Yaag Chei - Tree of life and sacred Macaw

Size: 66x103cm; 26x40.5in

A collectors tapestry piece woven by my cousin Justino Martinez Mendoza using hemp warp, wool weft mixed with henequen all dyed with natural dyes. Justino is an multiple award winning weaver, his wall in the sacred room of his house is plastered with state and national awards, he is definitely a rising talent in the Zapotec weaving community. Many local rug dealers seek his work and international textile collectors are adding his weavings to their private collections. 

This tree of life depicts the Military Macaw (Aris Militaris) a sacred bird that would communicate the rain patterns and predict future harvests. This Sacred Macaw is depicted in Eastern wall of the Red Temple in Cacaxtla, Tlaxcala. The bird was depicted landing on a cocoa tree that emerge from a blue serpent next to the corn plant; in this scene there is an elder Jaguar Nahual who is taking part of this energy flow of the water (color blue). We know that this species of Macaw is in the endangered species list and is a key indicator species of the health of our ecosystems. Our elders left prophecies that there will be days where the corn will not be able to grow and produce enough grain to feed our people, just like the Macaw bird we depend on the balance of the water cycle for our milpa to flourish and the tree of life to keep alive. We are going to rely on the deep roots of the tree of life to survive climate change. We ask developed countries to stop monocultures and turn to agroforestry for the production of food for the world population, this is the only way to sustain the balance of heaven and earth.

Our food systems should be designed to feed not just humans but the whole environment, and in doing so our allies join us in keeping these balance. The other little birds depicted we call Maíin Ru'u Zaa, the birds next to the clouds, we believe that these birds fly around the clouds and gather them for the rain to fall. The wood pecker appears in Myths and stories as the character that digs into the harder bodies and stuffs to find the teachings and treasures of creation.

This rug is inspired in the ancient understanding of the tree of life common to many cultures around the world. The ancient believe system of the Mexica people teaches that the universe was split in two parts to create the current world, the goddess Cipactli was pulled by the brothers Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca to make the earth and the sky and in order to keep them from collapsing again they planted four trees in each corner of the world with a central tree in the middle.

For the Mayans, this tree is called Ya'ax'che which is a ceiba tree that has nine levels in the branches of the sky, four levels in the existential plane of the earth (as in the four directions) and nine levels in the underworld.
In Benizaa culture we have also have a Ceiba species of tree from which our spirit is tethered to in the sky before we are born and under which we are buried to start our journey back to the sky after our mortal dream. My grandfather used to say that on the earth we should walk the path of the warrior, always doing our best to uplift our spirit and transform the earthly matter into beautiful art. The only true time to rest is when we are resting under the shade of the Yaag Chei.

The tree of life was represented in Ancient times with a cosmic bird sitting on top of it and a snake or crocodile in its roots at the base of the trunk. This duality represents the original two aspects of creation, the sky energy and the earthly one. In his book the Cosmic Tree, Frank Desmedt describes the 'Astronical' explanation of this duality. The Mayans made precise observations of how the galaxy appeared in the Sky, to the south it points to the Serpent constellation and to the north to the Canis Major which in our cultures has the shape of a Macaw bird.
Our grandparents always observed the night sky. I remember, my grandmother always making predictions about the rain pattern by looking at the position of the stars and the tilt of the milky way. In fact, the word for Milky way in Benizaa language is the same word for corn plant, this is because the growth of our corn plants is intimately joined with the subtle astronomical phenomena in the sky.
So in this light, we cannot ever just talk about the earth alone, we must remember that the tree of life has its branches in the heavens and roots in the underworld. When you see the Serpent descending on the steps of the Chichen Itza sacred site, it is announcing the beginning of the rainy season, just like the snake like lightning storms that prelude the big rains. The rains permeate the earth and sprout the seeds of life and this water will travel to the depth of underground rivers and water tables only to evaporate again and complete the water cycle. Every aspect of the ancient world was cyclical and had a reason to be; from the heavens, the surface world and the underworld. With respects to the current world situation, we have come at a time in history where we need to radically transform our way of life to respect and restore the life support systems of the earth. What aspects of our live need to be buried underground and be transformed into a new way of life? May we transition from an ecocidal modernity to a restorative society that seeks the elevation of the human spirit and needs to focus more on the immaterial aspects of life that make our lives more worth living. During this great slowdown of the industrial and economic machinery we are turning back to slow, small and sustainable living. We are seeing a great rebalancing of nature's energy flows. This virus doing some work for the underworld, like the great crocodile monster that takes our dead bodies to the lord and lady of the underworld. Like the composting of nutrients that will allow other seeds to be reborn and live the mortal dream once again. May the earth heal and may the cosmic awareness of our higher purpose in life illuminate our governors and society for the great rebalancing of the forces of life.


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