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UB Conference to Convene Maya Scholars From Many Fields For The First Time

Release Date: March 20, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo will host "Mayan Culture at the Millennium: Retrospect and Prospect," a major international conference on Mayan culture to be held here April 25 and 26.

All conference sessions will take place in the Fillmore Quad, Ellicott Complex, on the university's North (Amherst) Campus with the exception of a dinner, to be held April 25 in the University Inn, 2401 North Forest Road, Amherst.

Details related to the registration, conference program and related events, scholarly context and participants can be obtained from the conference Web site at http://wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/english/conferences/1998/mayan/ or by calling Donna Serwinski, 716-645-3422.

The content of the conference will address issues of cultural, historical, linguistic and archaeological importance that have an important bearing on political issues related to contemporary Mayan life in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.

Although many assume that the Mayan culture is extinct, it is, in fact, a complex contemporary indigenous American culture numbering 6 million people who speak 29 Mayan languages. They live in a vast, 325,000 square-kilometer region covering parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. The area is coterminous with all the archaeological remains of the pre-Columbian Mayan civilization that evolved for 3,000 years before the arrival of Europeans. That civilization has continued to grow and change since European contact.

In the last two decades, the Mayan peoples have initiated a movement of political and cultural restoration whose concerns reflect the region's great variations in environment; the depth of its historical occupation; the ideological, aesthetic and ethical principles of different Mayan cultural groups; the economic and political repression of the indigenous peoples, and many other issues. The 1993 rebellion in Mexico, for example, was a movement that arose among the Mayan people of the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.

The variation of these concerns have contributed to the splintering of scholarly discourse on Mayan culture because that discussion now covers such a broad range of cultural, artistic, religious, political, environmental and economic issues, not to mention many historical periods and geographies.

The Buffalo conference will attempt to address this problem by bringing together major scholars from several disciplines to focus on some of the most intriguing historical, theoretical, and ethnographic gaps in the existing scholarship on both historical and contemporary Mayan culture.

Conference organizers are Dennis James McNulty Professor of English at UB, and Barbara Tedlock, UB professor of anthropology. Both are widely respected scholars of Mayan life and culture and co-editors-in-chief of the American Anthropologist, a journal of the American Anthropological Association.

The conference will be sponsored by the Conversations in the Disciplines Program funded by the State University of New York, the UB Faculty of Arts and Letters, the Faculty of Social Sciences, UB's James H. McNulty Professorship in English, and the university's Poetry and Rare Books Collection.

It will present the world premier of "Man of Rabinal: A Mayan Drama of Human Sacrifice," a Quiché Mayan play produced in English for the first time from a translation directly from the Maya Quiché by Dennis Tedlock. It will be directed by Cuban performance artist and poet Leandro Soto and performed at 8 p.m. April 24 and 25 in the Katharine Cornell Theatre in the UB Ellicott Complex.

David Pendergast, vice president of collections and research at the Royal Ontario Museum, who will present the conference's keynote address at 4 p.m. April 25 in Room 170 in Fillmore Quad. Field director of the museum's archaeological expedition to a number of Mayan ruins in Mexico and Belize, Pendergast is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He is the author of 214 publications, 196 of which deal with the ancient Maya and have been published in North America, Mexico, Belize and Europe.

-- Gary Gossen, Distinguished Teaching Professor, State University of New York at Albany, and one of the world's foremost Mayan scholars. The author of "Chamulas in the World of the Sun: Time and Space in a Maya Oral Tradition," he co-edited "Symbols and Meaning Beyond the Closed Community" and "Ethnographic Encounters in Southern Mesoamerica."

-- Dennis Tedlock, an anthropologist, ethnopoeticist and translator who has written several important ethnographic studies embracing the religion, sociolinguistics, hermeneutics and mythopoetics of indigenous peoples. He also is distinguished for his transcriptions and translations of oral performances by indigenous peoples.

Among his books are "Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life" (1985), for which he won the PEN Translation Prize for Poetry; "Finding the Center: Narrative Poetry of the Zuni Indian," nominated for the National Book Award in translation, and "Breath on the Mirror: Voices and Visions of the Living Mayan," a collection of his translations and interpolations of stories and myths from Mayan Indian groups.

With Jerome Rothenberg, Tedlock founded and co-edited Alcheringa/Ethnopoetics, the first magazine of the world's tribal poetics. He is co-editor-in-chief of American Anthropologist, a journal of the American Anthropological Association.

-- Barbara Tedlock, UB professor of anthropology whose research and writing focuses on psychological anthropology, symbolic and cognitive anthropology, anthropology of art and aesthetics, ethnomedicine, the American Southwest and Mesoamerica. Co-editor-in-chief of American Anthropologist, she is the author of books and articles on the Mayan and Zuni cultures and on the anthropological and psychological interpretations of dreaming.

-- Anthropologist June Nash, Distinguished Professor at City University of New York and a renowned authority on gender and political economy in Latin America. She is the author of "In the Eyes of the Ancestors: Belief and Behavior in a Maya Community" and for 30 years has conducted research among Mayans in Chiapas, Mexico. Her familiarity with the political and economic transformations in Chiapas shapes her acute understanding of the Zapatista uprising.

Also, Geoffrey Braswell, UB assistant professor of anthropology, who has conducted lithic and settlement pattern studies in highland Guatemala and El Salvador; Enrique Sam Colop, a Quiché Mayan linguist and ethnopoeticist who has written extensively on the history of poetic expression in ancient Mayan texts and its relationship to contemporary Mayan poetry in the context of cultural revitalization, and linguist Louanna Furbee, professor and chair of anthropology at the University of Missouri at Columbia, who has documented a new religious movement among the Mayans of the Mexican state of Chiapas.

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