into the area of superstition and early man’s way of thinking (The original Inca came out of Lake Titicaca, etc.) and not a directional aspect as Gardner claims.
    Gardner: “Although the plausible origin of this conception is the travel of the sun along the horizon, Mesoamerican systems regularized their depictions (and therefore their perceptions) into a quadripartite system surrounding the center. The world was depicted as a square with lines drawn from corner to corner. The Codex Mendoza shows the Aztec capital city at the center of the world.”
    Response: This is little different than the Inca Empire who considered their home, Cuzco (Qosqo), their ancient capital (Tahuantinsuyo), as the center of the world—in fact they called it the “Navel of the World,” based on the Four regions Empire over which their authority extended. To try and build this into a fifth cardinal point in Mesoamerica is a little beyond the pale.
Map of Aztec and Mayan lands in Mesoamerica. Obviously, the Aztec were in central to southern Mexico and the Maya were in the Yucatan, Belize and highlands of Guatemala

This overall concept is part of the Aztec Mythology Creation Story, in which the original meanings of the symbols were different in numerous aspects. The eagle was a representation of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, who was very important, as the Aztecs referred to themselves as the People of the Sun. The cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica), full of its fruits, called "tenochtli" in Nahuatl, represent the island of Tenochtitlan, upon which the Aztec civilization was founded. To the Aztec people, the snake represented wisdom, and it had strong connotations with the god Quetzalcoatl.
    However, in this early depiction, there is no snake being devoured and was not part of the original legend. In fact, to the Aztecs, the typical scene depicting an eagle overpowering a snake would be considered wrong. According to the original legend, The Aztecs were wandering throughout Mexico in search of a divine sign that would indicate the precise spot upon which they were to build their capital. Their god "Huitzilopochtli" had commanded them to find an eagle devouring a snake (the story is that it is eating something, it can be birds, a snake or a lizard) perched atop a cactus that grew on a rock submerged in a lake. After two hundred years of wandering, they found the promised sign on a small island in the swampy Lake Texcoco. It was there they founded their new capital, "Tenochtitlan." In fact, there is no mention of the four quarters of the quadripartite system surrounding the center.
Gardner: “Tenochtitlan, indicated by the eagle on the cactus (the symbol for Tenochtitlan), sits at the center of the crossed lines that extend from each corner of the cosmos to the opposite corner. While the five-part concept defined the understanding of one’s orientation in the cosmos, the actual directional system appears have been built on only a single “direction,” which was the path of the sun throughout the day and throughout the year. Other spatial relationships were made against that defining axis.” 
The eagle on a cactus sybolizes a prophecy that they were about to find their fated destination, Tenochtitlan, the name for what is now Mexico City, though the original did not have a snake in it. About two decades after Spanish colonization this painting like this was created for the purposes of sending it to the King of Spain

Response: This does not seem to match any of the information garnered from the direction system of the Maya. As an example, according to Prudence Rice’s Maya Political Science, time Astronomy, and the Cosmos, the Maya had the four rains: “East-red and good rains;” “North-white and good rains;” “West-black and poor rains;” “South-yellow and poor rains.” They had four doors associated with the founding of a city, and once the place had been ritually validated, a fence was erected with four doors, north, south, east and west. Even the legend of the Maker, Modeler, Mother-Father of Life dealt with the four cardinal directions of four-fold siding, four-fold cornering, measuring, four-fold staking, having the cord, stretching the cord in the sky, on the earth, the four sides, the four corners.”
(See the next post, “The Mystifying Rationale of Mesoamerican Directions – Part X,” and the continuation of Gardner’s rationale of Sorenson’s skewed Land of Promise, along with our responses)

No comments:

Post a Comment