|Martin Prechtel, master of eloquence and innovative language. Among his writings: Secrets of the Talking Jaguar, an autobiographical account of his initiation as a MayanShaman|
Via ShamanTube 27 July 2013
When I was a child, I spoke a Pueblo language called Keres, which doesn’t have the verb to be. It was basically a language of adjectives. One of the secrets of my ability to survive and thrive in Santiago Atitlán was that the Tzutujil language, too, has no verb to be. Tzutujil is a language of carrying and belonging, not a language of being. Without to be, there’s no sense that something is absolutely this or that. If two people argue, they’re said to be “split,” like firewood, but both sides are still of the same substance. Some of the rights and wrongs that nations have fought and died to defend or obtain are not even relevant concepts to traditional Tzutujil. This isn’t because the Tzutujil are somehow too “primitive” to understand right and wrong, but because their lives aren’t based on absolute states or permanence. Mayans believe nothing will last on its own. That’s why their lives are oriented toward maintenance rather than creation.
“Belonging to” is as close to “being” as the Tzutujil language gets. One cannot say, “She is a mother,” for instance. In Tzutujil, you can only call someone a mother by saying whose mother she is, whom she belongs to. Likewise, one cannot say, “He is a shaman.” One says instead, “The way of tracking belongs to him.”
In order for modern Western culture to really take hold in Santiago Atitlán, the frustrated religious, business, and political leaders first had to undermine the language. Language is the glue that holds the layers of the Mayan universe together: the eloquence of the speech, the ancestral lifeline of the mythologies. The speech of the gods was in our very bones. But once the Westerners forced the verb to be upon our young, the whole archaic Mayan world disappeared into the jaws of the modern age.
In a culture with the verb to be, one is always concerned with identity. To determine who you are, you must also determine who you are not. In a culture based on belonging, however, you must bond with others. You are defined by where you stand and whom you stand with. The verb to be also reduces a language, taking away its adornment and beauty. But the language becomes more efficient. The verb to be is very efficient. It allows you to build things.
Rather than build things, Mayans cultivate a climate that allows for the possibility of their appearance, as for a fruit or a vine. They take care of things. In the past, when they built big monuments, it wasn’t, as in modern culture, to force the world to be a certain way, but rather to repay the world with a currency proportionate to the immense gifts the gods had given the people. Mayans don’t force the world to be what they want it to be: they make friends with it; they belong to life.