pre hispanic

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Maya ceremonial dress

The Maya people (sometimes Mayans) are a group of Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. They inhabit southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The overarching term “Maya” is a collective designation to include the peoples of the region that share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies, and ethnic groups that each have their own particular traditions, cultures, and historical identity.

The pre-Columbian Maya population was approximately eight million.[3] There were an estimated seven million Maya living in this area at the start of the 21st century.[1][2]Guatemala, southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador, and western Hondurashave managed to maintain numerous remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the majority hispanicized Mestizo cultures of the nations in which they reside, while others continue a more traditional, culturally distinct life, often speaking one of the Mayan languages as a primary language.

Maya blue is an ancient, long-lasting pigment with special significance to the Maya, associated with sacrifice and Maya deities, including the rain god Chaak.

Photo 1: Mayan Dancer Representing Jaguar in Pre-Hispanic Mayan Culture, Xcaret, Riviera Maya, Yucatan, Mexico

Photo 3: Honduras

Photo 5: Headdress with quetzal feathers

Día de Muertos/Day of the Dead

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that dates back to Pre Hispanic times, yes, before the Spanish conquest. 

Once a year the Aztecs held a festival celebrating the death of their ancestors, while honoring the goddess Mictecacihuatl, Queen of the Underworld, or Lady of the Dead. The Aztecs believed that the deceased preferred to be celebrated, rather than mourned, so during the festival they first honored los angelitos, the deceased children, then those who passed away as adults.

After the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs in 1521, they tried to make the Aztecs adopt their Catholic beliefs. They didn’t understand the Aztec belief system and didn’t try to. As Catholics, they thought that the Aztecs were pagan barbarians and tried their best to squash the old Aztec rituals and fully convert the indigenous people over to their Catholic beliefs… but they failed. Spanish conquerors tried to vanish it, that’s why now it’s mixed with some catholic rituals as well. 

With time, this holiday reached other parts of the world, but it’s Mexican. Don’t forget that. 

Every part of the country celebrates in a different way, but with the same purpose. 

In Mexico people put an Ofrenda, that is like a altar with a photograph of your deceased loved ones, with food, candy, drinks, and everything that the dead relatives enjoyed in life. Also, some people go to cemetery and put their Ofrendas there, they spend the night by the side on the graves, celebrating and remembering their deceased loved ones. 

Día de Muertos is a celebration, a party, a fiesta, is not something sad or morbid, is a day to remember our loved ones with a smile. 

We even have these sugar skull with our names on it, we have calaveritas, which are short poems with comical purpose about how we, the living ones, are going to die. We don’t see Death as something solemn and serious. 

Día de Muertos allows the dead to live again. 

Day of the Dead is important, very, for us Mexicans. I dare to say that is the most important holiday here, is part of our History, even is part of the UNESCO intangible cultural world.

 Here are some important facts about Día de muertos: 

  • Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is on November 2. We celebrate also November 1, usually dedicated to children. 
  • La Catrina is a representation of the Death as an elegant lady. The original image was made by José Guadalupe Posada, then included by Diego Rivera in his “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central” painting. 


  • Although the Day of the Dead originated in Mexico it is also celebrated in other countries. Cities in the U.S. with large Mexican immigrant populations brought their traditions with them in joyous celebrations.
  • Pan de muerto is baked and eaten on the Day of the Dead. The bread is sweet and is often decorated with strips of dough resembling bone or shaped like a skull and decorated. 


  • Sugar Skulls are used to decorate the ofrendas on Día de Muertos. These decorative skulls have the name of the deceased (or the alive as joke) on the forehead and are decorated with stripes, dots and swirls of icing to enhance the features of the skulls. 


  • Papel picado, often used to decorate Ofrendas, is a decorative craft made out of paper cut into elaborate designs. It is considered a Mexican folk art.

A proper Ofrenda has to have: 

  • Candles, to guide the way back to the world of the living. 
  • Papel picado. 
  • Cempasúchil flowers or marigolds, the smell helps our visitors to keep going.
  • Salt.  
  • Water, because when they arrive, they’re tired. 
  • A cross made of quicklime or cempasúchil flowers, it also guides the way. 
  • A religious image, it could be a saint, the Virgin Mary, etc. (if you’re not Catholic, it’s not really necessary) 
  • Copal/Incense, the smell guides the deceased ones on their way back. 
  • Fruits, like apples, plums, bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatos, sugar canes, jicamas, tangerines, oranges, etc. These are seasonal mexican fruits, so, you can replace them with the deceased ones favorite fruits. 
  • Sugar skulls and other candies specifically made for Día de Muertos. (Like Calabaza en tacha, calaveritas de chocolate o amaranto) 
  • Pan de Muerto. 
  • A photograph of the deceased one(s) you’re dedicating your Ofrenda to. 
  • Food and drinks. 
  • Everything they enjoyed in life, like cigarettes or a toy or whatever. 


¡Feliz Día de Muertos!

Images are vessels. Our Nahua speaking ancestors referred to images of the gods as Ixiptla or Toptli. Ixiptli derives from “skin,” or “rind.” Toptli means “that which covers something.” The gods and their images recognize each other. As like is attracted to like, so the divine forces recognize themselves in their images and fill them with their essence. A statue, a painting, a mask, a dough or amaranth figure, a natural rock formation, or a man dressed as the god, all become receptacles for divine energy, all become Ixitptla, all become god.

Here, an Ixiptla of Cocijo, the Zapotec Teotl of Rain. Because of the intimate relationship between rain and corn, Pitao Cozobi, the Teotl of Maize, appears in his headdress, descending with ears of corn.

Las imágenes son contenedores. Nuestros ancestres ​​que hablan Nahua se refieren a imágenes de los dioses como Ixiptla o Toptli. Ixiptli deriva de “piel” o “corteza”. Toptli significa “aquello que cubre algo”. Los dioses y sus imágenes se reconocen. Como a los semejantes les atraen, las fuerzas divinas se reconocen en sus imágenes y las llenan de su esencia. Una estatua, una pintura, una máscara, una figura de amaranto, una formación de piedra natural o un hombre vestido de dios, todos se convierten en recipientes para la energía divina, todos se convierten en Ixitptla, todos se convierten en dios. Aquí, una Ixiptla de Cocijo, el Teotl Zapoteca de la Lluvia. Debido a la íntima relación entre lluvia y maíz, Pitao Cozobi, el Teotl de Maíz, aparece en su tocado, descendiendo con dos mazorcas de maiz.

When it comes to “cultural authenticity” discourses (of which “cultural appropriation” is one form) it’s hard to tell if they are speaking out of ignorance or willful lying because both certainly happen. 

 The identity politics premise that political knowledge emerges identity leads many to believe that knowledge of “their culture” can be obtained more or less through introspection because they believe the core of culture is a certain kind of “cultural spirit” and if that spirit ‘lives’ within them then they simply need to look inward to speak about it, almost like someone claiming to speak for a divine entity because they believe it is also “living in” and possessing them. Thus you get a certain kind of self-assured intuitionism that leads people to believe that someone talking about their own culture is infallible (the “decolonizeourmuseums” ppl that protested the Boston MFA used this exact argument more or less) so they dont need to do any research before speaking authoritatively about it and of course that leads to them saying complete bullshit sometimes. 

On the flip-side you also have the idea of a “noble lie”. Unlike a simple “white lie” which could simply be seen as a harmless pragmatic gesture (eg; always giving a positive response when someone greets you with “How are you doing today?”) the “noble lie” is intended to supposedly serve some higher moral purpose. In this sense the person comitting the “noble lie” will see themselves as actually being more faithful to higher truths or capital-T “Truth” than if they were to speak honestly about the matter. The example here would be when Benigos Ramos claimed that pre-Hispanic colonial Philippines had a political-linguistic unity under Tagalog identity in the context of an 1935 interview he gave to a Japanese nationalist friend of his when he was exiled in Japan. I’m confidant in saying that Ramos was a liar because anyone from the Philippines knows that Tagalog (which is an ethno-linguistic term, it means “People from the River”) is not the only language in the Philippines even if they dont know off the top of their head the fact that Tagalog-the-ethnicity and Tagalog-as-first-language are actually a minority in the Philippines. Plus the whole premise of a “Filipino national language” actually only makes sense if you know about the large linguistic diversity of the islands so Ramos implicitly let slip an acknowledgement that Tagalog is not synonymous with “Filipino” simply by speaking of the need for “Tagalog-ness” to be imposed as a national identity even if he was saying differently when speaking to a foreign audience. For someone like Ramos, lying about an imaginary pre-colonial past for the purposes of nationalist ideology (and in the case of that particular interview the propagation of what would be called “allyship” in current lingo) was fine because it served the higher purpose of propagating the glory of the volksgeist 

José María Obregón [Mexican. 1832–1902]
The Discovery of Pulque 1869
____

A taste for pre-Hispanic topics sprang up in the National Fine Arts School after the restoration of the Republic in 1867 and constituted the way in which the said institution played its part in the changes set in motion by the liberals, who promoted cultural manifestations based on the recounting of history, with stress being placed on certain aspects of the pre-Hispanic civilizations.

In 1869, José María Obregón, one of the students in the schools painting department, decided, under his teachers’ guidance, to depict a legendary scene from Mexican history, in the form of an incident said to have taken place around 900 A.C., when the Toltec culture, centered on what is now the city of Tula, was in its heyday. Obregón peoples his oblong-shaped composition with idealized indigenous figures, dressed in exotic garb, inside a palace-like building with Toltec features.

The story concerns a young woman called Xóchitl who, led forward by her parents, is offering Tecpancaltzin, the King of Tula, a gourd filled with the drink, called pulque, that she has discovered. Struck by her beauty, the King marries her. In 1880, the historian, Manuel Orozco y Berra, questioned this version, asserting that the account had erroneously arisen from a misreading of a neo-Hispanic documentary source, the drink in question really being a mead-like beverage obtained from honey by decanting it until only a sugary residue is left. The alcoholic drink called pulque (sometimes also referred to as octli) has been known in Mesoamerica for over 2,500 years. This work was shown at the XIVth Exhibition of the National Fine Arts School in 1869.

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The site of Muyil (or Chunyaxché) located in the northeastern part of the Yucatan Peninsula. Muyil dates to the Middle Formative (350 BC) and was continuously occupied until the arrival of the Spanish.  Muyil was located along a trade route on the Caribbean once accessible via a series of canals. Among the most commonly traded goods were Jade, obsidian, chocolate, honey, feathers, chewing gum, and salt. It is believed that throughout much of its history, Muyil had strong ties to the center of Coba located some 44 kilometres (27 mi) the northeast.

Can I celebrate Day of the Dead?

Usually I don’t address this kind of stuff, but I’m getting tired. I’m Mexican, living in Mexico, so, I think I have a little bit of a license to talk about this.

All starts with this post.

And well, my answer is there, but I want to deepen. 

Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican holiday that dates back to Pre Hispanic times, yes, before the Spanish conquest. Spanish conquerors tried to vanish it, that’s why now it’s mixed with some catholic rituals as well.

With time, this holiday reached other parts of the world, but it’s Mexican. Don’t forget that.

Every part of the country celebrates in a different way, but wih the same purpose. I live in the center, to be specific, in Mexico City, here people put an Ofrenda, that is like a altar with a photography of your deceased loved ones, with food also alcohol, cigarettes and everything that the dead relatives enjoyed in life. Also, some people go to cemetery and put their Ofrendas there, they spend the night by the side on the graves, celebrating, praying and remembering.

But enough of context, the real question is…

If I’m not Mexican, can I celebrate Día de Muertos?

Remember this… Día de Muertos is a celebration, a party, a fiesta, is not something sad or morbid, is a day to remember our loved ones with a smile. Look… we even have these sugar skull with our names on it, we don’t see it as something solemn and serious. Don’t get me wrong, is important, very, for us mexicans. I dare to say that is the most important holiday here, because is ours, is part of our History, even is part of the UNESCO intangible cultural world heritage list.

So, if you dress like a Catrina or you want to put an Ofrenda, is ok if you care to investigate a little. You can ask a Mexican friend, or do some research online, it doesn’t matter if you do all of this with respect.

Is not the same when an American dress with a sombrero and sarape to “celebrate” 5 de Mayo. 5 de Mayo here isn’t even of a big deal, and that kind of portrayal of us is, indeed, racist.

Is not like… “oh, this is a really cool celebration, when you can remember and celebrate your deceased loved ones, but is only for Mexicans”, that’s kind of childish, to be honest. You can think and celebrate and even expect your deceased loved ones to go to your house if you put an Ofrenda, is a matter of faith and a little bit of whimsy.

So, don’t be afraid to ask, to do some research, to even dare to put an Ofrenda or dress like a Catrina, because if is with respect, is ok.

Here are some important things to consider:

— Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is on November 2. Some people celebrate also November 1, usually dedicated to children.

— La Catrina is a representation of the Death as an elegant lady. The original image was made by José Guadalupe Posada, then included by Diego Rivera in his “Sueño de una Tarde Dominical en la Alameda Central” painting.

— A proper Ofrenda has to have:

  • Candles, to guide the way.
  • Cempasúchil flowers or marygolds, the smell helps our visitors to keep going.
  • Salt, I don’t remember the importance, but it’s important.
  • Water, because when they arrive, they’re tired.
  • A cross made of quicklime, it also guides the way.
  • A religious image, it could be a saint, the Virgin Mary, etc.
  • Fruits, like apples, plums, bananas, pumpkins, sweet potatos, sugar canes, jicamas, tangerines, oranges, etc. These are seasonal mexican fruits, so, you can replace them.
  • Sugar skulls and other candies specifically made for Día de Muertos.
  • Pan de Muerto or… Bread of the Dead (?).
  • A photograpy of the person or persons you’re dedicating your Ofrenda.
  • Food, everything they used to like.
  • Drinks, same.
  • Everything they enjoyed in life, like cigarrettes or a toy or whatever.

— Making an Ofrenda to a deceased pet is not so rare. ;)

-:-

If you have questions, you can ask me. 

Pardon my English but… well, I’m Mexican.

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Interesting to note its not because of crime, it was the amount of accidents occurring in E.R rooms lol

In my case, I’ve always contested that my possession of a Balisong lies deep in my cultural roots.  It is a ancient cultural artefact a product of the technology and the values and habits of the Filipino. The relative informality of when my first Balisong was handed to me - a rites of passage - for instance, was a reflection of the importance of a pre-existing harmonious relationship with the traditional Filipino knife and the martial prowess it wielded for my family much as the Bolo sword did to many Filipinos in pre-Hispanic times. The average Filipino once thought himself hardly dressed without a Bolo or a Balisong, it was a integral part of a man (and women’s) daily wardrobe. I just think it’s a shame the gradual discarding of the Balisong (butterfly knife) especially in my homeland is being witnessed. It’s an honest work of art if you ask me.

The origins of the modern 'Day of the Dead' date back thousands of years

to an Aztec festival dedicated to a goddess called Mictecacihuatl, “The Lady of the Dead”. The Aztecs, and other Meso-American civilizations kept the skulls of enemies as trophies and used the skulls of their families to honor the cycle of birth, life and death.

Like many indigenous groups they incorporated their beliefs with those of the Catholic Church creating a rich holiday, Dia De Los Muertos or Day of the Dead.

In preparing for the Day of the Dead, many families clean and decorate the tombs of their ancestors. They use marigold flowers and candles and bring their ancestors special foods and drinks. The family sits vigil to commune with their dead relatives. Many families prepare ofrendas in the home for Dia de Muertos, inviting the dead to the domestic space, which was a natural inclination in pre-Hispanic Mexico.

This ofrenda (home altar), by placing a large cross above all else, represents proper focus - on Christ, our Redeemer.