by G. Michael Reid
As a small child, I remember spending a couple of school vacations way back in the jungle area of Mountain Pine Ridge. There was a family of white people who lived directly in front of where we lived in Belize City. The patriarch was a tall, burly man with a full beard. He had several children and on their trips to the city, we would play and became good friends. They invited me to their mountain lodge and after much pleading and persuading, I was allowed to go.
John Little John was a regular Grizzly Adams! He had a son named just like him, about my age, who knew every inch of that bush. Little John would host hunters from the States who would come in to hunt jaguars. I believe this was a time before jaguars were endangered and it became illegal to hunt them. I remember one night while sleeping in a thatch tent at the camp, a big cat walked right through the middle of the tent. I cannot tell you how scared I was but it is an experience that I will never forget.
Little John’s hunting lodge was at a place called Las Cuevas. The camp sat at the entrance to a huge cave through which flowed an ice cold stream. The area was full of Mayan relics, including pottery and even pieces of jade. I remember Little John Jr. telling me a story about the cave having a door that led to another chamber. According to junior, many folks had attempted to open the entrance but could not. He said that there were even some church folks who tried to pray it open. I have always wondered if anyone had ever entered that secret sacred chamber.
What I do remember about John Little John is that he would not allow anyone to tamper with the Mayan ruins. There were many mounds around but he would always treat them with respect. Folks, this was more than forty years ago. Here was a foreigner, way back then, doing all he could to preserve what has turned out to be, and a very valuable commodity. I am pretty sure that John Little John did a few things more than hunt jaguars. I remember him taking us out to clear patches of land but we were never around to see what was planted. Looking back, I have a pretty good idea, but whatever he planted, had no effect on the ruins that he found there when he arrived. I would not swear for the man but in my presence, he showed nothing but respect for the legacy from the Mayans and that lesson has stuck with me for life.
The news last week of the destruction of the Mayan monument at Noh Mul is very disturbing. What is even more disturbing is the reaction from those in authority and those whom we have elected to safeguard our valuable treasures. Apart from the fact that Denny Gijalva is sorry and Manuel Heredia is sad, we have heard absolutely nothing of any penalty being imposed. Not a word from the Ministry of Natural Resources and not a word from the Prime Minister. This, in spite of the fact that the story caught the attention of the international media and was carried by some very prominent media houses worldwide.
To their credit, Plus television stuck to the story and did some excellent investigative research. What they found out was that Noh Mul was anything but an aberration. The Plustv team found no less than six other sites that had been totally demolished. One area, shown by Google Earth as up to just a couple of weeks ago, fully green and intact, was found flat to the ground. Many pieces of pottery and even human bones were recovered by the television crew. Have these people gone stark raving mad?
The man at the center of the controversy is failed UDP politician, Denny Grijalva who was reportedly given a contract to fix some village roads in time for the on-going Village Council Elections. The villages are in the constituency of Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. Gijalva has issued an apology but somehow, compared to the magnitude of this offense that cannot be a punishment befitting such a crime. Grijalva was reportedly contracted by someone high up in government to deliver landfill and prepare the roads in time for elections. Not only do we not know who contracted Grijalva, but no one even seems brave enough to ask. This boys and girls, is stupidity of the highest order!
Noh Mul, which is Mayan for big hill, is reported to have stood for several centuries. It stood as one of the highest buildings in Northern Belize, both past and present. In case you’re wondering, there was a clear sign to the entrance of this ruin that boldly stated, “Noh Mul”. There is absolutely no good excuse for what transpired here.
To make matters worse, Denny Grijalva was not born in Belize but of all places, Guatemala. Wonder what would have happened had he tried to bulldoze Tikal or Copan. There is no way that this man should walk away scot-free. Any other country, whatever status he has, whether residence or citizenship, would have been revoked forthwith. The excavator, back-hoe and bulldozer used should have been confiscated immediately.
Back in 1998, another UDP politician had done the same thing. Instead of being punished, he was made high ambassador to Guatemala. Could it be that he is the one that went over there and spread the word that it is okay to do this in Belize? It Is incredulous that in the year 2013, after we have discovered the immense worth of these ruins, after we have made millions from visitors who come to see them, that we would allow someone to just destroy one and walk away. Come on Belize, please say it ain’t so!
G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world