Pictures of the Past
A 4,000 year-old rock painting near Comstock — the White Shaman Panel — reveals an astounding depth of geographic knowledge and the creation story of an ancient people who are distant relatives of Mexican Americans, according to a lecture produced by Indigenous Cultures Institute and currently touring four Texas cities.
The lecture, featuring Dr. Mario Garza and Gary Perez, comes to San Marcos on Saturday, Aug. 31, hosted by the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos at 211 Lee Street, from 2-4 p.m. The lecture tour is made possible in part by a grant from Humanities Texas, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The White Shaman mural is part of an on-going archeological study by The Shumla School, Inc., a nonprofit headed by Dr. Carolyn E. Boyd, who has been studying the pictographs in the lower Pecos area for more than two decades. Through meticulous documentation and ethnographic analysis, Boyd determined that the White Shaman mural is a planned composition.
Every image is intentionally placed. Just as words on a page, it is a visual text communicating a narrative through graphic vocabulary. Though the artists are gone, she argues that the sacred stories and belief systems of the people who produced the art have remained over the centuries. They endure in the shared symbolic language of contemporary native peoples.
Boyd identified patterns in the art that parallel rituals and iconographies of many Mesoamerican groups, in particular those of the Huichol and Aztec. She argues that the White Shaman is a creation story detailing the birth of the sun and the protocols for ritually participating in this cosmic event. In a sense, it is a cosmological map. The Institute consulted with Boyd in preparing the lecture presentations and materials.
“The preliminary work for this lecture was begun by Gary Perez, when he first saw the panel and realized that the symbols and images looked familiar against the backdrop of his many years of ceremonial experiences with numerous tribes and traditions,” says Garza, the Institute’s board of directors chair and one of the two lecturers. “Expanding on Boyd’s references to Mesoamerican groups, we explain why we believe that the painting was done by Coahuiltecan people.”
In his part of the lecture presentation, Perez, director of the Institute’s Sacred Sites Programs, details how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology is used to interpret the panel and its relationship to the Coahuiltecan sacred sites.
According to the research and study conducted by the Institute’s associates and scientists who support their work, the White Shaman Panel depicts the geographic locations of sites that were sacred to the ancient recorders of this information. Some of the sites on the panel include fountain springs such as Barton Springs in Austin, the springs in San Marcos, Comal Springs in New Braunfels, and the San Antonio headwaters.
Dr. Garza, who is a member of the Texas recognized Miakan-Garza Band of the Coahuiltecan people, focuses on how the panel describes the creation story of his ancient ancestors. He explains that the figures appear to tell the story of a journey through the underworld, and the birth of the People onto the surface of Mother Earth — mirroring many of the elements and symbols of the current Native American Church ceremony. He explains how the 95-year-old NAC ceremony institutionalized by Comanche Quanah Parker evolved from the age-old Coahuiltecan ceremony.
“As a state-wide society we all would benefit from a better understanding of the social, cultural and ethnic diversity that comprise our communities,” says Jon Lohse, director of the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University. “This is particularly true across Central and South Texas, where many people of Coahuiltecan descent continue to reside but struggle for social recognition.”
This lecture offers a rare opportunity to learn about the amazing geographic knowledge and abiding spiritual faith that has sustained a group of people whose core belief is to follow the natural way and remain in balance with Mother Earth and the cosmos. For more information visit www.IndigenousCultures.org.