Boats on the Uxamacinta

Rio Usumacinta: Heading for Yaxchilan. Photo by Tom Canavan [January 3, 2004]

"The classical Maya Maize God, also called First Father rode a cosmic cayuco across the path of the sun to set in place the three cosmic hearthstones near the constellation Orion. There, he separated earth and sky at the dawn of the fourth creation cycle--ours, which approaches its end in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Two gods accompanied him whose images crop up frequently in classical depictions of birth, death, and royal accessions, kneeling at opposite ends of the galactic canoe.

By the classical period, canoe travel had long been perceived as a first principle of creation, preexisting the world itself. Voyaging the rivers, ancient paddlers recapitulated the journeys of gods and ancestors, retracing and thereby consecrating the Maya terrain. In the process of "entering the road"--the Watery Path--and transforming themselves from yeomen into pilgrims, they delineated and held together the world, and the land-based identity of the people.

The mental maps of the classical Maya, their cosmographs, were composed of mountains and lakes laced together by rivers. In practical terms, these rivers represented highways of war, commerce, and cultural exchange--the Uxumacinta above all."

Christopher Shaw, Sacred Monkey River: A Canoe Trip with the Gods, p. 29