THE LAST LORDS OF PALENQUE: The Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest by Victor & Robert D. Bruce Perera

THE LAST LORDS OF PALENQUE: The Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest

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A rambling account of the adventures of two semi-lost Western souls among a band of doomed Maya Indians--by turns engrossing and fiat. Perera (who wrote the text proper) is a Guatemalan-born Sephardic Jew now living, and working as a writer, in San Francisco; as a small boy he had an unforgettable encounter with five southern Lacandones who were put on display at the 1938 Guatemalan National Fair. Bruce (responsible for the introduction) is an anthropologist who lived among the Lacandones as a grad student in 1957, and has since spent much time studying their language and folkways; he accompanied Perera on three trips to the group's tribal home, Nahà, from late 1977 to early 1981. The 400 or so Lacandones now face cultural extinction because, in part, of evangelization by American Baptists--but mainly because of the destruction of their native mahogany forests (the core of their physical, social, and symbolic ecosphere) by slash-and-burn homesteaders and lumber companies backed by the Mexican government. The Lacandones, as described by Perera and Bruce (and seen in some of their appealing photos), immediately capture our sympathy, but not necessarily our interest: save for their splendid 80-year-old patriarch, Chan K'in, they have largely lost touch with their roots. They may be, as the authors speculate, the last heirs of the Old Mayan Empire, but they've forgotten its myths (and its mathematics) and are more concerned with transistor radios, .22 caliber rifles, and store-bought jewelry. Perera himself, a gentle, sad-eyed, lonely divorcÉ, haunted by erotic dreams and a mysterious past, and Bruce, an alcoholic Oklahoma Scotsman gone native, engage the reader's attention more readily than the Indians whose hopeless cause they champion. At its best a poignant personal documentary, in its weaker moments a collage of undistinguished field notes and journal entries.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown