None of us gets
where we are going alone.
Nowhere is this sentiment more accurate than in the Toledo District.
The quality and accuracy of The Living Maya didn't just happen,
nor did it happen solely on the backs of the project director, Anne-Michelle
Marsden, and photographer Eric Leupold. This documentary is a testament
to teamwork - as it was critical throughout every stage of the documentary's
The Living Maya
simply could not have been developed without the dedication of nearly
100 volunteers, over 90 of these individuals were Toledo Maya -
village elders, Maya Leaders, and fellow villagers.
contributions of individuals such as Mr. Larry Smith, Punta Gorda,
Belize, and Mr. Michael Broek, Port Republic, New Jersey, made the
difference between the desire for the project to come to
fruition, and actualizing its completion. With that said,
we invite you into our hearts as we share a bit of our passion for
this project and the Mopan and Q´eqchi´ Maya.
Six year old Roderick Che of Silver Creek
Village (center) served as the youngest member of the project team.
Along with his father, Pedro Che, Chairman, Toledo Grain Growers
Association, Roderick helped the project photographer learn about
traditional planting practices. He also regularly served as a scout,
leading "Mr. Eric" through the bush to where his father
Note from the Project Director
orientation that we are all one people and that our environment is
sacred is at very the center of my life. This project was an outward
expression of my desire to increase the level of caring between people
- as well as celebrate the Maya's relationship with their environment.
I believe education and communication are key in creating
opportunities for clearer vision of one another. Through these two
means we can understand things that have heretofore been a mystery,
or rethink issues we thought we knew all about, but now recognize
that we did not.
I believe that
people find it hard to dismiss or stereotype their neighbors. Neighbors
have names and loved ones. They're simply trying to get through
the day, just like everyone else. A stranger - well, it's just easier
not to think about the fact that he has the same basic needs as
we do - but not the guy next door. You've watched his kids grow
up, for goodness sake.
The challenge is helping people recognize that we are all neighbors
to one another - that we are, in fact, all connected by our humanity
and our environment. Help people find a way to respect, teach, and
communicate with one another - and you'll find you've gathered more
friends than enemies.
The Living Maya for those interested in seeing this indigenous
population clearly. The Maya ask for your respect. They would like
to teach you about their culture. If you choose to listen, you can
hear Mayan voices communicating with you throughout the text - voices
of sages - voices of leaders - voices of the average villager -
voices of children. I was only the tool to make them available.
the Essence of a Culture
When I first
agreed to volunteer for this project I thought traveling to Belize
would present a refreshing holiday from my daily routine in Virginia.
Once I began to participate in its research and planning, however,
I realized it would take a much greater commitment than I initially
thought. I planned for two weeks and stayed for a year.
I quickly recognized that my biggest challenge would be capturing
the essence of the Mopan and Q´eqchi´ spirit on film.
If this project was to succeed, I had to get the Maya to accept
my presence in their lives, as well as relax and be themselves in
front of the camera. I must admit that my first couple of weeks
among the Maya were not very successful.
Then the magic
happened. We were in the village of Tambron documenting the Maya's
dedication to performing traditional dances as prescribed by past
generations. The men of Tambron had nearly completed their month
long nightly practices in preparation for the Deer Dance Festival.
I was testing my flash to determine a setting, a critical procedure,
as the practice area was only dimly lit by torch. As the flash lit
the area, suddenly every child and young adult in the village surrounded
me. Children were even quite insistent about having their picture
taken. Curiosity had over come the Maya's reserve.
didn't suddenly end the challenges before me, but it made me realize
that we weren't all that different after all. People can be curious
- or reserved - based on the circumstance. The Southeast United
States or the rainforest of Belize - we are all driven by the same
from Tambron Village practice the
Deer Dance by torch light.
Five days later: Tambron Deer Dancers in costume during the festival
The rest of
the issues resolved themselves overtime. My continued presence in
the area made everyone more comfortable with all my photographic
paraphernalia. Mutual trust began to develop. I began to make friends.
By the time Deer Dance organizers from Crique Jute and San Antonio
contacted me to document their sacred ceremony of felling the Sa´yuk
tree four months later, I was "Mr. Eric" - an invited
The Maya's trust
of my desire to capture the deepest sense of themselves made all
the difference in opening up a world I never knew existed - and
most have never had the opportunity to understand. Their commitment
to make this documentary accurate and complete allowed precious
photographs to be available for all to use, as they learn about
this culture rich in tradition.
While I thank
the Maya for providing such a high level of assistance to the project,
I am most indebted to them for their initial curiosity and then
their friendship. Many Maya brought me opportunities for pure joy
on a daily basis. I will not soon forget their smiles.
Men from Crique Jute and San Antonio pause
for a photo with Mr. Eric (center standing) as well as a short rest
after hours of ceremony surrounding the felling of the sacred Sa´yuk
tree. The group began their journey prior to dawn. A video clip of
the ceremony, which took place deep in the forest, is available in
the culture section of the documentary.