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HISTORY - La Reina de Selva: The Adventures of Trudi Duby Blom

Updated: Nov 24, 2023


Trudi Blom - July 7, 1901 - December 23, 1993


Born in Berne, Switzerland, in 1901, Trudi Duby Blom (née Lörtscher) exhibited a rebellious spirit from an early age, consistently defying conventional boundaries throughout her lifetime. Despite her father's staunch conservatism as a Pastor of the Reformed Church, Blom found herself at odds with her family's political views, leading her to develop a keen interest in social justice from a young age.

After successfully attaining a degree in Horticulture by 1918, Blom embarked on a new academic pursuit, delving into the realm of social work in Zurich. Aligned with her growing commitment to activism, she joined the Socialist Party and halted her studies to traverse Europe as a journalist, speaker and political organizer. It was during this period that Blom encountered trouble in Italy, where her interest in certain "subversive" library books prompted suspicions, which were reported to the authorities. Subjected to hours of interrogation, Blom spent a week in detention, and was ultimately expelled from Italy with strict instructions never to return.

Blom's first marriage to Kurt Duby was brief, yet it led them to Germany, where Duby openly voiced opposition to Adolf Hitler. Standing steadfastly by his side, Blom reported on Hitler for Swiss newspapers. Circumstances drove Blom to depart for Paris, France. Her commitment to the fight against Nazism was unwavering and she continued to organize resistance efforts, contributing both as a journalist and political activist. In September 1939, Blom found herself among thousands of demonstrators arrested and detained in a camp for an extended five-month period. Fortunately, her Swiss Citizenship played a pivotal role in securing her release. Despite contemplating a potential move to New York, fate steered her towards Mexico, where she joined a wave of dissenters, artists, intellects and Jews who were welcomed by President Lazaro Cardenas.

Blom's dedication to challenging societal norms, while striving for justice was only just beginning to make a meaningful impact on the world.



Trudi Duby Blom, Lacandon Jungle Chiapas Mexico


During her voyage from Europe to Mexico in 1941, Blom immersed herself in the writings of French anthropologist Jacques Soustelle, learning about the mysteries of the jungle. Upon her arrival in Mexico City, she embarked on a new professional path as a social worker, and was hired by the government to assist Mexican women and study their working conditions. Simulteaneously, she became engrossed in literature about Zapata's revolution, which inspired her to visit Chiapas. She was fortunate to embark on a government-sponsored expedition to meet the secluded Lacandon Maya, where despite her lack of experience in horsemanship and photography, she felt herself at home.

In 1943, during her time in Chiapas, destiny introduced Trudi to Franz Blom, a pioneering archaeologist and cartographer who was in search of the ancient city of Bonampak. Their encounter resulted first in a profound partnership, both professionally and personally which eventually led to marriage in 1951. As destiny would have it, Trudi transitioned from her role as a journalist, and with a continued passion for social work, she embraced anthropology and photography.

Trudi and Franz departed Mexico City and established themselves in San Cristobal de las Casas, where they acquired a historical property originally built in 1891 as a seminary. They meticulously restored the structure and surrounding gardens, and in order to fund their unconventional lifestyle and research, opened their home "Casa Na Bolom," or "Hous of the Jaguar" to private guests for lodging and meals. Casa Na Bolom attracted renowned figures, including Henry Kissinger, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and François Mitterrand, among a host of others. This flourishing establishment remains a testament to the Bloms' contributions to anthropology, photography, and the preservation of Maya cultural heritage.




Casa Na Bolom, San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas Mexico


Over the following 12 years, Trudi and Franz directed their efforts towards the depths of the Lacandona jungle, where their work encompassed detailed documentation of archaeological sites. Their passion for the local inhabitants culminated in important friendships and a camp at the Lacandon village of Naha, where they would stay. It is interesting that Blom was such a prolific photographer, as indigenous peoples were not particularly fond of cameras, however she had befriended and earned trust from Maya spiritual leader Chan Kín Viejo, whom Blom came to consider one of her closest friends. Their friendship and the Blom`s inclusion in this community fostered trust that the Blom`s intentions were not harmful. Sadly, on June 23, 1963, Franz Blom passed away.

With a background in horticulture, an unwavering commitment to activism, social justice, and a deep affinity for the Lacandon Maya and their lush environment, it was only natural that Blom's path took yet another new direction—one dedicated to preserving the beloved jungle from the encroaching deforestation. Blom widened her photographic scope, capturing the stark devastation that was quickly unfolding. Armed with photographic evidence and vigor, Blom traversed Mexico, the United States, Germany, and her homeland of Switzerland to raise awareness about the environment. Blom became a critic of Mexican environmental policies, using public television platforms and penning multilingual articles to voice her concerns. As a pioneering environmentalist, she even started a tree nursery at Casa Na Bolom in 1975, which she called La Vivero.



Trudi Blom and Chan Kin Viejo


In 1989, Robert Cozens produced a documentary about Blom and her undertakings, titled "Reina de la Selva" (Queen of the Jungle), a title bestowed upon Blom by the local Maya—a fitting name for a trailblazing pioneer who spent her life defending the rights of the marginalized, from Europe to the jungles of Mexico.

Blom passed away on December 23, 1993, from complications of pneumonia and heart disease. She was laid to rest beside Franz Blom in the municipal cemetery of San Cristobal de las Casas. In 2011, Franz and Trudi Blom were exhumed and transported to the secluded jungle village of Naha where they were reinterred near the burial of their cherished friend and Maya spiritual leader Chan Kin Viejo.



1989 Documentary La Reina de la Selva by Richard Cozens



REFERENCES

Ewing, E. (2008, March 25). Mayan Culture at the House of the Jaguar. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2008/mar/25/mexico.green

Lyons, R. D. (1993, December 29). Gertrude Blom, 92, Long a Chronicler of Mayan Cultures. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/12/29/obituaries/gertrude-blom-92-long-a-chronicler-of-mayan-cultures.html

Robison, M. L. (2006). The house of the jaguar: The engaged anthropology of Gertrude Duby Blom at Museo Na Bolom (Doctoral dissertation). ProQuest. AAI3215915. https://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI3215915

Wikipedia contributors. (2023, April 28). Gertrude Blom. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved August 10, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Gertrude_Blom&oldid=1152163016



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