The ‘golden age’ of the Mayan civilization may have occurred over 1,000 years ago, but more than half the population of the Central American nation of Guatemala are of Mayan descent and many still celebrate ancient customs. So, as we approach Dec. 21, 2012, it’s little wonder they’re pissed that one of their calendars has been hijacked and misinterpreted as a prophet of doom.
But this time, the anger isn’t directed at the West’s “messianic thinking,” Maya leaders have accused the Guatemalan government of perpetuating the myth that the Mayan Long Count calendar predicts the end of the world for financial gain.
“We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles,” Felipe Gomez, leader of the Maya alliance Oxlaljuj Ajpop, told the AFP news agency.
The entire “Mayan doomsday” nonsense centers around the mistaken belief that the ancient civilization had some magical ability to foretell the Apocalypse. But they didn’t. In actuality, it focuses on a calendar cycle that runs out this year. This calendar, the Long Count, is a wonderfully complex system that spans around 5,200 years and is of huge spiritual significance to the Maya people. The final cycle of the calendar — the 13th b’aktun — will complete on Dec. 21.
Obviously this means the world will come to an end… Right?
In a statement released by Oxlaljuj Ajpop, the end of the cycle simply “means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature.”
To some crazed doomsayers desperately trying to make money from selling their nonsensical books of doom, this “harmony and balance” means the Universe it going to char broil the planet, killing everyone who isn’t ‘prepared’ (i.e. those poor unfortunate souls who ignored their warnings).
The Mayan descendents don’t quite see “harmony and balance” in the same way.
But when seeing an opportunity to profit from the West’s insatiable desire to watch second-rate doomsday flicks and Indiana Jones version of archaeology, the Guatemalan government has embraced the inevitable surge of tourism December will bring. But the way in which it is being handled has frustrated groups like Oxlaljuj Ajpop.
The Culture Ministry is hosting a massive “doomsday” event in Guatemala City and many tourism groups have seen the opportunity to create “doomsday tours.” Gomez has criticized this “show”, pointing out that it is disrespectful to the Mayan culture.
On the one hand, it’s somehow gratifying to see the Maya region — spanning Southern Mexico, Guatemala and Belize — profiting from tourism revenue, but it’s coming at the cost of the Maya alive today who would rather their beliefs and customs be communicated correctly.
Unfortunately, a common theme prevails: In the pursuit of profit, nothing sells better than fear. A fact, it seems, not lost on the authorities of Guatemala.
Image: An archaeological site in Mexico plays host to hundreds of tourists. Credit: CORBIS