Inside the Peabody Museum: December 2012

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Apocalypse Soon? The Maya Prophecy Debunked

For the "Hospitable Woman"...

Coming up at the Peabody

Apocalypse Soon? The Maya Prophecy Debunked

maya prophecy debunked

If you're counting down to the so-called Maya prophecy of doom, you've got 21 more days to go before the world comes to an end.

But maybe you should take a cue from the Peabody Museum's Mayanists (scholars of Maya culture). They're more likely to be planning holiday shopping lists rather than preparing for the imminent end of days.  

And for Harvard Divinity Professor Davíd Carrasco, the real question is how the so-called Maya prophecy started and why it became so popular. In a recent Peabody Museum Divination Series lecture, Dr. Carrasco traced the start of the myth, then thoroughly debunked it. Click the image to watch.

See more videos featuring Davíd Carrasco about Day of the Dead traditions on the Peabody's Multimedia page and Youtube.

 For the "Hospitable Woman"...

african rice ladle

Carved food ladle. Liberia, West Africa.  PM 29-76-50/H1085

In this season of holiday gatherings, parties, and feasts, it's fascinating to see how other cultures recognize a great hostess. While many American women are celebrated for cooking old family favorites, or keeping religious or cultural rituals alive, the Dan people of Ivory Coast and Liberia have actually held competitive festivals to select the most "hospitable woman," or wunkirle.

A ladle or spoon like this is a must-have for a Dan village hospitable woman.  The large size of the scoop suggests the quantities of rice she's given away. The handle's head is a stylized portrait of ideal Dan beauty. Her elaborate hair style and the scarification designs on the back represent real practices of Dan women, and also indicate the special care given to people of honored status.

wunkirle must be an industrious and successful farmer. She gladly and richly entertains everyone often, especially itinerant troupes of singing and dancing teenagers. She also prepares meals for men clearing the fields and visiting strangers attending local feasts. In order to be a proper hostess, she needs a helping spirit who is manifested in the spoon.

Her appearance with her attendants at a feast is a theatrical event. She arrives, swinging the spoon in a special dance while singing her own theme song. Then she spoons up rice for the invited families. At the competitive festival for all the local hospitable women, her spoon is filled with rice kernels, peanuts, and coins, which she and her female followers throw in the air, her aides singing to incite her to even more generosity. Before all the notables of the area, the judges--who are guest outsiders--determine which woman will hold the first rank. Men sing her praises at the festival.

An aging wunkirle chooses her successor. The young woman must first be able to enlist the helping spirit and demonstrate her qualities at a merit feast before she is recognized and given the spoon.

-- Adapted from "The Great Scoop" by Marie Jeanne (Monni) Adams in Masterpieces of the Peabody Museum (1978).


See what's coming up in the Calendar of Events.



Did you miss any lectures? You can listen to them here or download them to your mobile device through iTunes U. Look for Harvard's Peabody Museum lectures.

December 5

5–7 pm

Book Signing

Hunters, Carvers & Collectors: The Chauncey C. Nash Collection of Inuit Art, by Maija Lutz 
Peabody Museum Lobby

December 15

Noon–4:00 pm

Family Drop-in Event

Mesoamerican Calendars and 2012 Discovery Room

January 19

Noon–4:00 pm

Family Drop-in Event

Awesome Arctic Artifacts