Frans and Trudi Blom's amazing story
Explorers Club, an illustrious society founded in 1904. Its early members included Roald Amundsen (first to the South Pole), Robert Peary (first to the North Pole), and Roy Chapman Andrews (Gobi Desert explorer). Later members have included Edmund Hillary (conqueror of Mt. Everest), and Neil Armstrong (first man to step on the Moon). The Explorers Club is not just a back-slapping group of adventurers, however. It supports the scientific and educational aspects of exploration, and Frans Blom himself was an internationally recognized archaeologist and anthropologist as well as an explorer.
Palenque in 1923, he documented a number of features missed by previous archaeologists. Trekking into the vast and roadless Petén jungle of northern Guatemala in 1924, Blom performed the first detailed investigation and mapping of the ancient city of Uaxactun. The area where southern Yucatan and northern Guatemala meet is so trackless and wild that as late at 2013--almost 90 years after Blom's expedition--archaeologists have only just discovered Chactun, a large and previously unknown Maya city. But Frans Blom didn't confine his work to the Maya areas. He also explored the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, where he uncovered various Olmec sites. When Tulane University created a new Department of Middle American Research in 1926, Blom was appointed to head it. This was only seven years after first setting foot in Mexico as an oil industry employee.
Bonampak, he met Gertrude "Trudi" Duby. She was a Swiss-German photographer who was documenting the Lacandon Maya, a very isolated group who had never been conquered by the Spanish. Trudi Duby was an extraordinary character in her own right. As a young woman, she engaged in dangerous anti-Nazi work in Germany and Paris until she was deported by the Nazis in 1939. She joined the mass exodus of Europe's leftists, pacifists, labor leaders, and Jews to Mexico at the invitation of President Lázaro Cárdenas. Duby took a job with the government documenting the conditions of Mexico's indigenous people and joined several expeditions to research the Lacandon Maya. During the second of these trips, she met Blom and teamed up with him for several more expeditions. This cooperation resulted in the two-volume study called La Selva Lacandon (The Lacandon Forest). In 1951, they married and moved from Mexico City to San Cristóbal de las Casa in order to set up a headquarters for future expeditions. Their new home and headquarters became Na Bolom.
Na Bolom is a museum, hotel, and research center
Na Bolom is on Calle Vicente Guerrero, just north of Calle Comitan. The museum hours are 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM and there is a small entrance fee of approximately $44 pesos ($3.50 USD). For a bit more you can take the tours scheduled at 11:30 AM and 4:30 PM. The facility is located in the Cuxtitali Quarter, an old indigenous neighborhood established in 1528. The building was originally a mill for grinding corn, but in the 1891 it was rebuilt as a Seminary College. When Frans and Trudi bought it in 1950, the old Seminary was in ruins, possibly as a result of the government repression against Catholics during Cristero War of the late 1920s.
Part 3 of this series). The marimba originated with African slaves who brought their traditional instruments to the Spanish Caribbean colonies. Its use migrated to Central America and from there to neighboring Chiapas.
Lacondon Maya dubbed it Na Bolom (House of the Jaguar) because of the similarity to Blom's name. Bolom, or jaguar, is a common name among Maya. The jaguar, because of its great size, speed, strength, cunning, and reputed connection with the Underworld, is viewed with great respect by the Maya. The name they gave conveys their respect for their lifelong champions and benefactors.
The Museum's ancient Maya artifacts
best sculptors of Mesoamerica, and were particularly noted for their "sculpture-in-the-round".
elaborate tattoo on his cheek. Neither of these shows the long sloping forehead caused by deliberate deformation of the skull in infancy. This was practiced by the noble class in many Maya areas, but not all. The female has her head cocked, as if she were listening.
monograph he wrote about these finds, he couldn't resist complaining that although his discoveries were being cited by other archaeologists at Tulane University, his name was never associated with the finds in their papers. Apparently, many years after he departed from Tulane in an alcoholic haze, he was still considered persona non grata.
deliberate skull elongation seen among many noble Maya families. Parents tied special boards against the heads of their infant children to deform the skulls in a manner that was considered a mark of beauty and status. While this might seem barbaric today, think about the plastic surgery practices flourishing in our time.
Tarascan Empire in Michoacan and Guererro where metallurgy flourished.
The Hach Winik, or Lacandon People
traditional Lacandon. The Lacandon are great hunters in their thickly forested world. Although many now use guns, some still hunt with bows and arrows. The Lacandon Maya call themselves Hach Winik, meaning "True Men" or "Real People". They avoided conquest and conversion by the Spanish by simply retreating into their nearly impenetrable wilderness. According to an undated, hand-written sign at Na Bolom, there are two groups of Lacandon, the northern and the southern. At the time the sign was written, the northern group of about 200 people was the most traditional and had preserved the ancient Maya culture and religion. The southern group of about 80 people had recently been Christianized and had given up much of the old culture. The sign is apparently out of date, because a more recent report states that most of the northern group has now also been seduced away from the ancient religion, although they do preserve some aspects of the old culture. Today there are about 650 Lacandon speakers still living in the forest.
hach hunn extends down to mid-calf. In modern times, cotton has replaced the beaten tree fibre. This would usually be the only garment worn by a man. A Lacandon woman would wear a skirt in addition to the hach hunn, as well as jewelry made from seeds gathered in the jungle. Both men and women traditionally wore their hair long, with the women sometimes braiding theirs.
This completes Part 7 of my Chiapas series. I hope you found the story of Frans and Trudi Blom as intriguing as I did. I encourage feedback, questions, and corrections and if you would like to make one, please use the Comments section below or email me directly.
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Hasta luego, Jim