Amid a worldwide frenzy of advertisers and new-agers preparing for a Maya apocalypse, one group is approaching Dec. 21 with calm and equanimity — the people whose ancestors supposedly made the prediction in the first place.
Mexico’s 800,000 Mayas are not the sinister, secretive, apocalypse-obsessed race they’ve been made out to be.
In their heartland on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Mayas continue their daily lives, industriously pedaling three-wheeled bikes laden with family members and animal fodder down table-flat roads. They tell rhyming off-color jokes at dances, and pull chairs out onto the sidewalk in the evening to chat and enjoy the relative cool after a hot day.
Many still live simply in thatched, oval, mud-and-stick houses designed mostly for natural air conditioning against the oppressive heat of the Yucatan, where they plant corn, harvest oranges and raise pigs.
When asked about the end next week of a major cycle in the 5,125-year Mayan Long Count calendar, a period known as the 13th Baktun, many respond with a healthy dose of homespun Maya philosophy.
"We don’t know if the world is going to end," said Liborio Yeh Kinil, a 62-year-old who can usually be found sitting on a chair outside his small grocery store at the corner of the grassy central square of the town of Uh-May in Quintana Roo state. "Remember 2006, and the ‘6-6-6’ (June 6, 2006): A lot of people thought something was going to happen, and nothing happened after all."
A chorus of books and movies has sought to link the Mayan calendar to rumors of impending disasters ranging from rogue black holes and solar storms to the idea that the Earth’s magnetic field could ‘flip’ on that date.
Archaeologists say there is no evidence the Maya ever made any such prophesy. Indeed, average Mayas probably never used the Long Count calendar, neither today nor at the culture’s peak between A.D. 300 and 600. The long count was reserved for priests and astronomers, while average Mayas measure time as farmers tend to do — by planting seasons and monthly lunar cycles.
Mayan priests, or shamans, at the temple of the Talking Crosses in the town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto say they don’t know when, or if, the world will end. The church was the focus and last bastion of the 1847-1901 Mayan uprising in Mexico and perhaps the most sacred site for average Mayas. Its name comes from the conspirators who hid behind the crosses and whispered instructions to incite the revolt.
December 21, 2012
Guess who didn’t believe the world would end today?