National Geographic : 2013 Aug
a long way through the forest to a secret cave and scrabbled down to its center on a scary rope system to bring up the water the ceremony re- quired. ey had raised the altar, dug the pib, gone to enormous expense to provide 13 fat hens for the ritual meal, guarded the altar overnight while praying and drinking balché, patted out the stacks of 13-layer corn-and-squash-seed breads that no women had been allowed to touch, cooked them in the pib, and brought them out of their ery bed again, leaving the pit open so that the steam could rise directly to the rain god as an o ering. And now the hmem, Hipólito Puuc Tamay, a slow-moving, leathery man in a red baseball cap and much washed shirt, was standing in front of the altar praying to Chaak, to Jesus Christ, to all the saints, to San Juan Bautista, to the forces of the Earth and sky, and to Chaak again, to let the holy blessing of rain fall on them and on all the surrounding Maya communities so that they might survive one more full cycle of the sun. On instructions from the hmem, one of the villagers crouched on a rock behind and to one side of the altar, keeping very still, only blowing from time to time into one of the gourds in which Chaak stores the wind. He was just one of the neighbors, but he was also the rain god, and he sat with his eyes closed so as not to harm the ceremony with his terrible glance. Two other participants brought him to the altar, facing backward, to receive the hmem's neutralizing blessing. And there the little frogs were too, ve slightly abashed boys crouching at the foot of the world altar, one boy at each corner and one at the cen- ter, four of them saying, hmaa, hmaa, hmaa, and the h, lek lek lek lek lek, a blended sound re- markably like that of frogs in the evening rain. Out of nowhere a wind came up in the clear- ing. under rolled in the blue distance. As the ceremonial meal of chicken and the corn-and-seed bread was being distributed to the exhausted men, the rain started---a light, refreshing summer shower. A sign, the hmem said, that Chaak had received his o ering and was pleased with his people's prayer. Soon, per- haps, the Earth would be ready for planting. j --- .