Mayan Dwarf Liminality

Short-statured people, dwarfs and people with achondroplasia play a significant role in Maya mythology. It was believed that dwarfs lived together with the gods before humans existed. Because of this presumed divine proximity and their intimacy with the unknown, small-statured people were highly regarded. Dwarfs had elevated social roles that were steeped in cosmology and religious mythology. Similar status was given to dwarfs in ancient Egypt, with several well-documented short persons rising to the very top of the royal bureaucratic apparatus.

This appreciation of small sized individuals shows how in some cultures storytelling allows appreciation of the specific capacities of the small while harnessing a universal understanding that man is created equal. Rather than discriminate, patronise or ridicule the short-statured the cultural compass of Maya and ancient Egyptians created mental and practical space for other-normative sizes. Over the course of the next months we will further investigate some of the small statured protagonists of Maya mythology. We hope to learn more about how local storytelling and myth is able to create conditions allowing people to see the specific qualities of the small-bodied and to tap into worlds and learnings that give another perspective. The Maya channeled the ‘otherness’ of dwarves into visual metaphors for liminality and transformation, and thus expanded our understanding of what it means to be human. This could potentially inspire an open and curious attitude towards the small and foster appreciation for smallness as a quality rather than a disadvantage. Smallness is a superpower.