A lot has happened since my last post. First of all, the exhibition is well underway. During our weekly meetings, Loa walks us through the exhibition to show us the progress that is being made. Last week, the new component that had been installed was the interactive games that allow the viewer to learn more about the Maya and the archeology behind the artifacts that are on display. Tomorrow we will be presenting our individual projects and research. I am writing my final paper explores how ancient Copan rulers and contemporary Honduran politicians employ history for self-legitimacy. In the beginning stages of my research I picked up on the trend where the kings from the classic Copan era aligned themselves with the founder of the dynasty, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo. Furthermore, present Honduran leaders also choose to align themselves with Copan. It is curious to note that although over a thousand years have past since the dynastic rule of the sixteen kings, it is still politically favorable to present oneself as a natural successor of the regarded classic Copan rulers.
Last week I also attended a meeting with the exhibition’s advisory board committee. As a member of this group I have gained insight on how museum outreach initiatives operate. During this meeting we focused on strategies of how to maintain a stable number of visitors after the initial Maya Weekend opening events pass.
Performers spend a lot of time preparing for their roles in “The Dance of the Conquest.” They spend months memorizing the script and practicing the dances. Interestingly, when the time comes for the performance, the dialogue is unintelligible. The carved wooden masks that the performers wear are slightly smaller than the size of one’s face. Most performers must wrap scarves around their heads and faces in order to secure the masks properly. The masks and other head coverings make it nearly impossible to clearly articulate their lines.
Nonetheless, many towns in Guatemala devote significant funds to rent the elaborate masks and costumes for their town fairs. I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why so much work goes into a performance that is largely unheard. Though observers may not understand all of the dialogue or the plot, the performance is meaningful as a gesture of remembrance and national pride. The dedication and excitement that surround this tradition give it symbolic value for fair-goers and performers alike.
“The Dance of the Conquest” is an incredibly complex social and cultural phenomenon that have been quite challenging thus far to research. It chronicles the Spanish conquest of the Ki’che’ Maya and it is considered the national dance of Guatemala. The scripted performance often lasts all day and it involves Maya and Spanish characters in distinctive masks and costumes. The dance is usually performed at town fairs, which are hectic and lively affairs.
The extended form of the dance – with dialogue, dancing, and drama – is a feature of traditional Spanish dances, especially “The Dance of the Moors,” which chronicles the triumph of the Christians over the Moors in the Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula. “The Dance of the Conquest” combines this Spanish influence with traditional Maya elements and modern elements.
One of my main questions of interest as I research the dance is how and why it is so wrapped up in the Guatemalan national character. There are a number of factors that I’ve uncovered so far that I will probe further in the next few weeks. The exhibition will feature a wonderful set of masks from “The Dance of the Conquest” and other Guatemalan dances.
Emily, Loa, and Rosa at the sculpture museum
Loa giving us a tour of the ruins on our first day
Upon entering the Sculpture Museum in Copan, visitors will be greeted by a reproduction of Rosalila temple. Moon Jaguar, the tenth ruler of Copan, built the temple of the Sun-King on top of the remains of previous temples. It was the most important religious sanctuary at Copan in the late sixth century. The temple was meaningful to the subsequent ruler that built a new temple on top of it. The common practice was to destroy old temples and build new ones on top of the old ones. The ruler, however, decided to not destroy Rosalila. He encased it with stucco and clay, interred it with a burial offering, and built a new one on top of it. The embalming made it possible to conserve the temple over the centuries.
The temple was discovered in 1989 by archeologist Ricardo Agurcia Fasquelle. Today it is under ground level, but it was measured, making it possible to create a life-size reconstruction that is housed in the museum. Archeologists gave the temple the name Rosalila from its color, violet pink. Rosalila is significant because it is almost intact with its plaster reliefs and a considerable amount of paint remains that made it possible to reconstruct how it looked like in its time of glory. The impressive colors of the temple will make visitors wonder how Copan looked like during the classical period with all of its painted temples with stucco decoration.
Reproduction of the Rosalila Temple in the Sculpture Museum in Copan
In the iconography of the different rulers of Copan, K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, the founder of Copan, can be recognized by several attributes, especially that of warriors from Teotihuacan. For example, Altar Q, exhibited in the Sculpture Museum in Copan, depicts the sixteen rulers of Copan, but K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’ is easily recognized, probably investing with power the sixteenth ruler. He wears goggles, which were characteristic of Teotihuacan warriors, has a macaw and a quetzal intermingled on his headdress, and his right arm is covered by what looks like a shield.
Tests done to the body that is believed to be that of K’inich Yax K’uk’ Mo’, show that he had fractures on his right arm, which could have been caused by the handling of the shield. Furthermore, these tests show that he was not from Copan, leading some to believe that he was from Tikal or Teotihuacan. The intermingling of the macaw and the quetzal is an interesting one that could derive from ancient myths. It is known that Quetzals feathers were imported from Guatemala, while Macaws were collected in Copan. Today the scarlet Macaw is the national bird of Honduras, while the Quetzal is the national bird of Guatemala. No other ruler in Copan is depicted with this type of headdress.
Altar Q in the Sculpture Museum in Copan.
Photo by Rosa De Armas
These past few days I have been collecting all the photographs that have been taken of the various objects that will be on display in the exhibition. Since there is a wide array of documents for each artifact, there are multiple pictures from different days either in condition reports or other folders. Creating an organized system for arranging and making sure that all the photographs ever taken are together in their appropriate folders was a great preview and it heightened my anticipation for seeing the objects themselves
The packaging process was eye-opening. The jade carvings looked much smaller in the pictures, but in actuality they were impressively large. It was also really fun to be able to associate certain pieces with the history I know of the 16 Kings that ruled over Copan. For example, I could identify a representation of K’inich Yax K’uk Mo, the first king and founder of Copan, based on his goggle eyes. Although this is elementary knowledge for anyone that studies the Maya, the ability to make connections based on newly acquired knowledge is always satisfying.