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New university based on Mayan wisdom

Guatemalan academics plan to create a university based on ancient Mayan knowledge, the nation’s president said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Guatemalan academics will create a university dedicated to rescuing and developing the ancient knowledge of the country’s majority Mayan cultures, the nation’s president said Friday.

President Oscar Berger and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu presented the still-developing plans for the Maya University, or “Mayab’ Nimatijob’al” in the Quiche tongue.

Berger said recognition of “the immense spiritual and cultural richness of the Mayan people” would help Guatemala build “a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual state.”

There are at least 22 Maya-origin cultures in Guatemala, heirs of the pre-Hispanic civilizations that scattered great cities around what is now Guatemala, southern Mexico and Belize. More recently, the country’s Indian majority has suffered poverty and its culture often has been deprecated by the powerful.

The Mayans were a complex society known for building massive pyramids and cities. They also were advanced astronomers who created a calendar to measure time that rivals those of today. In addition, they were accomplished mathematicians who introduced the concept of zero.

The Mayan Empire emerged in about 250 B.C. around Guatemala, reached its peak from about A.D. 250-A.D. 900 and ended with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.

One organizer, Domingo Lopez, said the university would be based on Mayan culture with majors in fields including agriculture, medicine and fisheries.

Lopez said a group of academics has been working on the proposal for 15 years. He said it was not yet clear how long it would take to open the institution or how many students it might have.

“It will have to turn to the elderly, who are the guardians of ancestral knowledge,” Lopez said.

Lopez said some international aid agencies so far have offered support for the university, though he did not say how much. Organizers, he said, have obtained land east of Guatemala City for a main campus and would like to establish branches around the country.