Maquech beetles: Living Maya jewelry

Though the practice has been considered animal abuse, there are no laws to protect the Maquech beetle

Living Maya jewelry and the legend of a tragic love affair
The beetle has an average life span of four years, as long as it is given wood to feed on - Photo: Cuauhtémoc Moreno/EFE
English 11/05/2019 18:14 EFE Mexico City Actualizada 18:14
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Among the Mayas, the Maquech beetle embellished with costume jewelry is used as a symbol for lovers to carry in their jewel boxes, representing the impossible love between princess Cuzán and the commoner Chalpol, a popular Mayan legend told in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

According to the legend, Cuzán was engaged to prince Ek Chapat, but ended up falling in love with a young man without linage called Chalpol. One day they were discovered by Cuzán’s father, who had young Chalpol killed.

However, after the princess begged for mercy, a shaman turned Chalpol into an insect and gave it to Cuzán, who decided to decorate its shell with fine jewelry and a gold chain to wear it as a pin and keep her lover close to her heart.

Thus, the Maquech has been used by the Mayans as a living pin among young men and women ever since.

There are others who prefer keeping it as a souvenir or as a symbol of the Mayan legend in their jewelry boxes.

The beetle has an average life span of four years, as long as it is given wood to feed on.

According to popular belief, one must wear the Maquech close to the heart. Many tourists are drawn to this strange ornament and decide to take it home as a souvenir and as a living Mayan jewel of sorts.

This ancient story has been passed on from generation to generation and some Mayan communities have adopted it as a means of sustenance, hunting coleoptera, decorating them, and selling them to tourists for a living.

The Maquech is a symbol of Mayan culture and the tragic love affair between Cuzán and Chalpol. It is often sold for up to MXN$350 at crafts markets. However, foreigners are not allowed to take them back to their home countries due to customs regulations.

Though some people have claimed that the cultural practice constitutes animal abuse, due to the costume jewelry that is attached to the beetle’s back, there is no law in place to protect the Maquech.


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