From a young age I’ve been fascinated with ancient cultures around the world, whether it be the Druids, Egyptians, ancient Greeks or indeed the Maya there’s always a sense of reverence when we think of these cultures and their impact on not just their countries of origin, but through to the modern-day in which we live. In all of these cultures, I think it’s the Maya that have fascinated me the most, a culture of not just great advancements in art, astronomy, mathematics and mythology, but its fascination with time and their belief their calendrical system could predict future events, their religious pantheon but also a culture that until recently we knew very little about after their collapse over a thousand years ago.
However, this is not the Maya of today and In Time Among the Maya, Ronald Wright takes us through the modern world of the Maya and a culture that, in many ways, has never recovered from its collapse and conquest by the Spanish in the fifteenth and sixteenth Centuries and civil wars the essence of the Maya still survives in many regions of South America. Travelling by foot, plane, train boat and rickety bus Wright explores not just the Mayas rich tapestry of architecture, religion and language but also their current plight as persevering communities whose spirit refuses to be broken.
Time Among the Maya, however, is not a homage to a culture long gone, but in many ways a celebration that in the face of all adversities they’ve managed to survive. Throughout the Spanish invasions which destroyed many South American civilisations, imposed Christianity replacing their pantheon of gods, political upheavals the Maya have thrived. Much of my own understanding of the situation really pales when realising that a number of countries, such as Guatemala are very much third world countries with very high poverty levels, and Wright certainly doesn’t hide this from the reader. In many ways, Time Among the Maya is a very much ‘warts and all’ travelogue of his travels throughout the regions and although originally published in 1989 little has changed for the people who still live under the shadow of civil war.
However, Wright’s observations aren’t sympathetic to a Maya who are long forgotten but a Maya whose spirit still thrives. Delivered with Wright’s wit and expertise in the culture Time Among the Maya presents the reader with not just a fascinating history of the Maya but also a narrative of the, often, brutal regimes the people have had to endure over the centuries.
Although the title provides a delicious play on words, Time Among the Maya is a very comprehensive account of Wright’s travels and observations which will provide a unique travelogue of one person’s interpretations of the history of South America and essential reading for those intending to make their own voyages.
- Time Among the Maya by Ronald Wright is published by Eland Books (£14.99). To order a copy go to www.travelbooks.co.uk
Founder and Editor of Pilgrim House, currently undertaking a research degree at Bangor University and working on a book on Folklore and early Welsh Christianity. Tom’s other work on music, poetry, health along other writings and images can be found at tomasstanger.com