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Institutionalization of the Apocalyptic Tradition and the Erasure of

Indigenous Communities 

by Gabriela Pool 12.11.18





Institutions, have long been power structures that hold the ability to arrange what is living and what is dead through their traditional apocalypse imagination of death. In this essay, I reflect on my experience with the Yucatec Mayan community and their museum’s intent to display and pay “homage” to the community but, in turn cause its erasure. I analyze museums culture; who created them, for what purpose, and for whom, to shed light on why an institution like the University of California, Berkeley’s Hearst Museum, “holds” the authority to keep ancestral bones from their native Ohlone tribe. I will then break down the definition of “artifacts” and how the words’ connotation and connection to museums, work against the Ohlone Tribe's fight to get back their ancestor’s bones to continue their cycle of death and renewal. I consider Jose River’s Marisol, the theatrical adaptation of Julio Ortega’s Adios Ayacucho, and Beth Piatote’s Antikoni, as performative platforms that shed light on the struggle and ongoing pain these communities have endured for centuries. In doing so, I also wish to show the vast diversity under this indigenous branch that can put into perspective the grand struggle that not only the Ohlone tribe is facing in the US, but how many indigenous communities across the Americas have been going through the same struggle of recognition over centuries. Thus, ideas and topics that relate to translation, proper burial, and the apocalypse itself can either embrace, strategically, or refuse these ideas of the traditional apocalypse imagination of death, but they can never revise the pain and damage that they have caused to these communities.


Jose Rivera in his play Marisol discusses describes children, angelitos, that have died and not been acknowledge by society as they are buried in the sidewalk. Each sidewalk section is a tombstone that holds a coffin with only a scratch that names these children. Others, walk on top of these sidewalks and do not acknowledge was is underneath their feet. What is being done with these children and them not receiving a proper burial is societies general reaction to truths they do not want to hear. Thus, this reflects how many students, professors, administrators a whole “educational” hierarchy chooses to walk on land that has been stolen from the Ohlone tribe and do not acknowledge what they have done as they continue to cause pain to these communities. The university is just another institution that adds on to the list of institutions that exemplify their power when defining who is dead and who is alive in this traditional apocalypse imagination. Museums, are another one of these institutions that align with traditional apocalypse imagination death that I will further explore in this essay.


When I was younger, fieldtrips in school were majority of the time catered towards museums. There were those that were scientific and interactive and those that were cultural and artistic. However, none of them impacted me differently to beginning thinking of museums as institution with power structures, until the summer 2017. I was getting the opportunity to studying abroad in Yucatan, Mexico in “La Cuidad Blanca”, in Merida. Scheduled into the class, was a trip to “El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya.” The museum is located in an area of the city that caters to their tourist and wealthier class. Alongside the outskirts of the capital city you have smaller cabezeras, of pueblos where many indigenous Mayan families resided. I would know, because one of those families, that internally migrates into the city, is my own family. Thus, the internal migration by these indigenous communities validate the power structure of the capital and thus prove the underlying power location withholds in the establishments of museums.


We received a tour that began with us sitting in an interactive room and watching all environmental/scientific images that touched upon the comet that hit the Yucatan peninsula during the age of the dinosaurs. The exhibits that followed went on to reflect the era of the dinosaurs and then the Mayan culture. I understood how the first exhibit’s descriptions, that related to the scientific era, was written in the past tense. However, regarding the exhibition of the Mayan culture, I was confused and rather angered by how these exhibits describe the Mayans to be in the past tense when many of these indigenous communities are still present and still practicing their rituals. I even found “artifacts” that my family still uses up until this day and it hurt seeing them sit there in a glass box as people take pictures of them. Additionally, this museum housed many catholic “artifacts” and regard them as being part of the Mayan culture. It is not wrong, as Catholicism played a hurtful part in Mayan history, but what is wrong is the idea of glorifying these “artifacts” in the same room as “artifacts” that they took from indigenous communities. For me the idea of this “shared” exhibition is a fraud and a total disrespect to the Mayan community. In these “artifacts” being placed in the past tense shows the power structure institutions like museums withhold in the decision of arranging who is living and who is dead.


Majority of indigenous communities’ holdback on visiting these museums, that in accordance to their creators pay “homage” to their culture, because they feel like they are not welcomed. My maternal grandmother in our current trip to Yucatan recalled her experience with Chichen Itza. She remembers the first, and only time, she ever visited Chichen-Itza, it was not surrounded by surveillance, tourism, and capitalism, but rather embraced by nature with no one to enforce its ability. Now that is had become a location of tourism and power my grandmother feels like it is now an object that is limited to her and her people. Thus, proving how these museums are institutions that have no location limited and can surpass the four-sided walls out into nature. Thus, many Mayan communities have begun a movement called “Kuxaanoon” which in Yucatec Maya means “we are alive.” This phrase reflects the fight and ongoing pain these Mayan communities have had to endure with corporations and institutions, like the catholic church and museums, as they continue to put them in the past tense and to tell a history in which they are told to be dead. With my family being part of this Mayan culture I saw my them as being placed in glasses boxed and perceived as dead and fragile, but we are here and stronger than ever ready to fight for our culture.


Museums, first emerged as a form for “European royal families [to] demonstrate their wealth with cabinets of the exotic, the beautiful and the curious, and they showed their generosity by occasionally opening these collections to the public.” ”. Those who created the first museum where European, upper class, and royals with money. Museums were spaces where they would can displayed their power of possessingon to “exotic artifacts” and their ability to own locations to create these exhibitions they owned. Thus, even the word “exotic” brings up the conversation of its negative connation and meaning when using to describe those who do not fit in the colonizer white racewithin the colonizer’s view of what is “universal”. The power they withheld went beyond just owning these “artifacts”, as it extended to the power of owning the right to who gets tocould see these “artifacts” and who could not. As stated previously, ” as they occasionally allowed for their public displayto view the “artifacts” that were placed in these museums. Thus, the power to decide who and how could view these artifacts reflect the nature of the power structure in museums today. Therefore, museums can be perceived as power houses to corporations that can choose to display their private power publicly. 


This idea of withholding power went extendingextended furthermore with the start of “The scientific revolution of the 17th century [as] they saw museums become havens for research in the natural sciences”. This period was one a time in which during many scientist began to challenge traditional thinking. The search for new and revolutionary information lead to and many these “artifacts” that museums housed becameto become research materials that can to prove theories correctand to understand these “exotic” items through the colonizer’s point of view. Therefore, tThe scientific revolution just paved the way for these institutions to further lack a sense oflack empathy for any of these “artifacts” that have been violently taken away from rightful hands. Now, due to the scientific revolution, museum moved from the from being seen with a single purpose of , displaying wealth, to proving theories to a greater society as researchers increased their power over these “artifacts.”


To understand the creation of museum cultures, there is a need to first understand the meaning and the origin of artifacts. The definition of “artifacts” is also important to consider especially in the context of the bones held at Hearst Museum, as it will shed light on how they came to be regarded as such.  and how these ancestral bones maybe seen as “artifacts” and/or research material. An “artifact,” as defined by the Merrian-Wester in the dictionary is defined as,, “a usually simple object (such as a tool or ornament) showing human workmanship or modification as distinguished from a natural object.” An, “tool or ornament” are two words that contrast one another. A “tool” can be an object of use or practice while and “ornament” is a decorative item. However, none of these words describe bones or ancestral remains. Thus, this proves how holding the power of naming and defining “objects” becomes integral in further understanding museums and their culture. with these museums includingTo include bones within in their definition of “artifacts,” museums are modifying what an “artifact” is and is supposed to represent by using their credibility and status as an institution of power. In their ability to hold power and redefine the definition of words, they can reinterpret the meaning of “artifacts” that include valuables to indigenous communities that are in no way objects to them.   


To justify their definition, they go on to add. Additionally, in including the word there is a “diversity” in their definition of “artifacts”, reflects an attempt at shadowing what museums are doing when stating, “Yet, despite such diversity, they are bound by a common goal: the preservation and interpretation of some material aspect of society’s cultural consciousness.” In the usage of the word “diversity” they attempt to create a broad definition of “artifacts” to incorporate other “items” like bones. The interpretation of such definitionThis to me is just an add on tocan be made to justify the holding of the bones and what they have defined has already been defined as an “artifact” because now their argument is redefined by the needed of these “objects” for the cultural awareness of a larger society. The part that concerns me the most is how they reinforce the need for these bones as “artifacts”and how these “items” are connected to “society’s cultural consciousness.” Museums now are presenting these remains to be needed for society to gain knowledge. However, the “cultural consciousness” is not what society should be focusing on, but rather it is the unconscious part that they should be concerned about; how these “artifacts” were acquired and how many people they had to murder and colonize before these museums were able to put them on “display” should be the priority.


In keeping the Ohlone Tribe bones, The Hearts Museum, is using them as “research materials” and is doing what the museum in Yucatan did by placing indigenous communities in the past tense. Furthermore, to prove the capacity of their power they are retaining what they believe to be “artifacts and/or research materials” from communities that are still practicing of their cultures. Institutions like these ignore the facts that these communities are still present and in the mindset, that they are in the past, they feel like they have the power and freedom to whatever act upon these remains in which ever ways they decidethey want with these “artifacts.” First and foremost, by not allowing the Ohlone tribe to view their ancestor’s bones they are enforcing what museums originally were made for; only those with power, wealth, and in the upper hierarchy can get to decide who can and cannot view these “artifacts.” and when. Thus, if the Ohlone Tribe ever get the opportunity to see their ancestor’s bones, they, in the view of the colonizer, should be “grateful” that they grated are being granted exclusive access to a viewing that otherwise would be rare. Therefore, it is important to focus on the unconsciousness to the acquisition of these “artifacts” as they reflect centuries of pain and ongoing pain.


The colonization of the Americas was done by, Europeans and .tThe creation of museums by was done is no different as it was also carried out by Europeans. The are correlations between these two events and points in time and their purpose, up to this date, both are still causing pain to those they murder and continue to erase of the map even when they are fighting every day to exist and be seen. In them placing them in the past tense and refusing to allow the Ohlone tribe to have their ancestor’s bones, they are refusing to give a proper burial to these people and extending the ongoing pain and under recognition of these indigenous communities. Thus, museums are embracing the apocalyptic tradition of death, in a non-cyclical term, but through on a terminal perspective, and strategically attempting to revise it by on occasion having these “artifacts” be put on display. However, the Hearst museum does not even attempt to revise the damage they have caused and only display the power they withhold over the prevention of the viewing of these remains. The prevention of a proper burial will not allow the beginning of a new cycle. That is what is at stake for these ancestral remains and what the Ohlone tribe is trying to fight for. These bones are not research material and are not “exotic, ornament, dead, artifacts” that can put on display.


Beth Piatote, makes this point clear in Antikoni, as this play touches upon a woman, Antikoni, who is seeking a proper burial for her brothers remains. Antikoni, manages to define the law of the of museums as she describes these laws as inhumane as is the prisoner in in jail; the “artifact” is “preserved.” Her uncle, Kreon, is the director of the museums. When he gets the news of Antikoni taking her brothers remains alongside with other artifact to give them a proper burial Kreon is engulfed and infuriated by the actions of his niece. Thus, he explains that in the exhibition of these “artifacts” he has chosen the living over the dead to which Antikoni replies that he has chosen to make a living over the dead. Thus, her uncle shows vast loyalty to the law rather than their people. Ultimately, Antikoni ends up giving her life for her ancestors as she has done what is right and will not live as a prisoner. This play touches upon the current situation that is happening in the Hearst Museum in them not allowing the Ohlone tribe to have their ancestral remains to be given a proper burial. Additionally, the law is highly emphasized in this story and its power is one that we are currently seeing by University in correlation with Hearst Museums exemplify in them neglecting to return the remains.  Antikoni, shows the pain and struggle that the living is going through without the proper burial of their ancestor. However, in Adios Ayacucho we get to read from the perspective of the dead the suffering they have had to endure without a proper burial. 


In Adios Ayacucho we get to read about the pain one suffers without a proper of burial. Alfonso, a man who body has been mutilated and now is on a Journey to Lima, Peru to find the remains of his body. During this time, Peru was ravaged by war and many of their indigenous people were murdered and left for dead. “Adios Ayacucho”, is one out of the many recalled experiences by those who had to endure this pain. Alfonso, is not dead he is present and looking for his remains that will allow him to start a new cycle in his life. His story lines up with the myth of the Inca Emperor whose arrival in Lima, Peru will signify his return. This oral experience is one that refuses the traditional apocalyptic imagination regarding death. Thus, any attempts of museums to revise the damage they cause by retaining and displaying these “artifacts” can never hide the history and the pain the Ohlone tribe and their ancestors are going through by not receiving a proper burial. Therefore, they are leaving these human beings n limbo and stuck in time where nowhere to go.

Thus, further analyzing reparations/ revisions of the damaged museums have caused the land and location in which they sit on is important to consider. The University of California, Berkeley and its Hearst Museum sits on Ohlone land, stolen land. Some classrooms and organizations in the university have started acknowledging these the land of the Ohlone, by stating this land acknowledgement before their meetings. However, not all have adopted the acknowledgement and many still refuse and neglect to see the truth of the land they live in. Regarding this lack of knowledge and empathy with the Ohlone people, that still live on this land and continue to fight for what is rightfully theirs, reminded me of a scene in Marisol.


At the beginning of this essay, I reflected on a scene in Jose Rivera’s Marisol, in which children, angelitos, that have died and not been acknowledged by society as they are buried in the sidewalk. With each sidewalk section being a tombstone, that holds a coffin with only a scratch that names these children, others walk on top of these sidewalks and do not acknowledge was is underneath their feet. Thus, reflecting how many students, professors, administrators a whole “educational” hierarchy chooses to walk on land that has been stolen from the Ohlone tribe and do not acknowledge what they have done as they continue to cause pain to these communities.

Ultimately, it is not only the Ohlone Tribe that has been suffering this ongoing pain for centuries. In using my experience with the Yucatec Mayan community, Adios Ayacucho in the perspective of the Peruvian indigenous community, and Marisol in a more border and modern system of neglect, I wish to show the diversity of indigenous communities that are still suffering from pain and under recognition by these power structures. Museums and museums culture, with their origins, are just a small portion of institutions that define what is living and what is dead in their traditional apocalyptic imagination of death. In the fight of the Ohlone tribe for their ancestral remains, there is a greater institution behind the Hearst Museum and that is of the University. Thus, proving how an educational branch can have hidden purposes in their attempts at trying to teach a “cultural consciousness” to a larger society that should be focusing on the unconscious.


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