This weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Mexico City to protest a new law from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, which they say threatens democracy in their country. For at least one moment on Saturday, however, the president’s attention was fixed elsewhere: on a grainy snapshot of what he said “appears to be an [alux],” which according to Mayan tradition is a type of goblin or elf.
López Obrador paired the photo, which he said was taken by an engineer, with a picture of a purported Alux sculpture at the Ek’ Balam architectural site in Yucatan, Mexico. “Everything is mystical,” López Obrador wrote. Meanwhile, other Twitter users pointed out that the photo appears to have been circulating for several years.
In response, some Twitter users shared photos from the ongoing protests. “I also want to share a photo,” wrote user Rosi Martgom.
But just what is an Alux (pronounced “Aloosh;” plural Aluxo’b)? According to an article by Mark F. Cheney, a scholar who studies the Mayan, they’re a lot like leprechauns. They’re thought to be mischievous creatures, standing just 12 to 18 inches tall, and live in forests, gardens, maize fields or caves.
According to an article written by Judith Storniolo, a researcher of Mayan languages and Native American culture, the legend is thought to be drawn from the creation myth of the Mayan ethnic group the K’iche’. The Ki’che’ believed that before the creation of humanity, the gods created a race of dwarves out of mud, Storniolo writes. The dwarves had eyes that could see to the ends of time and built stone dwellings. After the dwarf people behaved wickedly, however, their world was destroyed in a great flood, according to “Maya History and Religion,” published in 1970 by J. Eric S. Thompson. When the sun emerged, the dwarves were then turned to stone. In Yucatec, the dwarves were also described as “hunchback” or “bent,” although they were called “dwarf” in other Mayan languages, according to Thompson.
Images of dwarves can now be found on meso-American artifacts, including as funerary pots. The most common are clay figurines on the island of Jaina, which lies to the west of the Yucatan peninsula, Storniolo writes. In art, they’re often depicted with round bellies, hats, and with beards.
Today in rural Yucatan, the Aluxo’b are regarded as mischief makers—stealing tools, tossing stuff on the floor, screaming in the night. However, if you treat them well, they can also do you favors. Farmers leave them food, alcohol and cigarettes to protect corn crops. Some also believe that they dwell near Mayan ruins to guard tombs. In other cases, they’ve been known to go viral on Twitter.
- What a Photographer Saw in the West Bank
- The Dirty Secrets of Alternative Plastics
- Accenture’s Chief AI Officer on Why This Is a Defining Moment
- We Should Get Paid for Our Online Data: Column
- Inside COP28's Big 'Experiment'
- The 100 Must-Read Books of 2023
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time