Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


July 5, 2012

Ancient Mayan ritual gets a rebirth in Yucatan


For the Mayan, cocoa was so prized a commodity that its beans were used for the exchange of goods.

Unable to speak one another’s language, we bartered over prices and communicated back and forth by holding up an appropriate number of fingers.

Three beans for a clay whistle, five for a cup of chocolate made from ground beans boiled with milk in a large black kettle over an open fire.

As men grilled skewers of meat over a pit and woman, dressed in the traditional white cotton garb of their ancestors, used mortal and pestle to grind corn for making Mayan traditional tortillas, a group of traditional dancers performed a nearby.

As unusual as the sights and sounds of the marketplace were, the inaugural ceremony for the sacred crossing on the beach that evening was full of exotic ritual.

As the audience watched, dancers dressed in colorful costumes performed reconstructed rituals such as the fire dance and the dances of joy and rebirth. Finally, the teams of 268 rowers entered the site in a torchlight procession and received the blessing of the shamans and tribal chief at the close of the ceremony.

I didn’t particularly enjoy getting up the following morning at 4:30, then walking in a downpour covered by a poncho to the canoe launch site. Thankfully, the rain let up just prior to sunrise, and a sizable crowd watched as 28, 26-foot long canoes headed out to sea.

The roughly 17-mile journey to Cozumel includes traversing some strong currents. To insure the safety of the male and female canoe rowers, the Mexican navy sent along two vessels as escorts. To capture images of the journey across the channel with my digital camera, I boarded a catamaran that skirted the canoe teams across the sea.

Four hours later, the first team of rowers landed on Cozumel, where they were greeted by the Halach Wilnik, the supreme ruler of the land, and another set of celebratory dances began.

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