Merida, Mexico, May 8 (EFE).- A live beetle covered in jewels has come to emblemize doomed love for people in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula thanks to the enduring appeal of a legend about a star-crossed romance between a Mayan princess a commoner.
The adorned beetle, known as Maquech, is typically worn as a brooch and can be purchased for 350 pesos ($18) at any number of shops here in Merida.
The legend has it that while betrothed to Prince Ek Chapat, the Princess Cuzan fell in love with a humble young man called Chalpol and that when her father learned of the romance, he ordered the youth killed.
Then, according to the tale, a shaman who took pity on the distraught princess turned Chalpol into an insect and gave it to Cuzan, who decided to decorate the creature with the finest jewels and place it on a golden necklace to keep it close to her heart.
And the story gave birth to the Maquech, worn by both women and men.
Some people choose to keep the Maquech in a jewelry box. The beetles have an average lifespan of four years, as long as they have wood to eat.
But the myth holds that the Maquech must be kept close to the heart, and tourists who see residents wearing them are often moved to buy one as souvenirs of their time in the land of the Maya.
The persistence of the legend, passed down from generation to generation, has created an economic opportunity for Yucatan residents.
In the mountains of the Mayan community of Huhi, 60km (30mi) southwest of Merida, people such as Mariano Pacheco make their living by capturing and decorating beetles for sale as jewelry.
“Right now, I have 14 years working with this animal. That’s how I support my family, because there’s no work and I devote myself to this work,” he says.
Mariano told EFE that he goes into the mountains every day at 6.00 am to look for beetles, which generally hide from the sun and the rain. He then decorates the insects and offers them for sale in the craft markets of Merida.
“More than anything because it’s something living, natural, and the decoration also impresses people,” Merida retailer Victor Jesus Puc told EFE, explaining the appeal of the Maquech.
“It’s something traditional here because Yucatan is well known for the Maquech and people seek them because they love having something different,” he said