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The Maya, Kellogg, toucans and common sense – an update

17 November 2011 No Comment

The Maya have over centuries faced encroachment on many fronts – their land, culture, spirituality,  you name  it. And, with world attention on all things Maya increasing in the leadup to the long awaited Winter Solsitce of December 21 2012, the preservation and respect for this culture will become even more important.

So it is with great happiness that we can report a victory while updating that sorry saga of Kellogg v the Maya.

Readers may remember our previous report , Troubled toucans and the Maya – a modern saga (30/8/2011), that highlighted cereal giant Kellogg’s attempt to have the Maya Archaeology Initiative (MAI) to “cease and desist” using a stylised toucan logo the organisation developed. Kellogg had concerns, it said, that the public would confuse the Maya toucan image with their own “Toucan Sam”, the garish cartoon character associated with Fruit Loops breakfast cereal.

According to David Herdman, Kellogg corporate counsel, in a July 19 letter to the MAI, “We are concerned about both consumer confusion and a dilution of our strong equity in these marks. Kellogg is also concerned by the inclusion of the Mayan (sic) imagery in the mark, given that our character is frequently depicted in that setting.”

As we said back then, “No kidding.”

In responding to Kellogg’s legal action, the MAI’s president, Dr Francisco Estrada-Belli, said, “This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians,”

MAI legal counsel Sara Mott went even further, pointing out that any so-called Maya imagery in the Toucan Sam adventure games, far from being remotely authentic, are “At best… culturally insensitive. I would characterise it as a demeaning caricature of an advanced and ancient civilisation.” She went further to say that “Disturbingly, the villain in this Kellogg’s Adventure – and the only character of colour – is a ‘witch doctor’ who cackles malevolently when stealing from children.”

We promised to keep you updated on the case, and good news just came in:

Common sense has prevailed, and the Battle Creek Michigan cereal giant has accepted that the Maya’s centuries-old use of toucan imagery doesn’t infringe upon Toucan Sam, and has agreed to cease action against the MAI’s use of the bird in its logo.

What’s more, as an example of good corporate citizenship, Kellogg will be donating US$100,000 to assist the MAI in constructing a Maya cultural centre in Guatemala’s Petén District, according to MAI spokesperson Sam Haswell, who said the agreement was reached after two months of negotiations between Kellogg and MAI.

“This is a good thing for Kellogg to be a part of, and there’s no question that it’s going to help us move forward with our efforts,” Haswell said.

Dr Estrada-Belli said, “Kellogg’s important contribution to the Maya Archaeology Initiative will help us achieve our goal of building a Maya cultural centre in Petén, the cradle of Maya history, so children, families and visitors can learn about the Maya and their rich heritage. We are grateful to Kellogg for joining us in these efforts.”

For their part, Kellogg said “We are pleased to support the MAI in its mission to protect and extend the rich history and culture of Mayan people,” according to Tim Knowlton, Kellogg’s vice president for corporate social responsibility. “The cultural centre promises to be a source of inspiration, pride and learning throughout the region,” he added.

The Kellogg donation will cover approximately 25 – 30% of the expected cost of the centre, Mr Haswell noted.

The Maya Archaeology Initiative, with a focus on Maya youth education, preservation of antiquities and safeguarding the bio diversity of the Petén rainforest, is a project of the California based World free Press Institute, according to MAI literature.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek, just over the Belize border, is home to numerous toucans, toucanets and the lovely little aracari. We’re very happy to see the end of this legal wrangling over a bird and symbol the Maya have been using for thousands of years, and congratulate the MAI for their tenacity in ensuring that this beautiful rainforest bird continues its long association with Maya culture.

Want more information on the Maya? Read about the Maya Culture and History. Also, find out what the year 2012 represents for the Maya.


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