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As the so-called "Mayan doomsday" approaches, the Mayans of Guatemala are speaking out against what some are calling a government- and tour business-led effort to profit off misinterpretations of their traditions.
"We are speaking out against deceit, lies and twisting of the truth, and turning us into folklore-for-profit. They are not telling the truth about time cycles," said Felipe Gomez, who leads a Maya alliance called Oxlaljuj Ajpop, in an interview this week with Agence France-Presse.
Gomez was referencing the growth in businesses offering Central American "doomsday tour" packages, as well as events such as doomsday-related one being planned by the Guatemalan Culture Ministry that will attract an estimated 90,000 people to Guatemala City in December.
Doomsday and catastrophic predictions related to the Mayan calendar, which hits a symbolic turning point on Dec. 21, 2012, aren't new. They already permeate pop culture through films, songs and hundreds of books. But as the new year approaches, interest has spiked. A Reuters survey in May found that one in 10 people believe that the Mayan calendar could signify the end of the world in 2012, and 15 percent of people believe the world will end in their lifetime. Web sites and message boards promoting the "Mayan doomsday" date have proliferated, and at least one company is selling $5,300 tickets for a 28-day "La Ruta Maya" bike tour that will begin in Costa Rica and end on Dec. 21 in Belize.
Gomez said the Dec. 21 "doomsday" is actually the beginning of a new time cycle on the Mayan calendar and "means there will be big changes on the personal, family and community level, so that there is harmony and balance between mankind and nature," according to the AFP.
Gomez's told the AFP that his group is organizing what it sees as more respectful and sacred events to mark the turn of the new Mayan calendar in five cities. He suggested that the government instead support these gatherings, the AFP reported.
While there are hundreds of theories behind various 2012 end-times predictions, most are tied to the turn of the Mayan Long Count calendar. The calendar largely went out of use more than a millennium ago -- the Mayan people flourished between A.D. 250 and 950 -- and is not used by most contemporary Mayan people. The calendar is based on a set of calculations that counted the number of years since a mythical creation date of either Aug. 11 or 13, in the year 3114 B.C. Interpretations of the exact date vary. It is written as 188.8.131.52.0 on the Long Count calendar. Nov. 13, 2720 B.C., is written as 184.108.40.206.0, while Feb. 16, 2325 B.C., is written as 220.127.116.11.0. Dec. 21 or 23, 2012 -- depending on when one begins the count -- is written once again as 18.104.22.168.0.
"The Maya never said anything about the end of the world or anything about a great change in the universe on that date," David Stuart, a professor of Mesoamerican art and writing at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Huffington Post in December 2011. "The calendar not only continues after that date," he said. "It goes 70 octillion years into the future."
The current doomsday predictions are "all mostly coming out of New Age interpretations and mysticism about Mayan calendrics, which are not based on archeology, anthropology or scholarship," said Stuart, author of The Order of Days: The Maya World and the Truth About 2012.