San Cristobal de Las Casas - Na Bolom Museum

Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
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Flag of Mexico  , Central Mexico and Gulf Coast,
Monday, January 19, 2009

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First Time Reader? ......here is the background to this series of blogs:
http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/lobo/9/1233502800/tpod.html

 Mexico:  23 Destinations to Spend the Winter Months


San Cristobal de Las Casas  
no. 19 of 23 destinations (this is not a ranking)
 
Na Bolom - House of the Jaguar
Part 4 of 5
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We all admire someone outside of our family.  The source of admiration may be entertainers, athletes, entrepreneurs, politicians – yes – politicians, religious leaders, intellectuals, historical figures, literary figures, inventors etc.

For instance there is David Thompson (1770-1857) whom I have dubbed the "ultimate traveler".  In the Canadian Rocky Mountains, along the Icefields Highway, there is a plaque indicating that he traveled over 80,000 kilometers in his explorations of the Canadian West. Considering that the traveling was done in unknown, mostly hostile territory by canoe, horseback or walking, my moniker - "the ultimate traveler" - is well earned.

Another one that comes to mind is Alexander von Humboldt (1776-1859) after whom a street is named here in Victoria, BC. He traveled widely in the exploration of Central and South America and is considered to be the founder of modern geography. There are many landmarks named after Humboldt and of course there is the Humboldt Currant.

http://geography.about.com/od/historyofgeography/a/vonhumboldt.htm

There is also the man whose statue is located along the Inner Harbor of Victoria just across from the Empress Hotel. I am referring to Captain James Cook who made three lengthy voyages, the last of which was started in 1776, to explore the regions of the Pacific Ocean.

http://www.lucidcafe.com/library/95oct/jcook.html

What all of these explorers have in common is the desire to discover the unknown - in geography and in culture. It was Captain Cook's entry into the Hawaiian culture as a God that eventually cost him his life. (When that God-like perception was replaced by his mortality it cost him his life in 1779).

Other explorers came to a strange land and made it their own not in the sense of conquering for king and country but in the sense of coming to understand and to preserve much like Dr. Livingstone.

Dr. Livingstone (1813-1876) did not come to Africa to conquer but to discover (e.g. Victoria Falls and the source of the Nile), to understand, to convert and to help. Livingstone would have been quite happy if Stanley had not come bursting through the jungle to “rescue” him and greet him with the now famous “Dr. Livingstone I presume”.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Livingstone

In the same genre I have to think of Albert Schweitzer (1875 –1965), the Nobel Peace Prize winner, who pursued a life of intellectual and musical excellence in gentile Europe. However he chose to distinguish himself by establishing a jungle hospital in Lamebrain, Gabon to which he devoted most of his energies.

http://www.answers.com/topic/albert-schweitzer

All of the above “explorers” left behind the comforts of home to devote themselves to the discovery of the unknown. As a result they greatly increased the collective knowledge of the geography and culture of their new surroundings thereby becoming experts in their chosen fields.  They not only discovered but became an integral part of that new world.

I put the anthropologists Gertrude Duby and her husband Franz Blom in the same category for what they did for the discovery and preservation of the Mayan culture.

Their origins were Swiss and Danish respectively and they could have easily lived their lives in these wonderful countries. Instead they independently chose to come to Mexico/Guatamala to devote their lives to the study and preservation of the Mayan world. It was in their engaging in this pursuit that they met and eventually married. In the process these two Europeans became more Mayan than the present generation of Mayans in the context of the detailed knowledge that they were able to accumulate about the “Mundo Maya”.

The fruition of their work is the so-called “Na–Bolom” that is a Mexican non-profit organization that in the spirit of its founders Frans Blom and Gertrude Duby is dedicated to protect, preserve and promote the cultures of the area.

Na–Bolom offers a variety of services to the visitor that include individually decorated guest rooms, a cafeteria/restaurant and a guided tour of Na–Bolom. The tour includes five exhibit galleries where one can appreciate such varied collections as pre-Colombian Mayan art, Lacandon artifacts and religious painting from the colonial era. Also included are the chapel, the organic garden from which Na–Bolom obtains all its vegetables, the tree nursery and the library that is open to the public for consultation. The library contains 10,000 volumes dedicated to the history, culture and anthropology of the region.

The museum is also a collection of artifacts, photos and writings of the combined works of Blom and Duby.

Frans Blom came from a Danish family of means who sent him to Mexico as a life experience in 1919. Fieldwork in oil discovery brought him in contact with the Mayan world and its treasure trove of archeology and artifacts. His findings led him to an academics life in the United States.

He had a special interest in finding the “Rosetta Stone” of the Mayan language. It is something he worked on for many years thereby becoming an expert in the field. In the end he did not crack the code of the Mayan hieroglyphics and one is left to wonder whether the demons of alcoholism and a divorce (not from Gertrude Duby) in the 1930’s may also have played a part in that.

It was at this stage in his life - a low point - that he left the United States and moved to Mexico to once again pursue his passion for the Mayan civilization.

It was the jungle dwelling Lacandon, unique among the Maya because they had not fallen to the Spanish conquest, which caused the paths of Gertrude Duby and Frans Blom to cross. This led to further combined expeditions to the Lacandon jungle and their eventual marriage.

Expeditions cost money and it was thus that in 1951 they converted an old monastery in San Cristobal de las Casas into an inn that they named Casa Na-Bolom. From there one thing led to another to make it the centre of excellence in Mayan studies to which it has developed.

 It all makes for a fascinating story that can be read in detail at:
 http://74.125.155.132/search?q=cache:BLNMMhrWINgJ:www.mesoweb.com/pari/members/archive/PARI0402b.pdf+Frans+Blom&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a

While the spot light is on Frans Blom what is remarkable about this story are the accomplishments of Gertrude Duby who came closer to capturing the essence of the Lacandon than anyone else.

http://www.geocities.com/rainforest/3134/blom.html

 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gertrude Blom

As I said in an earlier blog, San Cristobal is calm, but Na-Bolom is even calmer. It is truly an oasis or a little Shangri-La that even reminds me of a Buddhist meditation center. It is truly a fitting tribute to these two remarkable people.

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Coming Soon: San Cristobal de Las Casas - The Market
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