I spent the last few weeks buried under piles of books, articles, reports, bibliographies, papers, flashcards, study sessions, and exams, gasping for air and trying to remember where I left my brain. Somehow I survived! I am in the mood to stretch my legs, shake off the past semester, and start a new season.
Speaking of new season, I’m sure that by now you are aware that the “world” is going to “end” today according to the “Mayans.” Hopefully you are also aware that the Mayans never actually said the world was going to end today. Instead, what is ending today is a full cycle of the so-called Long Count, a period in the incredibly complex Mesoamerican calendar system that works out to roughly 400 years in the current Western system. The idea that the Mayans prophesied the world would end at the end of Long Count 12 is sort of like believing the publishers of my desk calendar have foreseen the end of the world coming in June 2013. Previous Long Counts have ended in recorded history (the most recent being in 1618), and we have Mayan texts which foresee events occurring in future Long Counts as well. A combination of limited historical understanding, broad stereotyping of ancient civilizations, and sensationalism means that everyone is talking about the Mayan “Doomsday,” cracking jokes about the fact that they couldn’t even foresee their own destruction (which I imagine is pretty painful for the living Mayan communities), and most likely tomorrow, when the world continues to exist, the Mayans and their “prophecy” will be held up to ridicule.
All of this is really unfortunate. Instead of hyperventilating about doomsday, we could all be treating this like the event it actually is – the end of a very long cycle and the beginning of a brand new one. I love that this day falls exactly on the Winter Solstice. The world won’t be over tomorrow; the world will begin fresh tomorrow. A brand new Long Count, a little more sunlight every day. I think I’m lucky to see the transition between Long Counts. It doesn’t come around very often (!) and it has given me the opportunity to learn more about a very complex and sophisticated calendar system. And of course, behind that calendar system is the language in which it was recorded.
Al Jazeera had a special on the Maya of Guatemala as part of their Living the Language series. Perhaps we should all watch that instead of more Doomsdaypocalypse 2012 coverage.
(You can see an indigenous educator discussing the Maya numbering system and showing off the tools used to teach the calendar system to young Maya students at 16:40 – 17:25)
We celebrate our New Year’s Day as a day to start fresh. I think that’s what today is, according the Mayan calendar, only an order of magnitude more significant. Happy New Long Count, everyone!