IN MAYA TIME: Special event comes to UCSD’s Institute of the Americas in La Jolla

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt

The Mayans of Mesoamerica, masters of math and astronomy, were known for having the most sophisticated calendar in the ancient world, including a 260-day year and a “long count” — a cycle of 5,125 years.Unless you’ve been living underground, you’ve heard something about the “Mayan prophecies,” as the current cycle of time is due to end Dec. 21, 2012 — less than a year and a half from now. On that day (the winter solstice) the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years.

A number of books, blogs, and talk shows have been discussing this date for the past half-decade. What does it mean? The dawning of a new age? The end of the world as we know it? Or just the start of another long countdown into the future?

This month, the Institute of the Americas, is staging a three-evening event to bring some of these issues to light. “Heading Toward 2012: The Grandeur of the Mayas” will feature a talk by

Don Gaspar Xiu, professor, politician, and descendent of a dynasty of Mayan kings, and three showings of a new documentary about the meaning of the Mayan calendar, “The Alignment Within.”

The Institute, on the campus of UCSD since 1983, generally focuses on Latin American policy and economic issues. From time to time, they also stage cultural events.

“There’s been a lot of interest in the Mayans as 2012 approaches,” said Isabel Escale, director of community programs. “Many people are saying they’re influenced by the Mayan calendar, and that it has changed their lives. This event will bring up questions about who we are, the world we live in, and the rules we live by. It’s a hot topic. I’m curious myself about how it portends for the future.”

José Jaramillo, director of “The Alignment Within” and an earlier film about the Mayan concept of time, “Between Two Worlds,” explained the distinction between the Mayan calendar and the Gregorian one we’ve been using for the past 450 years.

“The Mayans understood time science,” he said. “The Mayan calendar is a sacred calendar, and more scientific than the Gregorian one. It’s a system that keeps everything in order, in harmony with the universe. It helps you understand why you are here.”

According to the Mayans, when one cycle ended, another began. “Like the waves of the ocean,” Jaramillo said.

“The main purpose of the Mayan calendar is not just about discovering the alignment of the solstice sun with the center of the galaxy in 2012,” he explained. “It’s ultimately about connecting the universe with the core of oneself, so that at the end of the great cycle we all will manage to achieve an alignment within.”

Jaramillo is working on a documentary about Don Gaspar Xiu called “The Last Mayan King: Holder of the Prophecies.”

If you go

What: Heading Toward 2012: The Grandeur of the Mayas

Where: Institute of the Americas,

Hojel Hall of the Americas Auditorium

10111 North Torrey Pines Road

Aug. 17, 7:30 p.m.: Keynote speech by Don Gaspar Xiu “The Signs of Maya Prophecies” (in Spanish, with English translation)

Aug. 18: 7:30 p.m.: Premiere of “The Alignment Within” followed by Q&A with director José Jaramillo.

Aug. 19, 7:30 and 9 p.m.: Additional showings of “The Alignment Within”

Admission to screenings includes refreshments and DVD of Jaramillo’s first film, “Between Two Worlds.”

Tickets: Online registration requested, $20-$15, cash only at the door. Web:

Phone: (619) 559-4493 or (858) 453-5560 ext. 122