Everything Starts with a Misadventure
In January, 2017, audio writer and avid sound collector Fred Greenhalgh set off on a journey with his family to Southern Belize, to stay at a friend’s house in the small village of Red Bank.
While Fred and his family have a healthy sense of adventure, they didn’t realize just how rustic their vacation to Belize would be. Namely, that the “house” was a traditional Maya thatched hut with no stove or kitchen. Faced with the daunting prospect, “How will we create dinner… No wait, what about coffee?!” Fred’s family befriended the neighboring Maya family, who immediately opened their homes to the fish-out-of-water American family.
Almost immediately, Fred’s girls (4 and 2 at the time) fell in with the ebullient Maya kids, ranging in age from 1 to 13, and they were off doing the things Maya kids do… Grinding corn, making tortillas, chasing chickens, and spinning around in circles giggling.
Fred’s wife, Amy, learned some of the traditional Maya doings with the other women of the village and Fred found himself out in the jungle with a machete with a father and son duo, searching for a perfect palm tree to chop down for dinner.
While on a hike with one of the Maya, Fred mentioned something about how odd those mountains looked in the distance (is that really a mountain range?). And the Mayan guide, rather casually, said that there was a good chance there were undiscovered Mayan ruins underneath the odd shapes in the jungle. With his head properly blown, Fred imagined what sort of story might unfold would a fiery meteor drop down from the sky and reveal an ancient city underneath the jungle canopy.
From here, it was a matter of stitching together the dramatic ‘origin’ moment with an actual story.
For rural villages like Red Bank, daily patterns of life are still rooted to traditional subsistence based ways of living, though the modern world is very present. The tension between the Maya’s present and their past, and whether “old ways” are worth preserving or not, is real and forms the backdrop of the tension between the characters Aurela and Zaita in The Mayan Crystal.
The Ancient and Modern Maya
Like indigenous communities throughout the Americas, the Maya suffered painfully at the hands of Spanish and English colonizers [Cultural Survival]. Though the Maya civilization was already in decline by the time the Europeans arrived in Central America, the disease and violence the Europeans brought to the region decimated what remained of the ancient Maya. Mayan books were burned en masse, and colonizers did their best to force the Maya to abandon their traditional religion and adopt Catholicism.
The trauma of colonialism certainly shattered the through-line of Mayan culture, but it did not eliminate the culture altogether. Many communities throughout the Yucatan, Guatemala, and Belize held onto their regional languages and customs, either hiding them from colonizers or practicing them in plain sight by merging imagery of traditional gods with Christian ones.
As the wonders of the ancient Maya were ‘rediscovered’ by American explorers in the 1800s, the world began to finally learn of the true majesty of the ancient civilization, a process that continues to this day. While often veiled in mystique, based on poor depiction in movies ala Indiana Jones or the obsession with the Mayan Calendar, the ancient Maya prove that a great civilization could live in the tropics and rival any of the wonders of Europe [Ancient History].
Today, the Maya are one of the largest indigenous groups in Central America, comprised of roughly six million people spread across Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico (Lifetickler). The Maya are a vital part of modern civilization in the areas where they live, and at the same time, more is being rediscovered about their past. Advanced approaches to archaeology like LiDAR reveal that Mayan Civilization was even more complex than previously thought.
And so, The Mayan Crystal attempts to honor the rich heritage of the Maya, while avoiding cliches and archetypes. It’s a story about courage, discovery, and love, and how these three powerful forces combine to fight the forces of darkness.