Casa Na Bolom
Na Bolom was the home of archeologist Frans Blom and his wife, Gertrude Duby Blom, the documentary photographer, journalist, environmental pioneer, and jungle adventurer. It is in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico and today, Na Bolom operates as a hotel, museum, and research center run by Asociación Cultural Na Bolom, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection of the Lacandon Maya and the preservation of the Chiapas rain forest.
A Danish archeologist who had taught at Tulane, Frans Blom was one of the first to excavate Palenque, a Mayan city about 150 km east of San Cristóbal de las Casas. It was in the jungle that Frans Blom met his wife, Gertrude Duby, a Swiss German journalist who had fought in the resistance of WWII and had come to Chiapas to begin a new life. Working on behalf of the Mexican government, Trudi Duby was photographing the legendary Lacandon Maya, the only Maya never conquered or converted by the Spanish. From then on, La Selva Lacandona rain forest was the common denominator in the professional and personal lives of Frans and Trudi Blom.
In 1950 with a small inheritance from Frans' mother, the Bloms purchased a monastery in ruin on the outskirts of San Cristóbal de las Casas. They rebuilt it around the original interior patio and named their new home Na Bolom, which means House of the Jaguar in a combination of Spanish and Mayan. From the beginning, Frans Blom's dream was that Na Bolom would function as a cultural, social, and academic center. His personal library with its exceptional collection of books on Mayan culture was open to the public. His Mayan artifacts were on display, as were the documentary photographs of Trudi Blom. In order to raise funds for their jungle expeditions, they took in guests who dined at the great long table of the Na Bolom dining room. These guests at breakfast and dinner included tourists, local residents, and archeologists working in the area, and Frans was proud that at any meal there was always conversation in at least three languages. Na Bolom evolved into a small hotel, attracting guests as notable as Henry Kissinger and Diego Rivera. However, free rooms were always kept open for Lacandon Maya who came to San Cristóbal for medical reasons.
In the 1970s Trudi Blom became an environmental activist, gravely concerned about the destruction of the jungle she loved. In 1975 she expanded Na Bolom's beautiful walled gardens to include El Vivero, a tree nursery, which today still supplies free trees for reforestation in Chiapas.
While Na Bolom was the dream of Frans Blom, the day-to-day responsibility of running it fell to Trudi. For forty years, she struggled financially and emotionally; spending too much time fundraising, writing articles,and managing employees, many of whom were young volunteers from around the world, and not enough time in the jungle she loved. In the late 1980s, encouraged by concerned Chiapas citizens who valued her work and who wanted to protect the future of Na Bolom, Trudi formed the Asociación Cultural Na Bolom A.C., whose Board of Directors manages Na Bolom today.
Na Bolom is still open to the public as a museum, hotel and restaurant. Volunteers are still welcome, working on projects with the library, translation of materials, and diffusion from information (money from guests goes towards various community projects in the jungle). Na Bolom has struggled to transition from the vision once held by Trudi Blom, into a functioning cultural institution in present day. It is difficult to maintain the various cultural programs that are fundamental to the original mission of Na Bolom, and funders and donations are sorely needed.
Today, guests still come and conversation still flows in many languages at the long table of Casa Na Bolom. Mayan Indians sell their tapestries in the shaded patio. The garden pathways are lined with the mescal bottles Trudi blamed for Frans' death. The Lacandon still come to stay. The Bloms' adopted daughter, Dona Betty, is in charge of the kitchen. Their adopted Lancandon son, Kayum, often stays at Na Bolom with his family. The Asociación Cultural Na Bolom A.C. perpetuates the work of Frans and Trudi Blom, sponsoring a newsletter, art shows, concerts, exhibits, and other events and projects dedicated to the Lacandon Maya and the Selva Lacandona.
A collection of 14,000 negatives taken by self-taught photographer Marcey Jacobson, documenting daily life in the area in photos taken primarily from the 1960s through the 1980s, will become part of the museum's collection following her death in 2009. Seventy-five of these images were included in the 2001 book The Burden of Time / El Cargo del Tiempo.
House of the Jaguar
The name "Casa Na Bolom" comes from the Mayan word for jaguar, "bolom." The Bloms chose this name as a play on their own name, Blom. In the jungle, Frans Blom was often known by the nickname, Pancho Bolom, a great compliment comparing him favorably to the sacred jaguar. An ancient stone jaguar from a Mayan frieze (at right) installed by Frans marks the front door of Casa Na Bolom, House of the Jaguar.
- Weber, Bruce. "Marcey Jacobson, a Photographer Inspired by Mexico, Dies at 97", The New York Times, August 11, 2009. Accessed August 11, 2009.
- Asociación Cultural Na Bolom A.C. (Na Bolom Cultural Association)
- Documentary Photographs by Gertrude Blom