Why ban Indigenous philosophies in the classroom? | Guest Comment | Guest
In 2017, a Mayan elder, Carlos Armando Dzul, took me to a church in Mani, Yucatán, to see where the infamous three-day “auto de fe” – a mass book burned in 1562 – took place. headed by Bishop Diego de Landa.
It was one of the best-known book burnings in Mexican history, although it was part of a 300-year-old policy that prohibited the possession and teaching of pre-Columbian knowledge, allegedly because it were “lies of the devil”. The penalty for such crimes ranged from torture to death.
It reminds me of the recent settlement in which the State of California and several of its education governing bodies agreed, in a lawsuit brought by Californians for Equal Rights Foundation and others, to ban In Lak ‘Ech, a philosophical concept based on the Mayan maiz of his Ethnic Studies model curriculum, while referring to it as part of the Aztec religion.
This agreement, which determines what is teachable knowledge – also prohibits the Nahui Ollin, an Aztec-Mexican concept – based on the mistaken assumption that the Aztec religion was demonic. It also bans Ashe, an assertive indigenous African song. It should be noted that Mexican American students are the largest demographic in California schools.
While the Aztecs and Mayans share similar cultures, confusing them is mind-boggling, like confusing the Greeks with the Romans because they are both European. Here I’m focusing on In Lak’Ech, because the philosophy that it comes from is something that I’ve been teaching for years, which is corn-based knowledge that has influenced the Americas for thousands of years, and because it is the continent in which we live.
In Lak’Ech – Tu eres mi otro Yo, or You are my other Self – is just the Mayan iteration of The Golden Rule, which is also part of a larger philosophical universe based on maiz.
Noted playwright Luis Valdez of Teatro Campesino introduced this concept to American audiences via the 1973 poem, Pensamiento Serpentino. He received this knowledge from the Mayan linguist Domingo Martinez Paredez, who collaborated with the Teatro, resulting in several plays based on the Mayans. Indeed, In Lak’Ech is to see each other. How this can be construed as demonic is to continue the notion that indigenous and African people were less than human.
Beginning in the 1990s, Raza Studies at the Tucson Unified School District taught In Lak’Ech and Panche Be – to seek the root of truth, which necessarily leads to the pursuit of justice. This may be the real reason Tucson’s Raza Studies program was shut down in 2012, even though the courts upheld its legality in 2017.
In 2017, I wrote an article for the Latino Journal of Education, “Ixxim; a philosophy based on Maiz”, summarizing some 60 Mayan concepts. Generally, they have their universal equivalents in other cultures, including the West, although some are uniquely Mayan or Maiz-based ideas.
For example, Hel Men or Zero did not have the same meaning among the Maya as in the West, where zero signifies the absence of value. For the Maya, zero marked the beginning of everything. “The Mayan thinker established that zero is the germinating seed, the beginning of everything, which is why it was illustrated as a seed or a conch,” according to El Popul Vuh Tiene Razon. This 1968 book by Martinez Paredez is part of an explanation by the Maya scholar of the validity and relevance of the Popul Vuh, considered the most sacred book of the Maya.
There is not enough space here to fully explain Mayan philosophy; the least that can be done is to note that there is a whole universe to which Californian students have never been exposed, in particular:
Ix’im or Xiimte: Ixi’im is the word for maiz and Xiimte is the sacred maiz. For the peoples of this continent, the maize is “who we are, what we are made of and where we come from”. Scientists consider it one of the greatest feats of mankind because it was created scientifically.
I would say that if politicians want to ban Indigenous knowledge, they should at least learn it first, including our Indigenous worldviews.