THIS is with reference to the article ‘End of the world’ by Rafia Zakaria (Dec 12). The Maya predicted the end of the world but they could not foresee collapse of their own culture. The Maya was a great civilisation. They understood the zero concept and used it in everyday calculations.
Their year included 365 days with corrections for leap year. They watched the stars to predict eclipses and angled their ceremonial houses towards the sunshine (Feng Shui). They cultivated foodstuffs such as maize, beans, squash, cacao and avocados along with material harvested from sapodilla trees to make glue, and latex from rubber trees to make balls for ceremonial games.
Why did this great civilisation collapse? It collapsed because of a combination reasons: (a) they could not tell a friend from a foe. The Maya could not read the mind of the goodwill ambassador named `Fire is born’, sent by neighbouring ruler, `Spear-thrower owl’.
The ambassador’s mission was to win over the Maya by persuasion, or by force, if necessary. The ambassador had planned to attack the Mayan empire from the staging point of a port. The Maya was unaware of their large fleet of canoes. Their enemies had better strategy and technology.
They were a rain-dependent civilisation. Drought and epidemics had wreaked havoc with their burgeoning population, around one 100,000. They did not have the engineering skill or common sense to build dams on rivers or catchment areas.
Extravagance, nepotism, injustice, and financial and polygamous corruption weakened their system. These vices shattered the popular belief about divinity of the king.
Frequent wars, including a fratricidal one, and overtaxation could not balance their profligate budget.
Had they been victorious in battlefields, they could have made up for their budgetary deficits through the tributes paid by vanquished enemies. But, the prolonged wars led to a stalemate. The resulting cold-war dried up finances.