Dennis Tedlock and his wife Barbara Tedlock came to Black Oak Books last week. They both have new books. Dennis's is a translation of the Rabinal Achi, a Mayan text for performance. Not much Mayan literature survived the book burnings of the Spanish priests. The Rabinal Achi is a play depicting a sort of trial, said Dennis. A nobleman whose city & family have been traditional allies of the City of Rabinal has been captured. He led enemy armies against Rabinal and the trial is a dialog between him and his disappointed captors. Eventually the traitor is executed. "Europeans want him 'sacrified' by having his heart cut out," said Dennis. "That was the Aztecs. The Mayans typically used decapitation. Europeans don't find that exotic enough. Decapitation is too ordinary, too European. Capital punishment, after all, means cutting off the head."
Dennis spoke softly with many vocal pauses (uh, um), presented as the quiet academic, sincere and so full of knowledge that he couldn't say one thing without having to lead up to it from two or three directions.
Although I was very interested in what he was saying I found myself getting sleepy. Barbara Tedlock was much more dynamic, her excitement & delight bubbling out in her voice and gestures. Last year she published a book on women shamans, even finding out in her research that sources that had been represented in previous works as examples of male shamanism actually referred to women.
I'd planned only to buy the Mayan book but ended up getting both. Rabinal Achi: a Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice by Dennis Tedlock, 2003, Oxford University Press. The Woman in the Shaman's Body: Reclaiming the Feminine in Religion and Medicine by Barbara Tedlock, 2005, Bantam Dell/Random House.
Afterward I got both authors to sign their books. Both also dated them. The date was the first day of the Mayan New Year, 7 deer / 7 kiej.
In his presentation Dennis said last year was a wind year, which is a difficult year. This year ought to be a little bit better.