Our History

FIRST GLYPH WORKSHOPS FOR MAYAS

In June, 1987, a group of North American academic linguists were meeting in Antigua for their ninth annual workshop on Maya linguistics, organized and sponsored by the Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín. The participants included a number of indigenous Maya linguists-in-training. Kathryn Josserand presented a paper titled “Tipos de material literario y modos de presentación” (Classes of Literary Material and Means of Presentation). The paper discussed various ways of presenting native texts, including the multi-line format preferred by linguists, poetic structuring, comic strips, live theater, and even hieroglyphic inscriptions.

After her presentation, some Maya students approached her and commented that she had apparently been able to read the hieroglyphic inscriptions, and she told them “Yes,” we could now read much of the texts. They responded that they wanted to learn to read the Maya hieroglyphic writing.

An excursion to Copan was planned for that Sunday, but the next day, Saturday, was free, and Kathryn suggested that she and her husband, Nick Hopkins, could hold a one-day workshop for those interested. Having just done a workshop at the Casa de la Cultura in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, they had materials in Spanish at hand. Saturday, some 30 Mayas arrived, interested indeed, and received an introduction to the glyphs, including a detailed reading of the Palenque Temple of the Cross inscriptions that contained a historical panel that relates a series of births of rulers.

When Kathryn asked the students if they could see what was going on, one of them replied “Es un registro de nacimientos! Esta es nuestra historia!” (It is a record of births! This is our history!) Several then commented “We always knew we had a history, but it has been kept from us.” They fervently wanted more.

Kathryn and Nick reminded the students they were all going to Copan the next day and the leading presenter of glyph workshops, Linda Schele, would be there and would give the group a guided tour of the site. They suggested the Mayas talk to Linda about future instruction.

Sunday, after the guided tour, Nick and Kalhryn met with Linda at the Hotel Marina and introduced her to Martin Chacach and Narciso Cojti’, then among the leaders of the Maya linguists. They asked her to come to Antigua and give them a glyph workshop. Linda replied that she was supposed to be in Copán, where she had a Fullbright scholarship to Honduras. They argued she had an obligation to the Maya nation, not to Honduras. She agreed only on the condition that Kathryn and Nick would leave their work in San Cristobal, Chiapas, to help her out, since her Spanish was limited. All agreed.

Nora England, then a linguist at PLFM, translated a workbook supplied by Linda and organized an introductory glyph workshop to be held in one of the ruined churches in Antigua. Some weeks later (July 20-22, 1987) Kathryn Josserand, Nick Hopkins and Linda Schele held forth in front of more than two dozen indigenous Maya students! The students represented seven Maya languages and five Guatemalan institutions (Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’, Mam, Tz’ulujil, lxii, Popti’ and Ch’orti’; PLFM, PRONEBI, IGED, CIRMA, and ILV).

The greal success of this endeavor made Linda realize how much she enjoyed working with the Maya, and she returned periodically over the years, as did Kathryn, Nick, Nikolai Grube and others, to teach workshops, often organized by Nora.

To our knowledge, these were the first glyph workshops organized specifically for Maya attendees.

BIRTH OF MAM

After 1987, Linda Schele, with Nikolai Grube, began to bring indigenous Maya students and scholars to her famous Maya Meetings in Texas, held annually in Austin since 1977. She and Nikolai also continued their field workshops in Guatemala and extended their work to include Valladolid, Yucatan. After Linda’s passing in 1998, Nikolai continued the practice.

In 2004, Sue Glenn and a handful of Maya Meeting attendees realized that the participation of Maya colleagues in Texas was an ad hoc arrangement from one year to the next and was not formalized or institutionalized. Under Sue’s leadership, arrangements were made to ensure at least some participation in the 2005 meetings.

In 2005, Sue spearheaded a concerted effort, involving a greater number of people, to formalize support for bringing more Maya colleagues to Texas. That year marks the birth date of Friends of the Maya. By 2006 we were able to sponsor ten Maya attendees from Mexico and Guatemala and to help others with invitations that aided their visa application process. In 2007, we sponsored twelve attendees. In 2008 we reached thirteen.

The year 2009 marked a watershed event at the Maya Meetings in Texas. Eight of our sponsored attendees presented their own papers to the general audience in a special session lasting an entire afternoon. With simultaneous translation provided from Spanish to English, one after another Maya scholar transfixed the largely English-speaking audience with their Powerpoint presentations, personal style, and academic erudition. At the end of the afternoon, everyone present knew they had witnessed an event of historic proportions.

In 2010 Friends of the Maya co-sponsored a workshop in Antigua at Proyecto Linguistico Francisco Marroquin, attended by 70 Maya-speaking participants. It became clear that bringing workshops to the Mayas was much more effective than bringing Mayas to workshops.

In 2012, Friends of the Maya reinvented itself with a new name MAM, a new logo, a new web page, a new executive committee, and a new mission “Mayas teaching Mayas the Glyphs and the Calendar,” providing cash grants and digital projectors for glyph workshops conducted by the Mayas themselves, and sponsoring international congresses for Maya epigraphers.

I hope this summary of our history captures some of the excitement and thrill of accomplishment that we all feel. If any of you who are reading this was there during these various phases of our history and would care to contribute more details (especially if you have historical photos) please send them to me personally, Bruce Love, President of MAM (see “Contact Us”) so that we can post them on our web site and expand our historical archives of this important organization.