Thursday, April 3, 2008

Mani Field Trip starting in Oxkutzcab

MANI FIELD TRIP STARTING AT OXKUTZCAB BY BIKE AND BUS, MARCH 2008 and later joining the Maya Studies Group and the Hispanic Culture Group of the IWC of Merida at Mani.
Recent additions to the streets of Oxkutzcab are these motorized three-wheel taxis. Somehow the quiet easy-going Colonial town is falling into the mechanized world of hydrocarbon combustion.

However lunch is cooked over a leña or firewood by Roque Burgos a native of the nearby small Puuc hill town of Xul. The tiny crossroads settlement of Xul is steeped in Yucatan history from the early conquistadors to the hacienda era. The explorer and author John L. Stephens mentions Xul and its unique history in his 1842 book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, pages 54 and 55.
Immaculate, pleasant, delicious and generous describes our lunch spot.
The façade of the Oxkutzcab San Francisco church recently renovated.
Oxkutzcab church is written up with interesting and factual information in a must read book called Maya Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry.
For a concise informative look at Yucatan history that is well documented and to the point plus an indispensable travel guide, you will do yourself a favor reading this book before and while you visit Yucatan, one of the most interesting places on planet earth.
Perry’s book Maya Missions does such an informative job of describing such things as this above retablo and all of the aspects of churches of Yucatan that I will not duplicate his effort here but encourage you to own that indispensable book.
You will spend hours investigating these incredible chronological works of art that fill countless churches, monasteries and missions all across the Yucatan intertwined with Mayan and Spanish historical times gone by.
The above retablo is but one of several in this meticulously maintained and well restored Oxkutzcab church.
Evening dinner in the central market across from our hotel is worthy of praise and these tamales horneado or tamales that are corn meal wrapped chicken baked in banana leaves, then spiced with a tangy tomato sauce make for a Mayan cuisine .
You must be at the market at the right time in the early to enjoy these delights because when the inventory is exhausted the venders pack up and head home.
This is the Oxkutzcab market in early morning before the overwhelming hustle and bustle begins. The tri-cycle taxi drivers wait the oncoming business day when they will not only transport passengers but huge high stacked crates of fruit and vegetables.
The marked activity begins and Jane and I will mingle with the natives and have a typical Yucatecan breakfast of chicken salbutes, which are freshly fried hand made corn tortillas topped with lettuce, tomato and shredded chicken meat…varieties of hot sauce are provided and you can apply it at your own discretion…as they say in Yucatan…kill yourself. All sauces are not created equally and the prudent diner will carefully sample a very small portion before sloshing it over his meal.
Our hot chili tolerance is at stratospheric levels that would kill the average Norwegian.
The following two photos are representative portions of a large panoramic mural that adorns the entry to the Oxkutzcab municipal market and realistically depicts events and happenings that take place here daily.

After our market breakfast Jane and I leisurely cycle the beautiful country road connecting Oxkutzcab with the town of Mani where we will rendezvous for an informative lecture on early Yucatan history and Spanish church art.
Long early morning shadows cast beguiling shade upon this ancient hacienda entrance.
Little Mani is situated out of the tourist loop and off the main highway so it is amazingly quiet and peaceful. Jane and I are two hours early for the lecture and as usual will have the dubious distinction of being the only participants to arrive using only bicycles and bus transport. A nameless bust adorns the clean little Mani park.
This is the freshly painted municipal building that sports the colors of the winners of the last state elections. The edifice has been reputed to have been the home of the Xiu family who sided with the Spanish to overthrow their Mayan neighbors. It doesn’t take too much unscrutinizing to deduce that this building did not date from the pre-conquest era because of the Moorish architectural design and mamposteria constructed roof with its steel beams.
The Mani church is a collective cache of artwork that intertwines Mayan and Spanish influences like this 16th century cross depicting a stocky Mayan figure. Restored after Revolutionary War damage and moved from its original place in the adjacent open Indian chapel it has attained historical significance now that the Mayan population uses the main church. The Spanish used Mayan stone sculptors.
Seated in the passage room between the old open chapel and the newer main church are these local Mayan women who still chose to dress in their age old traditional native huipil dress. Our little folding bikes conveniently get us around the world.
Art historian and lecturer, Estela Keim presents an incredibly well researched presentation on the auto de fe of 1562 as well as Yucatan church art as our group of 25 gathers in the old open Indian chapel dating from 1580.

Mayan studies leader and author of Dreaming of the Maya Fifth Sun, Lennie Martin lectures on Mani and its historical significance before, during and after the Spanish conquest.
The lecture group adjourns to the main church where Estela Keim further fascinates us with the historical significance of this art that reflects the monumental happenings of the Spanish and their religious connections to the old and new world.
I will not attempt to describe these splendid retablos and other art works that adorn the Mani church because Richard Perry does such a magnificent job of it in his book; Mayan Missions.
When the history and significance of these ancient art works are known, the trip to Mani to witness them first hand becomes an imperative.
Ironically behind these impeccably kept retablos are located painted frescos that date back to the churches early days and have been preserved and recorded by a Mexican governmental agency.
These priceless treasures span the centuries with historical significance.
This ornate little side altar crafted on the late 1600s also conceals a retablo.

Here above this gilded back altar retablo that is unequaled in any Mexican art work of the period is a visible example of the fabulous fresco paintings that obviously adorned the entire church at one time.
Art historian Estela Keim dramatically adds a personal touch to her informative presentation, having studied extensively in Spain even learning the archaic Spanish in order to advance her extensive knowledge of this subject.
Take a close look at the intricate detail that adorns these historically significant retablos each conveying a momentous story that we had the good fortune to have explained to us by our informative guide Estela.
Archangel Michael high upon the west facade was an 18th century addition.
On the south side of this flat two-block square raised Mayan mound the crumbling remains of this mid-1500s Spanish arch is adorned by a recent Guadalupe icon.
On the east side of this Mayan two block square raised flat platform is located the two story convent and garden all part of the Mani church complex…this side is seldom seen by visitors.
The “eco-tour of two” sets out to roll home again after another intriguing and informative Yucatan adventure here in the land of mysterious and haunting history.
For photos of the Field trip with the IWC of Merida, click here to take you to the album.

Because Yucatan possessed no riches, only the lowest forms of Spanish strata wound up there.
After numerous feeble batched attempts to establish a beachhead in Yucatan, by 1535 every last Spaniard was summarily driven out of the peninsula.
Using the unscrupulous invasion tactics of Hernán Cortés in exploiting tribal feuds to divide and plunder, Montejo and his rag-tag band returned to Yucatan putting the Mayan family Xiu against Cocom. Behind the scenes they used a confidence game on both sides to rile up bloody hostilities that worked marvelously coupled with invading micro-organisms that ravaged diseases of European origin and brought down more indigenous than all of Spain’s combined military might could have even remotely hoped for.
After the fall of Mérida, (T’ho), Oxkutzcab and Mani were next…Mani then becoming the first center of Spanish power in Yucatan.
Three centuries of brutal enslaved servitude passed before the Maya again stood up to the Spanish in the 60 year Caste War. After the Caste War came the bloody Mexican Revolution annihilating one in eight Mexicans.
“Peaceful places have no history.”
Recommended reading;
Ambivalent Conquests by Inga Clendinnen
Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John L. Stephens
The Caste War of Yucatan by Nelson Reed
Maya Missions by Richard and Rosalind Perry
Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright
Genesis by Eduardo Galeano
Open Veins by Eduardo Galeano