Coast connection to Lacandon Maya

Jan DeGrass/Arts and Entertainment Writer / Staff writer
April 11, 2014 01:00 AM

Using jungle sounds, photos and documentary, Shendra Hanney brings the story of the Lacandon Maya to Gibsons.

Jungle cries filled the room at Christenson Village care home: a rattling, quacking, trilling array of birds and creatures that one hears every day in the forest that surrounds the Lacandon Maya, a tribe living near Chiapas, southern Mexico.

Shendra Hanney of Pender Harbour knows the sounds well; she's visited the tribe who are considered by historians to be the descendants of the last of the Mayan states to be invaded by Spaniards.

Her presentation at Christenson on April 2 gave the audience a chance to hear the recorded sounds and see a documentary that had been shown on the History Channel following Hanney's 2006 visit. It includes some older footage from her late husband Collin Hanney's vintage film.

In 1960, when Collin wanted to make a documentary film of a remote tribe he had heard about, he had to trek deep into the jungle by mule until he came to a lake where the Lacandon Maya used dugout canoes to reach their village.

Hanney's film, To the Land of the Ancient Maya, shot with the hardy Bolex camera, was ground-breaking. He became friends with many of the natives, attended ceremonies, learned much about them and witnessed their visitors, particularly the horticulturist Frans Blom and journalist/ anthropologist Trudi Blom who became advocates for the Maya.

Hanney has always been proud of her late husband's creative photographic work and kept his memory alive, but in this past year she received a new impetus, the revival of the Bolex camera.

She learned through Bruce Devereux, activities coordinator at Christenson and a film buff, that the granddaughter of the Bolex's inventor was making a film about the camera and wanted old Bolex footage. Devereux helped Hanney and another Coast resident to digitally transfer the old footage, making it available for DVD screening. (See that story in Coast Reporter, May 24, 2013.)

"Bruce catapulted me back into Collin's film again," Shendra told the audience.

The process of reviving the old footage last year renewed her interest and she plans to return to the land of the Mayans again in a few weeks. What she will see this time is not certain. At the last visit in 2006, there was a marked decrease in tropical forest, with only a small area around the lake saved as a scenic park. In the late 1970s a logging company harvested all the many mahogany trees from the Mayan's land, with their permission. They didn't understand the ramifications, they said later. Now they regret it.

One of the tribe, now an artist who paints the local landscape, tells Hanney on film: "The jungle gives us air, wind, oxygen," he said. "There will be nothing left when the jungle goes. It will be the end."

Many of the tribe have moved into more modern ways, though they still keep their language and wear a traditional, simple, white dress, men and women alike. In 1960 each family had their own godhouse where the godpots, used in ritual, were kept. Only men participated in a ceremony in which they drank a potent brew and lit fires. Collin Hanney joined them.

In 2006 Shendra was allowed to sit on the edge of one of the few remaining godhouses while a ceremony took place. On that visit she returned artifacts given to Collin long ago. She also took Collin's ashes back to the jungle he loved, and it was the Mayans who suggested that rather than scatter the ashes on the lake, that she place them near the roots of a tree to nourish it.

In her talk to accompany the documentary, Hanney raised issues important to anthropologists. Is it a kind of cultural imperialism to study and remove artifacts? No, she argues. We can give back to new generations this record of how it was then. On her forthcoming visit she will carry more photos of the 1960 visit and will donate them to a new museum in the area.

On her return to the Coast, Hanney hopes to give her presentation again - with an update. For original clips from the 1960 film see: www.shendrahanney.com.


© Coast Reporter

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