Today, the two largest landmasses on Earth are separated by a marginal sea
consisting of a deep water basin and shallower waters above continental
In the past, this interhemispheric sea, the smallest one on this
planet, was shallow enough to allow human migration on foot, giving it
the status of a land bridge.
The first to cross this 'Interhemispheric Land Bridge' (as
shall call it) was not the Dane Vitus Bering, a navigator in Russian
service who systematically explored the area, nor any of Bering's European
forbears: they were Asians.
About 16,500 years ago they traveled there from the west (by definition the
opposite direction of the east, or the direction in which the Sun sets) to
the east (by definition the direction in which the Sun rises), and
we do not know the name(s) of the explorer(s) in their midst, it
certainly was the first human discovery of that enormous new landmass, the
scope of which no one will have realized at the time.
(But in this they did not differ from discoverers that came fifteen to
sixteen thousand years later.)
If we divide the largest landmasses into two hemispheres on the basis of
their east-west position, another thing is sure: what these Asian pioneers
of pioneers discovered is from an objective, unbiased (but still human)
perspective nothing else than the Eastern Hemisphere.
I realize that this change of perspective will come as a shock to many,
a shock as bad as a probably unwanted gestalt switch.
Hordes of people with a Eurocentric or related narrow worldview are
bound to keep on calling the same part of the world "the Western
Hemisphere", only because they (think that they) will have to
travel from east to west to get there.
If they are smarter, they will argue that the discoverers of that new
world —a phrase i personally do not object to, so long as we confine
ourselves to the human species— sailed from the east to the west.
Indeed, they did, but then they did not discover any new continent
in the sense of being the first humans to arrive there, and thus to get
to know the place.
The most pathetic objection of all would be to argue that the Western
Hemisphere is the half of Earth which lies west of the Greenwich meridian,
or, worse, 'the 0° longitude', and also covers parts of Afro-Eurasia
and Antarctica; that this is some official view, which it is, or
scientific knowledge, which it is not.
Science may always be right, but scientists need not be.
They do not work in a social vacuum, but may be led by anything from a
personal interest to the collective interest of a race or nation, sex or
gender, religion or politics, and what have you.
There is no natural 0° longitude, or it must be in the seas
between the two hemispheres; to assign the 0 to a point in what
happens to be your own (British) backyard is, of course, too outrageous
a proposal to be taken seriously.
Wherever scientists should put the 0° longitude —an island in
the Interhemispheric Strait or Pacific Ocean seems to be the
most obvious choice— from the point of view of human history the
hemisphere to the west of it is the old hemisphere, inhabited and
explored first, whereas the one to the east of it is the new one,
discovered and inhabited much later.
Are the tables turned now: East is West and West is East, and never the
twain shall meet?
(I am not quoting Rudyard Kipling here. )
Maybe they are, and yet, come to think of it, there is something quite
unsatisfactory about that general Homo sapiens perspective which
underlies our change of names.
When we end the use of Eastern Hemisphere for the old hemisphere
we do this because it depends on a perspective from a mistaken Eurocentric
or white-race-centered (and, perhaps, also black-race-centered) standpoint.
It is some kind of
we reject then.
However, for the same reason that we should reject subspecific
exclusivism we should reject
exclusivism also known as 'speciesism', that is, the use of the
distinction between being a member and not being a member of a particular
species in a context in which this distinction is irrelevant.
The naming itself may be a human activity and be meant for human ears and
eyes, but continents and hemispheres are not inhabited and explored by
human beings exclusively; the human species is only one among countless
others, animals, plants, microorganisms and viruses.
Hence, the statement that the first migration of human beings from west to
east across the Interhemispheric Land Bridge was also the
discovery of the new landmass in the east may be entirely true, it is not
a relevant truth to base the distinction between an 'Eastern' and a
'Western Hemisphere' on in general, and not in geology and biology in
The outermost layer of the Earth is the lithosphere, consisting of crust
and the uppermost part of its solid mantle.
The crust is either continental or oceanic crust.
The latest geoscientific theory of the Earth's lithosphere is not a theory
of hemispheres or continents as such; it is a theory of the tectonic
plates which move on the surface of this planet.
Nevertheless, with the exception of the Pacific Plate, all major plates
are called after the continents, or parts thereof, which are found within
There are seven or eight major plates: the African, Eurasian, North
American, South American, Antarctic, Pacific and Indo-Australian, or
Indian and Australian, Plates.
In the south the North American Plate reaches as far as Cuba, Belize and
Southern Mexico; in the north as far as Western Iceland to the east, and
Eastern Siberia and Japan to the west.
South America is the only landmass on the South American Plate.
Between the major North and South American Plates there is a minor
On the basis of the locations of the present plates there is nothing which
forces or enables us to distinguish East from West in any absolute
(Of course, there always is the relative sense as determined by
what we see as the movement of the Sun across the Earth.)
However, this picture changes as soon as we take the movement of the
plates and their formation and disintegration into account.
Since tectonic motion began, 3 to 3.5 billion years ago, there have been
several supercontinents, containing all or most of the present-day
The last such supercontinent was 'Pangaea' before breaking up into
'Laurasia', which later disintegrated into North America and Eurasia,
and 'Gondwana', which later disintegrated into South America, Africa and
other plates to the north and east of Africa.
In other words, North America and Eurasia in the north, and South America
and Africa in the south, used to be one and touch each other, but in the
course of time they drifted apart: the Americas to the west, and Eurasia
and Africa to the east.
Given that we may roughly distinguish two hemispheres nowadays, it is,
therefore, entirely justified, on the basis of plate tectonics, to call
the one with the Americas "the Western" and the one with Africa and
Eurasia "the Eastern Hemisphere".
Those with a European orientation will be delighted that they made the
right choice, albeit for the wrong reason.
Ignorant of any theory of plate tectonics, even of the idea of
continental drift which preceded it, their ancestors had dubbed the
landmass to the west of Europe "the Western Hemisphere"; a most logical
decision, you would say.
But history may be ruled by a criterion of ethnicity, real logic is not,
and therefore we had to change Western into Eastern.
But humanity may be ruled by a criterion of species, real logic is not,
and therefore we are invited now to change Eastern back into
We have come full circle, it seems, but the Western we started out
with is not the Western we finished with.
The former was an ethnically exclusivistic description of the hemisphere,
the latter is an inclusive one in which its westernness is immediately
related to the way in which the constituent parts of this hemisphere came
into being after 'Laurasia' and 'Gondwana' disintegrated.
THE PROPER COMPASS NAME
FOR A HEMISPHERE
|COMPASS NAME ||BASIS
||position with respect to the territory of the white race or Europe
|Eastern Hemisphere||human habitation,
exploration and migration: first
discovery by Asians
||genesis of the two continents of the hemisphere
Columbian Eurocentrism may appear to have vindicated with respect to the
description or 'name' Western Hemisphere, in other respects it
fares and has fared not as well.
The days that it could be maintained that Christopher Columbus discovered
'America' in the year 1492 (of the Christianist Era) are long over now.
Columbus Day, too, has become a relic of a hagiographic past unconcerned
with (unwelcome) fact.
On top of this, Columbus's party was not even the first European
group to discover what was only later called "America".
It may be a short span in a history of more than 16,000 years, but the
Vikings were there about 510 years earlier.
They sailed west from Iceland, under Erik the Red who was exiled from that
country for murder, and then discovered Greenland.
While not everyone may consider Greenland an integral part of the (North)
American continent, which it geographically definitely is, not much later
Erik's son Leif Erikson sailed to the island of Newfoundland, found grapes
and granted it the appellation Vinland (Wineland).
These Vikings stayed only a few years in Newfoundland, but given that
Irish and Chinese stories or tales about travels to a new continent on the
other side of the ocean are not supported by evidence, it is safe to call
the discovery of Greenland and Newfoundland by the Vikings "the second
discovery of the Western Hemisphere".
It was undoubtedly the first European exploration of this part of the
planet, but the Inuit they met in Greenland and the Beothuk they met in
Newfoundland had been there long before.
Apart from the question which of the two hemispheres is properly called
"the Western" or "the Eastern Hemisphere", all this could, or even should,
sound familiar to a modern educated person.
Such a person is also likely to speak of "indigenous people" or "native
Americans" and "first nations" or "peoples" instead of "(American)
Indians" or, less likely, of "Amerindians".
But even the word Indian never applied to the natives of Greenland
and the rest of the Arctic region, who are Inuit, Yupik, Chukchi
and Iñupiat people, in the past commonly referred to by the pejorative
You do not have to be an educated person at all to know that Americans
from the United States of America nowadays tend to confine the term
American to a citizen or resident of the USA.
Especially English-speaking 'Americans' from Canada tend to refuse to
use that term for themselves precisely for the very same reason.
North America and North American will be okay tho, since
everyone in Canada knows the difference between North America and the
USA, let alone the northern part of the USA.
Spanish speakers from Central and South America in particular may frown
upon the USA monopolizing the name America for their own large but
limited chunk of the hemisphere (or 'continent').
They may show their disgust for this arrogant use of the name by
explicitly replacing it with North America.
Yet, altho the USA is indeed part of North America —give or take
Puerto Rico— and Americans from the USA are indeed North Americans,
the reverse is as little true, and as totally ridiculous, as the claim
that all people from Iceland to the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh,
India or Russia speak Spanish, because Spanish is a
Sanskrit-related ('Indo-European' ) language.
The climax of this preposterous abuse of the name North America is
found in expressions in which it is made to refer to the Unites States of
America exclusively, as in Congreso de América del Norte
(Congress of North America).
Sorry, (un)educated people, but North America is
a continent and has no (bicameral) congress whatsoever.
Including Mexico, it consists of five separate political territories,
among which the largest country in the whole Western Hemisphere, and the
second-largest in the world: Canada.
(The smallest is Saint Pierre and Miquelon, a French 'Overseas
Collectivity' off the coast of Newfoundland.)
So far, this discussion is still a debate in contemporary terms, that is,
words and names, especially since Western lands have remained Western and
Eastern ones Eastern.
Columbus's 'discovery of America' was —should your memory fail
you— not a first, not a second, but the third discovery of America.
Once the shores of the continent were reached, it was certainly a
discovery or rediscovery of the Western Hemisphere, but was it the
discovery of America after all, even if we accept the present-day
ambiguity in that name?
It is almost like asking yourself who discovered 'New Holland' (Het
Niew Hollandt), or who discovered 'Rhodesia'.
It will not do to answer that the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first
to sight New Holland, or that the English were the first to 'legally'
appropriate the whole of Rhodesia.
Nowadays there are no New Holland or Rhodesia anymore to be discovered or
colonized; there are Australia, Zambia and Zimbabwe to be named and
respected in their own right.
"What's in a name?" you may think or object.
But in a name you may show respect and knowledgeableness and in a name you
may show disrespect or ignorance, even a complete lack of knowledge and
The name New Holland honored the people of the Province of Holland
in the Netherlands, or at any rate the elite of that province; the name
Rhodesia honored Cecil Rhodes, who led the British South Africa
Company that explored and colonized the area north of the Transvaal River;
and the name America is still supposed to honor Amerigo Vespucci,
the Italian explorer and cartographer who recognized a separate continent
in the lands Columbus had found instead of India or the Indies.
(The first to use the name on a map was Vespucci's German
fellow-cartographer Martin Waldseemüller, who still applied it only to
what was later called "South America".)
Little is needed to honor someone or something —only dishonoring
someone or something may be easier— but to do so without ignoring,
neglecting or disrespecting others is an entirely different matter.
What lack of respect would a permanent and official name New
Holland, or New England for that matter, have meant to the
aborigines of Australia; what lack of respect did the name Rhodesia
mean to the indigenous population of what are now Zambia and Zimbabwe?
I know it will not be a mighty popular suggestion during my own lifetime,
yet i am convinced that some day in the future humanity will look back at
the name America for one or two of this planet's continents in the
same way as we now look back at names such as New Holland for that
other continent and Northern and Southern Rhodesia for two
countries in Africa.
What we can learn from history is not that the name America for
the whole hemisphere and its continents will and must be kept forever in
spite of its exclusivist origin, but that it can be changed and probably
will be changed eventually.
However, there is one simple but crucial condition for a change of name:
there must be a suitable one to replace the old 'denomination'.
It cannot be a territorially exclusivistic name in which one particular
country or region is arbitrarily given priority over all others; or an
ethnically exclusivistic name which contains a reference to the one
ethnic group or totality of related groups and not to the other.
The Western Hemisphere is not only the native home of people traditionally
called "American Indians" (now a double misnomer) but also the
native home of the peoples of the Arctic region.
The name for the landmass which extends from Alaska and Greenland in the
north to the Big Island (Isla Grande) of Tierra del Fuego in the
south cannot be
exclusivistic anymore either in that it
is derived from the name of a particular person, native or nonnative.
In the case of natural hemispheres or continents the use of the name of
one individual, family or group to name them could only be justifiable,
as far as human beings are concerned, if there were enough continents to
be named after all individuals or groups that have not forfeited their
right to be treated as equals in this respect.
There is at least one type of solution, albeit, perhaps, a rather prosaic
one: we could use numbers, just as some nations use them to name the
months of the year; in chronological order, that is.
(On the Chinese Gregorian-Christian calendar 一月, yīyuè or
'Month One' is January, 二月, èryuè or 'Month Two' February, 三月,
sānyuè or 'Month Three' March, and so on.)
For continents we could use area as the criterion of numbering, which
seems very simple, but has its own complications, because there is no
single continent model of the world.
There is one four-continent model (with both Afro-Eurasia and America as
one continent, besides Australia and Antarctica), one seven-continent model
(with everything subdivided, also North and South America), and in between
two or three five-continent models (with or without Antarctica) and two
Sure, Asia, Eurasia or Afro-Eurasia is number 1, but how to continue from
there; and is 'Continent One' Afro-Eurasia, Eurasia or 'only' Asia?
Moreover, is size the sole and/or best criterion to base our choice upon?
Taking the first discovery by human beings as the criterion Africa or
Afro-Eurasia, the cradle of humanity, would definitely be 'Continent
One', you would say.
However, we have already rejected such a criterion as speciesistic —
it would put Afro-Eurasia back in the Western (!) Hemisphere.
And even when we have sorted all this out, there is still the question of
the numerical terminology itself.
We just cannot base global names exclusively on one or a few of the
languages spoken around the Mediterranean Sea.
Scientists have based an extensive quasi-scientific vocabulary on a small
selection of these languages but the terms and names thus obtained can
only be presented as 'universal' from a blatantly Eurocentric or
Clear it had become to me that America as the name of a hemisphere
and a continent or pair of continents would not do anymore; still
unclear, however, which name would be good enough to replace it.
Obviously, i had been wondering what the indigenous people used to call
their own continent in pre-Columbian times, assuming they had any notion
of this huge landmass extending far beyond their ethnic and political
This would also free us from the misnomer Indian, for if the new
name would be, say, ABeCeia —a nonsensical name— the
people referred to would automatically become 'native ABeCeians', together
with the Arctic peoples.
(It actually follows that no name for the hemisphere will provide us with
a separate own name for the Arctic and the non-Arctic native peoples
First nation(s) and native people(s) are not really names:
they are descriptions which apply to the first nations in all continents
except Antarctica, and to the native peoples of the Eastern Hemisphere
and any island as well.
At the same time, the names for national, regional or local territories
or ethnic groups were (and are) seldom or never appropriate for
referring to much larger territories or groups.
Clear and unclear this matter of the naming of the Western Hemisphere had
remained to me, until i visited the area of the ancient Mayas covering the
contemporary countries and parts of countries Southeastern Mexico (from
the states of Chiapas to Quintana Roo), Belize, Guatamala, El Salvador and
Western Honduras in the seventy-fifth year after the end of the Second
(I did not visit the last two countries.)
It was during this trip, at Uxmal, a Mayan archeological site in the
Mexican state of Yucatán, that i bought a little booklet, entitled "THE
MAYAN CALENDAR MADE EASY",
written by Sandy Huff and dated 1984.
It promised to be 'a simple, step-by-step guide to reading dates on
stele[s], lintels and other Maya monuments'.
I bought it for some better understanding of the role of the base-20
numeral system in their calendar, which is actually a combination of
two calendars, one with a 260-day cycle called "the tonalamatl",
and one with a 365-day cycle called "the haab".
This matter turned out to be dealt with in the first part of the booklet.
The second part was about a 'BIO-MATHEMATICAL BASIS OF THE MAYAN
and the third supposedly about the 'ORIGIN OF THE MAYAN
both by José Díaz-Bolio, the author too, it is repeated, of The
Feathered Serpent[,] Axis of Cultures.
In Huff's book Díaz-Bolio argues that the Mayan symbol of the Feathered
Serpent is the symbol of a feathered rattlesnake.
According to him the attributes of this 'feared and yet phenomenal viper'
had enormous cultural implications for the Mayan civilization in which it
occurs as the Ahau-Can, 'the supreme and lordly serpent'.
(Ahau, also spelled ahaw, means lord; can,
also spelled kan, means snake.)
Díaz-Bolio claims that the ancient Mayans knew that their totemic serpent
grows new fangs every twenty days.
The Feathered Serpent thus became a chronological symbol which lies at
the base of the number 20 in the Mayan calendaric count.
But the other significant number, 13, in the 260-day cycle of the sacred
tonalamatl is also claimed to be found in the rattlers, because the
central part of their dorsal skin shows a pattern of interlocking squares
of which each side is formed of thirteen scales!
Moreover, each snake has two rows of labial scales, for a total of
(2*2*13=)52, the exact number of years in the
eternally repeating combined cycle of the tonalamatl and the haab.
(Innocent laypeople are made to believe that these 52 years constitute
'a Mayan century', but this is sheer nonsense for two reasons.
Firstly, a 'century' is a longitudinal concept in the presently most
frequently used Gregorian-Christian calendar, and in any monocyclic
calendar; 'longitudinal', because there is only one time dimension
subdivided on the basis of one numeral system in which numbers denoted
by 1, 10, 100, and so on, are suggested to be significant, which they
are not in reality, of course, unless the base of that system happens
to be relevant in the context at issue.
The Mayan 52-year period, however, stands for a cyclic concept;
'cyclic', because there are two subdivisions of the time dimension on
the basis of two different base numbers whose beginnings only coincide
every so many days or years, thus creating a cycle and a point in time
which is significant outside either numeral system.
The second reason why the use of century for a 52-year period
makes no sense whatsoever is that its morpheme cent means
100, which is a hundred years in the base-10 system, denary 169
years in a base-13 and denary 400 years in a base-20 system.
All these periods are purely longitudinal, and the
so-called "year" in the base-13 system is only
a 260-day period, so that the base-13 'century' is approximately 120.4
(solar) years of 365 days long.
If it made any sense at all, a Mayan cyclic 'century' might last
120.4*400=48,153.4 years or 926.0 periods of 52 years.
Note that the Gregorian-Christian calendar, like the Mayan calendar,
also recognizes two cycles: a solar cycle of, say, 365.24219 days,
and a week cycle of 7 days.
Just as the 365-day haab and the 260-day tonalamatl can be represented
by cog wheels of different sizes meshing together at the point where they
touch, so the 365.2-day long standard year and the 7-day week can be
represented by cog wheels of much more divergent sizes meshing together.
The beginning day of the yearly cycle, that is, 1 January, and the one of
the weekly cycle, that is, Monday or Sunday, will occur together
once every seven years.
You would not call this 7-year period "a century", would you?)
MAYAN NUMBERS IN GLYPHS AND SPEECH
||ka'(a), ca(a), cha'|
||ox, óox, ux|
||kan, can, chan|
||ho(o), hó, ho'|
||lah(-)ca, lahu-ca, laj ka', laj cha'|
||hun( )kal, winak, uin|
On the left the numbers are represented by Hindu-Arabic figures.
The Mayan glyphs are of the geometric (instead of anthropomorphic)
Morphemes are in boldface when shown for the first time and occurring
more than once in this table.
The phrase lahka-tu-kakal literally
means ten-two and two-score, that is,
Even if we assume that the numbers are correct and not cherry-picked in
that other numbers are also correct but just ignored because they do not
serve the purpose, what Díaz-Bolio proves at most is that there is a
correlation between the occurrence of two numbers in the physical
appearance of the rattlesnake and the occurrence of the same two numbers
in the design of the Mayan calendar.
What the author does not prove is what came first: did the cult of the
serpent provide the base of the counting system and calendar; or, did the
base of the counting system create the special interest in this particular
The thing which is most overwhelmingly in favor of the counting system as
being first is the subdivision of the numbers 1 to 20 in two sets of ten
and four sets of five, both in the written language (with dots and strokes
or bars) and, so far as the two sets of ten are concerned, in the spoken
language of the Mayas.
It is a subdivision one does not find back in Díaz-Bolio's Crotalus
durissus — at any rate, the author nowhere mentions it.
The subdivision unmistakingly reflects the arrangement of (human) digits
in the standard human body: ten on the higher extremities, called
"fingers" and ten on the lower ones, called "toes".
Subsequently, the ten fingers are divided over two hands with five fingers
each, the ten toes over two feet with five toes each.
No rattlesnake had to be involved in the Mayas' choice of 20 as the base
of their numeral system; just following the arrangement and number of
their very own digits sufficed.
(This may explain the significance of the number 20, but what made 13 a
significant enough number too to enter the design of the Mayan calendar?
Let there be thirteen rattles in a rattlesnake's tail; and those who are
willing to see it may see thirteen rectangles on the shell of a turtle.
Yet, there is no reason to go that far from home.
We can stay as close to our own bodies as in the case of our digits: with
its two ankles, two knees, two hips, two wrists, two elbows, two shoulders
and one neck the human body has thirteen major joints to keep each
of us going.
in itself may already underlie the sacredness attached by the Mayans to
oxlahun — ox for 3 and lahun or lajun
On the basis of both twenty and thirteen, the sacred cycle in the Mayas'
double calendar is simply 13*20=260 days long.
The other —say, 'secular'— cycle is a solar year of 365 days
divided into 18 periods of 20 days, the remainder being put aside as five
unhappy days; the same five days which were much later put aside as happy
complementary days in the denary French Republican calendar.
From a purely natural perspective, of course, a 20-day period is as
artificial as a 10- or 7-day period, whether it is said to be a 'month' or
a 'week'; and so is a 260-day period, regardless of its being called "a
sacred year" or not.)
Díaz-Bolio goes on to point out that the fingerprints of the Ahau-Can are
found along the whole 'continent' (that is, hemisphere), excepting Alaska.
And also that it becomes adult when adding the seventh rattle, which
elevates 7 to sacredness as well.
Here i would like to wake up anyone who has fallen asleep during all this
cabalistic juggling; wake that person up with a loud bang.
The bang is in the following literal citation of the last of eleven notes
after the last of six addenda (on page IX-9):
Considering the predominance of the Ahau-Can along the continent, a more
proper name for it should be The Ajaucania — America is a
beautiful but foreign name.
José Díaz-Bolio, in
The Mayan Calendar Made Easy
by Sandy Huff
With or without a bang, three things should strike us in this statement:
- Díaz-Bolio does not accept America as a God-given or
human-devised name for eternity anymore to refer to the Mayas' Western
Hemisphere, treated by him as one continent.
However, he is polite, friendly even, by suggesting that America
is a 'proper' (and beautiful) name too, but that the hemisphere should
be given a more proper name.
- The author proposes the name The Aujaucania as a replacement
of America in continental or hemispherical usage.
The function of the capitalized article in this name is not clear to me.
Should it resemble the phrase The Americas, but Aujaucania
is not a plural, is it?
(Because there used to be a seaway, and now there is only that narrow
isthmus between the two, a plural could make sense.)
- The author bases the proposed name on the 'predominance of the
Ahau-Can', so why is Ahau-Cania or Ahaucania not proposed
The question is whether Ajau, like Ahaw, is a mere
spelling variant, or whether it is also meant to be pronounced
'America is a foreign name'.
Indeed, as foreign as Saint Croix in Ay Ay (The River, a Taino
name), Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten in Soualiga (The Land of Salt, an
Arawak name) or Saint Vincent in Hairouna (The Land of the Blessed,
a Kalinago name) — every Saint name, not for a church, but
for an island, even a whole country, expresses the temporal power and
spiritual arrogance of pan-Christian colonialism in alliance with imperial
What had the strongest effect on me, when discovering the above passage
by Díaz-Bolio (before writing this article), was the fact that i was not
the only one in the world to look at America as an outdated name
for the whole of what i too had been seduced into believing to be the
'Western Hemisphere' for the wrong reason.
Outdated in this particular case not so much because of a change in
language —substituting a k for the c, as may be common
in other languages using the Latin script, will be confined to spelling
only— but because of a change which reaches much further than that:
a change in norms and values as they are accepted by the majority of a
national or international population.
That change is in the direction of what is now more and more often
formulated as "diversity and inclusion" or "inclusivity".
This is not a formulation to be thoughtlessly copied, if only because
diversity is, strictly speaking, an
"The more diverse the better" may be right for a means to a higher end in
a concrete situation, to take it as true ad infinitum without
qualifications is preposterous, nay, perverse.
Nonetheless, if we make it stand for something sensible and inclusive in
the current context it means no more and no less than the recognition in
word and in deed of the actually given ethnic diversity in a territory,
community or society.
With this new normative insight we should not, cannot and will not make
the mistakes, do the wrongs and commit the crimes of the past anymore; and
with this new normative insight we should also refuse to act and behave,
and to continue to act and behave, as if they never happened.
Nowadays, only an ignorant mind will claim that Columbus discovered a new
continent called "America".
When the people on Columbus's three small but speedy ships discovered a
part of the world new to them, they were not the first, not even the
second group of people to discover that part of the world; they were at
least the third group.
Yet, while he may be the third discoverer, i do not think —not even
hope— that Columbus will enter future history as the third
discoverer of Ajaucania.
Díaz-Bolio wants to call the hemisphere after the rattlesnake, but when we
take all the thirty-three species of rattlesnakes (belonging to
Crotalus and one other genus) together they are found from southern
Canada to central Argentina.
This may sound impressive, but excludes all the Arctic lands in Alaska,
Northern Canada and Greenland, where the natives are not (American or
Canadian) 'Indians' or First Nations, but 'Aboriginal' or 'First Peoples'
and most closely related to the Mongolians.
Hence, as far as the territorial distribution of the rattlesnake is
concerned, the name Ajaucania may quite well represent one
racially distinct indigenous group, but the other one not at all.
(Because who would deny that the name Ajaucanians for the people
of the former ethnicity is not a better one than that blasted
Indians coming from European explorers struck by confusion?)
While the peoples of the far North may rightly regard Ajaucania
racially exclusivistic as a name for the entire hemisphere, this
is only one respect in which the name is not genuinely inclusive, to put
The reference to the rattlesnake in the name is not made because it is a
unique animal or plant species with a wider distribution in the hemisphere
than any other species which is found only in this part of the world.
(I would not know to which animal or plant this description actually
No, this is not the idea behind the name at all, if only because in the
name for the rattlesnake itself it is explicitly portrayed as a 'Lord
I may be mistaken, but nowhere does Díaz-Bolio use the regular Maya word
for the feathered serpent: the word kukulkan, spelled
kukulcán in Spanish.
(See the above picture of what the Spanish conquerors called "El Castillo".)
Is kukulkan perhaps too ordinary a name, lacking any reference to
the Lordly status of the snake?
The choice of Ahau-Can is definitely part of a religious proposal.
Moreover, it builds on a notion or feeling of sacredness which is
selective and does not apply to all ancient supernaturalist belief or
religion in the same hemisphere; not of the pre-Columbian varieties, let
alone of the pre- and post-Columbian ones together.
Even if it did, it would still be religiously exclusivistic, and in a
and ideologically exclusivistic, to base the name of a natural landmass,
inhabited by people of very diverse beliefs and nonbeliefs on the
idea(s) espoused in religion, or in one
particular religious or other ideology.
If i leave no doubt about my rejection of Díaz-Bolio's Ajaucania
proposal, this does not mean that i was not very pleasantly surprised to
unexpectedly find this renaming proposal in a little booklet about the Maya civilization.
At the time it was a surprise for me to find any renaming proposal.
Moreover, finding such a proposal in a book, however small, raised the
issue to a more serious level and triggered my interest in it.
As a matter of fact, after starting to write this article i also learned
of the proposed use for the whole hemisphere of the Guna name Abya
Kuna Yala is a provincial-level indigenous region in the Republic of
Panama bordering the Caribbean Sea but not the Gulf of Panama or the
For sure, Abya Yala is a native name rather than one foisted on a
population by foreigners.
And yet, it is no more than another example of what i would not
have in mind, if only because it does not have a suitable adjective which
can also be used as a noun.
(Or are we going to speak of "an Abya Yala country" and "an Abya Yala
Those interested are being told that it traditionally denotes the area
where the Guna people live, that it means land in its full maturity
or land of vital blood in their language, and that the Guna now
— also or not also— employ it to refer to the entire 'American
However, this is only the last part of the story.
The complete story is part of a belief that life on Earth has developed
in four cycles: Kualagun Yala, Tagargun Yala, Tingua Yala, and Abya
Today we happen to live in the last stage, which repeats a familiar
phenomenon in the history of all humanity: someone or a group claiming to
be the last prophet or community of their kind; or claiming their
'knowledge' (science or philosophy) to be the last in their field.
There could be some justification in the use of the name of the territory
of the Guna people as a pars pro toto if it included the
(narrowest) isthmus between North and South America, and stretched
a mari usque ad mare —the Canadian motto meaning from sea
to sea— that is, from (what is ultimately) the Atlantic Ocean
to (what is ultimately) the Pacific Ocean.
Nonetheless, i learned while writing this article, that Abya Yala
was chosen as an alternative name of the whole continent by the
now-defunct World Council of Indigenous Peoples in the year 1992 of the
More sense would it make to propose a name based on Panama, the
indigenous name of uncertain origin referring to the country with the
narrowest land bridge in the hemisphere, the Isthmus of Panama.
This is the very place where about 2.6 million years ago the two
continents of the hemisphere were actually separated from each other by
And this is the country which also has an Isthmian Hymn as its national
Adding the -ica suffix of Africa and former America
for the hemisphere would turn its name into Panamaica, a name
which sounds like a combining form of Panama and Jamaica
exclusively, and is actually already used that way.
Another option is to use the -ia suffix of Asia and
Australia either after adding an n first or instead of the
Adding an n will create the adjective Panamanian, but this
is already exactly the adjective which goes with Panama, the
Replacing the last a of Panama with ia will result
in Panamia, with stress on the second syllable.
Panama itself will then be the Central Panamian region where the two
continents 'North Panamia' and 'South Panamia' continue to come together
after the closure of the 'Central Panamian Seaway' millions of years ago.
Yet, despite Panama's special place in the Western Hemisphere between its
two continents, it may not be (found) acceptable to use the name of only
one of all its countries as the basis for the name of the whole
(Moreover, as happens more often, the origin of its name might turn out
to be not that innocuous in the future.)
One thing is sure tho: proposals for a new name for the Western
Hemisphere are not surprising, let alone taboo, anymore, and the challenge
to find a suitable non-compass name for this second-largest landmass of
the world is greater than ever in a time in which the social, political
and denominational role of inclusivity is being better defined and
The continents to the east of Asia and Australia and to the west of
Africa and Europe finally deserve a common name which is not too narrow
and not too broad; not too narrow in that it values exclusivity or
exclusion over inclusiveness, and not too broad in that it could refer to
any other landmass as well.
Naturally, this name must not flout truthfulness or any other such
fundamental criterion either.
The old Europeans decided to call the new world "America", Díaz-Bolio
proposed to call it "The Ajaucania" in honor of a Lordly Snake, members
of an international indigenous council proposed to call it "Abya Yala"
in honor of the Guna people, but it makes no sense and will not do to
replace a foreign exclusivism in the naming of a natural landmass with a
native one, that is, one manifested by the natives instead.
It would be as futile as replacing an error of the past with an error of
the present to be inherited by the future.
Eventually we must surpass both native and nonnative ethnically,
territorially, denominationally or otherwise skewed choices.
Only then can we find an acceptable name, and only then may we think of
this name as the fourth discovery of the Western Hemisphere, albeit not
in the sense in which Asians discovered the land for all humanity first
and in which Europeans discovered it for themselves later.
Unless its capitalization follows a general rule, i spell the
first-person singular pronoun in
with a small i, as i do not consider myself a God, a Supreme
Being or anything else of that Ilk.
Where a choice between spellings does not depend on the application of
a morphological rule, i prefer to use the most phonematic ('phonetic'),
or the least unphonematic, variant.
1 The first line of Rudyard
Kipling's 1889 poem The Ballad of East and West is Oh,
East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.
(The third line is But there is neither East nor West, Border,
nor Breed, nor Birth.)
See, for example,
archive.org/details/[ ]rudyardkiplingsv0000kipl/[ ]page/232.
2 See, for example,
3 The phrase Indo-European
language family is dubious, if not discriminatory, because a
European language need not at all be related to English and Spanish.
(Take the Finnish and Basque languages, for instance.)
Unlike Indo-European, a term such as Sanskrit-related
or Assamese-to-Icelandic does not in any way suggest that
all languages of the Indian subcontinent and the European
(sub)continent are 'Indo-European'.
Or 'Euro-Indian', for that matter.
4 pp.1-40: THE MAYAN CALENDAR
MADE EASY, A simple, step-by-step guide to reading dates on
stel[a]e, lintels and other Maya monuments, Sandy Huff, ©1984
Sandy Huff, Safety Harbor, Florida, USA.
5 pp. III-XVI: BIO-MATHEMATICAL
BASIS OF THE MAYAN CALENDAR by José DIAZ-BOLIO, AUTHOR OF "LA
SERPIENTE EMPLUMADA, EJE DE CULTURAS" (The Feathered Serpent[,]
Axis of Cultures), Edited by Sandy Huff, author of "THE
MAYAN CALENDAR MADE EASY", Copyright, 1994.
(On the cover Díaz Bolio is spelled without a hyphen.)
6 pp. I-1 to XI-11: PRESENCE OF pi
IN PRECOLUMBIAN ARCHITECTURE, By José DIAZ-BOLIO, with an APPENDIX
and 28 (unnumbered) pages of archeological designs based on 'the
Canamayté-proportional diagram of the Ajau-Can (royal) rattlesnake
[Crotalus] [d]urissus of the [M]ayans'.
(In the word canamayt[e], can means serpent,
and amayte, square.)
7 In the foreword on page IV, Sandy
Huff writes that José Díaz-Bolio conceived the idea at 'Old'
Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, in 1942; 'an idea which became a fact after
years studying the archaeological representations of the [Feathered
Serpent] symbol in ancient Yucatan, Mexico and Central
Compare the use of the antiquated two score and twelve by
Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities at the beginning of
Chapter XIII, Fifty-two, of Book III, The Track of a
Storm: "In the black prison of the Conciergerie, the doomed of
the day awaited their fate. They were in number as the weeks of the
year. Fifty-two were to roll that afternoon on the life-tide of the
city to the boundless everlasting sea. ... Two score and twelve
were told off."
See, for example, A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens, Pocket
Books, New York, 1939-1948, p. 404; or
www.gutenberg.org/[ ]files/98/98-h/98-h.htm[ ]#link2H_4_0046.
9 There are also present-day
names which clearly resemble and are derived from the native names,
such as Cuba (from Cobao/ Cubao/ Coabana),
Jamaica (from Xaymaca) and Saba
The native names in the area can be found in the Wikipedia,
especially in the article entitled "List of indigenous names of
Eastern Caribbean islands" at
en.wikipedia.org/[ ]wiki/[ ]List_of_indigenous_names_[
10 The booklet cost me a mere
115 Mexican pesos.
11 See the first paragraph of
Self-Determination: A Perspective from Abya Yala by Emilio
del Valle Escalante, May 20 2014 at www.e-ir.info/[ ]2014/05/20/[
12 See, for example,
ca.wikipedia.org/[ ]wiki/Abya_Yala and
Only the last two, Catalan and Dutch, versions mention the year
The proposal came from the Aymara revolutionary leader Takir
13 This World Council of Indigenous
Peoples was to dissolve four years later, in 1996, due to internal