sweat

Book I

Here lived and loved another race of beings. Beneath the same sun that rolls over your heads, the Indian hunter pursued the panting deer . . . the Indian of falcon glance and lion bearing, the theme of the touching ballad, the hero of the pathetic tale, is gone.

Charles Sprague (1791-1875)

“American Independence” Delivered July 4, 1825

As the subway pulled into the station, Robert decided he was going to get on this train. He was already late and he didn’t like being late. He folded up his New York Times, increased the volume on the headphone set, and jammed into the 7:18 Uptown “F” train, leaving Park Slope, Brooklyn. He didn’t particularly like this routine but it was better than driving into Manhattan, and cheaper.

Robert Claibourne had been born in Ohio near Lorraine. He thought of himself as Californian because he had spent four years at Berkeley and two more at Cal State doing his masters and doctorate in Pre-Columbian Art and Archaeology. He had liked the “laid back” lifestyle and excitement of the West Coast in the sixties. That and a token got him on the subway.

He also thought of himself as a progressive thinker, due mostly to some political involvement during the “Viet Nam Era.” In reality, he was neither. After six years in “The Apple,” he was pretty well acclimated to the daily rat race that make “the world’s most exciting city” such a thrilling place to live. He’d also become rather conservative, if not in philosophy, at least in daily routine.

As for lifestyle, well, Robert was a widower. Ilene had died of cancer three years ago. It had been a hard shock. If it hadn’t been for his daughter Amber, well, he just didn’t know. She was a large part of his life now. He got a lot of pleasure from his link with Ilene through Amber. She helped fill the hole in his life.

Robert hoped he could make it to his office at The Institute for Historical Studies without anyone noticing. He was up for a promotion and didn’t want anything to go wrong. After five years he was in line to become Under-Secretary for the Pre-Columbian Department. That would be enough of a raise so that he could afford Amber’s college tuition next year.

Mr. Sanders called as Robert was about to enter his office. “Claibourne, I have something I think will interest you. Sit down.”

Robert was relieved to see Jim Sanders so serious; it meant it had nothing to do with his being late. Sanders presently had the job that Robert hoped to inherit. Jim had secured a position as a private consultant to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He was usually a jovial man and only got serious about things that really mattered. Things like old books, Codices, to be exact.

A codex is an old manuscript. There are some from medieval Europe, but the ones that were of particular interest to these men were the few surviving records of the Pre-Columbian era. It might be a transcript of the inquisition of a former Aztec priest, or one of the inventories of the grain keeper of a royal house. They are one of the pieces used by archaeologists and anthropologists to put together a picture of life in the Americas before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Several of the pre-Columbian civilizations had reached the level of writing comparable with early Egyptian hieroglyphics. Thousands of these, including religious texts, family histories, and trade documents were burned by the first western priests to arrive in the New World. They had judged them as heathen tracts, of no possible importance. Some of them had not only been important historically and scientifically, they were sublime works of art.

Sanders opened his desk drawer and removed a package containing the most beautiful example of a Mayan codex Robert had ever seen. Bound with the soft pelt of a spotted cat, probably jaguar, trimmed with green and yellow snake skin, pages edged with silver.

“Your specialty is Mayan, isn’t it Claibourne?”

“Yes, sir. I did my doctorate on Alvarado’s conquest of the Mayan highlands in 1525. They put up a stiff resistance. Naturally, that was centuries after their empire had vanished. I have a theory about that. They . . .”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s very interesting, but please, can you verify that this codex is definitely a Mayan work? Beyond any doubt?”

Robert didn’t like being interrupted. He tried to ignore it and slid the top panel back and over as gently as possible. The pages were of deerskin, covered with white gesso and filled with countless glyphs in many colors.

“It seems to have Toltec influence, definitely after the late classic or early Mixtec era. I’d have to study it and we should do some tests. It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, but are you sure it’s Mayan?”

“Well, certainly. What’s the matter? Why are you acting so funny?”

Sanders let out a deep breath and re-lit the pipe he had been fondling nervously. “Claibourne, I envy you. After twelve years of hoping to make some kind of significant difference to our understanding of native Americans, the damned opportunity arrives right before I’m about to leave.”

“Sir, you’ve made a valuable . . .”

“Don’t interrupt me. This is either a hoax or it may be one of the most important finds in this field. Ever. Read this.”

Robert took the telegram from his old colleague and read:

Dr. James Sanders

Institute for Historic Studies

New York, New York

Sir,

Am forwarding one of twelve items found at dig vicinity of Machu Pichu. Would be most appreciated if you could positively identify origin and date of artifact. STOP Also request assistance in translation of entire text. STOP

Please notify me of any delay in coming yourself or sending translator, as we are most anxious to proceed. STOP All hotel arrangements have been made. STOP Airline ticket has only to be picked up. STOP

Look forward to working together again. Thank you. See you soon. STOP

Dr. Alfonzo Ortero

University of Cuzco

Republic of Peru

Robert put the telegram on the desk and said nothing, waiting for Sanders to tell him this was some kind of joke. Machu Pichu was an Inca city, high in the Andes Mountains of Peru. The Mayan people lived in the Yucatan, Mexico. Two thousand miles away and at least five hundred years apart. This just wasn’t possible.

“This is a ticket for Lima, leaving tomorrow night.”

Robert still didn’t believe this was on the level. If this was real, it meant everything he had ever known would have to be re-evaluated. “Dr. Sanders, you don’t really think this is authentic?”

Sanders eyed him thoughtfully. “I went to school with Dr. Ortero. He’s a good man. Knows his Inca history. Did an important paper on the theory that Machu Pichu was a religious enclave. Thoroughly competent.”

Yes, but this?” Robert pointed at the codex.

“If Ortero thinks there’s something to it, I think we should check it out.”

“We?!!”

“It will take some time to make a thorough investigation, and you are the best we have. I’ve already spoken with Ortero. He will give the Institute a free hand and full credit in the journals. Here are copies of this book. Call me as soon as you have something. I’ll get the tests started. I’m sure it will be worth your while.”

Robert definitely agreed. This might be the once in a lifetime find, needed to give his career that big push into the stratosphere of the intellectual world. An important paper. Possibly a book. Maybe the Nobel Prize. You bet he’d do it. He went back to his office and began making the preparations for the trip.

Amber thought the news was “oh, so exciting.” As soon as she had gotten off the phone with Robert, she took his shopping list and drove into Manhattan. After she had purchased everything her father had asked for, she headed for Abercrombie & Fitch. Amber had a very romantic image of her father. She bought a complete outfit that was straight out of a Hollywood movie. He would look like a British explorer, digging on the Nile, for Queen and Empire.

After a long day compiling research materials he would need, Robert took a cab home. He and Ilene had decided not to move to suburbia and so bought a brownstone in a working-class area that would wind up “up-scaled” through renovations. Amber helped take the packages upstairs and was bursting with pride when he started to look through the things she had purchased for him. Robert began to laugh when he saw the clothes. “Honey, I’m not going on safari, you know.”

He stopped short when he saw the hurt look on Amber’s face. “I just thought that you would be ready for anything with these. Here, try this on.”

Robert took the hat and played with the brim. “It’s kind of old-fashioned, don’t you think?” Now it was Amber laughing at him. “No, silly, it’s just like the one Harrison Ford has in that movie, when he was an archaeologist. Remember?”

How he loved his girl. It was great to have someone think of him as a dashing figure when he knew better. Ilene had seen him the same way. Now he had Amber, but for how long? She would be going away to school soon. Too soon. He hugged her tightly. “I’m only going to be gone for a few weeks. Most of that time will probably be spent in a musty old museum or library. Not very exciting, huh.”

“Well, you never know. There might be banditos or art smugglers. You have to be prepared.” She un-wrapped another package and removed a chrome .38 caliber revolver. “This might come in handy.”

“Where did you get that?” Robert didn’t approve of guns. “I want you to return it, right away. You know how I feel about those things[JR1] !”

Amber smiled mischievously. “I can’t return it. I went through a lot of trouble to get it. I won’t let you go unless you take it with you.”

“They won’t let me on the plane with that.”

Amber had already thought about that. “Just put it in your suitcase, along with the rest of your equipment. They’ll never notice, and if they do, just tell them you always carry valuable gold artifacts.”

“No! I will not! You find a way to return it, and we’ll talk no more about it. Now, come on. I have a lot of packing to do and I need your help. Go get my luggage out of the closet.”

That night Robert couldn’t fall asleep, thinking about the implications of the day’s events. He had started doing the literal translation on the codex but hadn’t done the final version yet. It seemed to be more than the usual astronomical calculations or tax collecting records. It seemed to be a historical text of some type, and it had many unique glyphs he’d never seen. Whatever it was, it shouldn’t have been found where it was. But it was.

The next day, Robert made last minute arrangements and took care of his passport. He and amber ate baked clams at their favorite restaurant, Umberto’s, in Manhattan’s Little Italy. Then Amber drove him out to the airport. They said goodbye at the space-age-looking Pan American terminal. When the 747 was about to take off, Robert opened an envelope containing the Xerox copies of his codex and his translation[JR2] and began to read.

The Codex – Book 1

My name is Itzan Quatal, formerly Chief Scribe for his Royal Highness Moctezuma, revered speaker of all the Mexica and the one world. I put my quill to parchment by the order of Atahualpa Sapa, son of the sun, Inca of all Peru, whose humble servant I now is. In his all knowing wisdom, he has requested that I relate the entire story of the one world and events which have led to this point.

Not being a god, therefore not having lived for all time in all places, I can only describe the events of my own life and those recounted to me by my late father, the High-Priest Ometec, and his brother, Balancuan, Chief Procurer for the emperor Moctezuma.

My almighty Inca, as I do not truly understand the purpose for your having me record these events and do so trusting in your wisdom and for fear of your displeasure, I must state that I have never been a teller of tales, such as those that pass news throughout your empire and can be heard even now, in the plaza. Having only been a scribe and record keeper, I have no talent for weaving back and forth through a story to make it seem more interesting and hold the attention of he that deciphers my glyphs. I shall then tell the tale in the only manner I know; that is, in the order that things occurred or when I was told.

And so, risking that I may offend thee and having stated my purpose as far as I know, I have listed my limitations and now begin:

I was born in the village of Uxmal in the northwestern Uluumil Kutz Peninsula. Through my veins flows the blood of the Maya, children of the gods and bringers of divine knowledge to mankind. My family has presided over the temple of Itzamna’ since the beginning of the Long count. I was only the second son of the high-priest and therefore not obliged to continue in “the way” as my older brother was.

Itzamna’ was mightiest of the many gods of the Maya. Although his name means lizard (?), his glyph has always been drawn as an old man with a long nose and I shall continue to do so. He was god of all learning and science and the teacher of the glyphs we use to write our records. In his temple was also Ix Chel, the rainbow lady, his wife. She was the goddess of weaving, medicine, and childbirth. The other gods include Ah Kinchil, god of the sun, and Ix Ch’up, goddess of the moon; the gods of rain and the gods of skills and the gods of all the earth were descended from Itzamna’ and Ix Chel.

Each of our lives began with a great ceremony. Immediately upon birth, our mothers would wash the baby and fasten them to the cradle with their heads compressed between two boards. After just a few days, the forehead would be flattened and be a very beautiful shape. Our people also admired crossed eyes, and although my mother hung a pendant between my eyes, it did not work.

There was an additional ceremony of Baptism when the child was near the age of ten. We boys and young men lived apart from our families and were trained in the manly arts of war. Here is also where most received their religious training. We amused ourselves with gambling and games.

The most important of these was pok-to-pok, a sacred game played with a heavy oli ball. The court had sloped sides and a stone ring on either wall. Getting the ball through one of these meant an immediate win, no matter what the prior score. We could not use our hands; only our head, shoulders, buttocks, and feet. We wore protective aprons and collars made of leather and wood. Goalkeepers moved portable rings in a complex series of maneuvers of which I will spare the details.

My brother’s training in “the way” started at an early age. The responsibilities of the priesthood were many, not only for the regular public rituals but for the maintenance of the calendar and the astronomical observations associated with it. They were, in fact, the guardians and keepers of all Maya erudition and history. Their duties included not only daily, monthly, and annual rites and the many sacrifices that went with them, but the heavy responsibility of maintaining official records and genealogies.

Our calendar was based on observations of the heavens, so our priests developed elaborate tables to predict celestial movements and such events as solar eclipses. This required a system of record keeping, so the priests devised a written language based on almost three hundred signs. I, being only a second son, was trained as such a record keeper and write this very text in the language I learned as a child, although I have made a few contributions of my own and borrowed others from different cultures I have since encountered.

Our people, or at least the educated classes, were profoundly intellectual in their approach to life. Our genius was astronomy, our obsession, time. We believed that time had an infinite span; our calendar reached millions of years into the past, encompassing more than one creation. We had calculated the length of the year at 365.242 days and regularly adjusted for the overlap. I was never very good with these complicated mathematics, but I am told that it was one of my forefathers that developed the concept of the numeral zero, a notion I still find somewhat baffling. How can nothingness be represented. Anyway...

In the house of words near the temple, I have seen many old writings that seem to mean that many of the teachings of “the way” have come to us from the Olmeca, the ancient ones who lived in the area where the Pochteca purchase the oli to make the balls used at the ceremonial games. Not much is known of these ancient ones, but my uncle would entertain all of us children with tales of his adventures in the land of the rubber people. Walking along a jungle path, he and his servants would suddenly come face to face with a were-jaguar, ten feet tall with sneering features and drooping lips, silent heads gazing down on them contemptuously. After he had frightened us sufficiently, he would explain that the large swollen eyes were made of stone and were the gods of the ancient ones. A small figure he gave to me as a present was of a human but displayed features similar to those he described and gave the doll a vicious and savage look.

I gave this doll to my younger sister Uxama, third and last born in my family. Our mother had died giving birth to her; and so, not remembering much of my mother, Uxama became my ideal of what a woman should be. From her first breath, she and I were very close. As young children, we would spend time together, playing among the old buildings that surrounded our village. Uxmal had once been a great city with tens of thousands of people, but that was long before my time. The Maya had been a large and powerful nation, with armies that always put fear into our enemies. We had brought learning and peace to all the Uluumil Kutz and the area beyond the river Montagua in the south and Lake Netzahualco’yotl in the north. Uxmal had been one of many Maya cities throughout the land. It’s name meant thrice built, each time ever more glorious.

Then, our greatness was no more. It did not happen overnight; in fact, few of my people truly know why the gods turned their favor from us. From the old records of the temple and other information, I have since come into contact with, what I understand is as follows:

It seems a bad omen came in the disguise of good fortune, as it often does. After the fall of Teotihuacan, the great city to the north, which we now know only by its present name that means “The place where the gods gathered”, our people took over their southern trade routes and grew rich. The temples of Tezctlipoca, dread god of sorcerers and warriors, were enlarged and much energy was wasted to glorify the bloodthirsty deity. Prisoners were needed for these sacrifices, so our armies were wasted in skirmishes that gained nothing but prestige for the generals and victims for the altar. The peons were taken from the land to be used as workers in the ever-growing cities, but this meant there were fewer farmers to supply needed foodstuffs. The few who remained were often taken by the generals.

The new sections of the cities were filled with hovels and shacks for the workers and their families. They crowded together in filth, living with their animals as they had always done, but now there were not on farms out in the country. Disease spread quickly and famine became common.

Just as the confusion was at its worst, the people of the north attacked. Not one great army, for they were barbarians, worshipping none but the Huitzilopochtli, their war god. They came in bands, attacking the smaller outposts. As they became braver and grew in size swelled by our own disenchanted population, the main cities fell. Our “glorious:” armies were busy in the south, too far to return in time, even if they were so inclined. It seems they were not. The generals had grown used to fighting villagers and had no stomach to face a powerful force like that coming from the north.

The priests sent ambassadors and made treaties with the invaders; they did not last long. With each new treaty, more territory was relinquished. Gifts were sent. These only whetted the appetite of the invaders. As they came closer to the heartland, the trade routes disintegrated and the economy collapsed. The priests and generals were the last to be directly affected, so they really did not understand when the common people, starving and plagued, rose up.

The temples were desecrated, the priests dragged into the streets and brutally murdered. Storehouses were sacked and treasuries looted. The temple virgins and whore-priestesses alike were raped and murdered. Some of the cities burned. Others were abandoned. Anarchy swept throughout the land.

Uxmal and a small section of this area was spared the worst, but it too was affected. As the insanity came closer, our peninsula was protected on three sides by the sea. The local priests marshaled the people and would let no strangers enter the area. They could hold the poor refugees out, but nothing could stop the advance of the invaders.

As I mentioned, this did not happen overnight. Many years passed with the terrors in the land and the invaders slowly but surely taking over what had been the land of the Maya. As the invaders moved south, they began to pick up many of our ways; in fact, you could almost say they became civilized. They looted our temples, but did not destroy our gods. Instead, they brought them back to their capital, Tenochtitlan, in the valley of the Mexica. They sent their priests to rule us and collect taxes, but the priests studied our calendars and incorporated our learnings into their own.

My own family was not only spared, but consulted in scientific matters. Word spread to the capital that the Uxmal Maya were an educated people. Their emperor valued our learning and saw to it that our people were left in relative peace. In fact, one of my ancestors was called before the emperor himself and worked at his bidding for many years.

What we did not know was that these invaders had not only taken our land, but that of many nations, so that their empire was many times as large as ours had been. The small tribe called who called themselves the Azteca had formed alliances and absorbed many people until their power covered an unknowable empire.

The Maya were only one of many subject races that paid homage to the one emperor. Each people in the domain contributed the best that they had for the greater glory of the whole. The Otomi Chichimeca were great warriors and archers, although very barbarous, so they provided many soldiers. The ________________ were artisans of gold and other metals. The Maya were intellectuals and cared for the calendars and records as we had always done.

*****

[JR1]where did the gun come from?)

[JR2]When did he do translation? Back at office?)

F I R S T - P R E V I O U S - N E X T

Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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