In the south of Yucatán, where small, green hills decorate the landscape in a very different way to the reflective, blue views of the coastline, there is a Maya legacy which is still alive and well today: the harmony of nature coexisting with human life, and the preservation of one of our most sacred elements, water.
For the Maya, Mother Earth is generous and provides us with all we need to survive, as long as we ask for her permission and honor the “monte,” – the land and all the elements that are found within it – caves, trees…and life itself.
Tekax doesn’t have cenotes, rivers, or nearby water sources. However, a deep knowledge and respect for nature allowed the Maya to make the most of rainwater by creating natural containers out of stones and other materials.
Jaltun or Sarteneja: Pits
The “jaltun” (tun: stone) is a pit that forms naturally in stones or rocks and has been used to collect rainwater since ancestral times. The liquid collected in “jaltunes” was used for crops, and would be given to animals, and occasionally people, to drink; it was also stored and used during droughts. When you walk in the wilderness or explore this region, you will likely find rocks with holes making up small deposits of water, as they are very common.
Storing water for droughts was an enormous challenge that the Maya of this area were able to overcome by creating “chultunes,” which were water vessels used to collect and store large quantities of rainwater, similar to a cistern. These could be of different shapes and sizes but worked by isolating and maintaining the water underground, taking advantage of the altitude in this region. This technique can still be seen in the Chacmultún archaeological site and serves as a reminder of the wisdom of ancient Maya engineering.
We know that caves were considered passages to the underworld, and were, therefore, a sacred space. Water here was collected in “metates,” concave rectangular stones which were also used to grind corn. Some examples of these have been found in the caves near Tekax. This water was sacred and was used mainly in ceremonies and rituals.
The Maya continue to show the world many techniques that are clear examples for the responsible management and conservation of this vital liquid: water.
Editorial by Violeta H. Cantarell
Photography by Andrea Mier y Terán for use in Yucatán Today
With information provided by Julio Estañol and Julio Sosa, certified guides at Chac Bolay Tours
Chac Bolay Tours
Cel: 9971 23 27 12, 9979 74 00 64
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