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SEC. XXXIII. FUNERALS. BURIALS OF THE PRIESTS. STATUES TO PRESERVE THE ASHES OF THE CHIEFS, AND THE HONORS THEY PAID TO THEM. THEIR. BELIEF REGARDING A FUTURE LIFE, WITH REWARDS AND PUNISHMENTS.

This people had a great and excessive fear of death, and this they showed in that in all their services they rendered to their gods were for no other end than that they should give them health and life and their subsistence. But when it came the time to die, it was a thing to see what were the grief and lamentations they displayed for their deceased, and the sadness they felt. They wept during the day in silence, and during the nights with loud and mournful cries that were grievous to hear. For many days they went about

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in deepest mourning. They kept abstinence and fasts for the deceased, especially a husband or wife. They declared it was the devil that had taken them off, because they thought all ills came from him, especially death.

At death they shrouded the body, filled the mouth with ground maize and a drink they call koyem, and with this certain stones they used for money, that food might not be lacking to him in the other life. They buried them in their houses or the vicinity, throwing some of their idols into the grave; if he was a priest they threw in some of his books; if a sorcerer his divining stones and other instruments of his office. They commonly abandoned the house after the funeral, except where many people were living there, in whose company they would lose some of their fear of death.

On the death of a chief or man of position they cremated the bodies and put the ashes in large urns, and built temples over them, as is seen to have been done in the old times in the cases there have been found at Izamal. Today it is found that they put the ashes of great chiefs in hollow clay statues.

The others of the upper classes made statues of wood, left hollow in the occiput, for their fathers; then they burned part of the body and put part of the ashes therein, and stoppered it; then they removed the skin from the occiput and fastened it there, burying the remainder in the usual fashion. These images they kept with much reverence, among their idols. Among the ancient lords of the house of the Cocoms they cut off the heads after death, boiled them so as to remove the flesh; then they sawed away the back part of the skull, leaving the front with the cheeks and teeth, supplying in these half sections of the head the removed flesh by a sort of bitumen, and gave them almost the perfection of what they had been in life. These they kept together with the images, and the ashes, all in the oratorios of their houses among their idols, with great reverence and affection. On all festivals and feast days they put before them offerings of food, that nothing might fail them in the other life, where they believed the souls rested and received their gifts.

These people have always believed in the immortality of the soul, in greater degree than many other nations, even though they were not so civilized; they believed that after death there was another life better than this, which the soul enjoyed after leaving the body. This future life they said was divided into good and evil, into pains and delights. The evil life of suffering they said was for the vicious, and the good and delectable for those whose mode of life had been good. The delights they said they would come into if they had been of good conduct, were by entering a place where nothing would give pain, where there would be abundance of food and delicious drinks, and a refreshing and shady tree they called Yaxché, the Ceiba tree, beneath whose branches and shade they might rest and be in peace forever.

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The torments of the evil life which they said awaited the wicked, lay in going to an evil place below the other, and which they called Mitnal, meaning hell, where they were tormented by demons, by great pains of cold and hunger and weariness and sadness. They said there was in this place a chief demon whom all the rest obeyed and whom in their language they called Hunhau; also they said that these good and evil after-lives had no end, because the soul itself had none. They also said, and held as quite certain, that

those who had hung themselves went to this paradise; and there were many who in times of lesser troubles, labors or sickness, hung themselves to escape and go to that paradise, to which they were thought to be carried by the goddess of the scaffold whom they called Ixtab. They had no knowledge of the resurrection of the body; neither could they give account of whence had come to them these beliefs in this, their paradise and their hell.

THE BALL COURT, FROM A MODEL BY GEORGE OAKLEY TOTTEN, JR.
Click to enlarge

THE BALL COURT, FROM A MODEL BY GEORGE OAKLEY TOTTEN, JR.


Next: XXXIV. Count of the Yucatecan Year. Characters of the Days. The Four Bacabs and Their Names. Gods of the 'Unlucky' Days


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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937]