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Kan Bahlam II was a Renaissance Man centuries before that term was invented.
He left an archeological legacy that is unsurpassed among Maya kings. His brilliant mind conceived a new calendar, the 819-day count and invented a secret code language called Zuyua. His command of mathematics and numerology led to a web of interconnections between his family history and cosmological cycles. He was an accomplished astronomer and created complex connections between mythological, historical, and family events. He also may be the earliest “cosmopolitan” Mayan, a sophisticate who traveled widely to the edges of the Maya world. K’inich Kan Bahlam II, eldest son of famous ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal of Palenque, left a vast archeological legacy of this accomplishments. He did all this in the mid-late 7th Century.
Kan Bahlam II had to wait an agonizingly long time to bring his genius to full expression. His father Pakal was one of the longest-lived Maya rulers, who died at age 80. Kan Bahlam assumed the throne of Palenque in 684 CE when he was 48 years old. He quickly went to work on several projects to make his own mark on the already great city. First he completed his father’s funerary structure, Temple of the Inscriptions, including the stunning burial chamber and sarcophagus of Pakal, and the three magnificent panels covered by carved hieroglyphs giving this temple its name. In the midst of this project, he contended with hostilities from nearby Tonina, defeating it soundly in 687 CE and capturing its ruler. He extended his influence eastward to dominate two other enemy cities around 690 CE.
Kan Bahlam’s archeological apex was constructing the three temples of The Cross Group, called the “three jewels of Maya architecture.”
This triad complex still stands as perhaps the most powerful expression of ancient Mayan religion. Each temple of The Cross Group features one of the Triad Gods, widely honored by Mayas but special protectors of the Palenque dynasty. Every facet of these temples expresses symbolism of Maya cosmology and belief systems, from the stairways and platforms to the temple doorways and chambers on top the pyramid structures. Inside the chambers, each temple held a large panel, intricately carved with images and hieroglyphs. These panels contain the only lengthy written narrative of Classic Maya mythology, the legend told in the famous Popol Vuh epic written centuries later by K’iche Mayas. In his telling of this Maya creation myth, Kan Bahlam inserted himself as
the embodiment of each Triad God, portraying his youthful and mature images. In each temple, his image assumed characteristics of its God and he enacted the powers they brought to rulers.
But Kan Bahlam went beyond conflating himself with the Triad Gods. He inserted the fruits of his many years of intellectual endeavor, using cosmology and numerology to make links with his family and personal history. Layer upon layer of meaning was embedded in these images and glyphs. As an example, he took a “mythical” date many thousands of years in the past (related to Creation Mythology), linked it mathematically to the date when he assumed the throne, linked it using various calendars (including the 819-day count) to a cosmological event such as Venus rising as Morningstar, and linked it historically to an important event in the life of an ancestor. Ceremonies were performed at dedication and over many years, following a ritual cycle according to calendar dates, such as the great Katun ending in 692 CE (126.96.36.199.0). The temples symbolized the basic spaces of creation: sky (Upperworld), surface of water (Middleworld), and caves (Underworld).
Using his knowledge of astronomy, Kan Bahlam constructed angles and spacial orientation of the triad temples to display solar and lunar phenomena, such as solstice and equinox sunset or sunrise, and lunar elongations. See blogpost Solstice, Equinox, and the Mayan Calendar.
K’inich Kan Bahlam II, 12th Dynastic ruler of Palenque (B’aakal) is a major character in my historical fiction The Prophetic Mayan Queen: K’inuuw Mat of Palenque. He had no surviving heir; the son of his younger brother assumed the throne. This next ruler, K’inich Ahkal Mo’ Nab III, was the son of K’inuuw Mat–and possibly of Kan Bahlam in my story. A short excerpt:
K’innuw Mat’s heart burst with joy as she watched her husband (Kan Bahlam) conduct the elaborate rituals, starting at daybreak and continuing until sunset. Tall incense burners with two-tiered deity heads wearing elaborate headdresses…lined either side of the Temple stairway…Nearly fifty incense burners released curls of pungent smoke into the still forming air as the ruler, elite nobles, and priesthood climbed the stairway to perform “creation and activation” rites for the effigy of the God of the temple. The group dedicated the pib nah to the God and placed precious offerings inside the shrine. Musicians and dancers enacted themes related to the Triad Gods in front of crowds filling the plaza. After completing the dedication, Kan Bahlam stood at the top platform and retold that portion of the B’aakal Creation Story to the people.
Kan Bahlam effectively constructed an “astronumerology canoe” that, akin to the Celestial Canoe in which the Paddler Gods convey deceased to the Underworld, would carry forth into rebirth the religious charter of B’aakal.
Mists of Palenque Series, Book 4
Exploring The Writing Process With Leonide Martin.
In this new series of posts, I’ll be taking a look at The Writing Process. Whenever I’ve done an author interview, one question always asked is how I navigate the process of writing. Every author follows a personal writing process, so no single formula fits for all. There are common steps we all go through in conceptualizing, developing, planning, researching, writing routine, revising, editing, and publishing. This series will explore each step in the writing process, using my own experiences as examples.
The book I most recently completed is The Mayan Red Queen: Tz’aakb’u Ahau of Palenque. This is the third book in the Mists of Palenque series about four remarkable ancient Mayan women. Released in 2017 as an ebook, it’s now in the process of getting into print with publication date March 1, 2018. The Mayan Red Queen is the example through which I’ll dissect my journey through The Writing Process.
Inspiration for The Mayan Red Queen Story
My husband and I bought a house in Mérida, Yucatan, Mexico in 2005 and lived there for five years. Our main purpose was for me to become immersed in Mayan culture and history to better write historical fiction about this great civilization. Yucatan was a perfect location, peppered with Maya ruins and infused with a vibrant modern Mayan culture. I had already written my first historical fiction about the Mayas before we moved to Mérida, and now had a new book in mind. The first book, Dreaming the Maya Fifth Sun: A Novel of Maya Wisdom and the 2012 Shift in Consciousness, is a story of two women separated by centuries yet connected by
a web of history, whose destinies intertwine as the end of the Maya Calendar on December 21, 2012 approaches. Of course, the Mayas never predicted the calendar—much less the world—would end in 2012. For them, one great cycle rolled over into the next. This perspective is dramatized in the story.
While visiting Mexico during the years before we moved there, I’d been captivated by the ancient city Palenque located in southern Chiapas. I’d already done considerable research to write the first book, but was spurred to delve more deeply into the archeology and history of Palenque. Several famous archeological things happened there: John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood wrote their Incidents of Travel books that became international best-sellers in the mid-1800s and put Palenque on the map. Alberto Ruz Lhuillier excavated the tomb of famous ruler K’inich Janaab Pakal in 1952; it compares in riches to King Tut’s of Egypt. The series of Mesa Redondas conducted by Linda Schele and Merle Green Robertson during the 1970s brought together Mayanists from several disciplines; their combined skills deciphered the “king list” of Palenque rulers. Excavations by Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz and Fanny Lopez Jimenez uncovered the tomb of a royal woman in 1994, her skeleton permeated with red cinnabar; it was the first queen’s burial ever found among the ancient Mayas.
Here is where the inspiration for my next book about the Mayas began. As I stood in the narrow passageway and peered into the chamber holding her empty sarcophagus, I wondered who this woman was. Her bones had been removed to Mexico City in a museum for preservation and study. Her burial adornments were in the Palenque museum; a jadeite mask, jade diadem, jade and stone jewelry, ceramics, tools, symbols of status. The partially restored pyramid housing her tomb (Temple XIII) adjoined the huge burial monument for Pakal (Temple of the Inscriptions); this made researchers think there was a relationship. By pure luck, I was browsing through Dante Books in Mérida and came upon a book about her: La Reina Roja by Adriana Malvido. I’d never have found this book unless I was in Mexico; I’d never been able to read it unless I had continued studying Spanish while there.
La Reina Roja: El secreto de los mayas en Palenque was written in 2006 by a journalist from Mexico City, working in consultation with INAH, Mexico’s institute for preserving national culture and history. It read like a novel yet contained extensive factual information about the archeological excavation and historical background. I learned that the woman whose red bones were interred might be Pakal’s grandmother, mother, wife, or daughter-in-law. At that time, good techniques for analysis of teeth and bones were not available. It took over ten years for scientists to determine that the Red Queen’s skeleton and Pakal’s skeleton did not share DNA, and their teeth had different strontium isotope signatures. This eliminated his grandmother and mother; making his wife
most likely to receive such an honored and richly adorned burial.
Reading Malvido’s book, I learned about the other candidates for the burial and became fascinated by this lineage of royal women. Pakal’s grandmother Yohl Ik’nal was the first Mayan women to rule independently, causing a shift in dynastic succession. His mother assumed the throne after her brother was killed in Palenque’s worst defeat. She weathered opposition and chaos to keep the throne until her son Pakal came of age. His wife was from another city, lived many years in Palenque and bore him four sons. His daughter-in-law kept the dynasty going although she married his youngest son; the older sons had no surviving heirs.
The Nucleus of a Story Emerges
It was simply evident that I had to tell the stories of these four great Mayan queens. At first I conceptualized a single book in four parts, did lots more research and made an outline. While in Mérida I began writing about Yohl Ik’nal, but the writing process was difficult. Anyone who has lived the ex-pat life knows how many distractions abound. Eating out at fine restaurants was inexpensive; there was abundant good wine; too many parties and musical performances; endless excursions to interesting sites around Yucatan; discussion groups and teas and local fiestas and carnivals. Serious writing had to wait until we returned to the States and then I discovered there was too much material for one book. The result: The Mists of Palenque series of four books, each dedicated to a queen.
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Precolumbian Art Research Institute. PARI Online Publication. Palenque Round Tables 1-8. (Mesas Redondas). 1973-1993. http://www.mesoweb.com/pari/round_table.html
Precolumbian Art Research Institute. PARI Online Publication. The First Mesa Redonda of Palenque. 1973. http://www.mesoweb.com/pari/publications/RT01/RT01_00.html
Adriana Malvido. La Reina Roja: El secreto de los mayas en Palenque. Conaculta/INAH, Mexico City, Mexico, 2006.
John L. Stephens. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Volume I. With illustrations by Frederick Catherwood. Dover Pub., Inc., New York, 1969. Originally published in 1841 by Harper & Brothers, New York.
David Stuart & George Stuart. Palenque: Eternal City of the Maya. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, 2008.
Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz. The Red Queen. Mesoweb Online Publications, 1994 excavations of Temple XIII, Palenque. http://www.mesoweb.com/palenque/features/red_queen/text.html
Arnoldo Gonzalez Cruz. La Reina Roja, una tumba real en Palenque, 2011. (Wikipedia)