JaguarWarrior, hunter, symbol of life and fertility, protector of agriculture, and link with the underworld, the jaguar, or “balam” as it is known in the Yucatán Peninsula, is a magical animal in the Maya culture, a divine deity whose power transcends until today.

Great Maya cities, including our own Chichén Itzá and Ek Balam in Yucatán, show representations of the jaguar in their architecture, paintings, and sculpture, as can be seen in the temple of the jaguar or in the platforms dedicated to this animal.

Due to its extraordinary hunting skills which allow it to capture its prey without being seen, its great speed, agility in climbing trees and even to swim with ease, the jaguar was frequently invoked during shaman ceremonies in order to transmit those qualities to the young Maya warriors who painted their faces and bodies in the feline’s likeness.

In the Yucatecan region, the jaguars are also considered spiritual protectors of the corn fields and of those who work there, representing life and fertility for the earth; today they still perform ceremonies invoking and thanking the jaguar, offering food in the four cardinal points.

And because of its association with the sun, the jaguar is considered a symbol of dusk, which displays its deity qualities by connecting the earthly world with the underworld, in the transition of day into night. So it is easy to see how the jaguar possesses characteristics that not only qualify it as a deity for the Maya culture, but also as an animal with great importance for the forests of the Peninsula, considered one of its main habitats in all of the American continent.

Today the jaguar is the largest feline in America and is considered a species in danger of extinction due to the depredation of its natural habitat. Although it is protected by international laws and Mexican norms, hunting practices persist, because the feline is considered a threat to local cattle.

Solitary and stealthy, to find a jaguar in the Yucatán forest isn’t an easy feat for intrepid adventurers, for it is an elusive animal who doesn’t show itself; and when it is seen, it awakens feelings of both fear and joy. To witness the display of power of a jaguar is a spectacle worthy of appreciating and remembering, and so as part of the actions taken to protect it, collars have been placed on various jaguars which have provided more knowledge about its hunting routines, its mating routines, and its roar.

Visitors to the Peninsula fall in love with the jaguar as a powerful animal and magic deity, hoping to know it through its representations in architecture or to hear its nocturnal roar at ecological sites such as the reserves at Calakmul and Sian Ka’an; and hoping, as the ancient Maya did, that the qualities possessed by this feline, including strength, resistence, and agility, will permeate those in its vicinity.

On your next visit to the archaeological sites of the Yucatán Peninsula, stop and observe, discover the figure of this mighty feline and invoke the power of the balam. Surely, a captivating experience.

Organizations protecting the jaguar:

By Violeta H. Cantarell

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