The 1906 Mayan Arch: an image of power

In February 1906 the President of Mexico, Porfirio Díaz, made a trip to Mérida accompanied by numerous members of his cabinet, governors and accredited diplomats.

One of the decorations for the city was a set of triumphal arches erected by the colonies of foreigners living in Merida, some commercial house, a private individual, and the municipal and state government.

This last authority, with neo-Mayan artistic characteristics, played a very important role since it had a specific purpose pursued by the president, for which its author, the archaeologist Leopoldo Batres, relied on effective propaganda to achieve a spectacular and scenographic display of symbolic images of power and Diaz in the urban space where it was erected: the entrance to the Main Square.

The iconographic program of the work was developed in the representations of sculptural images in the two bodies of the arch and in the figures located in the upper part or attic; the result was a great allegorical portrait of the president that was intended to be given to the people of Yucatan.

The lower level of the work had on both sides masks of Chaac, rain god, important deity in the Mayan cosmovision, with reminiscences even today, but these had a more anthropomorphic nose than the Mayan sculptures. The second body of the work had two types of masks of that deity. In the four corners, Chaac’s nose was in the form of a troop, while the rest were anthropomorphic.

The description would not go any further except for the notorious differences that two groups of masks have: on the one hand, only those of the four upper corners have the crooked nose as a trunk. Their location in the corners reminds us that according to the Mayan mythology four Chaaco’ob (the waterers), held the world. The Chaaco’ob are also related to the Bacabo’ob (minor deities) who according to the chronicler Diego de Landa (16th century) held up the sky so that it would not fall.

The remaining Chaac figures have an anthropomorphic nose. The features of the rain god, benefactor of the crops, necessary for the life of the Yucatec Maya, were modified to give him a face similar to Diaz. In case there was any doubt about it, the deity’s fangs were modified to become a mustache very much like the president’s!

The iconographic program was completed with the third part of the arch: the figures located in the attic of the work. The arch was crowned with the representation of the image of Peace, accompanied by two young people: one representing Order and the other Progress. As a summary of what was depicted in the support and in the attic, it can be said that the presence of the four Chaaco’ob in the corners symbolized the supporters of heaven and “the world supported” was what Diaz idealized: that of Peace, Order and Progress, since they were the principles of the doctrine on which his program of economic, social and political development was based.

For The Yucatan Times
Jorge Victoria Ojeda Ph.D
Anthropologist, historian, investigator, author.

With a doctorate in anthropology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and a Ph.D. in History from Universitat Jaume I, Castellón, in Spain, Jorge Victoria has been the technical subdirector of the General Archive of the State of Yucatan, the head of the Historical Archive of Merida and the director of the Museum of Popular Art of Yucatan. He is currently a professor and works in the Social Sciences Unit of the Regional Research Center of the Autonomous University of Yucatan.

Dr. Victoria has published fifteen books and numerous articles in Mexico and abroad.

His research on “piracy and pirates in the Yucatan Peninsula” and “Africans and Afro-descendants” has earned him international awards and recognition.