mayan women

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In a country where about 40 percent of people self identify as indigenous, the National Indigenous Queen of Guatemala contest carries great prestige. In contrast to mainstream beauty pageants, the contestants for the Rabin Ajaw title, aged 14 to 26, have to demonstrate proficiency in their native language, Mayan traditions and worldview; awareness about mining and other threats to Mayan livelihood and resources; a nuanced view of gender roles; and leadership in their community.

The 19th century style Afghani wooden box camera used by the photographer meant that the women had to sit still for several minutes gazing into the camera, enabling a depth of engagement rarely achieved with today’s hectic technology.

Photographer: Rodrigo Abd

Meet the Red Queen of Palenque. She lived around the time of the city’s greatest grandeur under K’inich Janaab’ Pakal I (King Pakal the Great) in the 600s CE. When she died she was between 50 and 60 years old, and stood a little over 5 feet tall. In her lifetime she must have been important. The lavish tomb she was buried in, at the heart of Temple XIII, is evidence of her high status and high respect.

Her tomb was found sealed by a wall in a corridor inside Temple XIII. When archaeologists removed the stones blocking the passage, they found first the body of a male between 11 and 12. Just beyond him was also an adult female roughly in her thirties. Both bore signs of fatal injuries – sacrificed to accompany the Red Queen on her journey to the afterlife.

Then there is the woman herself, buried in a sarcophagus made of a single block of heavy limestone. Inside, surrounded by lavish grave goods, she wears an intricate mask of malachite and a jade tiara. Everything in the grave’s interior, the mask, the body, the jewel-encrusted treasures, were covered in powdered cinnabar. That’s the common term for poisonous mercuric sulfide. Besides being toxic, mercuric sulfide has a bright red color which we know was a popular color with the ancient Maya. As the tomb’s occupant decomposed her very bones were stained red. Researchers still do not know why the sarcophagus’ interior was liberally coated with a poisonous red powder. But it gave the elite inhabitant her nickname: the Red Queen.

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Tatiana Proskouriakoff (1909-1985) was a Russian-American archaeologist. Originally trained as an architect, she fell in love with Mesoamerica and became a significant contributor to the study Maya history and archaeology.

Proskouriakoff’s ascent into archaeology began when she was recruited as an illustrator for an expedition to the Mayan ruins of Piedas Negras. Over the next few years Proskouriakoff produced a series of reconstructive drawings depicting ancient Mayan cities. Further expeditions and in-the-field drawings allowed her to study the diversity of the architectural styles in Honduras, Mexico, and Guatemala.

Tatiana Proskouriakoff is most famous, however, for her ground-breaking work in deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs.  At this time only dates had been deciphered in Mayan hieroglyphs, but their significance and context were unknown. Using several steles from Piedras Negras, She showed that the inscriptions described historical and biographical items from the lives of the Mayan people and their rulers. She identified the glyph that represented birth. This led to the recognition of birth and death glyphs, the name glyphs of the rulers, parentage information, the capture of enemies, and other aspects of Mayan lives.

Modern scholars credit Proskouriakoff’s tireless, pioneering research in Mayan culture with deciphering age-old Mayan hieroglyphic writing. By the end of her life, she had become one of the premier scholars of Mayan civilization, receiving some of the field’s highest awards, including The Order of the Quetzal, Guatemala’s highest honor.

In the villages and small towns of Guatemala most of the Mayan women wear splendid traditional outfits.

The proud descendants of the Maya Civilization have a great sense of colours and a strong desire to keep their culture alive.

I took this photo last week in San Antonio Aguas Calientes, a small town known for its weavers. These days I’m in Mexico.

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Mayan Women in Art 

In 2004, the murals of Calakmul were discovered, there was a woman of the Mayan nobles dressed in a blue transparent color, the color blue was the funeral and in accordig with my translation the mayan hieroglyph text says Ul-Ku -u Ba-Ix Sac Chan, which translates as the Sacred Atole of the Lady of the North. Refers to the atole that offers women noble to his people, in a ceremony that reminds us of the relationship between the power and the food in th agricultural Mayan World