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Top Pick: World of Lacandon Indians in Slovak museum

THE LAST authentic root of the legendary Mayans, the Lacandon Indians, hate foreigners. Everything that is theirs is "hach" (the real). Anything else is valueless. Money in their language is "sun's excrement".
A group of Slovak ethnologists had spend half a year among them in a jungle between Mexico and Guatemala. Tatiana Podolinská and Milan Kováč were the only European expedition to explore the live of the two hundred Lacandonians. The research's results are currently displayed at the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava.


Hachakyuma - the Lacandon's highest god.
photo: Ján Svrček

THE LAST authentic root of the legendary Mayans, the Lacandon Indians, hate foreigners. Everything that is theirs is "hach" (the real). Anything else is valueless. Money in their language is "sun's excrement".

A group of Slovak ethnologists had spend half a year among them in a jungle between Mexico and Guatemala. Tatiana Podolinská and Milan Kováč were the only European expedition to explore the live of the two hundred Lacandonians. The research's results are currently displayed at the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava.

"Lacandon's traditions survived only because they are very conservative and don't admire what's not theirs," said Podolinská.

The World of Lacandon Indians offers an insight into the tribe's original traditions, their rituals and every day life. Photographs capturing the Indians at work, exhibited primitive tools and hand made dresses, pressed plants and herbs, dried skins of poisonous snakes, dried seeds and animals' skeletons, decorated containers and masks used for rituals, fill the museum's two large rooms.

Amidst the dangers lurking in a jungle, the tribe leads a primitive live. They still worship the pagan, old Mayans gods and live only on what they produce. Men smoke home-made cigars and women wear several colourful seed-necklaces. Either of them can have as many partners as he or she wants. But none of them can read.

Since Lacandons saw Europeans for the first time in the 20th century, it was very hard to initiate the first contact with them. "They had such a mistrust of us that we had to fight with it for the whole four months. Only the last two everything went as we imagined."

Podolinská and Kováč came to their settlement accompanied by a Mexican, whom the Indians new. "Without him it would be impossible," Kováč says. The only way to get closer to them for Podolinská and Kováč was to adjust to their customs. Since the Lacandons refuse to speak Spanish, the two ethnologists had to learn their dialect. Huge cultural gap made any form of understanding very difficult. However later, after they found their place among the locals, working at field and dressing alike, the gap gradually vanished.

"We had to learn to distinguish the plants, insect and snakes because some of them were deadly poisonous," Podolinská said. All four snake skins exhibited at the museum belonged to deadly poisonous snakes. A snake bite is the most common cause of death.

The Indians' ritual of burying the dead is also unique. Four dogs are placed into the grave's corners in order to help the dead to swim the river and enter the underworld of the God of the Death, Kisina. And, though, the Lacandons sleep in hand-made nets hanging from the roof, the one that hangs at the end of the museum's second room is a too luxury piece for resting. It also serves for burying the dead.

By Zuzana Habšudová

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