When you hear of ancient wall paintings your mind likely jumps to caves with art from 60,000 years ago. Yet people continued to paint on walls since that point and throughout history have used the medium of art to tell stories. A recent wall painting was found inside a home and it depicts the life of the Mayan people in the 1600s and 1700s. This unique piece of art provides rich detail and the cultural context of a time where a lot remains unknown.
Lucas Asicona Ramírez was renovating his home and removing the plaster from a wall. As he started to pick away he found a drawing underneath. Slowly as he picked away he realized the entire room was a giant mural. It features images of men with beards beating on drums and other figures appearing to be dancing. Ramírez is from a town in Guatemala called Chajul. While wall paintings have been found in Chajul before the majority were found in places of worship and are believed to be religious artworks used by the Spanish to assert dominance over the indigenous people. These artworks appear different. They are on the walls of a home and appear to tell the story from the other side, the indigenous side.
A team of researchers has worked with the local tribe, the Ixil to determine the meaning of the artworks. Most of the artworks found in the Chajul home feature musicians and dancers. According to the local tribe, dance was a very important part of the Mayan culture at that time and would have been used to tell stories, to celebrate occasions, and to mourn a loss. When the Spanish arrived they couldn’t communicate with the locals but realized how important dance was and used this as a tool to convert the indigenous people.
Extensive discussion with the Ixil community has allowed historians to not only understand the significance of the paintings but to attribute them to a number of historic occasions. One picture illustrates the Dance of the Conquest which covers Spain’s attempt to convert the Mayans. In the picture, we see a Mayan dressed in a celebratory bird costume with feathers while the Europeans beat their drums. Another picture depicts the seizure of land by the Spanish at the time. Some of the pictures can’t be explained and historians note that they contain such rich detail that they may contain stories and dances that have been lost to time and can no longer be explained.
Based on the dating of the art it is believed that the pictures show something else as well. The art dates back to a time when the Mayans were largely converted to Spanish ways. The art appears to show that a revival was taking place. The paintings were done using traditional Mayan methods and depicting Mayan cultural habits. They may have been done in secret in the home to preserve the culture of the Mayan people. It captures an important moment in the history of Guatemala when the Spanish influence began to fade and a revival of indigenous culture took prominence.
The influence of conquests in South America can not be underestimated. They stole from the local people, killed millions, and raped their culture. The resurgence that is taking place is a powerful return for cultures that once ruled a large part of the world. It is fantastic to see that more and more artifacts are being found across the Americas that can be used to piece together the history of these amazing people. This art stands out as a defense of the local culture and while it took over 300 years to be found, its importance has only grown.