Wednesday, June 3, 2009
The Mayan Rabbit Scribe - by Patty Mooney
I first learned about the Mayan Rabbit Scribe back in 2000 when Mark and I went to Guatemala to explore the ruins at Tikal. I had been to several various sites in the past, including Chichen-Itza, Tulum and Coba because I've been fascinated with the Mayan culture ever since I was a child.
Perhaps I even manifested these Mayan temple journeys as a teenager while coloring in the drawings of a Mayan-Incan-Aztec coloring book I bought at a second-hand store. That is Quetzalcoatl as Venus, The Evening Star to the left.
The amount of information that you can find about the Mayan culture online or in your local library is nothing compared with the facts and lore you hear from the tour guides onsite.
While visiting Tikal, I learned that the Mayans had kept journals of their history and culture, called "codices" most of which were destroyed by order of a Spanish padre who thought that the books were the work of the devil. By his order, anyone caught with a codex would be summarily tortured and or killed. Only four codices (some of them partial) survived.
For generations, as the stelas and other stone carvings of the Mayans disintegrated, no one could understand what those carvings meant, and an entire culture was about to be submerged by the tides of history until a few archaeologists figured out the mysteries of the glyphs.
I met a couple of archaeologists who had come to Tikal to photograph artifacts and carvings. They had dedicated their lives to understanding the Mayan way of life. One, by the name of Eleanor "Bunny" Coates, had been coming to Mayan sites for many years. She told me about the Rabbit Scribe.
I glommed right onto that entity, as I'm a writer myself, and I know what it is like to be the family documentarian. I know how important the writer is - although unsung - in any movie or video production you will ever happen to see. Without the writer, nothing gets written down! Without the writer, the memory of an event or series of events loses detail and soon fades into obscurity
Here is an explanation of the Rabbit Scribe that I found at the website of a company that uses the rabbit scribe as its logo, Anthrobytes Consulting:
About the Rabbit
The scribe rabbit comes from a scene on a painted Classic Maya (circa 300 to 900 AD) vase, probably used to hold a chocolate drink.
In the Classic Maya culture (~300 to ~800 AD), scribes recorded important events for royalty using a phonetically-based hieroglyphic script. The Classic Maya depicted scribes as rabbits on vases and murals.
The rabbit in this graphic is writing on a jaguar-skin covered fan-folding book called a codex. Many of these books survived and were still being read after the Spanish conquest. Unfortunately, the Spanish thought the books were the work of the devil and were preventing the Maya people from becoming civilized.
After the conquest, the Spanish Father Diego de Landa ordered all Mayan books gathered and burned in a huge bonfire in a town in the central Yucatan called Maní. (The town still exists and is a lovely, sleepy, small town.) Any Maya person caught with a book was tortured and put to death.
The Maya thought that writing was very important and wrote on everything—ceramics, vases, walls, stairs, statuary, plates, nearly anything. Although many examples of this writing exist on ceramics and other items, only 3 confirmed Mayan codices exist in the world today. Researchers, called Maya epigraphers, are learning to read these writings.