The government of President Evo Morales announced July 17 that it will invite heads of state and indigenous leaders from around the world to Bolivia on Dec. 21, South America’s summer solstice, believing that this day will mark “the end” of capitalism and Coca-Cola, and the beginning of a time “of love” and a “culture of life.” Exterior Minister David Choquehuanca, who made the announcement, said the date was chosen because it marks the “end of the Maya calendar,” and a ceremony will be held, to be presided over by Morales, on the Island of the Sun in Lake Titicaca. Choquehuanca elaborated: “December 21 of 2012 marks the end of egoism, of division. December 21 will be the end of Coca-Cola, and the beginning of mocochinchi.” He added that on this day, “the planets will line up after 26,000 years,” but rather than meaning the end of the world it will mean “the end of hatred and the beginning of love.” (MinutoUno, Buenos Aires, July 17)
A few comments. First, on the beverage tip. We are glad to hear Choquehuanca promoting mocochinchi, a traditional Bolivian drink which is not patented (we hope) and still belongs to the cultural commons—a kind of peach kompot flavored with cinnamon. Last we heard, the Bolivian government was promoting a new fizzy drink called “Coca-Colla” as an alternative to Coca-Cola (Colla being a name for Bolivia’s Aymara people). The idea was that unlike the “Real Thing,” this stuff really would use coca leaf extract—although Wikipedia and The Straight Dope inform us that Coca-Cola still does use coca extract, although today with no trace of actual cocaine. Reports were not clear on whether Coca-Colla would similarly use only extract from denatured or “spent” coca leaf. It would certainly be an industrial trademarked product.
OK, now on to the somewhat more weighty question of the end of the world. Is there really going to be a planetary alignment on the December solstice, and does it really coincide with the end of the Maya calendar? We’ve been hearing an awful lot about this even before the Morales government got in on the act, so we decided to check it out. And the answer to both questions appears to be: Nope. NASA runs on its website a story on the hype by EC Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, reprinted from Sky & Telescope Magazine. Krupp states flatly: “There is no planet alignment on the winter solstice in 2012.” (Of course South America’s summer solstice is North America’s winter solstice.) He adds that even if there were a planetary alignment, it probably wouldn’t be a big deal. The last one was not 26,000 years ago, but on May 5, 2000. You might notice that the world did not end then, nor did a Utopian age of love and harmony open.
Now what about the Maya calendar? There is a grain of truth here, Krupp notes, but—no, the Maya calendar is not about to “end.”
What exactly is the Maya calendar about to do? On Dec. 21, 2012, it will display the equivalent of a string of zeros, like the odometer turning over on your car, with the close of something like a millennium. In Maya calendrics, however, it’s not the end of a thousand years. It’s the end of Baktun 13. The Maya calendar was based on multiple cycles of time, and the baktun was one of them. A baktun is 144,000 days: a little more than 394 years.
The Mayan Calendar website cites renowned Mayanist scholar Sir J. Eric Thompson to the effect that the baktuns do not end after a cycle of 13, but keep going—20 baktuns make a piktun; 20 piktuns make a kalabtun; 20 kalabtuns make a kinichiltun; 20 kinichiltuns make an alautun. (A tun, the Maya word for stone, was basically a year—360 days, so named for the ritual erecting of stones to mark the passing years. A baktun was 400 tuns: 144,000 divided by 360 = 400. A piktun is therefore 8,000 tuns, and so on.) So, obviously, the Mayan “Long Count” that began ticking in 3114 BCE will keep going for many, many centuries into the future.
For all the hype about Maya calendrics, we’d sure like to hear what some actual Mayas have to say about the question. Lake Titicaca is sacred to the Aymara and Quechua, peoples related to each other but not to the far distant Maya, who have a very different language and cosmology. The 2012 end-of-the-worldery was propagated (before Hollywood got in on the act) by the late New Age guru José Argüelles—who the 2012Hoax website tells us was neither a Maya nor a Mayanist scholar. Since his passing last year, the torch has been carried by his sidekick Hunbatz Men—who, unlike Argüelles, was born in Mexico and may actually be a Maya. We note that his name appears on the Nuage Tricksters Offenders List—apparently run by real Native Americans who are tired of seeing their traditions and spirituality appropriated by New Age capitalist enterprises. We make no claims for the bona fides of the Offenders List.
Finally, we note that dissident Aymara communities in Bolivia on the June 20 solstice celebrated their own new year with a ceremony in which they pledged to struggle to protect Mother Earth—and resist government-backed development plans. The Evo Morales government has certainly imposed greater restraints on foreign and private capital than Bolivia’s previous neoliberal regimes, but we are not convinced that it is moving “towards socialism” (as the name of Evo’s ruling Movement Towards Socialism proclaims). Bolivia is just one country, and even there, foreign resource industries still basically have a free hand. Are we on a five-month countdown to the end of global capitalism?
All we can say is, ojalá.