Popol Vuh (Mayan) Religious Document 253
THE MAYAN BOOK OF THE DAWN OF LIFE
|Other Mayan texts:
Yucatan Before and After the Conquest by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates 
The best primary source on the Maya, ironically by the monk who burned most of their books.
The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel by Ralph L. Roys 
The Book of the People: Popol Vuh
Maya Hieroglyphic Writing (excerpts)
The Popul Vuh excerpt from The Mythic and Heroic Sagas of the Kichés of Central America, by Lewis Spence; London  79,023 bytesThe Myths of Mexico and Peru by Lewis Spence
You cannot erase time.
THE FIRST FOUR HUMANS, the first four earthly beings who were
truly articulate when they moved their feet and hands, their faces and
mouths, and who could speak the very language of the gods, could
also see everything under the sky and on the earth. All they had to do
was look around from the spot where they were, all the way to the
limits of space and the limits of time. But then the gods, who had not
intended to make and model beings with the potential of becoming their
own equals, limited human sight to what was obvious and nearby.
Nevertheless, the lords who once ruled a kingdom from a place called
Quiche, in the highlands of Guatemala, once had in their possession
the means for overcoming this nearsightedness, an ilbal, a "seeing
instrument" or a "place to see"; with this they could know distant
or future events. The instrument was not a telescope, not a crystal
for gazing, but a book.
The lords of Quiche consulted their book when they sat in council,
and their name for it was Popol Vuh or "Council Book." Because this
book contained an account of how the forefathers of their own lordly
lineages had exiled themselves from a faraway city called Tulan,
they sometimes described it as "the writings about Tulan." Because a
later generation of lords had obtained the book by going on a
pilgrimage that took them across water on a causeway, they titled it
"The Light That Came from Across the Sea." And because the book told
of events that happened before the first sunrise and of a time when
the forefathers hid themselves and the stones that contained the
spirit familiars of their gods in forests, they also titled it "Our
Place in the Shadows." And finally, because it told of the first
rising of the morning star and the sun and moon, and of the rise and
radiant splendor of the Quiche lords, they titled it "The Dawn of
Those who wrote the version of the Popol Vuh that comes down to us
do not give us their personal names but rather call themselves "we" in
its opening pages and "we who are the Quiche people" later on. In
contemporary usage "the Quiche people" are an ethnic group in
Guatemala, consisting of all those who speak the particular Mayan
language that itself has come to be called Quiche; they presently
number over half a million and occupy most of the former territory
of the kingdom whose development is described in the Popol Vuh. To the
west and northwest of them are other Mayan peoples, speaking other
Mayan languages, who extend across the Mexican border into the
highlands of Chiapas and down into the Gulf coastal plain of
Tabasco. To the east and northeast still other Mayans extend just
across the borders of El Salvador and Honduras, down into the lowlands
of Belize, and across the peninsula of Yucatan. These are the peoples,
with a total population of about four million today, whose ancestors
developed what has become known to the outside world as Maya
The roots of Maya civilization may lie in the prior civilization
of the Olmecs, which reached its peak on the Gulf coastal plain
about three thousand years ago. Maya hieroglyphic writing and
calendrical reckoning probably have antecedents that go back at
least that far, but they did not find expression in the lasting form
of inscriptions on stone monuments until the first century B.C., in
a deep river valley that cuts through the highlands of Chiapas. From
there, the erection of inscribed monuments spread south to the Pacific
and eastward along the Guatemalan coastal plain, then reached back
into the highlands at the site of Kaminaljuyu, on the western edge
of what is now Guatemala City. During the so-called classic period,
beginning about A.D. 300, the center of literate civilization in the
Mayan region shifted northward into the lowland rain forest that
separates the mountain pine forest of Chiapas and Guatemala from the
low and thorny scrub forest of northern Yucatan. Swamps were drained
and trees were cleared to make way for intensive cultivation.
Hieroglyphic texts in great quantity were sculpted in stone and
stucco, painted on pottery and plaster, and inked on long strips of
paper that were folded like screens to make books. This is the
period that accounts for the glories of such sites as Palenque, Tikal,
and Copan, leaving a legacy that has made Maya civilization famous
in the fields of art and architecture. The Mayan languages spoken at
most of these sites probably corresponded to the ones now known as
Cholan, which are still spoken by the Mayan peoples who live at the
extreme eastern and western ends of the old classical heartland.
Near the end of the classic period, the communities that had
carved out a place for themselves in the rain forest were caught in
a deepening vortex of overpopulation, environmental degradation, and
malnutrition. The organizational and technological capacities of
Maya society were strained past the breaking point, and by A.D. 900
much of the region had been abandoned. That left Maya civilization
divided between two areas that had been peripheral during classic
times, one in northern Yucatan and the other in the Guatemalan
highlands. The subsequent history of both these areas was shaped by
invaders from the western end of the old classical heartland, from
Tabasco and neighboring portions of the Gulf coastal plain, who set up
militaristic states among the peoples they conquered. The culture they
carried with them has come to be called Toltec; it is thought to
have originated among speakers of Nahua languages, who are presently
concentrated in central Mexico (where they include the descendants
of the Aztecs) and who once extended eastward to Tabasco. In the Mayan
area, Toltec culture was notable for giving mythic prominence to the
god-king named Plumed Serpent, technical prominence to the use of
spear-throwers in warfare, and sacrificial prominence to the human
heart. Those who carried this culture to highland Guatemala brought
many Nahua words with them, but they themselves were probably
Gulf-coast Maya of Cholan descent. Among them were the founders of the
kingdom whose people have come to be known as the Quiche Maya.*
Mayan monuments and buildings no longer featured inscriptions
after the end of the classic period, but scribes went right on
making books for another six centuries, sometimes combining Mayan
texts with Toltecan pictures. Then, in the sixteenth century,
Europeans arrived in Mesoamerica. They forcibly imposed a monopoly
on all major forms of visible expression, whether in drama,
architecture, sculpture, painting, or writing. Hundreds of
hieroglyphic books were tossed into bonfires by ardent missionaries;
between this disaster and the slower perils of decay, only four
books made it through to the present day. Three of them, all thought
to come from the lowlands, found their way to Europe in early colonial
times and eventually turned up in libraries in Madrid, Paris, and
Dresden; a fragment from a fourth book was recovered more recently
from looters who had found it in a dry cave in Chiapas. But the
survival of Mayan literature was not dependent on the survival of
its outward forms. Just as Mayan peoples learned to use the
symbolism of Christian saints as a mask for ancient gods, so they
learned to use the Roman alphabet as a mask for ancient texts.*(2)
(See illustration: Drawing by Carlos A. Villacorta.
SCRIBES WENT RIGHT ON MAKING BOOKS: This is a page from the Maya
hieroglyphic book known as the Dresden Codex, which dates to the
thirteenth century. The left-hand column describes the movements of
Venus during one of five different types of cycles reckoned for that
planet. The right-hand column describes the auguries for the cycle and
gives both pictures and names for the attendant deities. The top
picture, in which the figure at right is seated on two glyphs that
name constellations, may have to do with the position of Venus
relative to the fixed stars during the cycle. In the middle picture is
the god who currently accounts for Venus itself, holding a
dart-thrower in his left hand and darts in his right; in the bottom
picture is his victim, with a dart piercing his shield. The Venus gods
of the Popol Vuh are more conservatively Mayan than those of the
Dresden Codex; they are armed with old-fashioned blowguns rather
than Toltecan dart-throwers.)
There was no little justice in the fact that it was the missionaries
themselves, the burners of the ancient books, who worked out the
problems of adapting the alphabet to the sounds of Mayan languages,
and while they were at it they charted grammars and compiled
dictionaries. Their official purpose in doing this linguistic work was
to facilitate the writing and publishing of Christian prayers,
sermons, and catechisms in the native languages. But very little
time passed before some of their native pupils found political and
religious applications for alphabetic writing that were quite
independent of those of Rome. These independent writers have left a
literary legacy that is both more extensive than the surviving
hieroglyphic corpus and more open to understanding. Their most notable
works, created as alphabetic substitutes for hieroglyphic books, are
the Chilam Balam or "Jaguar Priest" books of Yucatan and the Popol Vuh
The authors of the alphabetic Popol Vuh were members of the three
lordly lineages that had once ruled the Quiche kingdom: the Cauecs,
the Greathouses, and the Lord Quiches. They worked in the middle of
the sixteenth century, shortly before the end of one of the
fifty-two-year cycles measured out by their own calendar. The scene of
their writing was the town of Quiche, northwest of what is now
Guatemala City. The east side of this town, on flat land, was new in
their day, with buildings in files on a grid of streets and the bell
towers of a church at the center. The west side, already in ruins, was
on fortified promontories above deep canyons, with pyramids and
palaces clustered around multiple plazas and courtyards. The buildings
of the east side displayed broad expanses of blank stone and
plaster, but the ruined walls of the west side bore tantalizing traces
of multicolored murals. What concerned the authors of the new
version of the Popol Vuh was to preserve the story that lay behind the
During the early colonial period the town of Quiche was eclipsed, in
both size and prosperity, by the neighboring town of Chuui La or
"Above the Nettles," better known today as Chichicastenango.*(3) The
residents of the latter town included members of the Cauec and Lord
Quiche lineages, and at some point a copy of the alphabetic Popol
Vuh found its way there. Between 1701 and 1703, a friar named
Francisco Ximenez happened to get a look at this manuscript while he
was serving as the parish priest for Chichicastenango. He made the
only surviving copy of the Quiche text of the Popol Vuh and added a
Spanish translation. His work remained in the possession of the
Dominican order until after Guatemalan independence, but when
liberal reforms forced the closing of all monasteries in 1830, it
was acquired by the library of the University of San Carlos in
Guatemala City. Carl Scherzer, an Austrian physician, happened to
see it there in 1854, and Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, a
French priest, had the same good fortune a few months later.*(4) In
1857 Scherzer published Ximenez' Spanish translation under the
patronage of the Hapsburgs in Vienna,*(5) members of the same royal
lineage that had ruled Spain at the time of the conquest of the Quiche
kingdom, and in 1861 Brasseur published the Quiche text and a French
translation in Paris. The manuscript itself, which Brasseur spirited
out of Guatemala, eventually found its way back across the Atlantic
from Paris, coming to rest in the Newberry Library in 1911. The town
graced by this library, with its magnificent collection of Native
American texts, is not in Mesoamerica, but it does have an Indian
name: Chicago, meaning "Place of Wild Onions."
The manuscript Ximenez copied in the place called "Above the
Nettles" may have included a few illustrations and even an
occasional hieroglyph, but his version contains nothing but solid
columns of alphabetic prose. Mayan authors in general made only
sparing use of graphic elements in their alphabetic works, but
nearly every page of the ancient books combined writing (including
signs meant to be read phonetically) and pictures. In the Mayan
languages, as well as in Nahua, the terms for writing and painting
were and are the same, the same artisans practiced both skills, and
the patron deities of both skills were twin monkey gods born on the
day bearing a name translatable (whether from Mayan or Nahua) as One
Monkey. In the books made under the patronage of these twin gods there
is a dialectical relationship between the writing and the pictures:
the writing not only records words but sometimes has elements that
picture or point to their meaning without the necessity of a detour
through words. As for the pictures, they not only depict what they
mean but have elements that can be read as words. When we say that
Mesoamerican writing is strongly ideographic relative to our own, this
observation should be balanced with the realization that
Mesoamerican painting is more conceptual than our own.
At times the writers of the alphabetic Popol Vuh seem to be
describing pictures, especially when they begin new episodes in
narratives. In passages like the following, the use of sentences
beginning with phrases like "this is" and the use of verbs in the
Quiche equivalent of the present tense cause the reader to linger, for
a moment, over a lasting image:
This is the great tree of Seven Macaw, a nance, and this is the food
of Seven Macaw. In order to eat the fruit of the nance he goes up
the tree every day. Since Hunahpu and Xbalanque have seen where he
feeds, they are now hiding beneath the tree of Seven Macaw, they are
keeping quiet here, the two boys are in the leaves of the tree.
It must be cautioned, of course, that "word pictures" painted by
storytellers, in Quiche or in any other language, need not have
physical counterparts in the world outside the mind's eye. But the
present example has an abruptness that suggests a sudden still picture
from a story already well under way rather than a moving picture
unfolded in the course of the events of that story. The narrators do
not describe how the boys arrived "in the leaves of the tree"; the
opening scene is already complete, waiting for the blowgun shot that
comes in the next sentence, where the main verb is in the Quiche
equivalent of the past tense and the still picture gives way to a
More than any other Mayan book, whether hieroglyphic or
alphabetic, the Popol Vuh tells us something about the conceptual
place of books in the pre-Columbian world. The writers of the
alphabetic version explain why the hieroglyphic version was among
the most precious possessions of Quiche rulers:
They knew whether war would occur; everything they saw was clear
to them. Whether there would be death, or whether there would be
famine, or whether quarrels would occur, they knew it for certain,
since there was a place to see it, there was a book. "Council Book"
was their name for it.
When "everything they saw was clear to them" the Quiche lords were
recovering the vision of the first four humans, who at first "saw
everything under the sky perfectly." That would mean that the Popol
Vuh made it possible, once again, to sight "the four sides, the four
corners in the sky, on the earth," the corners and sides that mark not
only the earth but are the reference points for the movements of
If the ancient Popol Vuh was like the surviving hieroglyphic
books, it contained systematic accounts of cycles in astronomical
and earthly events that served as a complex navigation system for
those who wished to see and move beyond the present. In the case of
a section dealing with the planet Venus, for example, there would have
been tables of rising and setting dates, pictures of the attendant
gods, and brief texts outlining what these gods did when they
established the pattern for the movements of Venus. When the ancient
reader of the Popol Vuh took the role of a diviner and astronomer,
seeking the proper date for a ceremony or a momentous political act,
we may guess that he looked up a specific passage, pondered its
meaning, and rendered an opinion. But the authors of the alphabetic
Popol Vuh tell us that there were also occasions on which the reader
offered "a long performance and account" whose subject was the
emergence of the whole cahuleu or "sky-earth," which is the Quiche way
of saying "world." If a divinatory reading or pondering was a way of
recovering the depth of vision enjoyed by the first four humans, a
"long performance," in which the reader may well have covered every
major subject in the entire book, was a way of recovering the full
cosmic sweep of that vision.
If the authors of the alphabetic Popol Vuh had transposed the
ancient Popol Vuh directly, on a glyph-by-glyph basis, they might have
produced a text that would have made little sense to anyone but a
fully trained diviner and performer. What they did instead was to
quote what a reader of the ancient book would say when he gave a "long
performance," telling the full story that lay behind the charts,
pictures, and plot outlines of the ancient book. Lest we miss the fact
that they are quoting, they periodically insert such phrases as
"This is the account, here it is," or "as it is said." At one point
they themselves take the role of a performer, speaking directly to
us as if we were members of a live audience rather than mere
readers. As they introduce the first episode of a long cycle of
stories about the gods who prepared the sky-earth for human life, they
propose that we all drink a toast to the hero.*(7)
At the beginning of their book, the authors delicately describe
the difficult circumstances under which they work. When they tell us
that they are writing "amid the preaching of God, in Christendom now,"
we can catch a plaintive tone only by noticing that they make this
statement immediately after asserting that their own gods "accounted
for everything- and did it, too- as enlightened beings, in enlightened
words." What the authors propose to write down is what Quiches call
the Oher Tzih, the "Ancient Word"*(8) or "Prior Word," which has
precedence over "the preaching of God." They have chosen to do so
because "there is no longer" a Popol Vuh, which makes it sound as
though they intend to re-create the original book solely on the
basis of their memory of what they have seen in its pages or heard
in the "long performance." But when we remember their complaint
about being "in Christendom," there remains the possibility that
they still have the original book but are protecting it from
possible destruction by missionaries. Indeed, their next words make us
wonder whether the book might still exist, but they no sooner raise
our hopes on this front than they remove the book's reader from our
grasp: "There is the original book and ancient writing, but he who
reads and ponders it hides his face." Here we must remember that the
authors of the alphabetic Popol Vuh have chosen to remain anonymous;
in other words, they are hiding their own faces. If they are
protecting anyone with their enigmatic statements about an
inaccessible book or a hidden reader, it could well be themselves.*(9)
The authors begin their narrative in a world that has nothing but an
empty sky above and a calm sea below. The action gets under way when
the gods who reside in the primordial sea, named Maker, Modeler,
Bearer, Begetter, Heart of the Lake, Heart of the Sea, and Sovereign
Plumed Serpent, are joined by gods who come down from the primordial
sky, named Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw
Thunderbolt, and Hurricane. These two parties engage in a dialogue,
and in the course of it they conceive the emergence of the earth
from the sea and the growth of plants and people on its surface.
They wish to set in motion a process they call the "sowing" and
"dawning," by which they mean several different things at once.
There is the sowing of seeds in the earth, whose sprouting will be
their dawning, and there is the sowing of the sun, moon, and stars,
whose difficult passage beneath the earth will be followed by their
own dawning. Then there is the matter of human beings, whose sowing in
the womb will be followed by their emergence into the light at
birth, and whose sowing in the earth at death will be followed by
dawning when their souls become sparks of light in the darkness.
For the gods, the idea of human beings is as old as that of the
earth itself, but they fail in their first three attempts (all in Part
One) to transform this idea into a living reality. What they want is
beings who will walk, work, and talk in an articulate and measured
way, visiting shrines, giving offerings, and calling upon their makers
by name, all according to the rhythms of a calendar. What they get
instead, on the first try, is beings who have no arms to work with and
can only squawk, chatter, and howl, and whose descendants are the
animals of today. On the second try they make a being of mud, but this
one is unable to walk or turn its head or even keep its shape; being
solitary, it cannot reproduce itself, and in the end it dissolves into
Before making a third try the gods decide, in the course of a
further dialogue, to seek the counsel of an elderly husband and wife
named Xpiyacoc and Xmucane. Xpiyacoc is a divine matchmaker and
therefore prior to all marriage, and Xmucane is a divine midwife and
therefore prior to all birth. Like contemporary Quiche matchmakers and
midwives, both of them are ah3ih or "daykeepers," diviners who know
how to interpret the auguries given by thirteen day numbers and twenty
day names that combine to form a calendrical cycle lasting 260
days.*(10) They are older than all the other gods, who address them as
grandparents, and the cycle they divine by is older than the longer
cycles that govern Venus and the sun, which have not yet been
established at this point in the story. The question the younger
gods put to them here is whether human beings should be made out of
wood. Following divinatory methods that are still in use among
Quiche daykeepers, they give their approval. The wooden beings turn
out to look and talk and multiply themselves something like humans,
but they fail to time their actions in an orderly way and forget to
call upon the gods in prayer. Hurricane brings a catastrophe down on
their heads, not only flooding them with a gigantic rainstorm but
sending monstrous animals to attack them. Even their own dogs,
turkeys, and household utensils rise against them, taking vengeance
for past mistreatment. Their only descendants are the monkeys who
inhabit the forests today.
At this point the gods who have been working on the problem of
making human beings will need only one more try before they solve
it, but the authors of the Popol Vuh postpone the telling of this
episode, turning their attention to stories about heroic gods whose
adventures make the sky-earth a safer place for human habitation.
The gods in question are the twin sons of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane,
named One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, and the twin sons of One Hunahpu,
named Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Both sets of twins are players of the
Mesoamerican ball game, in which the rubber ball (an indigenous
American invention) is hit with a yoke that rides on the hips rather
than with the hands. In addition to being ballplayers, One and Seven
Hunahpu occupy themselves by gambling with dice, whereas Hunahpu and
Xbalanque go out hunting with blowguns.*(11)
The adventures of the sons and grandsons of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane are
presented in two different cycles, with the episodes divided between
the cycles more on the basis of where they take place in space than
when they take place in time. The first cycle deals entirely with
adventures on the face of the earth, while the second, though it has
two separate above-ground passages, deals mainly with adventures in
the Mayan underworld, named Xibalba. If the events of these two cycles
were combined in a single chronological sequence, the above-ground
episodes would probably alternate with those below, with the heroes
descending into the underworld, emerging on the earth again, and so
forth. These sowing and dawning movements of the heroes, along with
those of their supporting cast, prefigure the present-day movements of
the sun, moon, planets, and stars.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque are the protagonists of the first of the two
hero cycles (corresponding to Part Two in the present translation),
and their enemies are a father and his two sons, all of them
pretenders to lordly power over the affairs of the earth. Hurricane,
or Heart of Sky, is offended by this threesome, and it is he who sends
Hunahpu and Xbalanque against them. The first to get his due is the
father, named Seven Macaw, who claims to be both the sun and moon.
In chronological terms this episode overlaps with the story of the
wooden people (at the end of Part One), since Seven Macaw serves as
their source of celestial light and has his downfall at the same
time they do. The twins shoot him while he is at his meal, high up
in a fruit tree, breaking his jaw and bringing him down to earth.
Later they pose as curers and give him the reverse of a face-lift,
pulling out all his teeth and removing the metal disks from around his
eyes; this puts an end to his career as a lordly being. His earthly
descendants are scarlet macaws, with broken and toothless jaws and
mottled white patches beneath their eyes. He himself remains as the
seven stars of the Big Dipper, and his wife, named Chimalmat,
corresponds to the Little Dipper. The rising of Seven Macaw (in
mid-October) now marks the coming of the dry season, and his fall to
earth and his disappearance (beginning in mid-July) signal the
beginning of the hurricane season. It was his first fall, brought on
by the blowgun shot of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, that opened the way
for the great flood that brought down the wooden people. Just as Seven
Macaw only pretended to be the sun and moon, so the wooden people only
pretended to be human.*(12)
Hunahpu and Xbalanque next take on Zipacna, the elder of Seven
Macaw's two sons, a crocodilian monster who claims to be the maker
of mountains. But first comes an episode in which Zipacna has an
encounter with the gods of alcoholic drinks, the Four Hundred Boys.
Alarmed by Zipacna's great strength, these boys trick him into digging
a deep hole and try to crush him by dropping a great log down behind
him. He survives, but he waits in the hole until they are in the
middle of a drunken victory celebration and then brings their own
house down on top of them. At the celestial level they become the
stars called Motz, the Quiche name for the Pleiades, and their
downfall corresponds to early-evening settings of these stars. At
the earthly level, among contemporary Quiches, the Pleiades
symbolize a handful of seeds, and their disappearance in the west
marks the proper time for the sowing of crops.
Zipacna meets his own downfall when Hunahpu and Xbalanque set out to
avenge the Four Hundred Boys. At a time when Zipacna has gone
without food for several days, they set a trap for him by making a
device that appears to be a living, moving crab. Having placed this
artificial crab in a tight space beneath an overhang at the bottom
of a great mountain, they show him the way there. Zipacna goes after
the crab with great passion, and his struggles to wrestle himself into
the right position to consummate his hunger become a symbolic parody
of sexual intercourse. When the great moment comes the whole
mountain falls on his chest (which is to say he ends up on the
bottom), and when he heaves a sigh he turns to stone.*(13)
Finally there comes the demise of the younger son of Seven Macaw,
named Earthquake, who bills himself as a destroyer of mountains. In
his case the lure devised by Hunahpu and Xbalanque is the irresistibly
delicious aroma given off by the roasting of birds. They cast a
spell on the bird they give him to eat: just as it was cooked inside a
coating of earth, so he will end up covered by earth. They leave him
buried in the east, opposite his elder brother, whose killing of the
Four Hundred Boys associates him with the west (where the Pleiades may
be seen to fall beneath the earth). Seven Macaw, as the Big Dipper, is
of course in the north. He is near the pivot of the movement of the
night sky, whereas his two sons make the earth move- though they
cannot raise or level whole mountains in a single day as they once
Having accounted for three of the above-ground episodes in the lives
of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the Popol Vuh next moves back in time to
tell the story of their father, One Hunahpu, and his twin brother,
Seven Hunahpu (at the beginning of Part Three). This is the point at
which the authors treat us as if we were in their very presence,
introducing One Hunahpu with these words: "Let's drink to him, and
let's just drink to the telling and accounting of the begetting of
Hunahpu and Xbalanque." The story begins long before One Hunahpu meets
the woman who will bear Hunahpu and Xbalanque; in the opening episode,
he marries a woman named Xbaquiyalo and they have twin sons named
One Monkey and One Artisan. One Hunahpu and his brother sometimes play
ball with these two boys, and a messenger from Hurricane, a
falcon,*(15) sometimes comes to watch them. The boys become
practitioners of all sorts of arts and crafts, including flute
playing, singing, writing, carving, jewelry making, and
metalworking. At some point Xbaquiyalo dies, but we are not told
how; that leaves Xmucane, the mother of One and Seven Hunahpu, as
the only woman in the household.
The ball court of One and Seven Hunahpu lies on the eastern edge
of the earth's surface at a place called Great Abyss at
Carchah.*(16) Their ballplaying offends the lords of Xibalba, who
dislike hearing noises above their subterranean domain. The head lords
are named One Death and Seven Death, and under them are other lords
who specialize in causing such maladies as lesions, jaundice,
emaciation, edema, stabbing pains, and sudden death from vomiting
blood. One and Seven Death decide to challenge One and Seven Hunahpu
to come play ball in the court of Xibalba, which lies at the western
edge of the underworld. They therefore send their messengers, who
are monstrous owls, to the Great Abyss. One and Seven Hunahpu leave
One Monkey and One Artisan behind to keep Xmucane entertained and
follow the owls over the eastern edge of the world. The way is full of
traps, but they do well until they come to the Crossroads, where
each of four roads has a different color corresponding to a
different direction. They choose the Black Road, which means, at the
terrestrial level, that their journey through the underworld will take
them from east to west. At the celestial level, it means that they
were last seen in the black cleft of the Milky Way when they descended
below the eastern horizon; to this day the cleft is called the Road of
Entering the council place of the lords of Xibalba is a tricky
business, beginning with the fact that the first two figures seated
there are mere manikins, put there as a joke. The next gag that awaits
visitors is a variation on the hot seat, but after that comes a deadly
serious test. One and Seven Hunahpu must face a night in Dark House,
which is totally black inside. They are given a torch and two
cigars, but they are warned to keep these burning all night without
consuming them. They fail this test, so their hosts sacrifice them the
next day instead of playing ball with them. Both of them are buried at
the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice, except that the severed head of
One Hunahpu is placed in the fork of a tree that stands by the road
there. Now, for the first time, the tree bears fruit, and it becomes
difficult to tell the head from the fruit. This is the origin of the
calabash tree, whose fruit is the size and shape of a human head.
Blood Woman, the maiden daughter of a Xibalban lord named Blood
Gatherer, goes to marvel at the calabash tree. The head of One
Hunahpu, which is a skull by now, spits in her hand and makes her
pregnant with Hunahpu and Xbalanque. The skull explains to her that
henceforth, a father's face will survive in his son, even after his
own face has rotted away and left nothing but bone. After six
months, when Blood Woman's father notices that she is pregnant, he
demands to know who is responsible. She answers that "there is no
man whose face I've known," which is literally true. He orders the owl
messengers of Xibalba to cut her heart out and bring it back in a
bowl; armed with the White Dagger, the instrument of sacrifice, they
take her away.*(17) But she persuades them to spare her, devising a
substitute for her heart in the form of a congealed nodule of sap from
a croton tree. The lords heat the nodule over a fire and are entranced
by the aroma; meanwhile the owls show Blood Woman to the surface of
the earth. As a result of this episode it is destined that the lords
of Xibalba will receive offerings of incense made from croton sap
rather than human blood and hearts. At the astronomical level Blood
Woman corresponds to the moon, which appears in the west at
nightfall when it begins to wax, just as she appeared before the skull
of One Hunahpu at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice when she became
Once she is out of the underworld, Blood Woman goes to Xmucane and
claims to be her daughter-in-law, but Xmucane resists the idea that
her own son, One Hunahpu, could be responsible for Blood Woman's
pregnancy. She puts Blood Woman to a test, sending her to get a netful
of corn from the garden that One Monkey and One Artisan have been
cultivating. Blood Woman finds only a single clump of corn plants
there, but she produces a whole netful of ears by pulling out the silk
from just one ear. When Xmucane sees the load of corn she goes to
the garden herself, wondering whether Blood Woman has stripped it.
On the ground at the foot of the clump of plants she notices the
imprint of the carrying net, which she reads as a sign that Blood
Woman is indeed pregnant with her own grandchildren.
To understand how Xmucane is able to interpret the sign of the net
we must remember that she knows how to read the auguries of the
Mayan calendar, and that one of the twenty day names that go into
the making of that calendar is "Net." Retold from a calendrical
point of view, the story so far is that Venus rose as the morning star
on a day named Hunahpu, corresponding to the ballplaying of
Xmucane's sons, One and Seven Hunahpu, in the east; then, after
being out of sight in Xibalba, Venus reappeared as the evening star on
a day named Death, corresponding to the defeat of her sons by One
and Seven Death and the placement of One Hunahpu's head in a tree in
the west. The event that is due to come next in the story is the
rebirth of Venus as the morning star, which should fall, as she
already knows, on a day named Net. When she sees the imprint of the
net in the field, she takes it as a sign that this event is coming
near, and that the faces of the sons born to Blood Woman will be
reincarnations of the face of One Hunahpu.*(18)
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque are born they are treated cruelly by
their jealous half-brothers, One Monkey and One Artisan, and even by
their grandmother. They never utter a complaint, but keep themselves
happy by going out every day to hunt birds with their blowguns.
Eventually they get the better of their brothers by sending them up
a tree to get birds that failed to fall down when they were shot. They
cause the tree to grow tall enough to maroon their brothers, whom they
transform into monkeys. When Xmucane objects they give her four
chances to see the faces of One Monkey and One Artisan again,
calling them home with music. They warn her not to laugh, but the
monkeys are so ridiculous she cannot contain herself; finally they
swing up and away through the treetops for good. One Monkey and One
Artisan, both of whose names refer to a single day on the divinatory
calendar, correspond to the planet Mars, which thereafter begins its
period of visibility on a day bearing these names, and their temporary
return to the house of Xmucane corresponds to the retrograde motion of
Mars. They are also the gods of arts and crafts, and they probably
made their first journey through the sky during the era of the
wooden people, who were the first earthly beings to make and use
artifacts and who themselves ended up as monkeys.
With their half-brothers out of the way, Hunahpu and Xbalanque
decide to clear a garden plot of their own, but when they return to
the chosen spot each morning they find that the forest has reclaimed
it. By hiding themselves at the edge of the plot one night, they
discover that the animals of the forest are restoring the cleared
plants by means of a chant. They try to grab each of these animals
in turn, but they miss the puma and jaguar completely, break the tails
off the rabbit and deer, and finally get their hands on the rat. In
exchange for his future share of stored crops, the rat reveals to them
that their father and uncle, One and Seven Hunahpu, left a set of ball
game equipment tied up under the rafters of their house, and he agrees
to help them get it down. At home the next day, Hunahpu and
Xbalanque get Xmucane out of the house by claiming her chili stew
has made them thirsty; she goes after water but is delayed when her
water jar springs a leak. Then, when Blood Woman goes off to see why
Xmucane has failed to return, the rat cuts the ball game equipment
loose and the twins take possession of it.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque begin playing ball at the Great Abyss
they disturb the lords of Xibalba, just like their father and uncle
before them. Once again the lords send a summons, but this time the
messengers go to Xmucane, telling her that the twins must present
themselves in seven days. She sends a louse to relay the message to
her grandsons, but the louse is swallowed by a toad, the toad by a
snake, and the snake by a falcon.*(19) The falcon arrives over the
ball court and the twins shoot him in the eye. They cure his eye
with gum from their ball, which is why the laughing falcon now has a
black patch around the eye. The falcon vomits the snake, who vomits
the toad, who still has the louse in his mouth, and the louse
recites the message, quoting what Xmucane told him when she quoted
what the owls told her when they quoted what the lords of Xibalba told
them to say.
Having been summoned to the underworld, Hunahpu and Xbalanque go
to take leave of their grandmother, and in the process they
demonstrate a harvest ritual that Quiches follow to this day. They
"plant" ears of corn in the center of her house, in the attic; these
ears are neither to be eaten nor used as seed corn but are to be
kept as a sign that corn remains alive throughout the year, even
between the drying out of the plants at harvest time and the sprouting
of new ones after planting. They tell their grandmother that when a
crop dries out it will be a sign of their death, but that the
sprouting of a new crop will be a sign that they live again.*(20)
The twins play a game with language when they instruct their
grandmother; only now, instead of a quotation swallowed up inside
other quotations we get a word hidden within other words. The secret
word is "Ah," one of the twenty day names; the twins point to it by
playing on its sounds rather than simply mentioning it. When they tell
their grandmother that they are planting corn ears (ah) in the house
(ha), they are making a pun on Ah in the one case and reversing its
sound in the other. The play between Ah and ha is familiar to
contemporary Quiche daykeepers, who use it when they explain to
clients that the day Ah is portentous in matters affecting households.
If the twins planted their corn ears in the house on the day Ah,
then their expected arrival in Xibalba, seven days later, would fall
on the day named Hunahpu. This fits the Mayan Venus calendar
perfectly: whenever Venus rises as the morning star on a day named
Net, corresponding to the appearance of Hunahpu and Xbalanque on the
earth, its next descent into the underworld will always fall on a
day named Hunahpu.
Following in the footsteps of their father and uncle, Hunahpu and
Xbalanque descend the road to Xibalba, but when they come to the
Crossroads they do things differently. They send a spy ahead of
them, a mosquito, to learn the names of the lords. He bites each one
of them in turn; the first two lords reveal themselves as mere
manikins by their lack of response, but the others, in the process
of complaining about being bitten, address each other by name, all the
way down the line. When the twins themselves arrive before the
lords, they ignore the manikins (unlike their father and uncle) and
address each of the twelve real lords correctly. Not only that, but
they refuse to fall for the hot seat, and when they are given a
torch and two cigars to keep lit all night, they trick the lords by
passing off a macaw's tail as the glow of the torch and putting
fireflies at the tips of their cigars.*(21)
The next day Hunahpu and Xbalanque play ball with the Xibalbans,
something their father and uncle did not survive long enough to do.
The Xibalbans insist on putting their own ball into play first, though
the twins protest that this ball, which is covered with crushed
bone, is nothing but a skull. When Hunahpu hits it back to the
Xibalbans with the yoke that rides on his hips, it falls to the
court and reveals the weapon that was hidden inside it. This is
nothing less than the White Dagger, the same instrument of sacrifice
that the owls were supposed to use on Blood Woman; it twists its way
all over the court, but it fails to kill the twins.
The Xibalbans consent to use the rubber ball belonging to the
twins in a further game; this time four bowls of flowers are bet on
the outcome. After playing well for awhile the twins allow
themselves to lose, and they are given until the next day to come up
with the flowers. This time they must spend the night in Razor
House, which is full of voracious stone blades that are constantly
looking for something to cut. In exchange for a promise that they will
one day have the flesh of animals as their food, the blades stop
moving. This leaves the boys free to attend to the matter of the
flowers; they send leaf-cutting ants to steal them from the very
gardens of the lords of Xibalba. The birds who guard this garden,
poorwills and whippoorwills, are so oblivious that they fail to notice
that their own tails and wings are being trimmed along with the
flowers. The lords, who are aghast when they receive bowls filled with
their own flowers, split the birds' mouths open, giving them the
wide gape that birds of the night-jar family have today.
Next, the hero twins survive stays in Cold House, which is full of
drafts and falling hail; Jaguar House, which is full of hungry,
brawling jaguars; and a house with fire inside. After these horrors
comes Bat House, full of moving, shrieking bats, where they spend
the night squeezed up inside their blowgun.*(22) When the house
grows quiet and Hunahpu peeks out from the muzzle, one of the bats
swoops down and takes his head off. The head ends up rolling on the
ball court of Xibalba, but Xbalanque replaces it with a carved squash.
While he is busy with this head transplant the eastern sky reddens
with the dawn, and a possum, addressed in the story as "old man,"
makes four dark streaks along the horizon. Not only the red dawn but
the possum and his streaks are signs that the time of the sun (which
has never before been seen) is coming nearer. In the future a new
solar year will be brought in by the old man each 365 days; the four
streaks signify that only four of the twenty day names- Deer, Tooth,
Thought, and Wind- will ever correspond to the first day of a solar
year. Contemporary Quiche daykeepers continue to reckon the solar
dimension of the Mayan calendar; in 1986, for example, they will
expect the old man to arrive on February 28, which will be the day
Once Hunahpu has been fitted out with a squash for a head, he and
Xbalanque are ready to play ball with the Xibalbans again. When the
lords send off Hunahpu's original head as the ball, Xbalanque knocks
it out of the court and into a stand of oak trees. A rabbit decoys the
lords, who mistake his hopping for the bouncing of the ball, while
Xbalanque retrieves the head, puts it back on Hunahpu's shoulders, and
then pretends to find the squash among the oaks. Now the squash is put
into play, but it wears out and eventually splatters its seeds on
the court, revealing to the lords of Xibalba that they have been
played for fools. The game played with the squash, like the games
played with the bone-covered ball and with Hunahpu's severed head,
corresponds to an appearance of Venus in the west, the direction of
evening and death. If these events were combined in chronological
order with those that take place entirely above ground, they would
probably alternate with the episodes in which the twins defeat One
Monkey and One Artisan, Seven Macaw, Zipacna, and Earthquake, with
each of these latter episodes corresponding to an appearance of
Venus in the east, the direction of morning and life.*(24)
At this point we are ready for the last of the episodes that
prefigure the cycles of Venus and prepare the way for the first rising
of the sun. Knowing that the lords of Xibalba plan to burn them,
Hunahpu and Xbalanque instruct two seers named Xulu and Pacam as to
what they should say when the lords seek advice as to how to dispose
of their remains. This done, the twins cheerfully accept an invitation
to come see the great stone pit where the Xibalbans are cooking the
ingredients for an alcoholic beverage. The lords challenge them to a
contest in which the object is to leap clear across the pit, but the
boys cut the deadly game short and jump right in. Thinking they have
triumphed, the Xibalbans follow the advice of Xulu and Pacam, grinding
the bones of the boys and spilling the powder into a river.
After five days Hunahpu and Xbalanque reappear as catfish;*(25)
the day after that they take human form again, only now they are
disguised as vagabond dancers and actors. They gain great fame as
illusionists, their most popular acts being the ones in which they set
fire to a house without burning it and perform a sacrifice without
killing the victim. The lords of Xibalba get news of all this and
invite them to show their skills at court; they accept with
pretended reluctance. The climax of their performance comes when
Xbalanque sacrifices Hunahpu, rolling his head out the door,
removing his heart, and then bringing him back to life. One and
Seven Death go wild at the sight of this and demand that they
themselves be sacrificed. The twins oblige- and, as might already be
imagined, these final sacrifices are real ones. Hunahpu and
Xbalanque now reveal their true identities before all the
inhabitants of the underworld. They declare that henceforth, the
offerings received by Xibalbans will be limited to incense made of
croton sap and to animals, and that Xibalbans will limit their attacks
on future human beings to those who have weaknesses or guilt.
At this point the narrative takes us back to the twins' grandmother,
telling us what she has been doing all this time. She cries when the
season comes for corn plants to dry out, signifying the death of her
grandsons, and rejoices when they sprout again, signifying rebirth.
She burns incense in front of ears from the new crop and thus
completes the establishment of the custom whereby humans keep
consecrated ears in the house, at the center of the stored harvest.
Then the scene shifts back to Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who are about
to establish another custom.
Having made their speech to the defeated Xibalbans, the twins go
to the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice with the intention of reviving
Seven Hunahpu, whose head and body still lie buried there. The full
restoration of his face depends on his own ability to pronounce the
names of all the parts it once had, but he gets no further than the
mouth, nose, and eyes, which remain as notable features of skulls.
They leave him there, but they promise that human beings will keep his
day (the one named Hunahpu), coming to pray where his remains are.
To this day, Hunahpu days are set aside for the veneration of the
dead, and graveyards are called by the same word (hom) as the ball
courts of the Popol Vuh.
At the astronomical level the visit of Hunahpu and Xbalanque to
their uncle's grave signals the return of a whole new round of Venus
cycles, starting with a morning star that first appears on a day named
Hunahpu. As for the twins themselves, they rise as the sun and moon.
Contemporary Quiches regard the full moon as a nocturnal equivalent of
the sun, pointing out that it has a full disk, is bright enough to
travel by, and goes clear across the sky in the same time it takes the
sun to do the same thing. Most likely the twin who became the moon
is to be understood specifically as the full moon, whereas Blood
Woman, the mother of the twins, would account for the other phases
of the moon.*(26)
With the ascent of Hunahpu and Xbalanque the Popol Vuh returns to
the problem the gods confronted at the beginning: the making of beings
who will walk, work, talk, and pray in an articulate manner. The
account of their fourth and final attempt at a solution is a
flashback, since it takes us to a time when the sun had not yet
appeared. As we have already seen, the gods failed when they tried
using mud and then wood as the materials for the human body, but now
they get news of a mountain filled with yellow corn and white corn,
discovered by the fox, coyote, parrot, and crow (at the beginning of
Part Four). Xmucane grinds the corn from this mountain very finely,
and the flour, mixed with the water she rinses her hands with,
provides the substance for human flesh, just as the ground bone thrown
in the river by the Xibalbans becomes the substance for the rebirth of
her grandsons. The first people to be modeled from the corn dough
are four men named Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Mahucutah, and True
Jaguar. They are the first four heads of Quiche patrilineages; as in
the case of the men who occupy such positions today, they are called
"mother-fathers,"*(27) since in ritual matters they serve as
symbolic androgynous parents to everyone in their respective lineages.
This time the beings shaped by the gods are everything they hoped
for and more: not only do the first four men pray to their makers, but
they have perfect vision and therefore perfect knowledge. The gods are
alarmed that beings who were merely manufactured by them should have
divine powers, so they decide, after their usual dialogue, to put a
fog on human eyes. Next they make four wives for the four men, and
from these couples come the leading Quiche lineages. Celebrated
Seahouse becomes the wife of Jaguar Quitze, who founds the Cauec
lineage; Prawn House becomes the wife of Jaguar Night, who founds
the Greathouse lineage; and Hummingbird House becomes the wife of
Mahucutah, who founds the Lord Quiche lineage. True Jaguar is also
given a wife, Macaw House, but they have no male children. Other
lineages and peoples also come into being, and they all begin to
All these early events in human history take place in darkness,
somewhere in the "east," and all the different peoples wander about
and grow weary as they go on watching and waiting for the rising of
the morning star and the sun. Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night,
Mahucutah, and True Jaguar decide to change their situation by
acquiring patron deities they can burn offerings in front of, and it
is with this purpose in mind that they go to a great eastern city
bearing the names Tulan Zuyua, Seven Caves, Seven Canyons. These are
grand names that call up broad reaches of the Mesoamerican past. Tulan
(or Tollan)*(28) means "Place of Reeds" or more broadly "metropolis"
in Nahua, and it was prefixed to the names of many different towns
during Toltecan times. The particular Tulan called Zuyua was
probably near the Gulf coast in Tabasco or Campeche, "eastern" because
it was east of the principal Tulan of the Toltecs, near Mexico City at
the site now known as Tula. But in giving Tulan Zuyua the further name
Seven Caves, the Popol Vuh preserves the memory of a metropolis much
older and far grander than any Toltec town. This ultimate Tulan was at
the site now known as Teotihuacan, northeast of Mexico City. It was
the greatest city in Mesoamerican history, dating from the same period
as the classic Maya. Only recently it has been discovered that beneath
the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan lies a natural cave whose main
shaft and side chambers add up to seven.*(29)
Countless lineages and tribes converge on the Tulan Zuyua of the
Popol Vuh, and each of them, starting with the Quiches, is given a
god. The Cauecs receive the god named Tohil, the Greathouses receive
Auilix, and the Lord Quiches receive Hacauitz. Ultimately the
patronage of the first-ranking god, Tohil, extended to all three of
these lineages, and to two other Quiche lineages of lesser rank, the
Tams and Ilocs. The worship of Tohil has recently been traced back
to the classic period; in the inscriptions at Palenque, he bears the
name Tahil, a Cholan word meaning "Obsidian Mirror," and he is shown
with a smoking mirror in his forehead.
The Popol Vuh tells us that although "all the tribes were sown and
came to light in unity," their languages differentiated while they
were at Tulan. The cause of this was that some peoples were given
patron deities whose names differed from that of the god of the
Quiches. The language of the Rabinals became only slightly
different, since they were given a god named One Toh rather than
Tohil, but others, who received gods with completely distinctive
names, ended up speaking distinctive languages, including the
Cakchiquels, the Bird House people, and the Yaqui people. Today,
indeed, the Rabinals, who live to the northeast of the Quiche
proper, speak a dialect of Quiche, whereas the Cakchiquels (still
known by this name) and the Bird House people (better known as the
Tzutuhils) speak related but separate languages. What the Popol Vuh
calls the Yaqui people are the speakers of Nahua languages, in Mexico.
Those languages belong to a family that not only stands apart from
Quiche, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil, but from Mayan languages in general.
Tohil is the source of the first fires kept by human beings,
making it possible for them to keep warm in the cold of the predawn
world. When a great hailstorm puts all these fires out, Tohil restores
fire to the Quiches by pivoting inside his sandal, which is to say
that he originates the technology whereby fire is started by
rotating a drill in the socket of a wooden platform. The other tribes,
shivering with cold, come to the Quiches to beg for fire, but Tohil
refuses to let them have it unless they promise to embrace him
someday, allowing themselves to be suckled. They agree, not
realizing that when the time comes for the Quiche lords to subjugate
them, being "suckled" by Tohil will mean having their hearts cut out
in sacrifice. Only the Cakchiquels, who get their fire by sneaking
past everyone else in the smoke, escape this fate.
At the suggestion of Tohil the Quiches leave Tulan. They sacrifice
their own blood to him, passing cords through their ears and elbows,
and they sing a song called "The Blame Is Ours," lamenting the fact
that they will not be in Tulan when the time comes for the first dawn.
Packing their gods on their backs and watching continuously for the
appearance of the morning star, they begin a long migration. At a
place called Rock Rows, Furrowed Sands they cross a "sea"*(30) on a
causeway; this would be somewhere in Tabasco or Campeche, perhaps at
Potonchan or Tixchel, both lowland Maya sites where causeways pass
through flooded areas. They also pass the Great Abyss, the location of
the eastern ball court used by the sons and grandsons of Xmucane, a
long way east and a little south of any likely location for Rock Rows,
Furrowed Sands. Next they enter the highlands, turning west and
continuing at a slight southward angle until they reach a mountain
called Place of Advice, not very far short of the site where they will
one day reach their greatest glory. With them at Place of Advice,
having accompanied them ever since they left Tulan, are the
Rabinals, Cakchiquels, and Bird House people.
Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Mahucutah, and True Jaguar, together
with their wives, observe a great fast at Place of Advice. Tohil,
Auilix, and Hacauitz speak to them, asking to be given hiding places
so that they will not be captured by enemies of the Quiches. After a
search through the forest, each of these gods is hidden at the place
that bears his name today. They are not yet placed in temples atop
pyramids, but merely in arbors decorated with bromelias and hanging
mosses. At the place of Hacauitz, on a mountaintop, the Cauecs,
Greathouses, and Lord Quiches weep while they wait for the dawn; the
Tams and Ilocs wait on nearby mountains, while peoples other than
the Quiches wait at more distant places. When, at last, they all see
the daybringer, the morning star, they give thanks by burning the
incense they have kept for this occasion, ever since they left Tulan.
At this point we reach the moment in the account of human affairs
that corresponds to the final event in the account of the lives of the
gods: the Sun himself rises. On just this one occasion he appears as
an entire person, so hot that he dries out the face of the earth.
His heat turns Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz to stone, along with such
pumas, jaguars, and snakes as had existed until now. A diminutive
god called White Sparkstriker*(31) escapes petrifaction by going
into the shade of the trees, becoming the keeper of the stone animals.
He remains to this day as a gamekeeper, with stone fetishes
(volcanic concretions and meteorites) that resemble animals,
together with flesh-and-blood game animals, in his care. He may be
encountered in forests and caves, or on dark nights and in dreams;
he appears in contemporary masked dramas dressed entirely in red,
the color of the dawn.
At first the Quiches rejoice when they see the first sunrise, but
then they remember their "brothers," the tribes who were with them
at Tulan, and they sing the song called "The Blame Is Ours" once
again. In the words of this song they wonder where their brothers
might be at this very moment. In effect, the coming of the first
sunrise reunites the tribes, despite the fact that they remain
widely separated in space; as the Popol Vuh has it, "there were
countless peoples, but there was just one dawn for all tribes." The
orderly movements of the lights of the sky, signs of the deeds of
the gods, enable human beings to coordinate their actions even when
they cannot see one another. In point of fact Mesoamerican peoples
in general shared a common calendar, consisting of the 260-day
cycle, whose auguries were first read by Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, and the
cycles of Mars, Venus, and the sun and moon, as measured off by the
movements of their sons and grandsons and by Blood Woman.*(32)
Having seen the first sunrise from the mountain of Hacauitz, the
Quiches eventually build a citadel there. But at first, even while the
people of other tribes are becoming thickly settled and are seen
traveling the roads in great numbers, the Quiches remain rustic and
rural, gathering the larvae of yellow jackets, wasps, and bees for
food and staying largely out of sight. When they go before the
petrified forms of Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz, they burn bits of
pitchy bark and wildflowers as substitutes for refined incense and
offer blood drawn from their own bodies. The three gods are still able
to speak to them, but only by appearing in spirit form. Tohil tells
them to augment their offerings with the blood of deer and birds taken
in the hunt, but they grow dissatisfied with this arrangement and
begin to cast eyes on the people they see walking by in the roads.
From hiding places on mountain peaks, they begin imitating the cries
of the coyote, fox, puma, and jaguar.
Finally Tohil tells the Quiches to go ahead and take human beings
for sacrifice, reminding them that when they were at Tulan the other
tribes promised to allow him to "suckle" them. They begin to seize
people they find out walking alone or in pairs, taking them away to
cut them open before Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz and then rolling
their heads out onto the roads. At first the lords who rule the
victimized tribes think these deaths are the work of wild animals, but
then they suspect the worshipers of Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz and
attempt to track them down. Again and again they are foiled by rain,
mist, and mud, but they do discover that the three gods, whose
spirit familiars take the form of adolescent boys, have a favorite
bathing place. They send two beautiful maidens, Xtah and Xpuch, to
wash clothes there, instructing them to tempt the boys and then
yield to any advances. They warn the maidens to return with proof of
the success of their mission, which must take the form of presents
from the boys.*(33)
Contrary to plan, the three Quiche gods fail to lust after Xtah
and Xpuch, but they do agree to provide them with presents. They
give them three cloaks with figures on the inside, one painted with
a jaguar by Jaguar Quitze, another painted with an eagle by Jaguar
Night, and the third painted with swarms of yellow jackets and wasps
by Mahucutah. When the maidens return the enemy lords are so pleased
with the cloaks that they cannot resist trying them on. All is well
until the wasps painted on the inside of the third cloak turn into
real ones. Xtah and Xpuch are spurned; despite their failure to
tempt Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz they become the first prostitutes,
or what Quiches call "barkers of shins." As for the enemy lords,
they resolve to make war and launch a massive attack on the Quiche
citadel at Hacauitz.
The enemy warriors come at night in order to get as far as
possible without resistance, but they fall into a deep sleep on the
road. The Quiches not only strip them of all the metal ornaments on
their weapons and clothes, but pluck out their eyebrows and beards
as well. Even so the enemy warriors press on the next day,
determined to recover their losses, but the Quiches are well prepared.
What the enemy lookouts see all around the citadel of Hacauitz is a
wooden palisade; visible on the parapet are rows of warriors, decked
out with the very metal objects that were stolen during the night.
What the lookouts do not see is that these warriors are mere wooden
puppets, and that behind the palisade, on each of its four sides, is a
large gourd filled with yellow jackets and wasps, put there at the
suggestion of Tohil. As for the Quiches on the inside, what they
see, once the attack begins, is more than twenty-four thousand
warriors converging on them, bristling with weapons and shouting
continuously. But Tohil has made them so confident that they treat the
attack as a great spectacle, bringing their women and children up on
the parapet to see it. When they release the yellow jackets and
wasps their enemies drop their weapons and attempt to flee, so badly
stung they hardly even notice the blows they receive from conventional
Quiche weapons. The survivors become permanent payers of tribute to
the Quiche lords.
After their great victory, Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Mahucutah,
and True Jaguar begin preparing, with complete contentment, for what
they know to be their approaching death. First they sing "The Blame Is
Ours," and then they explain to their wives and successors that "the
time of our Lord Deer" has come around again. This is a reference to
the day named Deer, one of the four days on which a new solar year can
begin, and specifically to the first day of a longer period, lasting
fifty-two years, which falls on One Deer.*(34) Such a major temporal
transition is an occasion for rites of renewal; the Quiche forefathers
declare that their time as lords among the living has been completed
and that they intend to return to the place where they came from,
far in the east. Jaguar Quitze leaves a sacred object called the
"Bundle of Flames," a sort of cloth-wrapped ark with mysterious
contents, as a "sign of his being." He and the others "die" by
simply departing; they are never seen again, but their descendants
burn incense before the Bundle of Flames in remembrance of them,
just as Xmucane burned incense before the ears of corn in
remembrance of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
The Quiche lords of the second generation, following the
instructions of their departed fathers, go on a pilgrimage to the east
(at the beginning of Part Five). Unlike their fathers, they do this
with the intention of returning in the flesh. Cocaib, the firstborn
son of Jaguar Quitze, goes on behalf of the Cauec lineage; Coacutec,
the second son of Jaguar Night, represents the Greathouses; and
Coahau, the only son of Mahucutah, represents the Lord Quiches. They
go all the way back down into the lowlands, to the other side of the
same "sea" their fathers once crossed on the way up to the
highlands. If they were retracing their fathers' route in detail, they
must have descended into the lowlands by way of the Great Abyss.
They do not go to Tulan Zuyua, which may have been in ruins by this
time, but they do come before the ruler of a great kingdom. His name
is Nacxit, one of the epithets Nahua speakers give to the god-king
Plumed Serpent. He gives them the emblems that go with the two highest
titles of Mayan nobility, Keeper of the Mat and Keeper of the
Reception House Mat. Both these titles, the one belonging to a head of
state and the other to an overseer of tribute collection, go to the
Cauecs. From other sources we know that the Greathouse and Lord Quiche
lineages also receive emblems at this time, with the title of Lord
Minister (ranking third) going to one and that of Crier to the
People (ranking fourth) to the other.*(35)
Cocaib, Coacutec, and Coahau return "from across the sea" with the
regalia given them by Nacxit, including canopies, thrones, musical
instruments, cosmetics, jewelry, the feet and feathers of various
animals and birds, and "the writings about Tulan." Since one of the
titles of the Popol Vuh is "The Light That Came from Across the
Sea," we may guess that it was the Popol Vuh they brought back, and
that the hieroglyphic version of the book contained not only
writings about the gods whose movements prefigured those of
celestial lights, but about such human affairs as those of Tulan.
The sovereign lordship of the returned pilgrims is recognized not only
by the Quiches themselves, but by the Rabinals, Cakchiquels, and
Bird House people as well. Only now do the Quiche lords begin to
have what the Popol Vuh calls "fiery splendor." It seems likely that
their pilgrimage was conceived as a reenactment of the adventures of
Hunahpu and Xbalanque in Xibalba, who had only the planet Venus to
their credit when they first descended in the east at the Great Abyss,
but who eventually returned with the greater splendor of the sun and
Later, after the death of the widows of Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night,
and Mahucutah, the Quiches leave Hacauitz and settle at a succession
of other sites. The Popol Vuh mentions only one of these by name,
Thorny Place, settled at some point after the deaths of Cocaib,
Coacutec, and Coahau. The ruins of Thorny Place, which are divided
into four parts just as the Popol Vuh indicates they should be, are
some distance east and a little north of Hacauitz, in the direction of
the Great Abyss. This location may have been chosen because it was a
step backward on the Quiche migration route, placing the ruling
lords closer to their forefathers than they were before. But when
the Quiches move again, two generations later, they go west and a
little south again, ending up even farther in that direction than
Hacauitz. This time, with Cotuha as Keeper of the Mat and Iztayul as
Keeper of the Reception House Mat, they found the citadel of Bearded
Place, directly across a canyon to the south from the site of what
will one day be their greatest citadel.*(36)
At Bearded Place there is great harmony among the Cauecs,
Greathouses, and Lord Quiches; these three lineages, each with its own
palace, are tied together through intermarriage. At Thorny Place women
were married off in exchange for modest favors and gifts, but now,
at Bearded Place, wedding arrangements are accompanied by elaborate
feasting and drinking. The only disturbance during this period comes
when the Ilocs not only try to get Iztayul involved in a plot to
assassinate Cotuha, but come to the point of making a military
attack on Bearded Place. They are defeated, and some of their own
number are sacrificed before the gods of their intended victims. The
Cauec, Greathouse, and Lord Quiche lineages now rise to greater and
greater power, defeating some tribes in direct attacks and terrorizing
still others by having them witness the sacrifice of prisoners of war.
In the next generation the Keeper of the Mat bears the divine name
Plumed Serpent, while the Keeper of the Reception House Mat is Cotuha,
named after the previous Keeper of the Mat. They build a new and
larger citadel across the canyon from Bearded Place, at Rotten
Cane.*(37) The three leading lineages, faced with increased numbers
and torn by quarrels over inflation in bride prices, break apart
into smaller groups. The Cauecs divide into nine segments, the
Greathouses into nine, and the Lord Quiches into four, with each of
these segments headed by a titled lord and occupying its own palace.
In addition, the inhabitants of Rotten Cane include the Zaquics, a
lineage not previously mentioned in the Popol Vuh, divided into two
segments but occupying only a single palace, making twenty-three
palaces in all. Along with all these palaces, Rotten Cane is
provided with three pyramids that bear the temples of Tohil, Auilix,
and Hacauitz, ranged around a central plaza; elsewhere is a fourth
pyramid for Corntassel, the god of the Zaquics.
The Popol Vuh identifies Plumed Serpent, who holds the titles of
both Keeper of the Mat and Keeper of the Reception House Mat during at
least part of his reign at Rotten Cane, as "a true lord of genius." He
has the power to manifest his personal spirit familiars, putting on
performances in which he transforms himself into a snake, an eagle,
a jaguar, or a puddle of blood, climbing to the sky or descending to
Xibalba. As the Popol Vuh explains it, his displays are "just his
way of revealing himself," but they have the effect of terrorizing the
lords of other tribes. The next Quiche lords to manifest genius,
coming two generations later, are Quicab, who serves as Keeper of
the Mat, and Cauizimah, who serves as Keeper of the Reception House
Mat. Under their rule the dominion of the Quiches reaches its greatest
extent. Where Plumed Serpent gained power through spectacular displays
of shamanic skill, Quicab now gains it by military force. Not
content with merely overpowering the citadels of surrounding
peoples, he sends out loyal vassals, called "guardians of the land" or
"lookout lineages," to serve as forces of occupation. The stationing
of these guardians is conceived as analogous to the construction of
a palisade; they turn the entire Quiche kingdom into one great
During this period the settlement at the center of the Quiche
kingdom embraced a cluster of four citadels, with Rotten Cane at the
focal point. Together with the ordinary houses that occupied the lower
ground around them, these four sites made up a larger town that took
the name Quiche. It was perhaps the most densely built-up area that
had existed in highland Guatemala since early in the classic period,
and it took on the stature of the place where Cocaib, Coacutec, and
Coahau had gone to receive the titles and emblems of truly glorious
lordship. Five generations after their pilgrimage a new conferring
of titles took place, only now it was not Quiches but the heads of the
leading "lookout" lineages who were ennobled, and it happened not
under the authority of Nacxit, lord of a domain in the mythic
"east," but under Quicab, who ruled from Quiche.*(38)
The town of Quiche not only took on the status of the place
visited by the pilgrims who saw Nacxit, but of the Tulan visited by
their forefathers as well. When the founders of the ruling Quiche
lineages and their closest allies left Tulan Zuyua before the first
sunrise, they had come away with tribal gods whose names were "meant
to be in agreement," and they were "in unity" when they passed the
Great Abyss and convened at Place of Advice. Now, in this latter
day, "the word came from just one place" again, and the allies
convened in a town and "came away in unity" again, but this time
they came away "having heard, there at Quiche, what all of them should
do." It was probably during this period that the Quiche lords went
so far as to have a branching tunnel constructed directly beneath
Rotten Cane, a tunnel that brought the Seven Caves of Tulan Zuyua,
or of the ultimate Tulan that was Teotihuacan, to the time and place
of their own greatest glory.
It is in the course of explaining the greatness of lords like Plumed
Serpent and Quicab that the writers of the alphabetic Popol Vuh tell
us how its hieroglyphic predecessor was put to use, serving as a way
of seeing into distant places and times. Greatness also came to the
lords through their participation in religious retreats. For long
periods they would stay in the temples, praying, burning incense,
bleeding themselves, sleeping apart from their wives, and abstaining
not only from meat but from corn products, eating nothing but the
fruits of various trees. The shortest fast lasted 180 days,
corresponding to half the 360-day cycle (separate from the solar year)
that was used in keeping chronologies of historical events, and
another lasted 260 days, or one complete run of the cycle whose days
were counted by Xpiyacoc and Xmucane when they divined for the gods.
The longest fast, 340 days, corresponded to a segment of the Mayan
Venus calendar, beginning with the departure of Venus as the morning
star and continuing through its stay in the underworld and its
period of reappearance as the evening star, leaving just eight days to
go before its rebirth as the morning star. This fast probably
commemorated the heroic adventures of Hunahpu and Xbalanque in
Xibalba, the long darkness endured by the first generation of lords as
they watched for the appearance of the morning star, and the lowland
pilgrimage undertaken by Cocaib, Coacutec, and Coahau.
The Quiche lords sought identification with the very gods, not
only in their pilgrimages, shamanic feats, limitless vision, and
long fasts, but in the requirements they set for their subjects.
Just as the gods needed human beings to nurture them with offerings,
so human lords required subjects to bring them tribute. As the Popol
Vuh points out, the "nurture" required by the Quiche lords consisted
not only of the food and drink that were prepared for them, but of
turquoise, jade, and the iridescent blue-green feathers of the quetzal
bird. Apparently such precious objects as these were considered the
ultimate fruits of the earth and sky, which were themselves
described as the "blue-green plate" and "blue-green bowl."
Near the end, the Popol Vuh lists all the noble titles held by the
various segments of the Cauec, Greathouse, and Lord Quiche lineages
(in rank order), and it gives the names of those who held the
highest titles (in the order of their succession). In the case of
the two leading segments of the Cauec lineage, those whose heads
held the titles of Keeper of the Mat and Keeper of the Reception House
Mat, the text lists four generations after Quicab and Cauizimah, who
were in the seventh generation, without comment. Then, in the
twelfth generation, the names Three Deer and Nine Dog are followed
by two sentences whose combination of gravity and brevity gives the
reader a chill. The first is, "And they were ruling when Tonatiuh
arrived," Tonatiuh or "Sun" being the name given by the Aztecs to
Pedro de Alvarado, the man whose forces destroyed Rotten Cane in 1524.
And the second sentence about Three Deer and Nine Dog is simply, "They
were hanged by the Castilian people."*(39)
In the thirteenth generation of Cauecs the Popol Vuh lists Tecum and
Tepepul, who were "tributary to the Castilian people." Then, at the
end of the list of Cauec generations, come the first lords who adopted
Spanish names, Juan de Rojas and Juan Cortes, the living holders of
the titles of Keeper of the Mat and Keeper of the Reception House
Mat when the alphabetic Popol Vuh was written. Today Quiches ideally
list either nine or thirteen generations when they invoke their
ancestors in prayer; from this we can see that the thirteen
generations of lords named as preceding Juan de Rojas and Juan
Cortes need not be taken as constituting an exhaustive genealogy but
may simply be a list of the names these two men used in their own
By giving us the names of Quiche lords who were alive while they
were writing, the authors of the alphabetic Popol Vuh also give us the
means for dating their work. They could not have finished it any later
than 1558, since by that year the name of Juan de Rojas is missing
from documents he would have signed had he still been among the
living. And since they mention Pedro de Robles of the Greathouse
lineage as the current Lord Minister, they could not have finished any
earlier than 1554, at which time his predecessor was still in
office. This places the writing of the Popol Vuh during the very
same decade as the writing of the majority of the native titulos
that exist for colonial Guatemala, documents that were composed by
indigenous authors for the express purpose of reasserting the rights
formerly enjoyed by specific lordly lineages living in specific
places. The version of the Popol Vuh that comes down to us does not
include a copy of the original title page or of whatever explicitly
legal statements might have been appended to the original alphabetic
manuscript, but it makes the lineage and place names plain enough, and
it contains two different lists of towns that had once been
tributary to Quiche.*(40)
It may be that the indigenous lords of highland Guatemala chose
the 1550s to make their claims because they thought they saw an
opening in Spanish policy, but they may also have been preparing for
the major temporal transition that Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night,
Mahucutah, and True Jaguar had once called "the time of our Lord
Deer." A new fifty-two-year cycle, with the first day of its first
year falling on One Deer, was due to begin on June 2, 1558 (on the
Julian calendar). Juan Cortes, whose duties as Keeper of the Reception
House Mat would have included tribute collection had he served
before the coming of Alvarado, worked constantly to restore tribute
rights to the lordly lineages of the town of Quiche. In 1557 he went
all the way to Spain to press his case, and it may well be that he
took a copy of the alphabetic Popol Vuh with him. He continued to make
claims when he returned to Guatemala in 1558, prompting a missionary
to warn Philip II that "this land is new and not confirmed in the
faith," and that Cortes, "son of idolatrous parents, would need to
do very little to restore their ceremonies and attract their former
subjects to himself."*(41) Quiche rights to collect tribute never were
restored, but over the next thirty years Juan Cortes did take a
considerable role in appointing and installing the leaders of
various towns that had once been under Quiche rule.*(42)
By the time the authors of the Popol Vuh have finished giving the
rank order of noble titles and the names of the individuals who held
the highest titles, they are only a few sentences away from
finishing their work. At this point they single out one of the
lesser titles for further discussion, a move that seems
anticlimactic until we realize that they are giving us a clue to their
own identity. Without naming any individuals, they point out that each
of the three leading lineages included one lord bearing the title of
Great Toastmaster,*(43) also translatable as Great Convener of
Banquets. Here we may recall that when the authors introduced the
story of One Hunahpu, they themselves proposed a toast to the
reader. If we look for a convener of banquets and maker of toasts
among the contemporary Quiche, we find the professional matchmaker,
who serves as an eloquent master of ceremonies at the feasts where
marriage arrangements are completed. If our mysterious authors were
themselves the three Great Toastmasters, and if their duties
included the convening of wedding banquets, that would help explain
why they took a special interest in marriage customs when they
recounted the life and times of successive Quiche citadels. Indeed,
they specifically noted the point at which feasting and drinking first
became a part of the negotiations for a bride.
The authors give us one final clue to their identity when they
tell us that the three Great Toastmasters are "Mothers of the Word"
and "Fathers of the Word." The combination of "Mother" and "Father"
suggests the contemporary daykeepers called mother-fathers, who
serve as the ritual heads of patrilineages; it is from their ranks
that matchmakers are drawn. The focus on "the Word," coming as it does
near the very end of a work whose opening line promised to give us the
"Ancient Word," suggests that the Word parented by the Great
Toastmasters and the Word written down in the alphabetic Popol Vuh are
one and the same. If so, we know the name of at least one of the
writers: when Juan de Rojas and Juan Cortes signed a document known as
the "Title of the Lords of Totonicapan" in 1554, a man named Cristobal
Velasco*(44) signed himself as Great Toastmaster of the Cauecs.
At the end of their work the authors repeat the enigma they
presented near the beginning, allowing us to wonder whether the
hieroglyphic Popol Vuh might still exist somewhere, only now they
say it has been "lost" instead of telling us that the reader is hiding
his face. They close on a note of reassurance, asking us, in effect,
to accept what they have written without demanding a closer look at
their sources, since "everything has been completed here concerning
Quiche," meaning the place named Quiche. Then, lest we forget their
difficult circumstances, they add the phrase, "which is now named
Santa Cruz," or "Holy Cross." Here again they take us back to the
beginning, where they told us, "We shall write about this now amid the
preaching of God, in Christendom now."
Today, even when Quiche daykeepers go to a remote mountaintop
shrine, sending up great clouds of incense for multitudes of deities
and ancestors, they sometimes begin and end by running through an "Our
Father" and a "Hail Mary" and crossing themselves. It is as if the
alien eye and ear of the conqueror were present even under
conditions of solitude and required the recitation of two spells,
one to ward them off for awhile and the other to readmit their
existence. Between these protective spells daykeepers are left to
enter, in peace, a world whose obligations they know to be older
than those of Christianity, obligations to the mountains and plains
where they continue to live and to all those who have ever lived there
before them. So it is with the authors of the Popol Vuh, who mention
Christendom on the first page, Holy Cross on the last page, and open
up the whole sky-earth, vast and deep, within.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the Popol Vuh, considered in
its entirety, is the vast temporal sweep of its narrative. It begins
in darkness, with a world inhabited only by gods, and continues all
the way past the dawn into the time of the humans who wrote it. The
surviving Maya hieroglyphic books abound with gods, but they seem to
stop short of dealing directly with the acts of mortals. The Dresden
book does have one page that shifts the action to the human sphere,
but the following pages were torn off at some time in the past. If
we wish to find hieroglyphic texts that have the same proportion
between divine and human affairs as the alphabetic Popol Vuh, we
must leave the time and place in which it was written and go a
thousand years back and hundreds of miles away to the classic Maya
site of Palenque, in the Gulf-coast lowlands.*(45)
At Palenque, in the sanctuary of each temple in what is now known as
the Cross Group, is a stone tablet bearing a hieroglyphic narrative.
In each case the text is divided into two panels, one of which
begins with the deeds of gods who include the classic equivalents of
Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and the other of which ends with the deeds of
human lords whose own scribes were the authors of the inscriptions. In
the middle of this narrative, where the reader passes from one panel
to the other, are characters who are neither fully divine nor quite
human. So also with the Popol Vuh: about halfway through, the reader
comes to a transition between what might be called "myth" and
"history" (at the end of Part Three). The characters in the
narrative are still divine at this point, but they are described as
performing rituals for the veneration of ripened corn and deceased
relatives, rituals that are meant to be followed by future humans
rather than by ancient gods. After this episode, in which the gods act
like people, comes another in which people act like gods (at the
beginning of Part Four). The people in question are the first four
humans, the ones who saw and understood everything in the sky-earth.
Once their perfect vision has been taken away the narrative begins
to sound more like history as it moves along, though human
characters continue to aspire to deeds of divine proportions.*(46)
We tend to think of myth and history as being in conflict with one
another, but the authors of the inscriptions at Palenque and the
alphabetic text of the Popol Vuh treated the mythic and historical
parts of their narratives as belonging to a single, balanced whole. By
their sense of proportion, the Egyptian Book of the Dead would need
a second half devoted to human deeds in the land of the living, and
the Hebrew Testament would need a first half devoted to events that
took place before the fall of Adam and Eve. In the case of ancient
Chinese literature the Book of Changes, which is like the Popol Vuh in
being subject to divinatory interpretation, would have to be
combined with the Book of History in a single volume.
To this day the Quiche Maya think of dualities in general as
complementary rather than opposed, interpenetrating rather than
mutually exclusive. Instead of being in logical opposition to one
another, the realms of divine and human actions are joined by a mutual
attraction. If we had an English word that fully expressed the Mayan
sense of narrative time, it would have to embrace the duality of the
divine and the human in the same way the Quiche term cahuleu or
"sky-earth" preserves the duality of what we call the "world." In fact
we already have a word that comes close to doing the job:
mythistory, taken into English from Greek by way of Latin. For the
ancient Greeks, who set about driving a wedge between the divine and
the human, this term became a negative one, designating narratives
that should have been properly historical but contained mythic
impurities. For Mayans, the presence of a divine dimension in
narratives of human affairs is not an imperfection but a necessity,
and it is balanced by a necessary human dimension in narratives of
divine affairs. At one end of the Popol Vuh the gods are preoccupied
with the difficult task of making humans, and at the other humans
are preoccupied with the equally difficult task of finding the
traces of divine movements in their own deeds.
The difference between a fully mythistorical sense of narrative time
and the European quest for pure history is not reducible to a simple
contrast between cyclical and linear time. Mayans are always alert
to the reassertion of the patterns of the past in present events,
but they do not expect the past to repeat itself exactly. Each time
the gods of the Popol Vuh attempt to make human beings they get a
different result, and except for the solitary person made of mud, each
attempt has a lasting result rather than completely disappearing
into the folds of cyclical time. Later, when members of the second
generation of Quiche lords go on a pilgrimage that takes them into the
lowlands, their journey is not described as a literal repetition of
the journey of Hunahpu and Xbalanque to Xibalba, nor even as a
retracing of the journey of the human founders of the ruling Quiche
lineages, but is allowed its own character as a unique event, an event
that nevertheless carries echoes of the past. The effect of these
events, like others, is cumulative, and it is a specifically human
capacity to take each of them into account separately while at the
same time recognizing that they double back on one another.*(47)
In theory, if we who presently claim to be human were to forget
our efforts to find the traces of divine movements in our own actions,
our fate should be something like that of the wooden people in the
Popol Vuh. For them, the forgotten force of divinity reasserted itself
by inhabiting their own tools and utensils, which rose up against them
and drove them from their homes. Today they are swinging through the
On the holy day Eight Monkey
in the year Eleven Thought,
June 22, 1984,
PRONOUNCING QUICHE WORDS
a Like a in English "father," or Spanish a.
e Like ai in English "wait," or Spanish e.
i Like ee in English "seed," or Spanish i.
o Like o in English "bone," or Spanish o.
u Like oo in English "hoot," or Spanish u.
aa, ee, ii, The doubling of a vowel normally indicates that it
oo, uu is followed by a glottal stop, which is like tt in
the Scottish pronunciation of "bottle"; when uu
begins a word or follows another vowel it is
pronounced like English "woo."
b Like English b, but pronounced together with a
c, qu Pronounced without the puff of air that follows c in
ch Like English ch.
h Pronounced deeper in the throat than English h, like
Spanish j or German ch.
k Pronounced with the tongue farther back in the mouth
than for c or qu, like the Hebrew letter qoph.
l Pronounced with the tongue moved forward from the
position of English l so as to touch the teeth, as
in the ll of Welsh "Lloyd."
m Like English m.
n Like English n.
p Pronounced without the puff of air that follows p in
r Pronounced with a flap if between two vowels, like
Spanish r, otherwise trilled like Spanish rr.
t Pronounced without the puff of air that follows t in
tt Like t, but pronounced together with a glottal stop.
tz Like ts in English "mats."
x Like English sh.
y Like English y.
z Like English s.
3 Like k, but pronounced together with a glottal
4 Like c or qu, but pronounced together with a glottal
4h Like ch, but pronounced together with a glottal
4, Like tz, but pronounced together with a glottal
Stress is always on the final syllable of a word.
THIS IS THE BEGINNING*(48) OF THE ANCIENT WORD, here in this place
called Quiche.*(49) Here we shall inscribe, we shall implant the
Ancient Word, the potential and source for everything done in the
citadel of Quiche, in the nation of Quiche people.
And here*(50) we shall take up the demonstration, revelation, and
account of how things were put in shadow and brought to light*(51)
by the Maker, Modeler, named Bearer, Begetter,
Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,
Great White Peccary, Tapir,
Sovereign Plumed Serpent,
Heart of the Lake, Heart of the Sea,
Maker of the Blue-Green Plate,
Maker of the Blue-Green Bowl,
as they are called, also named, also described as
the midwife, matchmaker*(52)
named Xpiyacoc, Xmucane,
twice a midwife, twice a matchmaker,
as is said in the words of Quiche. They accounted for everything-
and did it, too- as enlightened beings, in enlightened words.*(54)
We shall write about this now amid the preaching of God, in
Christendom now.*(55) We shall bring it out because there is no longer
a place to see it,*(56) a Council Book,
a place to see "The Light That Came from
Across the Sea,"
the account of "Our Place in the Shadows,"
a place to see "The Dawn of Life,"
as it is called. There is the original book and ancient writing, but
he who reads and ponders it hides his face.*(57) It takes a long
performance*(58) and account to complete the emergence of all the
the fourfold siding, fourfold cornering,
measuring, fourfold staking,
halving the cord, stretching the cord
in the sky, on the earth,
the four sides, the four corners,*(59)
as it is said,
by the Maker, Modeler,
mother-father of life, of humankind,
giver of breath, giver of heart,
bearer, upbringer*(60) in the light that lasts*(61)
of those born in the light, begotten in the light;
worrier, knower of everything, whatever there is:
THIS IS THE ACCOUNT, here it is:
Now it still ripples, now it still murmurs, ripples, it still sighs,
still hums, and it is empty*(62) under the sky.
Here follow the first words, the first eloquence:*(63)
There is not yet one person, one animal, bird, fish, crab, tree,
rock, hollow, canyon, meadow, forest. Only the sky alone is there; the
face of the earth is not clear. Only the sea alone is pooled under all
the sky; there is nothing whatever gathered together. It is at rest;
not a single thing stirs.*(64) It is held back,*(65) kept at rest
under the sky.
Whatever there is that might be is simply not there: only the pooled
water, only the calm sea, only it alone is pooled.
Whatever might be is simply not there: only murmurs, ripples, in the
dark, in the night. Only the Maker, Modeler alone, Sovereign Plumed
Serpent, the Bearers, Begetters are in the water, a glittering
light.*(66) They are there, they are enclosed in quetzal feathers,
Thus the name, "Plumed Serpent." They are great knowers, great
thinkers in their very being.*(67)
And of course there is the sky, and there is also the Heart of
Sky. This is the name of the god,*(68) as it is spoken.
And then came his word, he came here to the Sovereign Plumed
Serpent, here in the blackness, in the early dawn.*(69) He spoke
with the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, and they talked, then they thought,
then they worried. They agreed with each other, they joined their
words, their thoughts.*(70) Then it was clear, then they reached
accord in the light, and then humanity was clear, when they
conceived the growth, the generation*(71) of trees, of bushes, and the
growth of life, of humankind, in the blackness, in the early dawn, all
because of the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane. Thunderbolt Hurricane
comes first, the second is Newborn Thunderbolt, and the third is Raw
So there were three of them, as Heart of Sky, who came to the
Sovereign Plumed Serpent, when the dawn of life was conceived:
"How should it be sown, how should it dawn?*(73) Who is to be the
"Let it be this way, think about it: this water should be removed,
emptied out for the formation of the earth's own plate and platform,
then comes the sowing, the dawning of the sky-earth. But there will be
no high days and no bright praise*(75) for our work, our design, until
the rise of the human work, the human design," they said.
And then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word
that brought it forth. For the forming of the earth they said "Earth."
It arose suddenly, just like a cloud, like a mist, now forming,
unfolding. Then the mountains were separated from the water,*(76)
all at once the great mountains came forth. By their genius alone,
by their cutting edge alone*(77) they carried out the conception of
the mountain-plain, whose face grew instant groves of cypress and
And the Plumed Serpent was pleased with this:
"It was good that you came, Heart of Sky, Hurricane, and Newborn
Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt. Our work, our design will turn out
well," they said.
And the earth was formed first, the mountain-plain. The channels
of water were separated; their branches wound their ways among the
mountains. The waters were divided when the great mountains appeared.
Such was the formation of the earth when it was brought forth by the
Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth, as they are called, since they were
the first to think of it.*(78) The sky was set apart, and the earth
was set apart in the midst of the waters.
Such was their plan when they thought, when they worried about the
completion of their work.
NOW THEY PLANNED THE ANIMALS OF THE MOUNTAINS, all the guardians
of the forests,*(79) creatures of the mountains: the deer, birds,
pumas, jaguars, serpents, rattlesnakes, yellowbites,*(80) guardians of
A Bearer, Begetter speaks:
"Why this pointless humming?*(81) Why should there merely be
rustling beneath the trees and bushes?"
"Indeed- they had better have guardians," the others replied. As
soon as they thought it and said it, deer and birds came forth.
And then they gave out homes to the deer and birds:
"You, the deer: sleep along the rivers, in the canyons. Be here in
the meadows, in the thickets, in the forests, multiply yourselves. You
will stand and walk on all fours," they were told.
So then they established the nests of the birds, small and great:
"You, precious birds:*(82) your nests, your houses are in the trees,
in the bushes. Multiply there, scatter there, in the branches of
trees, the branches of bushes," the deer and birds were told.
When this deed had been done, all of them had received a place to
sleep*(83) and a place to stay. So it is that the nests of the animals
are on the earth, given by the Bearer, Begetter. Now the arrangement
of the deer and birds was complete.
AND THEN THE DEER AND BIRDS WERE TOLD by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer,
"Talk, speak out. Don't moan, don't cry out.*(84) Please talk,
each to each, within each kind, within each group," they were told-
the deer, birds, puma, jaguar, serpent.
"Name now our names, praise us. We are your mother, we are your
father. Speak now:
Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt,
Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth,
speak, pray to us, keep our days," they were told. But it didn't
turn out that they spoke like people: they just squawked, they just
chattered, they just howled.*(85) It wasn't apparent what language
they spoke;*(86) each one gave a different cry. When the Maker,
Modeler heard this:
"It hasn't turned out well, they haven't spoken," they said among
themselves. "It hasn't turned out that our names have been named.
Since we are their mason and sculptor, this will not do," the
Bearers and Begetters said among themselves. So they told them:
"You will simply have to be transformed. Since it hasn't turned
out well and you haven't spoken, we have changed our word:
"What you feed on, what you eat, the places where you sleep, the
places where you stay, whatever is yours will remain in the canyons,
the forests. Although it turned out that our days were not kept, nor
did you pray to us, there may yet be strength in the keeper of days,
the giver of praise whom we have yet to make. Just accept your
service, just let your flesh be eaten.
"So be it, this must be your service," they were told when they were
instructed- the animals, small and great, on the face of the earth.
And then they wanted to test their timing again, they wanted to
experiment again, and they wanted to prepare for the keeping of days
again. They had not heard their speech among the animals; it did not
come to fruition and it was not complete.
And so their flesh was brought low: they served, they were eaten,
they were killed- the animals on the face of the earth.
AGAIN THERE COMES AN EXPERIMENT WITH THE HUMAN WORK, the human
design, by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter:
"It must simply be tried again. The time for the planting and
dawning is nearing. For this we must make a provider and nurturer. How
else can we be invoked and remembered on the face of the earth? We
have already made our first try at our work and design, but it
turned out that they didn't keep our days, nor did they glorify us.
"So now let's try to make a giver of praise, giver of respect,
provider, nurturer," they said.
So then comes the building and working with earth and mud. They made
a body, but it didn't look good to them. It was just separating,
just crumbling, just loosening, just softening, just disintegrating,
and just dissolving. Its head wouldn't turn, either. Its face was just
lopsided, its face was just twisted. It couldn't look around. It
talked at first, but senselessly.*(87) It was quickly dissolving in
"It won't last," the mason and sculptor said then. "It seems to be
dwindling away, so let it just dwindle. It can't walk and it can't
multiply, so let it be merely a thought," they said.
So then they dismantled, again they brought down their work and
design. Again they talked:
"What is there for us to make that would turn out well, that would
succeed in keeping our days and praying to us?" they said. Then they
"We'll just tell Xpiyacoc, Xmucane, Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu
Coyote, to try a counting of days, a counting of lots,"*(88) the mason
and sculptor said to themselves. Then they invoked Xpiyacoc, Xmucane.
THEN COMES THE NAMING OF THOSE WHO ARE THE MIDMOST SEERS: the
"Grandmother of Day, Grandmother of Light," as the Maker, Modeler
called them. These are names of Xpiyacoc and Xmucane.
When Hurricane had spoken with the Sovereign Plumed Serpent, they
invoked the daykeepers, diviners, the midmost seers:
"There is yet to find, yet to discover how we are to model a person,
construct a person again, a provider, nurturer, so that we are
called upon and we are recognized: our recompense is in words.
our grandmother, our grandfather,
let there be planting, let there be the dawning
of our invocation, our sustenance, our recognition
by the human work, the human design,
the human figure, the human mass.*(89)
So be it, fulfill your names:
Hunahpu Possum, Hunahpu Coyote,
Bearer twice over, Begetter twice over,
Great Peccary, Great Tapir,
Maker of the Blue-Green Plate,
Maker of the Blue-Green Bowl,
incense maker, master craftsman,*(90)
Grandmother of Day, Grandmother of Light.
You have been called upon because of our work, our design. Run your
hands over the kernels of corn, over the seeds of the coral tree,*(91)
just get it done, just let it come out whether we should carve and
gouge a mouth, a face in wood," they told the daykeepers.
And then comes the borrowing,*(92) the counting of days; the hand is
moved over the corn kernels, over the coral seeds, the days, the
Then they spoke to them, one of them a grandmother, the other a
This is the grandfather, this is the master of the coral seeds:
Xpiyacoc is his name.
And this is the grandmother, the daykeeper, diviner who stands
behind others:*(94) Xmucane is her name.
And they said, as they set out the days:
"Just let it be found, just let it be discovered,
say it, our ear is listening,
may you talk, may you speak,
just find the wood for the carving and sculpting
by the builder, sculptor.
Is this to be the provider, the nurturer
when it comes to the planting, the dawning?
You corn kernels, you coral seeds,
you days, you lots:
may you succeed, may you be accurate,"*(95)
they said to the corn kernels, coral seeds, days, lots. "Have shame,
you up there, Heart of Sky: attempt no deception*(96) before the mouth
and face of Sovereign Plumed Serpent," they said. Then they spoke
straight to the point:
"It is well that there be your manikins, woodcarvings,*(97) talking,
speaking, there on the face of the earth."
"So be it," they replied. The moment they spoke it was done: the
manikins, woodcarvings, human in looks and human in speech.
This was the peopling of the face of the earth:
They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they
had sons, these manikins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their
hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and
builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted.*(98) Now they
did not remember the Heart of Sky.
And so they fell, just an experiment and just a cutout for
humankind. They were talking at first but their faces were dry. They
were not yet developed in the legs and arms. They had no blood, no
lymph. They had no sweat, no fat. Their complexions were dry, their
faces were crusty. They flailed their legs and arms, their bodies were
And so they accomplished nothing before the Maker, Modeler who
gave them birth, gave them heart. They became the first numerous
people here on the face of the earth.
AGAIN THERE COMES A HUMILIATION, destruction, and demolition. The
manikins, woodcarvings were killed when the Heart of Sky devised a
flood for them. A great flood was made; it came down on the heads of
the manikins, woodcarvings.
The man's body was carved from the wood of the coral tree*(99) by
the Maker, Modeler. And as for the woman, the Maker, Modeler needed
the pith of reeds*(100) for the woman's body. They were not competent,
nor did they speak before the builder and sculptor who made them and
brought them forth, and so they were killed, done in by a flood:
There came a rain of resin*(101) from the sky.
There came the one named Gouger of Faces: he gouged out their
There came Sudden Bloodletter: he snapped off their heads.
There came Crunching Jaguar: he ate their flesh.
There came Tearing Jaguar: he tore them open.
They were pounded down to the bones and tendons, smashed and
pulverized even to the bones. Their faces were smashed because they
were incompetent before their mother and their father, the Heart of
Sky, named Hurricane. The earth was blackened because of this; the
black rainstorm*(102) began, rain all day and rain all night. Into
their houses came*(103) the animals, small and great. Their faces were
crushed by things of wood and stone. Everything spoke: their water
jars, their tortilla griddles, their plates, their cooking pots, their
dogs, their grinding stones, each and every thing crushed their faces.
Their dogs and turkeys*(104) told them:
"You caused us pain, you ate us, but now it is you whom we shall
eat." And this is the grinding stone:
"We were undone because of you.
Every day, every day,
in the dark, in the dawn, forever,
right in our faces, because of you.
This was the service we gave you at first, when you were still people,
but today you will learn of our power. We shall pound and we shall
grind your flesh," their grinding stones told them.
And this is what their dogs said, when they spoke in their turn:
"Why is it you can't seem to give us our food? We just watch and you
just keep us down, and you throw us around. You keep a stick ready
when you eat, just so you can hit us. We don't talk, so we've received
nothing from you. How could you not have known? You did know that we
were wasting away there, behind you.
"So, this very day you will taste the teeth in our mouths. We
shall eat you," their dogs told them, and their faces were crushed.
And then their tortilla griddles and cooking pots spoke to them in
"Pain! That's all you've done for us. Our mouths are sooty, our
faces are sooty. By setting us on the fire all the time, you burn
us. Since we felt no pain, you try it. We shall burn you," all their
cooking pots said, crushing their faces.
The stones, their hearthstones were shooting out,*(106) coming right
out of the fire, going for their heads, causing them pain. Now they
run for it, helter-skelter.
They want to climb up on the houses, but they fall as the houses
They want to climb the trees; they're thrown off by the trees.
They want to get inside caves, but the caves slam shut in their
Such was the scattering of the human work, the human design. The
people were ground down, overthrown. The mouths and faces of all of
them were destroyed and crushed. And it used to be said that the
monkeys in the forests today are a sign of this. They were left as a
sign because wood alone was used for their flesh*(107) by the
builder and sculptor.
So this is why monkeys look like people: they are a sign of a
previous human work, human design- mere manikins, mere woodcarvings.
THIS WAS WHEN THERE WAS JUST A TRACE OF EARLY DAWN on the face of
the earth, there was no sun. But there was one who magnified
himself; Seven Macaw is his name. The sky-earth was already there, but
the face of the sun-moon was clouded over. Even so, it is said that
his light provided a sign for the people who were flooded. He was like
a person of genius in his being.
"I am great. My place is now higher than that of the human work, the
human design. I am their sun and I am their light, and I am also their
"So be it: my light is great. I am the walkway and I am the foothold
of the people,*(109) because my eyes are of metal. My teeth just
glitter with jewels, and turquoise as well; they stand out*(110)
blue with stones like the face of the sky.
"And this nose of mine shines white into the distance like the moon.
Since my nest is metal, it lights up the face of the earth. When I
come forth before my nest, I am like the sun and moon for those who
are born in the light, begotten in the light. It must be so, because
my face reaches into the distance," says Seven Macaw.
It is not true that he is the sun, this Seven Macaw, yet he
magnifies himself, his wings, his metal. But the scope of his face
lies right around his own perch;*(111) his face does not reach
everywhere beneath the sky. The faces of the sun, moon, and stars
are not yet visible, it has not yet dawned.
And so Seven Macaw puffs himself up as the days and the months,
though the light of the sun and moon has not yet clarified. He only
wished for surpassing greatness. This was when the flood was worked
upon the manikins, woodcarvings.
And now we shall explain how Seven Macaw died, when the people
were vanquished, done in by the mason and sculptor.
(See illustration: Drawings by the author.
THE FIRST NAMED HUNAHPU AND THE SECOND NAMED XBALANQUE: These are
the portrait glyphs for the classic Maya equivalents of Hunahpu (left)
and Xbalanque (right) at Palenque.)
HERE IS THE BEGINNING OF THE DEFEAT AND DESTRUCTION OF THE DAY OF
SEVEN MACAW by the two boys, the first named Hunahpu and the second
named Xbalanque. Being gods, the two of them saw evil in his attempt
at self-magnification before the Heart of Sky. So the boys talked:
"It's no good without life, without people here on the face of the
"Well then, let's try a shot. We could shoot him while he's at his
meal. We could make him ill, then put an end to his riches, his
jade, his metal, his jewels, his gems, the source of his brilliance.
Everyone might do as he does, but it should not come to be that
fiery splendor is merely a matter of metal. So be it," said the
boys, each one with a blowgun on his shoulder, the two of them
And this Seven Macaw has two sons: the first of these is Zipacna,
and the second is the Earthquake. And Chimalmat is the name of their
mother, the wife of Seven Macaw.
And this is Zipacna, this is the one to build up the great
mountains: Fire Mouth, Hunahpu, Cave by the Water, Xcanul, Macamob,
Huliznab, as the names of the mountains that were there at the dawn
are spoken. They were brought forth by Zipacna in a single night.
And now this is the Earthquake. The mountains are moved by him;
the mountains, small and great, are softened by him.*(112) The sons of
Seven Macaw did this just as a means of self-magnification.
"Here am I: I am the sun," said Seven Macaw.
"Here am I: I am the maker of the earth," said Zipacna.
"As for me, I bring down the sky, I make an avalanche of all the
earth," said Earthquake. The sons of Seven Macaw are alike, and like
him: they got their greatness from their father.
And the two boys saw evil in this, since our first mother and father
could not yet be made. Therefore deaths and disappearances were
planned by the two boys.
AND HERE IS THE SHOOTING OF SEVEN MACAW BY THE TWO BOYS. We shall
explain the defeat of each one of those who engaged in
This is the great tree of Seven Macaw, a nance, and this is the food
of Seven Macaw. In order to eat the fruit of the nance he goes up
the tree every day. Since Hunahpu and Xbalanque have seen where he
feeds, they are now hiding beneath the tree of Seven Macaw, they are
keeping quiet here, the two boys are in the leaves of the tree.
(See illustration: Photo 1980 by Justin Kerr.
THEY ARE NOW HIDING BENEATH THE TREE OF SEVEN MACAW: In this classic
Maya vase painting from the lowlands, Seven Macaw is shown perched
in the top of a fruit tree. The tree itself is portrayed as animate,
with a face and ears at its base. Hidden behind the tree is Xbalanque,
whose pawlike hand protrudes above the tree's left ear. Crouching at
the right is Hunahpu, in the act of shooting Seven Macaw with his
blowgun. The presence of a scorpion beneath the tree remains
And when Seven Macaw arrived, perching over his meal, the nance,
it was then that he was shot by Hunahpu. The blowgun shot went right
to his jaw, breaking his mouth. Then he went up over the tree and fell
flat on the ground.*(113) Suddenly Hunahpu appeared, running. He set
out to grab him, but actually it was the arm of Hunahpu that was
seized by Seven Macaw. He yanked it straight back, he bent it back
at the shoulder. Then Seven Macaw tore it right out of Hunahpu. Even
so, the boys did well: the first round was not their defeat by Seven
And when Seven Macaw had taken the arm of Hunahpu, he went home.
Holding his jaw very carefully, he arrived:
"What have you got there?" said Chimalmat, the wife of Seven Macaw.
"What is it but those two tricksters!*(114) They've shot me, they've
dislocated my jaw.*(115) All my teeth are just loose,*(116) now they
ache. But once what I've got is over the fire- hanging there, dangling
over the fire- then they can just come and get it. They're real
tricksters!" said Seven Macaw, then he hung up the arm of Hunahpu.
Meanwhile Hunahpu and Xbalanque were thinking. And then they invoked
a grandfather, a truly white-haired grandfather, and a grandmother,
a truly humble grandmother- just bent-over, elderly people. Great
White Peccary is the name of the grandfather, and Great White Tapir is
the name of the grandmother. The boys said to the grandmother and
"Please travel with us when we go to get our arm from Seven Macaw;
we'll just follow right behind you. You'll tell him:
'Do forgive us*(117) our grandchildren, who travel with us. Their
mother and father are dead, and so they follow along there, behind us.
Perhaps we should give them away, since all we do is pull worms out of
teeth.' So we'll seem like children to Seven Macaw, even though
we're giving you the instructions," the two boys told them.
"Very well," they replied.
After that they approached the place where Seven Macaw was in
front of his home. When the grandmother and grandfather passed by, the
two boys were romping along behind them. When they passed below the
lord's house, Seven Macaw was yelling his mouth off because of his
teeth. And when Seven Macaw saw the grandfather and grandmother
traveling with them:
"Where are you headed, our grandfather?" said the lord.
"We're just making our living, your lordship," they replied.
"Why are you working for a living? Aren't those your children
traveling with you?"
"No, they're not, your lordship. They're our grandchildren, our
descendants, but it is nevertheless we who take pity on them. The
bit of food they get is the portion we give them, your lordship,"
replied the grandmother and grandfather. Since the lord is getting
done in by the pain in his teeth, it is only with great effort*(118)
that he speaks again:
"I implore you, please take pity on me! What sweets can you make,
what poisons can you cure?"*(119) said the lord.
"We just pull the worms out of teeth,*(120) and we just cure
eyes.*(121) We just set bones, your lordship," they replied.
"Very well, please cure my teeth. They really ache, every day.
It's insufferable! I get no sleep because of them- and my eyes. They
just shot me, those two tricksters! Ever since it started I haven't
eaten because of it. Therefore take pity on me! Perhaps it's because
my teeth are loose now."
"Very well, your lordship. It's a worm, gnawing at the bone.*(122)
It's merely a matter of putting in a replacement and taking the
teeth out, sir."
"But perhaps it's not good for my teeth to come out- since I am,
after all, a lord. My finery is in my teeth- and my eyes."
"But then we'll put in a replacement. Ground bone will be put back
in." And this is the "ground bone": it's only white corn.
"Very well. Yank them out! Give me some help here!" he replied.
And when the teeth of Seven Macaw came out, it was only white corn
that went in as a replacement for his teeth- just a coating*(123)
shining white, that corn in his mouth. His face fell at once, he no
longer looked like a lord. The last of his teeth came out, the
jewels that had stood out blue from his mouth.
And then the eyes of Seven Macaw were cured. When his eyes were
trimmed back*(124) the last of his metal came out. Still he felt no
pain; he just looked on while the last of his greatness left him. It
was just as Hunahpu and Xbalanque had intended.
And when Seven Macaw died, Hunahpu got back his arm. And
Chimalmat, the wife of Seven Macaw, also died.
Such was the loss of the riches of Seven Macaw: only the doctors got
the jewels and gems that had made him arrogant, here on the face of
the earth. The genius of the grandmother, the genius of the
grandfather did its work when they took back their arm: it was
implanted and the break got well again. Just as they had wished the
death of Seven Macaw, so they brought it about. They had seen evil
in his self-magnification.
After this the two boys went on again. What they did was simply
the word of the Heart of Sky.*(125)
AND HERE ARE THE DEEDS OF ZIPACNA, the first son of Seven Macaw.
"I am the maker of mountains," says Zipacna.
And this is Zipacna, bathing on the shore. Then the Four Hundred
Boys passed by dragging a log, a post for their hut. The Four
Hundred Boys were walking along, having cut a great tree for the
lintel of their hut.*(126)
And then Zipacna went there, he arrived where the Four Hundred
"What are you doing, boys?"
"It's just this log. We can't lift it up to carry it."
"I'll carry it. Where does it go? What do you intend to use it for?"
"It's just a lintel for our hut."
"Very well," he replied.
And then he pulled it, or rather carried it, right on up to the
entrance of the hut of the Four Hundred Boys.
"You could just stay with us, boy. Do you have a mother and father?"
"Not so," he replied.
"We'd like some help*(127) tomorrow in cutting another one of our
logs, a post for our hut."
"Good," he replied.
After that the Four Hundred Boys shared their thoughts:
"About this boy: what should we do with him?"
"We should kill him, because what he does is no good. He lifted that
log all by himself. Let's dig a big hole for him, and then we'll throw
him down*(128) in the hole. We'll say to him:
'Why are you spilling dirt in the hole?'*(129) And when he's
wedged*(130) down in the hole we'll wham a big log*(131) down behind
him. Then he should die in the hole," said the Four Hundred Boys.
And when they had dug a hole, one that went deep, they called for
"We're asking you to please go on digging out the dirt. We can't
go on," he was told.
"Very well," he replied.
After that he went down in the hole.
"Call out when enough dirt has been dug, when you're getting down
deep," he was told.
"Yes," he replied, then he began digging the hole. But the only hole
he dug was for his own salvation. He realized that he was to be
killed, so he dug a separate hole to one side,*(132) he dug a second
hole for safety.
"How far is it?" the Four Hundred Boys called down to him.
"I'm digging fast. When I call up to you, the digging will be
finished," said Zipacna, from down in the hole. But he's not digging
at the bottom of the hole, in his own grave; rather, the hole he's
digging is for his own salvation.
After that, when Zipacna called out, he had gone to safety in his
own hole. Then he called out:
"Come here, take the dirt, the fill from the hole. It's been dug.
I've really gone down deep! Can't you hear my call? As for your
call, it just echoes down here, it sounds to me as if you were on
another level, or two levels away,"*(133) said Zipacna from his
hole. He's hidden in there, he calls out from down in the hole.
Meanwhile, a big log is being dragged along by the boys.
And then they threw the log down in the hole.
"Isn't he there? He doesn't speak."
"Let's keep on listening. He should cry out when he dies," they said
among themselves. They're just whispering, and they've hidden
themselves, each one of them, after throwing down the log.
And then he did speak, now he gave a single cry. He called out
when the log fell to the bottom.
"Right on! He's been finished!"
"Very good! We've done him in, he's dead."
"What if he had gone on with his deeds, his works? He would've
made himself first among us and taken our place- we, the Four
Hundred Boys!" they said. Now they enjoyed themselves:
"On to the making of our sweet drink! Three days will pass, and
after three days let's drink to dedicate*(134) our hut- we, the Four
Hundred Boys!" they said. "And tomorrow we'll see, and on the day
after tomorrow we'll see whether or not ants come from the ground when
he's stinking and rotting. After that our hearts will be content
when we drink our sweet drink," they said. But Zipacna was listening
from the hole when the boys specified "the day after tomorrow."
And on the second day, when the ants collected, they were running,
swarming. Having taken their pickings*(135) under the log, they were
everywhere, carrying hair in their mouths and carrying the nails of
Zipacna. When the boys saw this:
"He's finished, that trickster! Look here how the ants have stripped
him, how they've swarmed. Everywhere they carry hair in their
mouths. It's his nails you can see. We've done it!" they said among
But this Zipacna is still alive. He just cuts the hair off his
head and chews off his nails to give them to the ants.
And so the Four Hundred Boys thought he had died.
After that, their sweet drink was ready on the third day, and then
all the boys got drunk, and once they were drunk, all four hundred
of those boys, they weren't feeling a thing.
After that the hut was brought down on top of them by Zipacna. All
of them were completely flattened. Not even one or two were saved from
among all the Four Hundred Boys. They were killed by Zipacna, the
son of Seven Macaw.
Such was the death of those Four Hundred Boys. And it used to be
said that they entered a constellation, named Hundrath after them,
though perhaps this is just a play on words.*(136)
And this is where we shall explain the defeat of Zipacna by the
two boys, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
NOW THIS IS THE DEFEAT AND DEATH OF ZIPACNA, when he was beaten by
the two boys, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
What now weighed heavily on the hearts of the two boys was that
the Four Hundred Boys had been killed by Zipacna.
It's mere fish and crabs that Zipacna looks for in the waters, but
he's eating every day, going around looking for his food by day and
lifting up mountains by night.
Next comes the counterfeiting*(137) of a great crab by Hunahpu and
And they used bromelia flowers, picked from the bromelias of the
forests. These became the forearms*(138) of the crab, and where they
opened*(139) were the claws.*(140) They used a flagstone for the
back of the crab, which clattered.*(141)
After that they put the shell beneath an overhang,*(142) at the foot
of a great mountain. Meauan is the name of the mountain where the
defeat took place.
After that, when the boys came along, they found Zipacna by the
"Where are you going, boy?" Zipacna was asked.
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm just looking for my food, boys,"
"What's your food?"
"Just fish and crabs, but there aren't any that I can find. It's
been two days since I stopped getting meals. By now I can't stand
the hunger,"*(143) Zipacna told Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"There is that crab that's down in the canyon. A really big crab!
Perhaps you might manage to eat her. We were just getting bitten. We
wanted to catch her, but we got scared by her. If she hasn't gone away
you could catch her," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"Take pity on me, please come point her out, boys,"*(144) said
"We don't want to, but you go ahead. You can't miss her. Just follow
the river, and you go straight on over there below a great mountain.
She's clattering there at the bottom of the canyon. Just head on
over there," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"But won't you please*(145) take pity on me? What if she can't be
found, boys? If you come along I'll show you a place where there are
plenty of birds.*(146) Please come shoot them, I know where they are,"
Zipacna replied. They consented. He went ahead of the boys.
"What if you can't catch the crab? Just as we had to turn back, so
will you. Not only didn't we eat her, but all at once she was biting
us. We were entering*(147) face down, but when she got scared we
were entering on our back.*(148) We just barely missed reaching her
then, so you'd better enter on your back," he was told.
"Very well," Zipacna replied, and then they went on. Now Zipacna had
company as he went. They arrived at the bottom of the canyon.
The crab is on her side, her shell is gleaming red there.*(149) In
under the canyon wall is their contrivance.
"Very good!" Zipacna is happy now. He wishes she were already in his
mouth, so she could really cure his hunger. He wanted to eat her, he
just wanted it face down, he wanted to enter, but since the crab got
on top of him with her back down, he came back out.
"You didn't reach her?" he was asked.
"No indeed- she was just getting on top with her back down. I just
barely missed her on the first try, so perhaps I'd better enter on
my back,"*(150) he replied.
After that he entered again, on his back. He entered all the way-
only his kneecaps were showing now!*(151) He gave a last sigh and
was calm.*(152) The great mountain rested on his chest. He couldn't
turn over now, and so Zipacna turned to stone.
Such, in its turn, was the defeat of Zipacna by the two boys,
Hunahpu and Xbalanque. He was "the maker of mountains," as his
previous pronouncements had it, the first son of Seven Macaw. He was
defeated beneath the great mountain called Meauan, defeated by
genius alone. He was the second to magnify himself, and now we shall
speak what is spoken of another.
AND THE THIRD TO MAGNIFY HIMSELF IS THE SECOND SON OF SEVEN MACAW,
"I am the breaker of mountains," he said. But even so, Hunahpu and
Xbalanque defeated the Earthquake. Then Hurricane spoke, Newborn
Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt; he spoke to Hunahpu and Xbalanque:
"The second son of Seven Macaw is another one, another who should be
defeated. This is my word, because what they do on the face of the
earth is no good. They are surpassing the sun in size, in weight,
and it should not be that way. Lure this Earthquake into settling
down*(153) over there in the east," Hurricane told the two boys.
"Very well, your lordship. There is more to be done. What we see
is no good. Isn't it a question of your position and your eminence,
sir, Heart of Sky?" the two boys said when they responded to the
word of Hurricane.
Meanwhile he presses on, this Earthquake, breaker of mountains. Just
by lightly tapping his foot on the ground he instantly demolishes
the mountains, great and small. When he met up with the two boys:
"Where are you going, boy?" they asked Earthquake.
"I'm not going anywhere. I just scatter the mountains, and I'm the
one who breaks them, in the course of the days, in the course of the
light,"*(154) he said when he answered. Then the Earthquake asked
Hunahpu and Xbalanque:
"Where did you come from? I don't know your faces. What are your
names?" said Earthquake.
"We have no names. We just hunt and trap in the mountains. We're
just orphans, we have nothing to call our own, boy. We're just
making our way among the mountains, small and great, boy. And
there's one great mountain we saw that's just growing right along.
It's rising really high! It's just swelling up, rising above all the
other mountains. And there weren't even one or two birds to be
found, boy. So how could it be that you destroy all mountains, boy?"
Hunahpu and Xbalanque said to Earthquake.
"It can't be true you saw the mountain you're talking about. Where
is it? You'll see me knock it down yet. Where did you see it?"
"Well, it's over there in the east," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"Good. Lead the way,"*(155) the two boys were told.
"Not so. You take the middle. Stay here between us- one of us at
your left, the other at your right hand- because of our blowguns. If
there are birds, we'll shoot," they said. They enjoy practicing
And this is the way they shoot: the shot of their blowguns isn't
made of earth- they just blow at the birds when they shoot,*(156) to
the amazement of the Earthquake.
And then the boys made fire with a drill*(157) and roasted the birds
over the fire. And they coated one of the birds with plaster, they put
gypsum on it.
(See illustration: Drawing by Carlos A. Villacorta: Photo
Hillel Burger (C) 1984 by the President and Fellows of Harvard
AND THEN THE BOYS MADE FIRE WITH A DRILL: In this illustration
from the lowland Maya hieroglyphic book now known as the Madrid Codex,
two figures turn a fire drill while sparks fly up from the wooden
platform where the point of the drill is inserted. They are seated
on or beside a road, marked by footprints.)
"So this is the one we'll give him when he's hungry, and when he
savors the aroma of our birds. That will be victory, since we've
covered his bird with baked earth. In earth we must cook it, and in
earth must be his grave- if the great knower, the one to be made and
modeled,*(158) is to have a sowing and dawning," said the boys.
"Because of this, the human heart*(159) will desire a bite of
meat, a meal of flesh,*(160) just as the heart of the Earthquake
will desire it," Hunahpu and Xbalanque said to one another. Then
they roasted the birds and cooked them until they were brown, dripping
with fat that oozed from the backs of the birds, with an
overwhelmingly fragrant aroma.
And this Earthquake wants to be fed, his mouth just waters, he gulps
and slurps with spittle and saliva because of the fragrance of the
birds. So then he asked:
"What are you eating? I smell a truly delicious aroma! Please give
me a little bit," he said. And when they gave a bird to Earthquake, he
was as good as defeated.
After he had finished off the bird, they went on until they
arrived in the east, where the great mountain was.
Meanwhile, Earthquake had lost the strength in his legs and arms. He
couldn't go on because of the earth that coated the bird he'd eaten.
So now there was nothing he could do to the mountain. He never
recovered; he was destroyed. So then he was bound by the two boys; his
hands were bound behind him. When his hands had been secured by the
boys, his ankles were bound to his wrists.*(161)
After that they threw him down, they buried him in the earth.
Such is the defeat of Earthquake. It's Hunahpu and Xbalanque yet
again. Their deeds on the face of the earth are countless.
And now we shall explain the birth of Hunahpu and Xbalanque,
having first explained the defeat of Seven Macaw, along with Zipacna
and Earthquake, here on the face of the earth.
AND NOW WE SHALL NAME THE NAME OF THE FATHER OF HUNAHPU AND
XBALANQUE. Let's drink to him, and let's just drink to the
telling*(162) and accounting of the begetting of Hunahpu and
Xbalanque. We shall tell just half of it, just a part of the account
of their father. Here follows the account.
These are the names: One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, as they are
And these are their parents: Xpiyacoc, Xmucane. In the blackness, in
the night, One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu were born to Xpiyacoc and
And this One Hunahpu had two children, and the two were sons, the
firstborn named One Monkey and the second named One Artisan.
And this is the name of their mother: she is called Xbaquiyalo,
the wife of One Hunahpu. As for Seven Hunahpu, he has no wife. He's
just a partner*(164) and just secondary; he just remains a boy.
They are great thinkers and great is their knowledge. They are the
midmost seers, here on the face of the earth. There is only good in
their being and their birthright. They taught skills to One Monkey and
One Artisan, the sons of One Hunahpu. One Monkey and One Artisan
became flautists, singers, and writers; carvers, jewelers,
metalworkers*(165) as well.
(See illustration: Photo 1980 by Justin Kerr.
ONE MONKEY AND ONE ARTISAN BECAME FLAUTISTS, SINGERS, AND WRITERS:
In this classic Maya funerary vase painting from northern Guatemala,
the twin monkey gods are shown seated in a cross-legged position,
pointing to screen-folded books while speaking or singing. The books
they hold in their hands have jaguar-skin covers; other books are
piled up at their feet. [Vase in the New Orleans Museum of Art.])
And as for One and Seven Hunahpu, all they did was throw dice and
play ball, every day. They would play each other in pairs, the four of
them together. When they gathered in the ball court for
entertainment a falcon would come to watch them, the messenger of
Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt. And for this falcon
it wasn't far to the earth here, nor was it far to Xibalba; he could
get back to the sky, to Hurricane, in an instant.
The four ballplayers*(166) remained here on the face of the earth
after the mother of One Monkey and One Artisan had died. Since it
was on the road to Xibalba that they played, they were heard by One
Death and Seven Death, the lords of Xibalba:
"What's happening on the face of the earth? They're just stomping
and shouting. They should be summoned to come play ball here. We'll
defeat them, since we simply get no deference from them. They show
no respect, nor do they have any shame. They're really determined to
run right over us!"*(167) said all of Xibalba, when they all shared
their thoughts, the ones named One and Seven Death. They are great
AND THESE ARE THE LORDS OVER EVERYTHING, each lord with a commission
and a domain assigned by One and Seven Death:
There are the lords named House Corner and Blood Gatherer. And
this is their commission: to draw blood from people.*(168)
Next are the lordships of Pus Master and Jaundice Master. And this
is their domain: to make people swell up, to make pus come out of
their legs, to make their faces yellow, to cause jaundice,*(169) as it
is called. Such is the domain of Pus Master and Jaundice Master.
Next are the lords Bone Scepter and Skull Scepter, the staff bearers
of Xibalba; their staffs are just bones. And this is their
staff-bearing: to reduce people to bones, right down to the bones
and skulls, until they die from emaciation and edema.*(170) This is
the commission of the ones named Bone Scepter and Skull Scepter.
Next are the lords named Trash Master and Stab Master. This is their
commission: just to catch up with people*(171) whenever they have
filth or grime in the doorway of the house,*(172) the patio of the
house.*(173) Then they're struck, they're just punctured until they
crawl on the ground, then die. And this is the domain of Trash
Master and Stab Master, as they are called.
Next are the lords named Wing and Packstrap. This is their domain:
that people should die in the road, just "sudden death,"*(174) as it
is called. Blood comes to the mouth, then there is death from vomiting
blood. So to each of them his burden, the load on his shoulders:
just to strike people on the neck and chest. Then there is death in
the road, and then they just go on causing suffering, whether one is
coming or going. And this is the domain of Wing and Packstrap.
Such are those who shared their thoughts*(175) when they were piqued
and driven*(176) by One and Seven Hunahpu. What Xibalba desired was
the gaming equipment of One and Seven Hunahpu: their kilts, their
yokes, their arm guards, their panaches and headbands, the costumes of
One and Seven Hunahpu.
And this is where we shall continue telling of their trip to
Xibalba. One Monkey and One Artisan, the sons of One Hunahpu, stayed
behind. Their mother died- and, what is more, they were to be defeated
by Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
(See illustration: Drawing reproduced by permission of
Coe and the Grolier Club.
AND THESE ARE THE LORDS OVER EVERYTHING: This late classic Maya
funerary vase painting from northern Guatemala shows seven lords of
Xibalba, with the head lord, corresponding to One Death of the Popol
Vuh, smoking a cigar and sitting on a jaguar skin at right. The two
lords immediately to his left may be Bone Scepter (in the bottom
row) and Skull Scepter (in the top row), one with a staff that looks
like a spinal column in front of him and the other with a rounded
bundle that could contain a skull. All seven lords wear ball game
yokes on their hips. The Popol Vuh mentions fourteen lords, counting
two manikins that are meant to be mistaken for lords. Perhaps each
pair of names mentioned in the Popol Vuh originally belonged to a
single lord, or perhaps each of the lords shown here is understood
to have another seated at his side.)
AND NOW FOR THE MESSENGERS OF ONE AND SEVEN DEATH: "You're going,
you Military Keepers of the Mat, to summon One and Seven Hunahpu.
You'll tell them, when you arrive:
'"They must come," the lords say to you. "Would that they might come
to play ball with us here. Then we could have some excitement with
them. We are truly amazed at them. Therefore they should come," say
the lords, "and they should bring their playthings, their yokes and
arm guards should come, along with their rubber ball," say the lords,'
you will say when you arrive," the messengers were told.
And these messengers of theirs are owls:*(177) Shooting Owl,
One-legged Owl, Macaw Owl, Skull Owl, as the messengers of Xibalba are
There is Shooting Owl, like a point, just piercing.
And there is One-legged Owl, with just one leg; he has wings.
And there is Macaw Owl, with a red back; he has wings.
And there is also Skull Owl, with only a head alone; he has no legs,
but he does have wings.
There are four messengers, Military Keepers of the Mat in rank.
And when they came out of Xibalba they arrived quickly, alighting
above the ball court where One and Seven Hunahpu were playing, at
the ball court called Great Abyss at Carchah. The owls, arriving in
a flurry over the ball court, now repeated their words, reciting the
exact words*(178) of One Death, Seven Death, Pus Master, Jaundice
Master, Bone Scepter, Skull Scepter, House Corner, Blood Gatherer,
Trash Master, Stab Master, Wing, Packstrap, as all the lords are
named. Their words were repeated by the owls.
"Don't the lords One and Seven Death speak truly?"*(179)
"Truly indeed," the owls replied. "We'll accompany you.
'They're to bring along all their gaming equipment,' say the lords."
"Very well, but wait for us while we notify our mother," they
And when they went to their house, they spoke to their mother; their
father had died:
"We're going, our dear mother, even though we've just arrived.*(180)
The messengers of the lord have come to get us:
'"They should come," he says,' they say, giving us orders. We'll
leave our rubber ball behind here," they said, then they went to tie
it up under the roof of the house. "Until we return- then we'll put it
in play again."
They told One Monkey and One Artisan:
"As for you, just play and just sing,*(181) write and carve to
warm our house and to warm the heart of your grandmother." When they
had been given their instructions, their grandmother Xmucane sobbed,
she had to weep.
"We're going, we're not dying. Don't be sad," said One and Seven
Hunahpu, then they left.
AFTER THAT ONE AND SEVEN HUNAHPU LEFT, guided down the road by the
And then they descended the road to Xibalba, going down a steep
cliff, and they descended until they came out where the rapids cut
through,*(182) the roaring canyon narrows named Neck Canyon. They
passed through there, then they passed on into the River of Churning
Spikes. They passed through countless spikes but they were not
And then they came to water again, to blood: Blood River. They
crossed but did not drink. They came to a river, but a river filled
with pus. Still they were not defeated, but passed through again.
And then they came to the Crossroads, but here they were defeated,
at the Crossroads:
Red Road was one and Black Road another.
White Road was one and Yellow Road another.
There were four roads, and Black Road spoke:
"I am the one you are taking. I am the lord's road," said the
road. And they were defeated there: this was the Road of Xibalba.
And then they came to the council place of the lords of Xibalba, and
they were defeated again there. The ones seated first there are just
manikins, just woodcarvings dressed up by Xibalba. And they greeted
the first ones:
"Morning,*(183) One Death," they said to the manikin. "Morning,
Seven Death," they said to the woodcarving in turn.
So they did not win out, and the lords of Xibalba shouted out with
laughter over this. All the lords just shouted with laughter because
they had triumphed; in their hearts they had beaten One and Seven
Hunahpu. They laughed on until One and Seven Death spoke:
"It's good that you've come. Tomorrow you must put your yokes and
arm guards into action," they were told.
"Sit here on our bench," they were told, but the only bench they
were offered was a burning-hot rock.
So now they were burned on the bench; they really jumped around on
the bench now, but they got no relief.*(184) They really got up
fast, having burned their butts. At this the Xibalbans laughed
again, they began to shriek with laughter, the laughter rose up like a
serpent in their very cores,*(185) all the lords of Xibalba laughed
themselves down to their blood and bones.*(186)
"Just go in the house. Your torch and cigars will be brought to your
sleeping quarters," the boys were told.
After that they came to the Dark House, a house with darkness
alone inside. Meanwhile the Xibalbans shared their thoughts:
"Let's just sacrifice them tomorrow. It can only turn out to be
quick; they'll die quickly because of our playing equipment, our
gaming things," the Xibalbans are saying among themselves.
This ball of theirs is just a spherical knife.*(187) White Dagger is
the name of the ball, the ball of Xibalba. Their ball is just ground
down to make it smooth; the ball of Xibalba is just surfaced with
crushed bone to make it firm.
AND ONE AND SEVEN HUNAHPU WENT INSIDE DARK HOUSE.
And then their torch was brought,*(188) only one torch, already lit,
sent by One and Seven Death, along with a cigar for each of them, also
already lit, sent by the lords. When these were brought to One and
Seven Hunahpu they were cowering,*(189) here in the dark. When the
bearer of their torch and cigars arrived, the torch was bright as it
entered; their torch and both of their cigars were burning. The bearer
"'They must be sure to return them in the morning- not finished, but
just as they look now. They must return them intact,' the lords say to
you," they were told, and they were defeated. They finished the
torch and they finished the cigars that had been brought to them.
And Xibalba is packed with tests, heaps and piles of tests.
This is the first one: the Dark House, with darkness alone inside.
And the second is named Rattling House, heavy with cold inside,
whistling with drafts, clattering with hail.*(190) A deep chill
comes inside here.
And the third is named Jaguar House, with jaguars alone inside,
jostling one another, crowding together, with gnashing teeth.
They're scratching around; these jaguars are shut inside the house.
Bat House is the name of the fourth test, with bats alone inside the
house, squeaking, shrieking, darting through the house. The bats are
shut inside; they can't get out.
And the fifth is named Razor House, with blades alone inside. The
blades are moving back and forth,*(191) ripping, slashing through
These are the first tests of Xibalba, but One and Seven Hunahpu
never entered into them, except for the one named earlier, the
specified test house.
And when One and Seven Hunahpu went back before One and Seven Death,
they were asked:
"Where are my cigars? What of my torch? They were brought to you
"We finished them, your lordship."
"Very well. This very day, your day is finished, you will die, you
will disappear, and we shall break you off. Here you will hide your
faces: you are to be sacrificed!" said One and Seven Death.
And then they were sacrificed and buried. They were buried at the
Place of Ball Game Sacrifice, as it is called. The head of One Hunahpu
was cut off; only his body was buried with his younger brother.
"Put his head in the fork of the tree that stands by the
road,"*(192) said One and Seven Death.
And when his head was put in the fork of the tree, the tree bore
fruit. It would not have had any fruit, had not the head of One
Hunahpu been put in the fork of the tree.
This is the calabash tree, as we call it today, or "the head of
One Hunahpu," as it is said.
And then One and Seven Death were amazed at the fruit of the tree.
The fruit grows out everywhere, and it isn't clear where the head of
One Hunahpu is; now it looks just the way the calabashes look. All the
Xibalbans see this, when they come to look.
The state of the tree loomed large in their thoughts, because it
came about at the same time the head of One Hunahpu was put in the
fork. The Xibalbans said among themselves:
"No one is to pick the fruit, nor is anyone to go beneath the tree,"
they said. They restricted themselves; all of Xibalba held back.
It isn't clear which is the head of One Hunahpu; now it's exactly
the same as the fruit of the tree. Calabash tree came to be its
name, and much was said about it. A maiden heard about it, and here we
shall tell of her arrival.
AND HERE IS THE ACCOUNT OF A MAIDEN, the daughter of a lord named
And this is when a maiden heard of it, the daughter of a lord. Blood
Gatherer is the name of her father, and Blood Woman is the name of the
And when he heard the account of the fruit of the tree, her father
retold it. And she was amazed at the account:
"I'm not acquainted with that tree they talk about. '"Its fruit is
truly sweet!" they say,' I hear,"*(193) she said.
Next, she went all alone and arrived where the tree stood. It
stood at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice:
"What? Well! What's the fruit of this tree? Shouldn't this tree bear
something sweet? They shouldn't die, they shouldn't be wasted.
Should I pick one?" said the maiden.
And then the bone spoke; it was here in the fork of the tree:
"Why do you want a mere bone, a round thing in the branches of a
tree?" said the head of One Hunahpu when it spoke to the maiden.
"You don't want it," she was told.
"I do want it," said the maiden.
"Very well. Stretch out your right hand here,*(194) so I can see
it," said the bone.
"Yes," said the maiden. She stretched out her right hand, up there
in front of the bone.
And then the bone spit out its saliva, which landed squarely in
the hand of the maiden.
And then she looked in her hand, she inspected it right away, but
the bone's saliva wasn't in her hand.
"It is just a sign I have given you, my saliva, my spittle.*(195)
This, my head, has nothing on it- just bone, nothing of meat. It's
just the same with the head of a great lord: it's just the flesh
that makes his face look good. And when he dies, people get frightened
by his bones. After that, his son is like his saliva, his spittle,
in his being, whether it be the son of a lord or the son of a
craftsman, an orator. The father does not disappear, but goes on being
fulfilled. Neither dimmed nor destroyed is the face of a lord, a
warrior, craftsman, orator. Rather, he will leave his daughters and
sons. So it is that I have done likewise through you. Now go up
there on the face of the earth; you will not die. Keep the word.*(196)
So be it," said the head of One and Seven Hunahpu- they were of one
mind*(197) when they did it.
This was the word Hurricane, Newborn Thunderbolt, Raw Thunderbolt
had given them. In the same way, by the time the maiden returned to
her home, she had been given many instructions. Right away something
was generated in her belly, from the saliva alone, and this was the
generation of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
And when the maiden got home and six months had passed, she was
found out by her father. Blood Gatherer is the name of her father.
AND AFTER THE MAIDEN WAS NOTICED BY HER FATHER, when he saw that she
was now with child, all the lords then shared their thoughts- One
and Seven Death, along with Blood Gatherer:
"This daughter of mine is with child, lords. It's just a
bastard,"*(198) Blood Gatherer said when he joined the lords.
"Very well. Get her to open her mouth.*(199) If she doesn't tell,
then sacrifice her. Go far away and sacrifice her."
"Very well, your lordships," he replied. After that, he questioned
"Who is responsible for the child in your belly, my daughter?" he
"There is no child, my father, sir; there is no man whose face
I've known,"*(200) she replied.
"Very well. It really is a bastard you carry! Take her away for
sacrifice, you Military Keepers of the Mat. Bring back her heart in
a bowl, so the lords can take it in their hands*(201) this very
day," the owls were told, the four of them.
Then they left, carrying the bowl. When they left they took the
maiden by the hand, bringing along the White Dagger, the instrument of
"It would not turn out well if you sacrificed me, messengers,
because it is not a bastard that's in my belly. What's in my belly
generated all by itself when I went to marvel at the head of One
Hunahpu, which is there at the Place of Ball Game Sacrifice. So please
stop:*(202) don't do your sacrifice, messengers," said the maiden.
Then they talked:
"What are we going to use in place of her heart? We were told by her
'Bring back her heart. The lords will take it in their hands, they
will satisfy themselves, they will make themselves familiar with its
composition.*(203) Hurry, bring it back in a bowl, put her heart in
the bowl.' Isn't that what we've been told? What shall we deliver in
the bowl? What we want above all is that you should not die," said the
"Very well. My heart must not be theirs, nor will your homes be
here.*(204) Nor will you simply force people to die, but hereafter,
what will be truly yours will be the true bearers of bastards. And
hereafter, as for One and Seven Death, only blood,*(205) only
nodules of sap, will be theirs. So be it that these things are
presented before them, and not that hearts are burned before them.
So be it: use the fruit of a tree,"*(206) said the maiden. And it
was red tree sap she went out to gather in the bowl.
After it congealed, the substitute for her heart became round.
When the sap of the croton tree was tapped, tree sap like blood, it
became the substitute for her blood. When she rolled the blood
around inside there, the sap of the croton tree, it formed a surface
like blood,*(207) glistening red now, round inside the bowl. When
the tree was cut open by the maiden, the so-called cochineal croton,
the sap is what she called blood, and so there is talk of "nodules
"So you have been blessed with the face of the earth. It shall be
yours," she told the owls.
"Very well, maiden. We'll show you the way up there. You just walk
on ahead; we have yet to deliver this apparent duplicate of your heart
before the lords," said the messengers.
And when they came before the lords, they were all watching closely:
"Hasn't it turned out well?" said One Death.
"It has turned out well, your lordships, and this is her heart. It's
in the bowl."
"Very well. So I'll look," said One Death, and when he lifted it
up with his fingers,*(209) its surface was soaked with gore, its
surface glistened red with blood.
"Good. Stir up the fire, put it over the fire," said One Death.
After that they dried it over the fire, and the Xibalbans savored
the aroma. They all ended up standing here, they leaned over it
intently.*(210) They found the smoke of the blood to be truly sweet!
And while they stayed at their cooking, the owls went to show the
maiden the way out. They sent her up through a hole onto the earth,
and then the guides returned below.
In this way the lords of Xibalba were defeated by a maiden; all of
them were blinded.
And here, where the mother of One Monkey and One Artisan*(211)
lived, was where the woman named Blood Woman arrived.
AND WHEN THE BLOOD WOMAN CAME TO THE MOTHER OF ONE MONKEY AND ONE
ARTISAN, her children were still in her belly, but it wasn't very long
before the birth of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, as they are called.
And when the woman came to the grandmother, the woman said to the
"I've come, mother, madam.*(212) I'm your daughter-in-law and I'm
your child,*(213) mother, madam," she said when she came here to the
"Where do you come from? As for my lastborn children,*(214) didn't
they die in Xibalba? And these two remain as their sign and their
word: One Monkey and One Artisan are their names. So if you've come to
see my children, get out of here!" the maiden was told by the
"Even so, I really am your daughter-in-law. I am already his, I
belong to One Hunahpu. What I carry is his. One Hunahpu and Seven
Hunahpu are alive, they are not dead. They have merely made a way
for the light to show itself,*(215) madam mother-in-law, as you will
see when you look at the faces of what I carry," the grandmother was
And One Monkey and One Artisan have been keeping their grandmother
entertained: all they do is play and sing, all they work at is writing
and carving, every day, and this cheers the heart of their
And then the grandmother said:
"I don't want you, no thanks, my daughter-in-law. It's just a
bastard in your belly, you trickster! These children of mine who are
named by you are dead," said the grandmother.
"Truly, what I say to you is so!"*(216)
"Very well, my daughter-in-law, I hear you. So get going, get
their food so they can eat. Go pick a big netful of corn, then come
back- since you are already my daughter-in-law,*(217) as I
understand it," the maiden was told.
"Very well," she replied.
After that, she went to the garden;*(218) One Monkey and One Artisan
had a garden. The maiden followed the path they had cleared and
arrived there in the garden, but there was only one clump,*(219) there
was no other plant, no second or third. That one clump had borne its
ears. So then the maiden's heart stopped:
"It looks like I'm a sinner, a debtor! Where will I get the netful
of food she asked for?" she said. And then the guardians of food
were called upon by her:
"Come thou, rise up, come thou, stand up:*(220)
Generous Woman, Harvest Woman,
Cacao Woman, Cornmeal Woman,
thou guardian of the food of One Monkey, One Artisan,"
said the maiden.
And then she took hold of the silk, the bunch of silk at the top
of the ear. She pulled it straight out, she didn't pick the ear, and
the ear reproduced itself to make food for the net. It filled the
And then the maiden came back, but animals carried her net. When she
got back she went to put the pack frame in the corner of the house, so
it would look to the grandmother as if she had arrived with a load.
And then, when the grandmother saw the food, a big netful:
"Where did that food of yours come from? You've leveled the place!
I'm going to see if you've brought back our whole garden!" said the
And then she went off, she went to look at the garden, but the one
clump was still there, and the place where the net had been put at the
foot of it was still obvious.
And the grandmother came back in a hurry, and she got back home, and
she said to the maiden:
"The sign is still there. You really are my daughter-in-law! I'll
have to keep watching what you do. These grandchildren of mine are
already showing genius," the maiden was told.
Now this is where we shall speak of the birth of Hunahpu and
AND THIS IS THEIR BIRTH; WE SHALL TELL OF IT HERE.
Then it came to the day of their birth, and the maiden named Blood
Woman gave birth. The grandmother was not present when they were born;
they were born suddenly. Two of them were born, named Hunahpu and
Xbalanque. They were born in the mountains, and then they came into
the house. Since they weren't sleeping:
"Throw them out of here! They're really loudmouths!" said the
After that, when they put them on an anthill, they slept soundly
there. And when they removed them from there, they put them in
And this is what One Monkey and One Artisan wanted: that they should
die on the anthill and die in the brambles. One Monkey and One Artisan
wanted this because they were rowdyish and flushed with
jealousy.*(221) They didn't allow their younger brothers in the
house at first, as if they didn't even know them, but even so they
flourished in the mountains.
And One Monkey and One Artisan were great flautists and singers, and
as they grew up they went through great suffering and pain. It had
cost them suffering to become great knowers. Through it all they
became flautists, singers, and writers, carvers. They did everything
well. They simply knew it when they were born, they simply had genius.
And they were the successors*(222) of their fathers who had gone to
Xibalba, their dead fathers.
Since One Monkey and One Artisan were great knowers, in their hearts
they already realized everything when their younger brothers came into
being, but they didn't reveal their insight because of their jealousy.
The anger in their hearts came down on their own heads;*(223) no great
harm was done. They were decoyed*(224) by Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who
merely went out shooting every day. These two got no love from the
grandmother, or from One Monkey and One Artisan. They weren't given
their meals; the meals had been prepared and One Monkey and One
Artisan had already eaten them before they got there.
But Hunahpu and Xbalanque aren't turning red with anger; rather,
they just let it go, even though they know their proper place, which
they see as clear as day. So they bring birds when they arrive each
day, and One Monkey and One Artisan eat them. Nothing whatsoever is
given to Hunahpu and Xbalanque, either one of them. All One Monkey and
One Artisan do is play and sing.
And then Hunahpu and Xbalanque arrived again, but now they came in
here without bringing their birds, so the grandmother turned red:
"What's your reason for not bringing birds?" Hunahpu and Xbalanque
"There are some, our dear grandmother, but our birds just got hung
up in a tree,"*(225) they said, "and there's no way to get up the tree
after them, our dear grandmother, and so we'd like our elder
brothers to please go with us, to please go get the birds down,"
"Very well. We'll go with you at dawn," the elder brothers replied.
Now they had won, and they gathered their thoughts, the two of them,
about the fall of One Monkey and One Artisan:
"We'll just turn their very being around*(226) with our words. So be
it, since they have caused us great suffering. They wished that we
might die and disappear- we, their younger brothers. Just as they
wished us to be slaves here,*(227) so we shall defeat them there. We
shall simply make a sign of it," they said to one another.
And then they went there beneath a tree, the kind named
yellowwood, together with the elder brothers. When they got there they
started shooting. There were countless birds up in the tree,
chittering, and the elder brothers were amazed when they saw the
birds. And not one of these birds fell down beneath the tree:
"Those birds of ours don't fall down; just go throw them down," they
told their elder brothers.
"Very well," they replied.
And then they climbed up the tree, and the tree began to grow, its
trunk got thicker.
After that, they wanted to get down, but now One Monkey and One
Artisan couldn't make it down from the tree. So they said, from up
in the tree:
"How can we grab hold?*(228) You, our younger brothers, take pity on
us! Now this tree looks frightening to us, dear younger brothers,"
they said from up in the tree. Then Hunahpu and Xbalanque told them:
"Undo your pants, tie them around your hips, with the long end
trailing like a tail behind you, and then you'll be better able to
move," they were told by their younger brothers.
"All right," they said.
And then they left the ends of their loincloths trailing, and all at
once these became tails. Now they looked like mere monkeys.
After that they went along in the trees of the mountains, small
and great. They went through the forests, now howling, now keeping
quiet in the branches of trees.
Such was the defeat of One Monkey and One Artisan by Hunahpu and
Xbalanque. They did it by means of their genius alone.
And when they got home they said, when they came to their
grandmother and mother:
"Our dear grandmother, something has happened to our elder brothers.
They've become simply shameless,*(229) they're like animals now," they
"If you've done something to your elder brothers, you've knocked
me down and stood me on my head. Please don't do anything to your
elder brothers, my dear grandchildren," the grandmother said to
Hunahpu and Xbalanque. And they told their grandmother:
"Don't be sad, our dear grandmother. You will see the faces of our
elder brothers again. They'll come, but this will be a test for you,
our dear grandmother. Will you please not laugh*(230) while we test
their destiny?" they said.
And then they began playing. They played "Hunahpu Monkey."
AND THEN THEY SANG, THEY PLAYED, THEY DRUMMED. When they took up
their flutes and drums, their grandmother sat down with them, then
they played, they sounded out the tune, the song that got its name
then. "Hunahpu Monkey" is the name of the tune.
And then One Monkey and One Artisan came back, dancing when they
And then, when the grandmother looked, it was their ugly faces the
grandmother saw. Then she laughed, the grandmother could not hold back
her laughter, so they just left right away, out of her sight again,
they went up and away in the forest.
"Why are you doing that, our dear grandmother? We'll only try four
times; only three times are left. We'll call them with the flute, with
song. Please hold back your laughter. We'll try again," said Hunahpu
Next they played again, then they came back, dancing again, they
arrived again, in the middle of the patio of the house.*(231) As
before, what they did was delightful; as before, they tempted their
grandmother to laugh. Their grandmother laughed at them soon enough.
The monkeys looked truly ridiculous, with the skinny little things
below their bellies*(232) and their tails wiggling in front of their
breasts.*(233) When they came back the grandmother had to laugh at
them, and they went back into the mountains.
"Please, why are you doing that, our dear grandmother? Even so,
we'll try it a third time now," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
Again they played, again they came dancing, but their grandmother
held back her laughter. Then they climbed up here, cutting right
across the building, with thin red lips,*(234) with faces blank,*(235)
puckering their lips,*(236) wiping their mouths and faces,*(237)
suddenly scratching themselves.*(238) And when the grandmother saw
them again, the grandmother burst out laughing again, and again they
went out of sight because of the grandmother's laughter.
"Even so, our dear grandmother, we'll get their attention."
So for the fourth time they called on the flute, but they didn't
come back again. The fourth time they went straight into the forest.
So they told their grandmother:
"Well, we've tried, our dear grandmother. They came at first, and
we've tried calling them again. So don't be sad. We're here- we,
your grandchildren. Just love our mother, dear grandmother. Our
elder brothers will be remembered. So be it: they have lived here
and they have been named; they are to be called One Monkey and One
Artisan," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
So they were prayed to by the flautists and singers among the
ancient people, and the writers and carvers prayed to them. In ancient
times they turned into animals, they became monkeys, because they just
magnified themselves, they abused their younger brothers. Just as they
wished them to be slaves, so they themselves were brought low. One
Monkey and One Artisan were lost then, they became animals, and this
is now their place forever.
Even so, they were flautists and singers; they did great things
while they lived with their grandmother and mother.
(See illustration: Drawing by the author.
SUDDENLY SCRATCHING THEMSELVES: This spider monkey was painted on
a classic Maya funerary vase from northern Guatemala. Note the
dangling genitals, or what the Popol Vuh calls "the skinny little
things below their bellies." [The vase is in the collection of Edwin
AND NOW THEY BEGAN TO ACT OUT THEIR SELF-REVELATION before their
grandmother and mother. First they made a garden:
"We'll just do some gardening, our dear grandmother and mother,"
they said. "Don't worry. We're here, we're your grandchildren, we're
the successors of our elder brothers," said Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
And then they took up their axe, their mattock, their hoe;*(239)
each of them went off with a blowgun on his shoulder. They left the
house having instructed their grandmother to give them their food:
"At midday bring our food, dear grandmother," they said.
"Very well, my dear grandchildren," said their grandmother.
After that, they went to their gardening. They simply stuck their
mattock in the ground, and the mattock simply cultivated the ground.
And it wasn't only the mattock that cultivated, but also the axe. In
the same way, they stuck it in the trunk of a tree; in the same way,
it cut into the tree by itself, felling, scattering, felling all the
trees and bushes, now leveling, mowing down the trees.*(240)
Just the one axe did it, and the mattock, breaking up thick
masses, countless stalks and brambles.*(241) Just one mattock was
doing it, breaking up countless things, just clearing off whole
mountains, small and great.
And then they gave instructions to that creature named the
mourning dove. They sat up on a big stump, and Hunahpu and Xbalanque
"Just watch for our grandmother, bringing our food. Cry out right
away when she comes, and then we'll grab the mattock and axe."
"Very well," said the mourning dove.
This is because all they're doing is shooting; they're not really
doing any gardening.
And as soon as the dove cries out they come running, one of them
grabbing the mattock and the other grabbing the hoe, and they're tying
up their hair.
One of them deliberately rubs dirt on his hands; he dirties his face
as well, so he's just like a real gardener.
And as for the other one, he deliberately dumps wood chips on his
head,*(242) so he's like a real woodcutter.
Once their grandmother has seen them they eat, but they aren't
really doing their gardening; she brings their food for nothing. And
when they get home:
"We're really ready for bed, our dear grandmother," they say when
they arrive. Deliberately they massage, they stretch their legs, their
arms*(243) in front of their grandmother.
And when they went on the second day and arrived at the garden, it
had all grown up high again. Every tree and bush, every stalk and
bramble had put itself back together again when they arrived.
"Who's been picking us clean?" they said.
And these are the ones who are doing it, all the animals, small
and great: puma, jaguar, deer, rabbit, fox, coyote,*(244) peccary,
coati, small birds, great birds. They are the ones who did it; they
did it in just one night.
After that, they started the garden all over again. Just as
before, the ground worked itself, along with the woodcutting.
And then they shared their thoughts, there on the cleared and broken
"We'll simply have to keep watch over our garden. Then, whatever may
be happening here, we'll find out about it," they said when they
shared their thoughts. And when they arrived at the house:
"How could we get picked clean, our dear grandmother? Our garden was
tall thickets and groves all over again when we got there awhile
ago, our dear grandmother," they said to their grandmother and mother.
"So we'll go keep watch, because what's happening to us is no good,"
After that, they wound everything up, and then they went back to the
And there they took cover, and when they were well hidden there, all
the animals gathered together, each one sat on its haunches, all the
animals, small and great.
And this was the middle of the night when they came. They all
spoke when they came. This is what they said:
"Arise, conjoin, you trees!
Arise, conjoin, you bushes!"*(245)
they said. Then they made a great stir beneath the trees and bushes,
then they came nearer, and then they showed their faces.
The first of these were the puma and jaguar. The boys tried to
grab them, but they did not give themselves up. When the deer and
rabbit came near they only got them by the tail, which just broke off:
the deer left its tail in their hands. When they grabbed the tail of
the deer, along with the tail of the rabbit, the tails were shortened.
But the fox, coyote, and peccary, coati did not give themselves up.
All the animals went by in front of Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
SO NOW THERE WAS FIRE IN THEIR HEARTS, because they didn't catch
them. And one more came, the last one now, jumping as he came, then
they cut him off. In their net they caught the rat.
And then they grabbed him and squeezed him behind the head. They
tried to choke him; they burned his tail over a fire. Ever since the
rat's tail got caught, there's been no hair on his tail, and his
eyes have been the way they are since the boys tried to choke him,
Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"I will not die by your hand! Gardening is not your job, but there
is something that is," said the rat.
"Where is what is ours? Go ahead and name it," the boys told the
"Will you let me go then? My word is in my belly,*(246) and after
I name it for you, you'll give me my morsel of food," said the rat.
"We'll give you your food, so name it," he was told.
"Very well. It's something that belonged to your fathers, named
One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, who died in Xibalba. What remains is
their gaming equipment. They left it up under the roof of the
house:*(247) their kilts, their arm guards, their rubber ball. But
your grandmother doesn't take these down in front of you, because this
is how your fathers died."
"You know the truth, don't you!" the boys told the rat.
There was great joy in their hearts when they got word of the rubber
ball. When the rat had named it they gave the rat his food, and this
is his food: corn kernels, squash seeds, chili, beans, pataxte, cacao.
These are his.
"If anything of yours is stored or gets wasted, then gnaw away," the
rat was told by Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
"Very well, boys. But what will your grandmother say if she sees
me?"*(248) he said.
"Don't be fainthearted. We're here. We know what our grandmother
needs to be told. We'll set you up under the corner of the roof
right away. When that's taken care of you'll go straight to where
the things were left, and we'll look up there under the roof, but it's
our stew we'll be looking at," they told the rat when they gave him
Hunahpu and Xbalanque made their plans overnight and arrived right
at noon, and it wasn't obvious that they had a rat with them when they
arrived. One of them went right inside the house when he reached it,
while the other went to the corner of the house, quickly setting up
the rat. And then they asked their grandmother for their meal:
"Just grind something for our stew, we want chili sauce, our dear
grandmother," they said.
After that, she ground chili for their stew. A bowl of broth was set
out in front of them, but they were just fooling*(249) their
grandmother and mother. They had emptied the water jar:
"We're really parched! Bring us a drink," they told their
"Yes," she said, then she went, and they kept on eating. They
weren't really hungry; they just put on false appearances.
And then they saw the rat reflected in their chili sauce: here was
the rat loosening the ball*(250) that had been left in the peak of the
roof. When they saw him in the chili sauce they sent a mosquito,
that creature the mosquito, similar to a gnat. He went to the water,
then he punctured the side of the grandmother's jar. The water just
gushed out from the side of her jar. She tried, but she could not stop
up the side of her jar.
"What has our grandmother done? We're choking for lack of water, our
parched throats will do us in," they told their mother, then they sent
After that, the rat cut the ball loose. It dropped from beneath
the roof, along with the yokes, arm guards, kilts. These were taken
away*(251) then; they went to hide them on the road, the road to the
After that, they went to join their grandmother at the water, and
their grandmother and mother were unable to stop up the side of the
jar, either one of them.
After that, the boys arrived, each with his blowgun. When they
arrived at the water:
"What have you done? We got weary at heart, so we came," they said.
"Look at the side of my jar! It cannot be stopped," said their
grandmother, and they quickly stopped it up.
And they came back together, the two of them ahead of their
In this way, the matter of the rubber ball was arranged.
HAPPY NOW, THEY WENT TO PLAY BALL AT THE COURT. So they played
ball at a distance, all by themselves. They swept out the court of
And then it came into the hearing of the lords of Xibalba:
"Who's begun a game again up there, over our heads? Don't they
have any shame, stomping around this way? Didn't One and Seven Hunahpu
die trying to magnify themselves in front of us? So, you must
deliver another summons," they said as before, One and Seven Death,
all the lords.
"They are hereby summoned," they told their messengers. "You are
to say, on reaching them:
'"They must come," say the lords. "We would play ball with them
here. In seven days we'll have a game," say the lords,' you will say
when you arrive," the messengers were told.
And then they came along a wide roadway, the road to the house of
the boys, which actually ended at their house, so that the
messengers came directly to their grandmother. As for the boys, they
were away playing ball when the messengers of Xibalba got there.
"'Truly, they are to come,' say the lords," said the messengers of
Xibalba. So then and there the day was specified by the messengers
"'In seven days our game will take place,'" Xmucane was told there.
"Very well. They'll go when the day comes, messengers," said the
grandmother, and the messengers left. They went back.
So now the grandmother's heart was broken:
"How can I send for my grandchildren? Isn't it really Xibalba,
just as it was when the messengers came long ago, when their fathers
went to die?" said the grandmother, sobbing, at home by herself.
After that, a louse fell on her elbow,*(252) and then she picked
it up and put it in her hand, and the louse moved around with fits and
"My grandchild, perhaps you might like to take my message, to go
where my grandchildren are, at the ball court," the louse was told,
then he went as a message bearer:
"'A messenger has come to your grandmother,' you will say. '"You are
'In seven days they are to come,' say the messengers of Xibalba,"
says your grandmother,' you will say," the louse was told.
Then he went off, and he went in fits and starts, and sitting in the
road was a boy named Tamazul, the toad.
"Where are you going?" said the toad to the louse.
"My word is contained*(253) in my belly. I'm going to the two boys,"
said the louse to Tamazul.
"Very well. But I notice you're not very fast," the louse was told
by the toad. "Wouldn't you like me to swallow you? You'll see, I'll
run bent over*(254) this way, we'll arrive in a hurry."
"Very well," said the louse to the toad.
After that, when he had been united with the toad,*(255) the toad
hopped. He went along now, but he didn't run.
After that, the toad met a big snake named Zaquicaz:
"Where are you going, Tamazul boy?" the toad was asked next by
"I'm a messenger. My word is in my belly," the toad next said to the
"But I notice you're not fast. Listen to me, I'll get there in a
hurry," said the snake to the toad.
"Get going," he was told, so then the toad was next swallowed by
Zaquicaz. When snakes get their food today they swallow toads.
So the snake was running as he went, then the snake was met from
overhead by a laughing falcon, a large bird. The snake was swallowed
up by the falcon, and then he arrived above the court. When hawks
get their food, they eat snakes in the mountains.
And when the falcon arrived he alighted on the rim of the ball
court.*(256) Hunahpu and Xbalanque were happy then, they were
playing ball when the falcon arrived.
So then the falcon cried out: