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The Mayan Merchants of Antiquity, Humbling Lessons for Modern Times

By Val Jon Farris

Perhaps the most important history lesson of all is realizing that we human beings fail to learn from our history. We tend to make the same mistakes over and over again, ignoring the lessons held within both our past failures and successes. If “humility” were a marketable commodity in today’s world, it would fetch an astronomical price given the low supply. But then again, until the demand for it increases, I wouldn’t bet on its producing much prosperity.

Not everyone ignores the wisdom of the past, however. Here in San Miguel de Allende, for example, local merchants, muses, bards, and creatives wholeheartedly embrace the lessons of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations (and for purpose of this article, the Maya, who thrived in southeastern Mexico and other nearby countries from 2000 BC to 1500 AD).

The philosophy of the Mayan merchants of antiquity is shedding light on how to promote harmony and collaboration for SMA’s modern-day merchants. Along with a variety of other inspiring practices, the shopkeepers at the new Mercado Sano here in SMA are taking lessons from the ancients. What lessons specifically?

Archeological findings in the Yucatan as far North as Merida and as far South as Tikal point to the Mayan god of travelers and merchants, Xaman Ek. This unique god was the holder of the lessons taught, learned … and unfortunately, eventually ignored by the ancient Mayan merchants. (One of the contributors to the downfall of the Mayan civilization was the deterioration of vital trade routes that nurtured the entire empire. The greed and control exercised by elite merchants over the middle and lower classes placed a stranglehold on collaborative trade, which eventually destroyed the possibility of shared prosperity for everyone.)

During the rise of the Mayan empire, however, all along the ancient trade routes traveling merchants paid homage to Xaman Ek. Very much in accord with the teachings of the Mayan Tzolkin calendar, Xaman Ek embodied one of twenty “Nagual Faces” called “Eb,” the “Good Road” of commerce and life. (The photo above is an actual statue with which traveling merchants practiced good will in the form of leaving offerings not only at its feet, but within every community they traveled to, as well as with all the merchants they bartered with along the way.)

The “Good Road” lessons Xaman Ek taught consisted of coming into alignment with five collaborative behaviors: Love, Compassion, Truth, Integrity, and Harmony. These five can be summed up as genuinely caring about our partners, family, clients, and friends and treating them as we would like to be treated ourselves. The crucial history lesson to be learned, I believe, is this … The moment Money and Compensation become more important than Care and Integrity, we have stepped off the “Good Road of Harmony” and onto the “Dead-End of Greed.”

Val Jon Farris is an award winning author, professor of ancient Mayan philosophy and, expedition guide. He is currently working with the Mercado Sano merchants teaching the lessons of the Tzolkin calendar. The Mercado will be hosting a public event called “Unlocking The Wisdom of The Maya” led by Val Jon in November. Watch for our ad here in Atencion and on posters in town. For more information about the event please email Val Jon:


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