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Indigenous Religions

Apocalypto is an epic film, set in the pre-Columbian Central America showing the time of the decline of Mayan empire. The movie was set in Yucatec Maya dialogue with its subtitles in English. Its cast includes some representatives of Mayas folks and people of Native American descent.  Apocalypto depicts the journey of a Mayan hunter who escapes human sacrifice to rescue his family after the destruction and capture of his village by raiders from the Mayan metropolis.

Jaguar Paw, his father Flint Sky, and fellow hunters were chasing wild animals down a tapir. While distributing their share, they met a procession of traumatized refugees who through their leader, asked for permission to pass through the forest as their lands were destroyed by invaders. Everyone returned home with their hunted share. Flint Sky asked his son not to let refugees’ fear engulf him. In the evening, a bon fire was lit and the village was sitting around it, as the elder in the tribe told stories.

In the morning, Jaguar Paw woke up seeing a vision about the refugees’ leader, asking him to run. He then saw a group of invaders led by Zero Wolf, setting the village ablaze. The village was ravaged; many inhabitants were captured while Jaguar Paw managed to hide his pregnant wife, Seven, and his son in a dry well. He killed a raider and ran back to help for the inhabitants of the village. After a serious battle, Jaguar Paw was subdued by Middle Eye, who also killed Flint Sky before taking the prisoners into the forest. There, in the forest, they met other captives, amid who there was the refugees’ leader who Jaguar Paw had met the day before. One of the injured captives nearly tumbled his group into a cliff and thus made Middle Eye throw him over the cliff.

The captors and their captives marched through ravaged forests, a river, and destroyed corn fields. They met a girl dying of plague, who foresaw the solar eclipse, and the man running with a jaguar, prophesying the raiders’ deaths. They marched across mine fields before they reached the city where women were immediately sold as slaves, while the men were painted blue. They farther marched into the temple, through terribly painted walls to the pyramid where human sacrifices were done to appease the Mighty Kukulkan who was believed to bring their land fortune. Two men were killed and their hearts were removed. The young girl’s prophesy came true as a solar eclipse appeared before Jaguar Paw was sacrificed. The city inhabitants rejoiced as the eclipse passed. The priest ordered Zero Wolf to dispose off the remaining captives.

The captives were led into the failed corn fields and released in pairs as the raiders aimed for them with arrows and large stones. Jaguar Paw killed Zero Wolf’s son and escaped with an arrow wound. A chase after Jaguar Paw ensued through the forest where he hid on a tree, which is a home of the jaguar. The raiders lost track of him and afterwards saw him being chased by the real jaguar. They intercepted him, but the jaguar killed one raider. They managed to kill the jaguar and this gave Jaguar Paw time to escape. Another raider, Drunkards Four, was killed by a venomous snake as he tried tracing Jaguar Paw. Jaguar Paw went through a water fall and publicly declared that the forest belonged to his ancestors and his sons. Zero Wolf continued to pursue Jaguar Paw, costing him two men through a stab wound and one diving to death by hitting a bed rock.

Jaguar Paw hunted down the raiders and killed one through dart poison, extracted from a tree toad. Middle Eye died after being overpowered by Jaguar Paw in a fight, Zero Wolf shot him with an arrow but eventually died on Jaguar Paw’s hunting trap. The two remaining raiders chased him to the beach where they were all amazed by ships anchored off the coast. This gave Jaguar Paw time to get his wife and son out of the well. Seven had just given birth to her second son. They headed to the forest to begin a new life.

Indigenous religion had played an important part in the lives of the Maya people as they believed in ancestors who lived in the forests and were said to protect them and their forests from every harm. This was said when Flint Sky talked to the refugees from ravaged lands on the forests and those responsible for it. The community is portrayed as peaceful with no intentions to cause harm.

The Maya people believed in Ixchel, a jaguar goddess of midwifery and medicine. They believed she could protect children against danger. This was said by a woman who was taken as a slave, leaving behind her young. No one was there to take care of them and her only prayer is Ixchel who was believed to protect them. This portrays the community as savage with invaders, having no affection for children, capturing their parents, and leaving them to fend for themselves.

They believed in Ek Chua, the god of conflict and the spirit of war. This was said by Drunkards Four after one invader was mauled by the jaguar. War existed between Jaguar Paw and the invaders after they killed his village mates, including his father, and ravaged their village. This portrays Mayans as superstitious.

The Maya people believed in prophesy. This is explained when a dying of plague girl prophesied that day there would be darkness and a man running with a jaguar would be seen. When Jaguar Paw was about to be sacrificed, a solar eclipse appeared turning the day dark. After being released and chased by the captors, Jaguar Paw hid on a tree and later was chased by the jaguar as confirmed by Drunkards Four. This portrays the Maya people as superstitious.

Individuals in the Maya community believed in charms. Necklaces and bracelets were worn as protection from the gods. Protection ceased to be when each charm was removed for example; Middle Eye removed the charmed necklace from Flint Sky before killing him. When Drunkards Four was bitten by a venomous snake a fellow invader took his necklace away to rid him of protection. They also believed child-like dwarfs who accompanied the king were assistants to deities of rain, lightning, and thunder. This portrays the existence of superstition among the Maya people.

Bloodletting rituals were significant in the Maya’s rituals. The community believed that man was created out of gods’ blood and returning the favor was important in rituals. This can be said of Zero Wolf who cuts his palm to return the favor to the gods before the sacrificial ritual began. During sacrifices, human heads were chopped off for blood to flow, so that the gods get appeased. This portrays the Mayan people as superstitious.

Maya kings appointed priests who were said to be holy, functioning as mediators between the gods and man. Their main duty was to sacrifice on the pyramids on behalf of the king to appease the gods. Pyramid top was also considered holy and only top community officials and those to be sacrificed were allowed. The film portrays the priests as ruthless. It becomes clear from the episode where Zero Wolf asked the high priest about what should be done to the rest of the captives after the gods were appeased with the human sacrifices. The respond was that they should be disposed off. He also ruthlessly cut out human hearts to offer sacrifice to the gods.

Apocalypto’s portrayal of the Maya indigenous religion is not correct, since human sacrifices were done on special occasions, for example, accession to the throne of the king, severe sickness by the ruler, royal burial and drought. Such sacrifices were not forced by people, but rather were seen as a great honor.

There is inaccurate portrayal of Maya religious practices by Apocalypto film in mass sacrifice, which is more of an Aztec’s practice than a Maya’s one. Individuals volunteered to be sacrificed, eliminating their number. Bloodletting ritual was held by top officials and members of the royal families and involved cutting ear lobes, tongue and penises using small sharp knives. The blood fell on paper strips which were later burnt. In the movie, only Zero Wolf was involved in the ritual. The king was not involved in any ritual and was only a bystander. According to the book records, the king played a major role, being assisted by the high priest. The king’s duties included dancing, bloodletting, scattering incense, and impersonate deities.

In the end of the film, the theme of European arrival was to spread the Christian religion. The first meeting between the Mayas and the Spaniards was in 1502 and colonizing the Mayas was their agenda.