Both north and south of us, the late-comers to the hemisphere have been destroying the national heritage for short term gain.
In Belize, the Noh Mul archeological site, although on on private property, as a “pre-Hispanic” site, is protected under Belizean law. It’s not exactly unknown, as Belizian photographer José Luis Zapata notes:
Nohmul, meaning “Great Mound,” is 20 meters above sea level and is situated on a low, limestone ridge east of the Rio Hondo between Orange Walk and Corozal. Nohmul lies among sugarcane fields and is actually the highest landmark in the Orange Walk/ Corozal area. It is about a mile from the Northern Highway between San Pablo and San Jose.
The site was first recorded in1897 by Thomas Gann. In 1908 and 1909, Gann returned to the site to dig what he thought were burial mounds containing polychrome vessels and human effigy figures. Gann continued excavating up to 1936 uncovering tombs and caches which yielded human bones, jade jewelry, shells, polychrome vessels, chultuns, flint and obsidian. Most of these finds were taken to the British Museum. Later on A. H. Anderson and H.J. Cook visited Nohmul to inspect damages to the site. In 1973, 74, and 78, Norman Hammond (then with Cambridge University) mapped the site. Hammond returned in 1982 to do a more intensive Nohmul Project which lasted until 1986.
Despite being a known archeological site of importance, The 2300 year old central temple was bulldozed, and not by accident. Belize is mostly flat, and Although the mounds look like hills covered in plant growth rather than the clean pyramids we associate with Maya architecture, they are very well known as Maya structures. “It’s not like the construction companies innocently think they’re clawing away at a hill only to find a wealth of limestone bricking. It’s the bricks they’re targeting.” Which are used for paving roads… to Mayan sites, supposedly. Actually, for the benefit — no surprise here — a local politician:
The construction company in this case was identified. Archaeologists saw the name of D-Mar Construction on the equipment, a company owned by one Denny Grijalva, a United Democratic Party candidate for representative of his district, Orange Walk Central. Nohmul is in Orange Walk North. Interesting that the party platform includes rebuilding access roads to major tourist sites. It would seem counterproductive to build those roads using the major tourist sites. Then again, following election laws appears to be a sore point for Mr. Gijalva, so what’s a little cultural patrimony destruction?
In an almost parallel incident, the Barbarians to the north of us have also destroyed a “pre-Hispanic” (or, rather pre-Colombian) site, again with the overt connivance of local politicos.
City leaders in Oxford, Ala. have approved the destruction of a 1,500-year-old Native American ceremonial mound and are using the dirt as fill for a new Sam’s Club, a retail warehouse store operated by Wal-Mart. A University of Alabama archaeology report commissioned by the city found that the site was historically significant as the largest of several ancient stone and earthen mounds throughout the Choccolocco Valley. But Oxford Mayor Leon Smith — whose campaign has financial connections to firms involved in the $2.6 million no-bid project — insists the mound is not man-made and was used only to “send smoke signals.”
Leon Smith, like Denny Grivalda, stands to profit personally from the destruction, justifying their personal gain as a public benefit. A road, or a Sam’s Club parking lot perhaps serves some public good, but to what end? No, it’s not a case of “those who don’t know history…” but of refusing to acknowledge that history exists that should grieve us. These elected leaders see themselves as the arbiters of what is, and is not, the heritage of those they represent. In overriding and trodding under (literally) a sense of human continuity they seek to divorce their constituents from their community roots… putting those who elected them one step closer to simply being consumers and vendors of anyplace, anywhere… human sacrifices to the fetish of capital.
Sources: The History Blog: “Mayan temple in Belize bulldozed for road fill”
José Luis Zapata: “Nohmul Maya Temple Destroyed by Bulldozers in Belize”
Southern Studies: “Alabama city destroying ancient Indian mound for Sam’s Club”
Dan Whisenhunt, Anniston (Alabama) Star: “The Silent Partner: Oxford mayor has financial ties to Commercial Development Authority activities”
Usually U.S. embassies in Latin American countries spend all their time subverting the government. I suppose subverting good taste was a nice break in the routine.
Via Guerilla Comunicacional México links to free downloads of various anarchist, Trotskyite and Communist — and anti- — works. While the usual suspects (The Communist Manifesto, even a work by Stalin) are there, several — Ché Guevara on Guerrilla warefare, Trotsky on the Spanish Civil War, School of the Americas manual, etc.) of interest to scholars and students of Latin America, and Spain.
Today’s El Debate has a story on a “virtual” kidnapping… the victim received death threats against his family, UNLESS he made himself scarce. The next day, his relations started getting calls telling them they’d kidnapped the guy, and would only release him after a ransom payment. So, the family turned to facebook and twitter to find the dude, which he was, sitting in a hotel room waiting by the phone for word he could go home.
I’m surprised only that the “virtual kidnappers” didn’t demand their ransom in bitcoins.
If there is one long piece about Mexico you should read this weekend, it’s Cat Rainford’s account in Sunday’s The Guardian of her two years as a malabrista in Mexico:
…When travelling for long periods, it can be all too easy to fall in with other foreign travellers and stumble around in a closed group, insulating each other with a shared familiarity. You can strike out alone and try to figure out a country piece by piece, but you always feel like a stranger and feel increasingly disjointed yourself in the process.
I had done plenty of both over the previous months of travelling in Mexico. Trico and his friends were something different: escapists too, in a way, but also idealists, on a mission to explore the beautiful side of their troubled country and to give something back in the only way they knew. More than anything, it was this attitude that made me go with them.
… For a while we performed outside restaurants along the coast of Nayarit, sleeping on beaches under trees crawling with giant iguanas. When business was good, we’d treat ourselves to nights in guesthouses. When it wasn’t, we’d sleep in tents, shop doorways or plazas.
Any reluctance on my part was met with the admonishment not to be a fresa. Literally meaning “strawberry”, the word “fresa” is used in Mexican slang to denote anyone spoiled or soft. Of all the wide and imaginative range of Mexican insults this, for them, was the worst. It was acceptable to be a large goat (cabrón) or even, on occasion, a pubic hair (pendejo), but to be a strawberry was unforgiveable.
As the months went on, I became integrated. I learned to fire dance and juggle. I learned the etiquette of the traffic intersections, which dictated that a performer must defer to the windscreen washers, though not to the peanut or sweet sellers.
Ah, heck. The whole thing is wonderful, and captures the “real Mexico” more than burying your nose in any guidebook as you wander around the country ever would.