September 10, 2005 Dr. Robert Laughlin,  "Mayan Hearts in the Making and on Show."

           The Pre-Columbian Society was treated to a true tale of the heart, a presentation in which Dr. Robert
Laughlin shared with us the genesis and publication of his latest work,  Mayan Hearts.  Dr. Laughlin, is well known to many members as a
Curator of Mesoamerican Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution who has studied the Tzotzil language and culture for over

forty years. He has published two dictionaries, several collections of myths and dreams, an ethno- botanical text, and a history. In addition,
he is the Co-Founder and Literary Coordinator of the Tzotzil-Tzeltal writers' cooperative, Sna Jtz'ibajom, renowned for its Monkey Business

 With Laughlin's assistance, Sna Jtz'ibajom has published many bilingual books, directed a native literacy program that has awarded over
seven thousand diplomas to men, women, and children now able to read and write in their mother tongue. It has created and produced twelve
plays, half based on Mayan myths and half focused on the social, economic and cultural problems that confront the Maya of Chiapas.  Last
December, President Fox presented Sna Jtz'ibajom  the National  Prize of Science and the Arts, Popular Arts and Traditions, the highest
Mexican prize for Indian cultural achievement.

Many years ago, Dr. Laughlin discovered a donated Tzotzil-Spanish Colonial Dictionary in the Princeton University Library. Written by a
Dominican priest, the dictionary contained 20 metaphors involving the word for heart, which demonstrated that the Tzotzil considered the
heart to be the seat of reason as well as emotion.  For many years, Dr. Laughlin hoped that these metaphors might be able to be illustrated
and published. Ambar Past, founder of Taller Leateros (Woodlanders' Workshop), a paper- and book-making collective, in San Cristabal
de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, proved instrumental in assisting Dr. Laughlin's attainment of this goal. In 1987, with Ms. Past's help,
Dr. Laughlin met Naul Ojeda, a noted Uruguayan printmaker.  Dr. Laughlin commissioned wood block prints to illustrate the twenty
metaphors, and, after difficulty finding a publisher, agreed to have hand-made editions of the book printed by Ms. Past's
Woodlanders' Workshop. In 2002, the collective printed 500 copies of Mayan Hearts, and 500 of its Spanish counterpart, Diccionario del

All who see the result will applaud his decision. The hand sewn book's thick black cover is made of boiled banana trunk and maguey fibers,
with a heart cut out to reveal red endpaper. The twenty metaphors are striking illustrated by Ojeda's bold block  prints. Each Tzotzil
phrase is accompanied by its literal and metaphorical translation in English. The resultant English couplets include: "My heart
aches", meaning  "I am in love," and "You perfume my heart", meaning "You give me pleasure."

 During the September talk, Dr. Laughlin presented an original copy of Mayan Hearts, reading, and discussing, the twenty metaphors. Dr.
Laughlin followed the reading with an explanation and illustration the production and presentation of the book. In addition, he showed a short
film on the life and work of  Naul Ojeda, to whom the book is dedicated. Sr. Ojeda  passed away in 2002, just as the  book was being
published.    Any member who wishes to purchase the stunning book, Mayan Hearts, for $125.00, may do so by emailing  Dr. Laughlin at:, (yes, it's Laughlir , not Laughlin) for further instructions.

back to home page