|Masked drama in the Bonampak murals (modern copy)|
I'm happy to say that the US/Guatemala Cultural Property MOU has been extended for another five years as of Friday. As Rick St. Hilaire pointed out in a recent post, the import ban now includes "certain ecclesiastical ethnological materials dating to the Conquest and Colonial Periods of Guatemala". FINALLY! While these two new categories might contain a number of things, what we are clearly talking about are church loot and masks. These things are hot right now, but I wonder if they are hot in slightly different circles than, say, your Maya pot. They are collected for sure but they seem to enter into the décor market. That is not to say that antiquities are not used to decorate, but to me a Guatemalan conquest-era mask reaches a market that is more like that of decapitated Buddha heads. The ecclesiastical art certainly is purchased by someone else. Auction catalogues and dealers classify them separately. I wonder if we cultural property research folks do as well to the point of sort of ignoring them?
Guatemala seems an obvious candidate for the protection of Conquest-era objects. The stuff is beautiful, the 'sites' are remote, and the property is in demand. Heck we know so little about Conquest and post-Conquest culture that this may represent another point where the market beats archaeologists to the punch. Everything is a surprise when it comes to the Conquest and immediate post-Conquest. Take, for example, the murals recently found in the kitchen of a house in the village of Chajul:
The paintings depict figures in procession, wearing a mix of traditional Maya and Spanish garb. Some may be holding human hearts.Rabinal Achí, perhaps the only bit of pre-Conquest Maya drama to survive which is now part of our certified World Intangible Heritage. You best believe I read some shoddy translations of the Rabinal Achi while sitting in the Tozzer Library years ago. I drooled on my desk when I heard about these. We don't know what is going on there! Golly I'm glad that they didn't get torn down and trafficked. Something like 80% of the people of Chajul live below the poverty line and the civil war hit that area super hard. Buy their cooperatively grown coffee.
Those murals represent exactly the sort of amazing Conquest-era material heritage that is just starting to come to light in Guatemala. The masks, the ecclesiastical pieces that combine the Indigenous with the foreign and so on are so strongly tied not just to ancient but to very modern Guatemalan identity that it baffles me that we illicit antiquities folks rarely talk about them.
|As the Ramirez family of Chajul found out, if your home is |
over 300 years old, you find strange stuff in the walls.
So three cheers for Guatemala's masks and church stuff! I'll be writing a bit more about church looting in Bolivia quite soon, no doubt, so stay tuned!