How A Lump of Clay — And One Man — Is Helping Mayans Reclaim Their Culture
By Lisa Rogak | Thursday, December 9, 2010 1:00 PM ET- Published at: Tonic.com
Argentinian Agustin Villalba moved into a small Mayan village without running water or electricity six years ago. Today, an entire village is thriving because of his efforts.
Visit Riviera Maya or any of the small towns and villages south of the tourist mecca of Cancun, and it’s unlikely you’ll get a firsthand look at any traditional Mayan customs. Despite the fact that the region is named after a proud native people, the Mayan culture has been slowly dying for decades.
Rampant tourism growth — including the popularity of Mayan ruins throughout the region like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam — was partly to blame as people left their villages to work at resorts and tourist attractions to earn a lot more money.
Today, the decline is being reversed with a remarkable program where little kids in small Mayan villages are teaching gringos like me how to make traditional pottery.
And it’s all because of an Argentinian potter named Agustin Villalba.
When Villalba was in university he became fascinated by Mayan pottery. As part of his studies, he visited small Mexican villages to learn more about the people and craft, but was stunned to discover in many cases that he was more familiar with the craft of Mayan pottery than the natives themselves.
“In 10 years, if we didn’t do anything, the only thing left of Mayan culture would be the ruins,” said Villalba.
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