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The Plazas of Mérida »« The Ruins of Aké

The Legend of the Makech

Jürgen and I aren’t the types to spend much time thinking about jewelry. Neither of us owns a single piece, not a ring nor a bracelet, and I very rarely notice the jewelry worn by other people. But when the piece in question is a living beetle crawling around the chest of the person wearing it, it’s a little hard to ignore.

The Yucatan Makech

The Makech is one of the strangest fashion items we’ve ever seen. These are large beetles, found only in the Yucatán peninsula, with broad shells that can be decorated with little gemstones. The beetles feed on tiny sporophores found in a certain type of wood, and can live up to eight months. Attached to a golden chain, they’re worn as pendants by Maya women and kept as pets.

According to legend, a Maya princess from long ago was destined to marry the prince of a neighboring kingdom, but instead she fell in love with a noble warrior from her village. Enraged, her father announced his intention to kill the warrior. Fear-stricken, the princess pleaded for the young man’s life. If he were spared, she promised to willingly marry the prince as had been planned.

The king listened to his sobbing daughter and consoled her. “Don’t worry, your handsome warrior shall live”. And he kept his word… in a way. A practitioner of the dark arts was called in, and turned the warrior into a beetle. The horrified princess scooped up her beloved and carried him to her room. She adorned him with the most beautiful jewels she could find and placed him on her breast, so he would always be near her heart.

The Makech is a custom on its way out. It’s exceptionally rare to see women actually wearing one, and finding a store which sells them can be tricky. We asked around Mérida’s Mercado de Artesanias, on Calle 65/58, and eventually tracked down a shop that had a few richly-decorated makeches stumbling around a little cage. I held one briefly. They’re quite large and powerful, and I couldn’t imagine it crawling around my chest all day, even if it were my lost beloved.

Location of the Mercado de Artesanias

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The Yucatan Makech

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February 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm
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