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At home with the Yuks

23 November 2012

The difficulty of being an independent press in a niche market is that we can’t always schedule our production as well as we’d like.  I’d hoped to have the journals of artist and explorer Dimitar Krustev much further advanced by now (and, I believe Krustev himself expected we’d be further along, too).

But, seeing this is a long-term project, and the financial returns are not expected to be all that impressive (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that we’ll never recoup the costs of our own editing time), we had to take on other projects that popped up and offered a better return… and were more likely to pay the rent.

Still, the project is finally moving along.  The first installment, as a short run book (mostly for academics and scholars who might be willing to take on the entire project), we are publishing Lacondón Journal 1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev Artist-Explorer in the next week, and should have eBook and paper copies available within two weeks.

A sample:

The members of the camp at Nueva Providencia were as follows: Kin Yuk, whose name means Sun Deer, is the chief; his wife, Chana K’in [who is also known as “Carmita”][i], and he have two girls, one six and the other three; the couple was expecting a third child soon.

Chan Bor, meaning armadillo, is Kin Yuk’s uncle. Chan Bor’s first marriage was to his own sister, who had the Spanish name María, but they had no children. With his number two wife, Kin Nak’in, Chan Bor has four children aged 10, 7, 4 and 1. The third family is headed by Kin Nak’in’s brother, also named Kin13[ii].

Kin Yuk’s brother, Kayun, meaning “chief of the song” lives with Uncle Kin’s family. The three families seemed very dependent on each other. They shared everything and seemed to live in absolute harmony. Parents and their children got along admirably. The girls were always with their mother, and the older boys were always with the father. The girls helped around the fire and learned to make tortillas beginning at the age of four. It was enjoyable to see mother and children making tortillas together, the children patting and spreading dough over a banana leaf.

Starting at age seven, the boys went hunting with their fathers; they also helped gather corn. The girls were betrothed as young as six or seven, a practice common among all the Lacandón. The men would not live with the girl sexually until the first menstrual period. Until then, the girl was only his companion and would follow the man everywhere except hunting. During the maturation period, the girl would take care of the man’s children and help in the kitchen. The boys would marry their first wife around the age of 16 or 17 but waited to start a family until the girl was of age.

Based on my experiences with the Lacandón, I had come to the conclusion that they were very moral people. The fact that Chan Bor is married to his sister has a simple explanation: They like each other. When I was in Lacanja, Chan Bor tried to please the missionary by changing wives but he missed his sister and eventually took her back to his hut.

The Lacandón ate almost as well as the Tzeltals, using the jungle as their “supermarket” to hunt wild game to supplement their low-protein diets. Here and in Lacanja, they hunted with a 22 caliber rifle. In Naja and Metzabok, some of the younger Indians still hunted with a bow and arrow.

Game available in the jungle was varied and included paloma deer, tepezcuintle and monkey. Birds they hunted included the loro, the green variety of the parrot, toucan, wild turkey, pheasant and chacalaca. The Lacandón and Tzeltal considered the wild boar a delicacy. Fish was an important part of the Lacandón meals. The main course included maíz – corn – as is common in Latin America. I found a wide range of gourds, pumpkins, melons, onions, small tomatoes, bananas and beans all a part of their diet also.

I was very interested to see how the Lacandón prepared tortillas. They boiled the dried corn in a pot, which they would have bought from a traveler such as me or from a missionary.

One of the ingredients they used was ground-up shells, which they had gathered from the gravel beaches of the river and then baked. These ground-up shells were added to the boiling corn. When I asked why this was done, Kin Yuk said that the tortillas is much better when the shell of the corn is removed, and that the only way to do this is to boil the ground shells together with the corn. After boiling for an hour, the shell powder is washed from the corn.[iii]Then it is ready to be ground up by hand with a stone or by the grinder that most of the Indians had purchased in San Quintín. To buy this item they used money they had made by selling bows and arrows to visitors.

The Lacandón here and in Lacanja are Protestants. That is the result of efforts by an American, I believe Lutheran, missionary Phillip Baer, known here as Don Felipe, who has worked and lived with his family here for many years.

Kin Yuk was the high priest in Nueva Providencia. Each Sunday, and sometimes during the week, the Lacandón also sang Protestant songs that had been translated into Mayan. Kin Yuk was a fiery speaker, a Billy Graham of the jungle.

[i] The words in brackets are an editorial insertion. Outside of this one mention, Krustev consistently calls Chana K’in “Carmita”.

[ii] To avoid confusing readers, where Krustev’s original referred to Kin Yuk as “Kin” the editor changed the text to read “Kin Yuk” and references to the elder Kin were changed to “Uncle Kin”.

[iii] This is the pre-historic treatment of dried corn kernels by Mesoamericans – nixtimalization – that not only softens the hull, but also makes niacin nutritionally available, which prevents pellagra – a niacin deficiency disease often caused by a diet high in untreated corn, something common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the rest of the world before the cause was discovered by western scientists in 1937.

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