In 1848 John L. Stephens with his companions visited Yucatan in search of mayan monuments. During their voyage John wrote a personal diary, which was published in England with name “Incidents of Travel in Yucatán” . In this text, he describes not only the discovered mayan monuments, but people, costumes, incidents of the travel in his area as well. Many years later, in 2013, a bunch of modern travelers visited this area and made in many cases only a slightly changed experience. The ways of transportation has changed only a little bit in rural areas, the approach to the woman and to death is not comparable to the 21th century western world. The presented exhibition tries to show and mediate this experience via selected photos yuxtaposed to the old texts from the year 1848.
Martina Grmolenská Yucatán: In Cyclic Search of Progress
IN SEARCH OF PROGRESS IN SEARCH OF PROG
Vol. 1 - Chapter II. - Calezas The most striking feature, the life and beauty of the paseo, were the calesas. Except one or two gigs, and a black, square box-wagon, which occasionally shame the paseo, the calesa is the only wheeled carriage in Merida. The body is somewhat like that of an oldfashioned gig, only much larger, and resting on the shaft a little in front of the wheels. It is painted red, with light and fancifully coloured curtains for the sun, drawn by one horse, with a boy riding him-simple, fanciful, and peculiar to Yucatan. Each calesa had two, and sometimes three ladies, in the latter case the prettiest sitting in the middle and a little in front, all without hats or veils, but their hair beautifully arranged and trimmed with flowers. Though exposed to the gaze of thousands, they had no boldness of manner or appearance, but, on the contrary, an air of modesty and simplicity, and all had a mild and gentle expression. Indeed, as they rode alone and unattended through the great mass of pedestrians, it seemed as if their very gentleness was a protection and shield from in-
sult. We sat down on one of the stone benches in the Alameda, with the young, and gay, and beautiful of Merida. Strangers had not been there to laugh at and break up their good old customs. It was a little nook almost unknown to the rest of the world, and independent of it, enjoying what is so rarely found in this equalizing age, a sort of primitive or Knickerbocker state. The great charm was the air of contentment that reigned over the whole. If the young ladies in the calesas had occupied the most brilliant equipages in Hyde Park, they could not have seemed happier; and in their way, not less attractive were the great crowds of Mestizas and Indian women, some of the former being extremely pretty, and all having the same mild and gentle expression; they wore a picturesque costume of white, with a red border around the neck and skirt, and of that extraordinary cleanness which I had remarked as the characteristic of the poorest in Merida.
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Vol. II, Chapter I. Departure from Nohcacab.-Outfit.-Rancho of Chack. Fright of the Women We were about entering a region little or not at all frequented by white men, and occupied entirely by Indians. Our road lay through the ruins of Kabah, a league beyond which we reached the rancho of Chack. This was a large habitation of Indians, under the jurisdiction of the village of Nohcacab. There was not a white man in the place, and as we rode through, the women snatched up their children, and ran from us like startled deer. I rode up to a hut into which I saw a woman enter, and, stopping at the fence, merely from curiosity, took out a cigar, and, making use of some of the few Maya words we had picked up, asked for a light, but the door remained shut. I dismounted, and before I had tied my horse the women rushed out and disappeared among the bushes. Inone part of the rancho was a casa real, being a long thatched hut with a large square before it, protected by an arbour of leaves, and on one side was a magnificent seybo tree, throwing its shade to a great distance round.
Vol. II, Chapter II -. Well of Chack.Leaving this, we toiled back to our horses, and, returning to the road, passed through the rancho, about a mile beyond which we reached the pozo, or well, the accounts of which we had heard on our first arrival. Near the mouth were some noble seybo trees, throwing their great branches far and wide, under which groups of Indians were arranging their calabashes and torches, preparing to descend; others, just out, were wiping their sweating bodies. At one moment an Indian disappeared, and at the next another rose up out of the earth. We noticed that there were no women, who, throughout Yucatan, are the drawers of water, and always seen around a well, but we were told that no woman ever enters the well of Chack; all the water for the rancho was procured by the men, which alone indicated that the well was of an extraordinary character. We had brought with us a ball of twine, and made immediate preparations to descend, reducing our dress as near as possible to that of the Indians.
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Chapter II, Description of a Bull-ring.-A Bullfight.-Spectators. A bull was in the ring, two barbed darts trimmed with blue and yellow paper were hanging from his flanks, and his neck was pierced with wounds, from which ran down streams of blood. The picadores stood aloof with bloody spears in their hands; a mounted dragoon was master of ceremonies, and there were, besides, eight or ten vaqueros, or cattle-tenders, from the neighbouring haciendas, hard riders, and brought up to deal with cattle that run wild in the woods. These were dressed in pink-coloured shirt and trousers, and wore small hats of straw platted thick, with low round crowns, andnarrow brims turned up at the side. Their saddles had large leathern flaps, covering half the body of the horse, and each had a lazo, or coil of rope, in his hand, and a pair of enormous iron spurs, perhaps six inches long, and weighing two or three pounds, which, contrasted with their small horses, gave a sort of Bombastes Furioso character to their appearance. By the order of the dragoon, these vaqueros, strik-
ing their coils of rope against the large flaps of their saddles, started the bull, and, chasing himround the ring, with a few throws of the lazo caught him by the horns and dragged him to a post at one side of the ring, where, riding off with the rope, they hauled his head down to the ground close against the post. Keeping it down in that position, some of the others passed a rope twice round his body just behind the fore legs, and, securing it on the back, passed it under his tail, and returning it, crossed it with the coils around his body. Two or three men on each side then hauled upon the rope, which cut into and compressed the bull’s chest, and by its tightness under the tail almost lifted his hind legs from off the ground. This was to excite and madden him. The poor animal bellowed, threw himself on the ground, and kicked and struggled to get rid of the brutal tie. From the place where we sat we had in full view the front of the church of San Cristoval, and over thedoor we read in large characters, “Hic est domus Dei, hic est porta coeli” “Here is the house of God, here is the gate of heaven.”
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Chapter XI. A Campo Santo.-Digging a Grave.-An Indian Funeral. Leaving my horse in the cattle-yard, in company with the mayoral I walked to the campo santo. This was a clearing in the woods at a short distance from the house, square, and enclosed by a rude stone fence. It had been consecrated with the ceremonies of the church, and was intended as a burial-place for all who died on the estate; a rude place, befitting the rude and simple people for whom it was designed. When we entered we saw a grave half dug, which had been abandoned on account of the stones, and some Indians were then occupied in digging another. Only one part of the cemetery had been used as a burial-place, and this was indicated by little wooden crosses, one planted at the head of each grave. In this part of the cemetery was a stone enclosure about four feet high, and the same in diameter, which was intended as a sort of charnel-house, and was then filled with skulls and bones, whitening in the sun. I moved to this place, and began examining the skulls. The Indians, in digging the grave,
used a crowbar and machete, and scooped out the loose earth with their hands. As the work proceeded, I heard the crowbar enter something with a cracking, tearing sound: it had passed through a human skull. One of the Indians dug it out with his hands, and, after they had all examined and commented upon it, handed it to the mayoral, who gave it to me. They all knew whose skull it was. It was that of a woman who had been born and brought up, and who had died among them, and whom they had buried only the last dry season, but little more than a year before. The skull was laid upon the pile, and the Indians picked out the arms and legs, and all the smaller bones. Below the ribs, from the back downward, the flesh had not decayed, but dried up and adhered to the bones, which, all hanging together, they lifted out and laid upon the pile. All this was done decently and with respect. As I stood by the enclosure of bones, I took up different skulls, and found that they were all known and identified. The campo santo had been opened but about five years, and every skull had once sat, upon the shoulders of an acquaintance.
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Chapter XV. Ceremony of El Velorio. The women were quiet and grave, but outside there was a continual laughing, jesting, and uproar, which, with the dead child before our eyes, seemed rude and heartless. While this was going on, we heard the gay voice of the padrecito, just arrived, contributing largely to the jest, and presently he came in, went up to the child, and, addressing himself to us, lifted up the head, showed us the wounds, told what he had done for it, and said that if the doctor had been there it might have been saved, or if it had been a man, but, being so young, its bones were very tender; then he lighted a straw cigar, threw himself into a hammock, and, looking around, asked us, in a tone of voice that was intended for the whole company, what we thought of the girls. This ceremony of el velorio is always observed when there is death in a family. It is intended, as the padrecito told us, para divertirse, or to amuse and distract the family, and keep them from going to sleep. At twelve o’clock chocolate is served round, and again at daybreak; but in some respects the ceremony is different in the case of grown persons
and that of children. In the latter, as they believe that a child is without sin, and that God takes it immediately to himself the death is a subject of rejoicing, and the night is passed in card-playing, jesting, and story-telling. But in the case of grown persons, as they are not so sure what becomes of the spirit, they have no jesting or story-telling, and only play cards. All this may seem unfeeling, but we must not judge others by rules known only to ourselves. Whatever the ways of hiding or expressing it, the stream of natural affection runs deep in every bosom. The mother of the child shed no tears, but as she stood by its head, stanching its wounds from time to time, she did not seem to be rejoicing over its death. The padrecito told us that she was poor, but a very respectable woman. We inquired about the other members of her family, and especially her husband. The padrecito said she had none, nor was she a widow; and, unfortunately for his standard of respectability, when we asked who was the father of the child, he answered laughingly, “Quien sabe?” “Who knows?”
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Vol. II, Chapter XVII. Chitzen Itza At the distance of four hundred and twenty feet northwest from the Caracol stands the building represented in the following engraving. It is called by the Indians Chichanchob, meaning in Spanish, Casa Colorada, and in English, Red House. The terrace is sixty-two feet long and fifty-five wide, and is still in good preservation; the staircase is twenty feet wide, and as we approached it on our first visit, a cow was coming quietly down the steps. Vol. I, Chapter IX. Bull-fight and Bull-fighters. The Plaza de Toros was on one side of the square of the plaza, and, like that in the square of the church of San Cristoval, was constructed of poles and vines, upright, intwining and interlaced, tottering and yielding under pressure, and yet holding together firmly. In the centre was a pole, on the top of which flourished the Mexican eagle, with outspread wings, holding in his beak a scroll with the appropriate motto, â€œViva la
Republica de Yucatan,â€? and strings extended like radii to different parts of the boxes, wrapped with cut and scolloped papers fluttering in the wind. On one side of the ring was a pole with a wooden beam, from which hung, by strings fastened to the crown of an old straw hat, two figures stuffed with straw, with grotesque masks and ludicrous dresses. One was very narrow in the shoulders and very broad below, and his trousers were buttoned behind. The toros, fallen into disrepute in the capital, is still the favourite and national amusement in the pueblos. The animal tied to the post when we entered was from the hacienda of the senote, which was famed for the ferocity of its bulls. The picadores, too, were fiercer than those in the capital, and the contests were more sanguinary and fatal. Several times the bulls were struck down, and two, reeking with blood, were dragged off by the horns, dead; and this was in the presence of women, and greeted with their smiles and approbation: a disgusting and degrading spectacle, but as yet having too strong a hold upon popular feeling to be easily set aside.
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