9 Ajaw 13 Sek (July 3, 2018): A Resounding Success! The Fourth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing

9 Ajaw 13 Sek. Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara.

Dear MAM Supporters,

Thank you all for your incredible support to help make the Fourth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing a great success!!

I am deeply humbled by your generosity, and your willingness to help return the Maya Hieroglyphic Script, the Ojer Maya Tz’ib’, to the Maya people. It was wonderful seeing so many familiar faces, and so many new ones in Huehuetenango, and I was honored to be a part of this historic event. In the beginner’s workshop, Christopher Powell and I were able to teach many people to read and write the Long Count, including the entire Lunar Series. To see the dedication and gratitude among so many Maya people is something I will never forget. The pride and artistry among these new scribes is immeasurable. They have all joined the ranks of the Aj Tziib’.

Thank you to Barbara MacLeod, Nick Hopkins, Christopher Powell and Gerardo Aldana for helping with the workshops and presentations, and thanks to Elaine and David Schele for all of their help and support, and for documenting this event with photos!

Special thanks to the Mam people, who hosted us in their homeland and graced us with their beautiful marimba music, to our host, Director Manrique Díaz from Rafael Landivar University, to the Proyecto Lingüistico Francisco Marroquin team, and the Academia de las Lenguas Mayas de Guatemala. Lastly, thanks to our donors Kelly and Wiliam Warren for joining us at the Congreso. It was truly an unforgettable experience for us all.

The following is the inaugural address I prepared for the opening ceremonies, which took place on July 2, 2018.

Thank you for your tireless support, and for your understanding the great value of our collective work.

Chjontexix, Maltyox, and Yum Bo’otik,
Michael J. Grofe, President
MAM

Inaugural Address
Michael J. Grofe, President
MAM

July 2, 2018

Thank you to our gracious hosts, and to the organizers of this historic event. Thanks to the PLFM Team, to:

Saqijix Lopez Ixcoy
Beatriz Par Sapóm
Ajpub’ Garcia Ixmata
Juan Guarchaj Tzep
Hector Rolando Xol

I would like to thank all of the participants who have traveled from near and far to gather here to learn and to teach.

Thanks to the beautiful people of Guatemala. You have been in our hearts as you mourn the loss of so many lives from Volcan de Fuego. May the anger of the Earth subside.

May all of the migrants be reunited with their children, and may we all live long and prosperous lives in peace as brothers and sisters on this Earth.

I would also like to thank the MAM Executive Committee:

Elaine Schele, who joins us with her husband David,
Beth Spencer,
and Susan Glenn.

Thanks to our former president Bruce Love, and to the MAM Board of Directors, and thanks to all of our supporters who donated so generously to make this possible.

Thanks to our donor, Dr. Kelly Warren, and his son William, who join us here.

I am both honored and humbled to be here. When I was elected president of MAM two years ago, I told Bruce Love that I didn’t know if I could do this. I was just starting my position as a full time professor, and fundraising was not one of my best skills. But he replied that the most important thing is that you care, and that your heart is in the right place. The rest will follow. He said that it is not about us and what we think we can’t do. It is about something much larger than ourselves, and what we can do, in whatever way we can help.

I do care deeply about our goal of returning the Maya hieroglyphic script to its rightful home among the Maya, among all of you, and I am so grateful to report that we ran a successful campaign this year at MAM to raise funds for this event. I am so glad that our supporters have generously stepped up to help support the good work that you all are doing.

Over the past two years, we have been able to fund approximately 15 mini-grants per year throughout the Mundo Maya, as well as several Pre-Congreso events, and we hope to continue to fund applicants in the future.

When I met with Ajpub’ García Ixmata and Juan Rodrigo Guarchaj Tzep this past January, they asked that together we come up with a theme for this Fourth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing, Ojer Maya’ Tz’iib’. They also asked that we bring some epigraphers to present their own research, and to help facilitate the workshops. Given my own interest in archaeoastronomy, I proposed that the theme be “Creation and Astronomy,” and they agreed. While this is not an exclusive theme, I am happy to contribute what I can.

I was lucky to have my father first teach me about the stars from when I was a young boy. He was a sailor.

I’m not a sailor… (Yo no soy marinero…)

Neither am I a captain.

If I have a captain, she is Barbara MacLeod, and she is the best epigrapher I know. She is a true Ah Tz’iib, and she has wanted to help contribute to the hieroglyphic revitalization since Linda Schele began giving workshops for Maya people in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Barbara has invented a Maya Calendar Long Count pegboard to be used as a teaching tool, and she wants you all to have it, so I made 100 copies in a kit for you all to make for yourselves, and I have added to it the entire lunar series, which I will be discussing in my beginners workshop. We can help you put it together and make copies for your students and communities.

I am very excited to report that we have Barbara MacLeod, Nick Hopkins, Gerardo Aldana, and Christopher Powell all joining us this week. I am looking forward to all of their contributions and their sharing their specialties!

Unfortunately, due to an unforeseen emergency, we just learned that Hugo Garcia Capistrán, who was such a valuable teacher at the last Congreso in El Remate, is unable to join us this year, and we will greatly miss his participation. He expresses his deep regret, and his hope that he will be invited back in the future.

As anthropologists, we know that culture can change an adapt so rapidly, much faster than DNA. Through culture, we transmit information, knowledge, and wisdom. But culture is also vulnerable, and in only one generation, culture can be lost.

Language is fundamental to keeping culture alive, but as we all know, even languages can be lost, and at this moment in history, we are now facing the extinction of the great diversity of the world’s languages. If left unchecked at the current rate, it is thought that half of the worlds 7,000 languages will become extinct by the end of this century, and another 40% of them will be spoken only by the older generation. The implications are profound for the extinction of the rich diversity of cultures themselves, and of entire ways of thinking and being in the world.

But writing can keep alive the languages of the world. Writing keeps alive the voices of the past. The voices of our ancestors speak to us, just as our ancestors themselves listened to the voices of those who came before them—through writing.

The ancestors recorded their knowledge, their history, and their beliefs about the world. Their voices are not always clear, and we don’t always know how to interpret them, but through writing, we learn about our history.

But it is never a complete history. The history of the world is full of the voices of elites, of those who had the power to carve their voices in stone, and those who had the power to erase the history of others.

Even writing can be lost. A collapse, an invasion. One people attempting to destroy another, telling their own version of history. Insisting that their ancestors were more important than the ancestors of those they invade.

This is the world we all now live in.

But the decipherment of the Maya hieroglyphic script over the past decades has allowed us to listen to the voices of the ancient Maya, to your ancestors. Archaeologists and epigraphers have learned so much about the history, languages, cultures, and sciences of the ancient Maya. But we certainly do not understand all of it, and decipherment and interpretation is an ongoing and collaborative process.

Despite all of the advances in epigraphy, still very few outside of our discipline learn about the history and achievements of the Maya. School systems throughout the world, including in the United States, Guatemala, Mexico and Belize continue to teach that the only important history to learn is that from Europe—that the only real scientific achievements come from the European mind. This conversation between worlds has been only one sided. As a result, students and the general public are left to conclude that the people of Mesoamerica contributed nothing to the history of the world, and that all non-European cultures are somehow inferior to those of Europe.

Having studied Maya archaeoastronomy for many years, I know that this is not true, and from the evidence recorded in the written inscriptions of your ancestors, I maintain that the Maya had extremely precise and accurate measurements of the length of the tropical year, the sidereal year, as well as planetary and lunar cycles. I believe that the evidence is there for all of us to see if we can only take the time to understand it.

But to propose such a thing is often considered a heresy by many people, even those in the field of archaeoastronomy. In the publication of my own research, I have encountered deep and unconscious Eurocentric bias and opposition among some scholars who insist that the Maya were not capable of such exact measurements. Certainly, the Maya were different from the Europeans in many ways. It is true that the Mayans were different from the Europeans in many ways. However, the ability to measure the passage of the solar zenith and the use of a continuous count of days in the form of the long count could be used to record accurate measurements over many centuries. There is certainly a place for healthy scientific debate.

I think that the evidence speaks for itself. What is extraordinary to me is that the evidence supports that the ancient Maya had more accurate astronomical measurements than anyone else in the world for their time—and these measurements were only surpassed nearly a thousand years later in Europe.

If this is true, and I think it is, then I believe it is imperative for us to rewrite the history of astronomy.

As such, I take it as my responsibility to give credit where credit is due.

Part of this work is to share this knowledge with you. We do not understand everything about what we read in these ancient texts. Though we may have academic degrees and the privileged access to Maya texts, we epigraphers lack the cultural connection that you have.

We are here to help return the voices of your ancestors to you, and to collectively return those voices to the history of the world.

Gracias a todos ustedes.

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