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Mérida, part 3 July 20, 2017

Posted by stinawp in Uncategorized.
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I found my most interesting souvenir at a little convenience store shop in the Mérida airport. It’s a Spanish book of Mayan legends for kids, with pictures. That means it’s right at my reading level. Oddly, given the audience, most of the stories seem to be of the ‘star-crossed lovers’ variety, and the illustrations of human hearts (some of them were very star-crossed lovers) are all disturbingly lifelike.

But one of the stories, “Maquech”, is really interesting, because it explains yet another mystery for me. In the story, a princess is betrothed to a neighboring king. She happily accepts the betrothal, since the king’s a good and respected man, at least until she falls instantly in love with a warrior bringing war trophies to her father’s palace. Appropriately for this situation, the warrior’s main attractions seem to be that he’s young and handsome. He reciprocates, they meet in secret, they are found out, and the warrior is sentenced to be sacrificed. The princess begs her father for the warrior’s life, and he agrees, as long as she marries her betrothed. There’s also a second catch: the king has the warrior transformed into a large flightless beetle (called a maquech in Mayan) before giving him to the princess. She outfits the beetle in gold and jewels, including a gold chain so that they can never be separated. (No one seems to have asked the warrior whether he would have preferred death to spending the rest of his life as an insect accessory.)

The mystery the story solves is this:

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When I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History a few years ago, there were drawers of these jewel-encrusted beetles. I was told that the beetles had been confiscated from people coming into the US from Mexico, but no one could tell me why people had been wearing live, decorated beetles. Now I know.

 

Larrocha, Sventlana. 2015. Leyendas Mayas. Editorial Dante: Mérida, México. 80 pages.

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