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Description

Rectangular shaped tunic made of pounded barkcloth from fig tree bark. Hole cut in centre for head, and reinforced with some orange stitches. The tunic is predominantly covered in jaguar print markings, which are a deeper orange-red on the back. There are small human figures and a bull(?) on the chest, also a circle with five points inside, four in a square and a central point. This design is similar to traditional ceremonial xikules (large circles with a central point). The bottom central line of the tunic is painted with water droplets.

Iconographic Meaning

In the centre of the tunic are depictions of the rock art at Metzabok, Naha in the Lacandon forest. They are small human figures and a deer.
The artists attribute the representation of the deer to hunting (a common activity for men in many parts of this area. Alfonso Tercero Nuc says the small figures are aluxes. Magical “viento” created by the ancient Maya to guard their lands and buildings. The circle with central point is a variation on the quincunx Maya universe, commonly represented as a four cornered square or diamond with a central point (hearth, flowery water, tree). This central point is the axis between worlds. The water droplets are a modern interpretation of the (round) jade beads on relief sculpture from Palenque, such as the lid of Pakal’s sarcophagus and the Temple of the Cross tablets. Jade beads have been interpreted as symbols of water and fertility.

Narrative

The Lacandon rainforest stretches through the Southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Yuacatan, as well as the northern part of Guatemala and is one of the most biodiverse regions of Central America. This jungle is home to communities of Maya speakers known as the Lacandon Maya, who support themselves through “agro-forestry”, a system built on sustainable crop rotation. The Lacandon forest contains over 1,500 tree species and is one of the last forested areas large enough to support jaguars, an animal sacred to the contemporary Lacandon, as well as to ancient Maya peoples. The Lacandones live near ancient Maya archaeological sites such as Bonampak and Yaxchilan. These sites were known to and frequented by the Lacandon people before their discovery by Europeans. The Lacandon peoples are no longer permitted to use these sites for ritual purposes. However, Lacandon ceremonies, centred around agricultural petitions, offerings and spiritual healing continue to take place in the forest, conducted by ritual specialists. Specialists traditionally wear bark cloth tunics for these ceremonies. These tunics are slowly being replaced by tunics made of white cotton, which are less costly and time consuming to make. Chankin Tercero made this barkcloth, and his son painted it. Traditionally only men participate in this ritual and are involved in fabrication of the associated materials such as xicules. Chankin Tercero, the last man to have the full material knowledge to make these pieces, died of complications relating to diabetes in July 2017, shortly after this piece was commissioned. Chankin’s family live in Palenque, where they sell smaller items, jewellery and small pieces of bark cloth, as well as figurines, to tourists. Ceremonial items such as this tunic are displayed in FONART/SEDESOL folkloric art competitions. This object straddles the folkloric art market, the tourist market, the importance of ancestral material culture production and the religious and ritual practices that underpin it. The object also embodies the re-appropriation of Maya cultural heritage, in its inclusion of features from archaeological sites (eg rock art at Metzabok and Pakal’s sarcophagus at Palenque).

Specific Techniques

Long strips of bark are peeled from the tree, soaked in water, and then pounded. This is repeated until the strip flattens and widens. The process takes months.The tunic is painted with annatto seed pigment, known as achiote. The material knowledge involved in creating this tunic includes a deep understanding of the botany of the Lacandon rainforest.

Item History

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