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"Before ever setting out on my adventures in Yucatán I did not know that I was preparing to walk a spiritual path in that ancient country. Before going there I had not taken much account of my yearning to seek out sacred places. But in Yucatán I discovered this longing for wandering among the people and landscapes of the peninsula. I eventually understood that there was an invisible spirit world of the Maya that animated their stories, their ancient ruins, and all their works from two thousand years of ...
"Before ever setting out on my adventures in Yucatán I did not know that I was preparing to walk a spiritual path in that ancient country. Before going there I had not taken much account of my yearning to seek out sacred places. But in Yucatán I discovered this longing for wandering among the people and landscapes of the peninsula. I eventually understood that there was an invisible spirit world of the Maya that animated their stories, their ancient ruins, and all their works from two thousand years of civilization in that ancient land."—from Maya Yucatán
Phillip Hofstetter first visited Yucatán in 1987 and was entranced, as much by the sheer physical beauty of the region as by the enduring character of the Maya people still inhabiting the region. For more than twenty years he has been documenting his travels in Yucatán and his professional collaboration with archaeological excavation projects there. His reflections on the Maya culture emphasize survival and adaptation, while images of ancient sites, the churches of the Franciscan mission period, and the ruined haciendas of the henequen period serve as physical reminders of the enduring ways in which the Maya have shaped the landscape of Yucatán over millennia.
Posted February 15, 2010
It's not widely known, but the Mayan of Central America's Yucatan area did not finally give up armed resistance against Spanish and later Mexican governments until 1901. The 1994 Zapatista outbreak in the Chiapas part of southern Mexico was a more recent sign of resistance to complete domination and assimilation. Hofstetter uses these historical notes to illustrate his basic point about the continuity of the Mayan way of life for centuries. Not slavery, oppression, nor isolation has been able to root out this way of life. This continuity has been nourished by the Mayan remaining close to their native land and also intentional practices such as ceremonies and dress seen in the modern world with other ethnic groups desiring and determined to keep basics of their traditional ways.
With photographs of ruins, contemporary scenes, and archaeological sites and an accompanying text that is variously history, travel-like observations and vignettes, social description and commentary, and archaeological report, Hofstetter discerns signs of the long perdurance of the Mayans and illuminates sources of their culture.
An art professor in California who is also a filmmaker whose work has appeared on National Geographic Television and the Discovery Channel, Hofstetter is particularly suited for this lesson of intertwined factors on how to read the present existence of the Maya. Alternating photographs of ruins of monuments and nearby present-day buildings and persons especially carry the author/photographer's point. A few photographs--such as one where a farm animal stands beside remains of a monument--which might otherwise seem unusual juxtapositions, in this work highlight the Mayan's natural, routine access to their roots and contemporary way of life. Contemporary homes of earthen walls and thatched roofs little different from classic Mayan residences yet with solar panels and other features of modernity also especially bring out the author's perspective.
Hofstetter's book imparts a fresh, multifaceted perspective on the perennially fascinating Mayans. One enjoys the intriguing expert photographs of age-old ruins as much as the knowledgeable and observant update on their culture in today's Central America.