Mani is a small quaint, quiet and tranquil Mayan village 80 kilometers south south-east of the capital city of Mérida. Nearby is the shoe and pottery manufacturing city of Ticul plus the garden market capital of Yucatan, Oxkutzcab.
Mani is also situated on the age-old seldom traveled but famous “Ruta de Los Conventos’.
This seemingly unpretentious diminutive settlement has the incredible distinction of being continuously inhabited by one of the most technically advanced civilizations the world had ever known for the past 4,000 plus years… an astonishing and impressive claim to fame that few places on this planet could proclaim.
Today minute and modest Mani is serenely passive but this off-the-highway rural community was once the tragic site of one of the most heinous degradations of cultural heritage and spiritual annihilation that this world has ever witnessed.
January 6th, 1542 the Spanish conquistadors established a permanent encampment on the Yucatan peninsula at the height of their fanatic inquisition fired religious rampage.
This was a mere fifty years after the first Spanish explorer; Christopher Columbus set foot upon the New World at the Bahamas Islands.
Between 1549 and 1559 under the tyrannical direction of Fray Juan de Mérida the enslaved indigenous Maya were forced to pull down their ornate astronomically oriented sacred temples that pre-dated Christianity by thousands of years and with the remnants build a Catholic church and convent upon their native soil.
The inquisition crazed conquistadors inflamed by self-righteousness were mandated by their God to plunder the Yucatan’s indigenous residents whom they deemed to be heathen heretics that worshiped ancient pagan gods in false temples indulging themselves in unholy sacrifices which they had been doing for more than three very un-Christian millenniums.
The Spanish Inquisition was by this point in time well practiced in ethnic cleansing and imperialistic expansionism having successfully purged the Iberian peninsula of the Jews and Moors.
In spite of the 500 years of degradation, slavery and absolute plunder of the Mayan civilization it is a remarkable attribute to these long suffering original inhabitants of Yucatan that they still to this day perpetuate the sacred rituals of their ancestors, speak in their original Mayan tongue and even dress in their traditional custom.
To this day the Mayan daily partakes of the culinary specialties of their ancestors.
These Maya are the people that brought the human race such things as corn (maize), tobacco, chocolate, cotton, tomatoes, pineapple, peanuts, chili peppers and turkeys that have all impacted mankind monumentally to this day.
Besides a myriad of food products the indigenous of the Yucatan introduced to global humanity they also were the hemispheric healers armed with thousands of medicinal plants that even now enhance more than 500 American prescription drugs.
Quinine and ipecac are still standards of the pharmacy but cannabis and hallucinogenic mushrooms eased pain and altered the mental state that were but a few in the huge inventory of medicinal remedies dispensed by these technologically advanced original inhabitants.
What the Mayan received in return from the Spanish conquistadors were horses, rats, cockroaches, pigs, weeds, fruit trees and thousands of men all infused with diseased petulance that unleashed a pandemic that rapidly dwindled the indigenous populace.
Smallpox murdered more native Americans than several hundred years of systematic Spanish slaughter.
There definitely was some pay-back involved when the Indigenous of America sent home to Europe syphilis with Christopher Columbus that became epidemic by 1495, along with tobacco and cannabis to smoke. The great exchange saw winners and losers on both sides.
Former convent San Miguel Arcángel in Mani, Yucatán as seen today.
THIS PEACEFUL COURTYARD IS NEAR THE ATRIUM WHERE FRAY DIEGO DE LANDA BURNED THE MAYAN BOOKS AND THEIR RELIGIOUS ARTIFACTS WHILE BRUTALLY TORTURING HIS VICTIMS.
To further plunder these overrun indigenous, in 1562 Fray Diego de Landa burned and destroyed 5,000 Mayan figures of their God, 13 altars, 27 parchment books made of deer hide and 197 decorated pottery containers of worship.
All of this was done to drive these “heartless heathens” to Christianity.
From the book “Genesis” by Eduardo Galeano; 1562: Mani page 137
The Fire Blunders
Fray Diego de Landa throws into the flames, one after the other, the books of the Mayas. The inquisitor curses Satan, and the fire crackles and devours. Around the incinerator, heretics howl with their heads down. Hung by the feet, flayed with whips, Indians are doused with boiling wax as the fire flares up and the books snap, as if complaining. Tonight, eight centuries of Mayan literature turn to ashes. On those long sheets of bark paper, signs and images spoke: They told of work done and days spent, of the dreams and the wars of a people before Christ. With hog-bristle brushes, the knowers of things had painted these illuminated, illuminating books so that the grandchildren’s grandchildren should not be blind, should know how to see themselves and see the history of their folk, so they should know the movements of the stars, the frequency of eclipses and prophecies of the gods and so they could call for rains and good corn harvests. In the center, the inquisitor burns the books. Around the huge bonfire, he chastises the readers. Meanwhile, the authors, artist-priests dead years or centuries ago, drink chocolate in the fresh shade of the first tree of the world. They are at peace, because they died knowing that memory cannot be burned. Will not what they painted be sung and danced through the times of the times? When its little paper houses are burned, memory finds refuge in mouths that sing the glories of men and of gods, songs that stay on from people to people and in bodies that dance to the sound of hollow trunks, tortoise shells, and reed flutes. *** As atonement for destroying the books of one of the greatest civilizations the world had known obliterating their art, literature, mathematics, astronomy and medicines Fray Diego de Landa wrote a document of the conquers view entitled; “Relation de Cosas de Yucatan”.
Disembarking the local bus from Merida on a week-day morning at the central plaza in modest little Mani we were pleasantly struck by the hushed quiet and unhurried tempo of life so seldom found anywhere in the world today.
Jane and I spent an incredibly interesting day at Mani, shooting 350 photos between the two of us, had a very memorable meal of the traditional Mayan Poc Chuc at one of the smaller restaurants named “La Conquista” on a side street less than two blocks from the church and laid plans to incorporate Mani into our cross-country bicycle touring.
(We have made our return to Mani by bicycle and it again proved to be a very special place that somehow generates haunting sensations of the great Mayan civilization that called this place home for over 4,000 years and to this day has not lost its grip.)
If you are looking for quiet, peaceful and serene, then week-day visits are a must.
I must add here that in this world of rapidly changing times you owe it to yourself to visit this minute look into the past at Mani if for no other reason than the winds of change have piped-up and are spreading fast.
Consider this; in the early 1970s when I first visited the Yucatan peninsula over half of the inhabitants lived in thatched roofed palapa houses as they had since they first settled here 4,000 plus years ago.
MANI HAS A CONSPICUOUS LACK OF MOTOR VEHICLES AND STREET NOISE. OBSERVE THE CONTRASTS; THE PALAPA THATCHED ROOF HOUSE, (RIGHT) THE MAYAN LADY,( MESTIZA) IN HER TRADITIONAL DRESS, (HUIPIL) AND CARRYING ON HER HEAD IN THE TRADITIONAL WAY HER MAIZE, (CORN) TO BE GROUND AT THE MOLINO, (CENTER). WITH THE EXCEPTIONS OF THE PLASTIC BOWL ON THE HEAD OF THE LADY AND THE TIENDA, (LEFT) WITH ITS GAUDY COCA-COLA SIGNS THIS SCENE COULD HAVE TAKEN PLACE SEVERAL THOUSAND YEARS AGO.
BEDECKED IN GOLD THE RETABLO OBSCURES THE RECENTLY RESTORED ORIGINAL PAINTED FRESCOS PARTIALLY VISIBLE ABOVE THE ALTAR.
THE MASSIVE CHURCH WALLS ARE THE REPOSITORY FOR THE STONES THAT FORMERLY COMPRISED THE MAYAN TEMPLE THAT HAD ORIGINALLY STOOD UPON THIS VERY SPOT.
WE SPENT REFLECTIVE MOMENTS AND TRANQUIL TIME HERE IN THIS ANCIENT CONVENT AND CHURCH CONVERSING OF THE HAUNTING EVENTS THAT TOOK PLACE WITHIN THESE VERY WALLS.
THE MASSIVE MANI CHURCH AND CONVENT BUILT UPON THE SITE OF THE FORMER MAYAN TEMPLE AS IT IS TODAY AND LITTLE CHANGED FOR THE PAST 450 YEARS.
THIS IS THE CORRIDOR OF MANI’S MUNICIPAL BUILDING WITH ITS COLONIAL SPANISH ARCHES AND EXPOSED WOODEN “VIGAS” OR CEILING RAFTERS. THE STONE FOR BUILDING CAME FROM MAYAN TEMPLES.
THIS PAINTING HANGS IN THE CORRIDOR OF THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING. IT DEPICTS THE “AUTO DE FE” OF 1562 WHEN THE SACRED WORKS OF THE MAYA WERE DESTROYED. IN THE SAME CORRIDOR IS A DISPLAY OF RECENT PHOTOS OF THE MAYA OF MANI MAKING A CEREMONY TO CHAK, THEIR GOD OF RAIN.
WITHIN THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING IS LOCATED THIS SCHOOL THAT PROUDLY PROCLAIMS; “NO TOBACCO SMOKE SCHOOL”. OBSERVE THE ORNATE MAYAN HAND CARVED STONE DOOR JAMBS THAT ARE BUT SMALL REMINDERS OF THE GLORIOUS TEMPLE THAT THEY WERE TAKEN FROM AND THE IMMACULATELY CLEAN SURROUNDINGS.
A LOOK AT THE OLDER SIDE OF MANI WITH A PALAPA THATCHED ROOF HOME THAT IS QUICKLY BECOMING A THING OF THE PAST. THIS TRADITIONAL STYLE OF HOME CONSTRUCTION DATED BACK THOUSANDS OF YEARS HERE IN YUCATAN.
A STREET VIEW FROM A SMALL CHAPEL REVEALS MANI’S TRANQUILITY.
PLAYFUL YOUNG GIRLS OF MANI ARE DESCENDANTS OF CONQUISTADORS AND THE MAYA MIXED.
HERE IN THIS OPEN AIR KITCHEN ON THE SOUTH WEST CORNER OF THE ZÓCALO PLAZA A WOMAN IS PREPARING PUCHERO OVER AN OPEN FIRE ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE MUNICIPAL BUILDING. PUCHERO IS A TRADITIONAL THICK MEATY SOUP WITH LOTS OF VEGETABLES. THIS LUNCH IS FOR SCHOOL CHILDREN AND IS DISPENSED FOR TWO PESOS PER PERSON OR 20 U. S. CENTS.
OUR TALENTED WAITER AT THE LA CONQUISTA RESTAURANT PROUDLY DISPLAYS ONE OF HIS MANY PAINTINGS THAT ADORN THE DINING AREA ALONG WITH WORKS DONE BY HIS FATHER.
OUR GENEROUSLY AMPLE AND DELICIOUSLY SAVORY LUNCH OF POC CHUC
THIS IS OUR BUS BACK TO MERIDA BEING LOADED WITH A PAY-LOAD OF LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE DESTINED FOR THE MARKETS THERE.
So dear reader as you can see a day-trip out of Mérida can be action packed, fun filled, informative, educational and extremely unusual…like a trip into another time and place.
After this day-trip you will be back to Merida in plenty of time for a leisurely dinner and an evenings worth of entertainment.