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Favorite Mexico Books

The Last Lords
of Palenque

Review by Dr. Linda Nyquist, Ph.D

The Last Lords of Palenque: the Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest by Robert D Bruce and Victor Perera, 1982, Little, Brown and Company, Boston.

Robert Bruce is an acknowledged expert on this group of Lacandon Indians, often called the last true Maya, living in the rainforest of Southern Mexico. Their lives and traditions have remained relatively unchanged for the past several hundred years, in spite of encroaching civilization, tourism (yes, horror of horrors, small planes do permit access to their village), and the erosion of the rain forest for commercial gain (obviously by non-Lacandones). Without a doubt, Bruce established tremendous rapport with the villagers, and without his work our knowledge of them would be quite limited.

While it isn't clearly in their best interest to be gifted with cases of Scotch (labeled "Missionary retardant" by Bruce), he has been a consistent spokesman for their rights and plight. This cannot be said without mentioning Trudi and Franz Blom, who were also great friends to the Maya. Both Bloms are now deceased, but Mrs. Blom's book Bearing Witness is also an excellent resource. And a must read is The Survival of Jan Little.

But I digress.

In 1994 Robert Bruce received some undoubtedly unappreciated notoriety. Several years ago Bruce introduced his nephew, Leo Bruce, to the Lacandon community. To make a long story short, (and to appear to gossip less), Leo established himself in the village and married the adolescent daughter of the Lacandon chief. He was about 27, and she about 13. He build a luxurious house (by Lacandon standards) on stilts, complete with TV, VCR, etc. On August 5, 1993, Nuk Garcia Paniagua, Leo's wife, died as a result of a skull fracture, and Leo is accused of killing her. He escaped the village, but was arrested and jailed in Ocosingo to await trial.

Meanwhile, the Zapatista movement freed all the prisoners held in the Ocosingo jail during an uprising, including Leo, and he promptly disappeared. The story is far from finished, and there are reports of alcoholism, pornography, complaints to the human rights commission, and the antagonism of fellow anthropologists. The elder Bruce says his nephew is innocent and is being framed by rival anthropologists. A book will probably be forthcoming, but certainly not authored by Robert Bruce.

These events make reading The Last Lords of Palenque even more important, since the culture has been forever changed and Mexican anthropologist Hector Ortiz Elizondo accused everyone involved of cultural abuse.

From The People's Guide Travel Letter # 3

The Ruta Maya

Review: A War Of Witches

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Last Lords Of Palenque
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