Monday, June 09, 2008

Na Balom - The House of Jaguars

Na Balom was HIGH on my list of places to visit while in San Cristobal de las Casas. I had read about Danish archaeologist, Frans Blom and his wife Swedish photojournalist Trudy Blom who built Na Balom out of an abandoned and crumbling monastery in San Cristobal in the early 50's. Frans had an illustrious life and was responsible for the exploration of Palenque which he did under the auspices of Tulane University at which he was a professor. Later his digging and research was done both under the auspices of the Mexican government and Harvard University.
He also mapped the State of Chiapas for the government!
Trudy was responsible for the discovery and protection of the Lacandon peoples in the 1950's. They are one group that has remained "pure" and had not become Westernized by the fact that they lived, at that time, deep, deep in the Lacondon Jungle in the Southeast corner of the state.
Trudy gained their trust, photographed them helped them and to this day any time a Lacandon is in San Cristobal they have a free place to stay at Na Balom.
Na Balom is a place of lodging for any who are interested in Mexico, archaeology, the sciences, etc. and the "long table" established by Frans and Trudy, lo those many years ago, for the exchange of ideas and theories still exists and is used on a nightly basis. A restaurant is adjacent to feed the minds and bodies of those who are there.
I became enchanted with the Lacandons when I met Ruth Lechuga who was an amazing photographer and collector of Mexican folkart. She took the above photo in 1962 on a trip to Na Balom and a subsequent journey to the jungle. Many, many books have been written about Ruth who passed away a couple of years ago and the Bloms who died in the 20th century. Fascinating reading............
Two extraordinary circumstances added so much to the visit to Na Balom. The librarian Lisa Kleinfeld, who was the librarian there in the 60's told us many, many personal stories and introduced us to the grandson of Chan Kin Viego who was "the spirit holder" of his peoples. He is the man facing the camera in the above photo. He passed on in 1996 at what was said to be his 116th year. His grandson had some tiny wood carvings of animals and some jewelry made from beans and seed pods.......needless to say, I brought some back to San Miguel.
If you go to Na Balom the photographs taken by Trudy are eye-opening as well as all the artifacts of Fran's travels and Trudy's wardrobe.
Next trip I WILL get to the Lacondon jungle but it is a long trip and I needed more days then I had to go and stay there this time. I can't begin to imagine the beauty of the area.
I will end this blog with something said by Chan Kin Viego - "The roots of all things are connected. When a tree is cut in the forest, a star falls from the sky". Eighty percent of the rainforest has been destroyed in the Lacandon area in the last 65 years. How can that be?


Steve Cotton said...

Archaeology discussed at a long table. Sounds like my type of place.

Babs said...

Me too Steve and when I go back next year in the Spring (hopefully) I want to stay at Na Balom just for that experience. While there a few weeks ago there were scientists, writers, archaeologists etc. sitting around th table mid-day talking and I SO wanted to just sit down and listen!The property itself is like being in a jungle and you have no sense of being in a city - the gardens are breathtaking........It's $88US a night for a room........