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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Spirit of the Maya by Manuel Garcia

Spirit of the Maya
A Boy Explore His People’s Mysterious Past
written by Guy Garcia illustrated by Manuel Garcia

This story, set in present-day Mexico, tells much about the peoples who lived there long ago. Kin, a twelve-year-old boy living in Palenque (pah»LAYN»kay), Mexico, feels little connection with his ancestors, the ancient Mayas (MY»yahs). Read now to see what brings about a change in his feelings.

Grandfather is wearing a white tunic, which is the traditional clothing of the Lacando'n (lah»kahn»DOHN) Indians, who once roamed the green forests around Palenque. Grandfather remembers the old ways of his people. When he talks to Kin, he uses the Maya language. Kin understands his grandfather because he also speaks Maya. But he prefers to speak Spanish, which is the national language of Mexico. Kin would like to cut his hair short like other Mexican boys, but his father won't let him because it's traditional for the Lacando'n to wear their hair long.

Kin has never shown much interest in the old Maya traditions. But now that Kin is twelve, his father, Chan Kin, feels that he's ready to begin learning the ancient
ways. Chan Kin is an artisan who sells his wares to tourists at the pyramids outside of town. Kin would rather be out playing soccer, but he reluctantly agrees to stay home and help his father make the ceremonial clay figures.

Using clay that comes from a special place in the jungle, Chan Kin expertly molds a figure. In a few minutes his fingers have turned the ball of clay into a little man with thick arms and legs. Kin picks the man up, and the small eyes seem to be staring back at him.

Seeing that Kin is interested, his father tells him to sit down and pay attention. "You make a picture here," Chan Kin says, pointing to his head. "And then you let your fingers do the work."

After the figures are formed, Kin's father lets them dry for a month. Then, when the time is right, he builds a fire and puts the figures into the hot coals to bake.
While they're baking, Chan Kin shows his son how to make hunting arrows with parrot feathers and stone tips. Using a steel knife, he carefully splits the bamboo shaft and ties on the flint blade with wire. Then he glues on the feathers, and the arrow is ready to be tested.

"The arrows and clay figures are part of our past," Kin's father says. "It's important to keep our aim true, even if the world has changed."

Kin's father goes out into the yard and puts a new arrow into his bow. His target is a tree about twenty yards away. He pulls back on the bow, takes aim, and boing! the arrow flies through the air. Kin's father laughs because he has missed the target. He tries again; this time the arrow sticks in the tree.

Chan Kin explains how their ancestors used bows and arrows to hunt for food, and how they placed clay statues inside the pyramids to honor their gods.

That night, Kin's grandfather shows him a book about the pyramids that tells about a king named Pacal (pah»CAHL), which means "Shield." Like all Maya kings, Pacal had the power to speak to the gods through dreams and sacred visions.

Pacal was twelve years old the same age as Kin when he became the king of Palenque. He ruled for sixty-seven years and built many pyramids. His tomb is buried deep inside the pyramid called the Temple of Inscriptions.

"I wish I could see Pacal's tomb Kin says.
"You can," his grandfather replies. "The tomb is open for the tourists every day. Tomorrow is Saturday. Ask your father to take you to the ruins with him, and you can visit Pacal's tomb yourself."

Kin is up extra early the next morning. At first, his father is surprised to see him waiting by the family's Volkswagen van, but when Kin explains that he wants to see Pacal's tomb his father smiles and tells him to jump in. It only takes a few minutes to drive through town and past the statue that marks the turn-off leading to the ruins, but to Kin it seems like forever. At last they arrive at the pyramids, but there are too many trees for Kin to see anything. Kin's father parks the van in the parking lot, and Kin helps him carry the boxes of arrows he has brought to sell to an area near the entrance gate. Then his father buys him a ticket and tells him he'll be waiting to drive him home. "I knew that one day you'd come," Kin's father says proudly. Still, Kin feels a twinge of sadness at seeing his father sell trinkets to tourists at the gates of the great city that his ancestors once ruled.

Passing through the gate, Kin follows a tree-covered path to a plaza surrounded by incredible buildings. The pyramids are so tall that he has to bend his head all the way back to see the tops. Some of the pyramids are still half-covered by the jungle, and others have steps like long ladders leading up the sides. It took the Maya hundreds of years to build the pyramids with stones that they cut from solid rock and carried through the jungle.

Kin looks at Pacal's tomb for a long time, marveling at the beauty of the carvings. The symbols and drawings tell the story of Pacal, who received the crown of Palenque from his mother in A.D. 615. He ruled until the age of eighty and was buried in this very spot. His grave was decorated with beautiful pottery and jewelry made from
gold and precious stones. Many years later, archaeologists discovered the tomb and moved Pacal's bones and many other objects to a museum near the ruins.

Afterward, Kin walks over to the Palenque museum, where he learns that Pacal was part of a long dynasty of rulers that lasted until the reign of Snake-Jaguar II, who died in A.D. 702. Pacal's jade-covered skeleton and death mask are on display in the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

As Kin leaves the museum, he feels a stab of sorrow. He climbs to the top of a
nearby ruin, but doesn't feel the same excitement he felt before. He knows now that he will never meet Pacal or the amazing Maya who built these pyramids. Kin wishes that he could travel back in time to visit the city during the height of its imperial glory.
Kin's father is waiting for him near the entrance to the ruins. When he asks Kin how he liked the pyramids, Kin tells him that they made him feel lonely and that he never wants to come back.

Chan Kin doesn't say anything, but Kin can tell that his father is disappointed.
Kin's father drives home silently. Then, without explaining why, he parks near the traffic circle that leads into town. In the center of the circle is a large statue of a man's head. Kin has looked at it a thousand times without knowing who it was, but now he recognizes it as the face of Pacal.

Kin runs out to get a closer look at the statue. It looks just like him! Suddenly, he understands why his father has brought him here. Even though he and Pacal live in worlds that are centuries apart, they are still brothers. Their skin and features are the same, and the same Maya blood runs in their veins.

As Kin and his father head home, he sees everything through new eyes. His Maya ancestors no longer seem so distant, and he no longer feels alone. Because, for the first time in his life, he knows how it feels to be a king.

As you continue reading this unit, you will learn about Kin's ancestors, the ancient Mayas, and those who came before them, the ancient Olmecs (OHL*mehks).


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