National Geographic Society funds to develop the Santa Familia Primary School Forest Garden - Känan K’aax, the official signing of the first installment of the funds took place on Thursday, May 19.
Strengthening our collaboration, Exploring Solutions Past: The Maya Forest Alliance of Santa Barbara California has joined with the El Pilar Forest Garden. Network of Santa Familia, Cayo, Belize to work in their beautiful and creative Maya forest garden named Känan K’aax, well tended garden in Mayan. This joint project has been enhanced this year with a grant from the National Geographic Society supporting the construction of a protective fence, outhouse, and galleria for school class assembly within the acre forest garden plot that the Santa Familia school administration set aside for the promotion of the model heritage conservation food forest.
The dream of the El Pilar Forest Garden Network began with the work on the school plot in 2008, clearing the untended bush within the school land. With their skillful eye to important trees, selecting plants and eliminating others, and considering planned reforestation, this noble group of traditional Maya forest gardeners demonstrates how they manage the forest as a garden. Their familiarity with the landscape gave them the advantage and only three years later the canopy is growing, food and herbs are flourishing, orchids are blooming, and life has thrived in the forest garden. With all this design as a hands-on teaching center, the group faced problems: horses were tromping in the garden; chickens were scavenging from the plants, while some people were throwing trash and others were plundering the garden.
Alcario Cano, the late president and true visionary of the project, lamented the lack of the fence to honor their remarkable efforts and to protect the site from marauders. He would be proud of the activity at the site now. It was on the hot afternoon of May 19 when President Rusel Aldana and Anabel Ford proudly signed for the first installment of the funds that will realize the group’s plan of a garden teaching center for their community school children.
About El Pilar -
El Pilar is an ancient Maya city center located on the Belize-Guatemala border. It can be accessed from the Cayo District in Belize, 12 miles north-west of the town of San Ignacio, or from the department of El Petén in Guatemala, 19 miles north of Melchor de Mencos.
The El Pilar Archeological Reserve for Maya Flora and Fauna, was declared a cultural monument both in Guatemala and Belize, and covers 5,000 acres, half of which lies in each country. It is jointly managed by the Belize Institute of Archeology (IoA) and Guatemala's Instituto de Antropología e Historia (IDAEH). El Pilar is the largest site in the Belize River area with over 25 plazas, hundreds of other buildings, covering about 50 hectares (120 acres).
The name “El Pilar” is Spanish for “watering basin,” reflecting the abundance of water in the area, which is rare for the Maya world. A major archeological excavation project has been carried out since 1993. However, for conservation purposes most monuments are not exposed. The objective is to selectively and partially expose strategic areas.
Today one can see door jambs, walls, and rooms along the wooded trails. This is a style of presentation known as "Archaeology Under the Canopy" that leaves the monuments protected by forest foliage. The only fully exposed monument at the reserve is a house site called Tzunu’un, bringing attention to El Pilar’s unique focus on Maya houses and life ways. El Pilar also features a Maya forest garden to demonstrate traditional agricultural practices.
El Pilar has been under threat by looters and was placed on the World Monument Fund's 1996 list of 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World. The reserve is open to the public and has a series of trails providing access throughout the site. There is an active initiative to make El Pilar of Belize and Guatemala the first archaeological peace park in the world.
About Dr. Anabel Ford -
A distinguished Maya archaeologist has decoded the ancient Maya landscape. Living in the forest and relying on its bounty, Ford gained admiration for the local knowledge of the Maya forest garden.
She discovered El Pilar, a major Maya city linking Belize and Guatemala, where you can see the archaeological discovery of the site and appreciate traditional knowledge of the people living in the region today.
Currently she is working with the Sta Familia Primary School and the El Pilar Forest Garden Network in the development of a model Maya forest garden called Kanan Kaax with funds from National Geographic Society. She brings her extensive field experience and broad inquisitive mind to demystify the Maya. She is currently in Belize and can be contacted at BRASS Base 824-3612 or cellular number: 626-4008.