Popol Vuh: The Creation of the Animals

Popol Vuh (Poopol Wuuj) is a corpus of mytho-historical narratives of the Post Classic K’iche’ kingdom in Guatemala’s western highlands. The title translates as “Book of the Community”, “Book of Counsel”, or more literally as “Book of the People”.

Popol Vuh’s prominent features are its creation myth, its diluvian suggestion, its epic tales of the Hero Twins Hunahpú and Xbalanqué, and its genealogies. The myth begins with the exploits of anthropomorphic ancestors and concludes with a regnal genealogy, perhaps as an assertion of rule by divine right.

As with other texts a great deal of Popol Vuh’s significance lies in the scarcity of early accounts dealing with Mesoamerican mythologies. Popol Vuh’s fortuitous survival is attributable to the Spanish 18th century Dominican friar Francisco Ximénez.

What follows is the creation of the animals portion of the Popol Vuh Sacred Book of the Quiché Maya People Translation and Commentary by Allen J. Christenson. The translation is a wonderful work of sensitivity that adds serenity and grace to the Popol Vuh.
— Orly

THE CREATION OF THE ANIMALS

THEN were conceived the animals of the mountains, the guardians of the forest,and all that populate the mountains —the deer and the birds, the puma and the jaguar, the serpent and the rattlesnake, the pit viper and the guardian of the bushes.

She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons then asked: “Shall it be merely solitary, merely silent beneath the trees and the bushes? It is well that there shall be guardians for them,” they said. Thus they considered and spoke together, and immediately were created the deer and the birds.

Having done this, they then provided homes for the deer and the birds:“You, deer, will sleep along the courses of rivers and in the canyons. Here you will be in the meadows and in the orchards. In the forests you shall multiply. You will walk on all fours, and thus you will be able to stand,” they were told.

Then they established the homes of the birds, both small and great. “You, birds, you will make your homes and your houses in the tops of trees, and in the tops of bushes. There you will multiply and increase in numbers in the branches of the trees and the bushes,” the deer and the birds were told. When this had been done, all of them received their places to sleep and their places to rest.

Homes were provided for the animals on the earth by She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons.

Thus all was completed for the deer and the birds.

 

THE FALL OF THE ANIMALS

THEN it was said to the deer and the birds by the Framer and the Shaper, She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons: “Speak! Call! Don't moan or cry out. Speak to one another, each according to your kind, according to your group,” they were told—the deer, the birds, the pumas, the jaguars, and the serpents. “Speak therefore our names.

Worship us, for we are your Mother and your Father.

Say this, therefore: ‘Huracan, Youngest Thunderbolt, and Sudden Thunderbolt,Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, Framer and Shaper, She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons.’ Speak! Call upon us! Worship us!” they were told.

But they did not succeed. They did not speak like people. They only squawked and chattered and roared. Their speech was unrecognizable, for each cried out in a different way. When they heard this, the Framer and the Shaper said, “Their speech did not turn out well.” And again they said to each other: “They were not able to speak our names. We are their Framer and their Shaper. This is not good,” said She Who Has Borne Children and He Who Has Begotten Sons to each other.

They were therefore told: “You shall be replaced because you were not successful. You could not speak. We have therefore changed our word. Your food and your sustenance, your sleeping places and your places to rest, that which belonged to you, shall be in the canyons and the forests. “Nevertheless, because you have not been able to worship us or call upon us, there will yet be someone else who may be a worshiper.

We shall now make one who will give honor. Your calling will merely be to have your flesh eaten. Thus be it so. This must be your service,” they were told. Thus were commanded the animals, both small and great, that were upon the face of the earth. Then they wanted to test again their fate. They wanted to make another attempt. They wanted to try again to arrange for those who would worship them.

The speech of the animals could not be understood. Because of the way they were made, they were not successful. Therefore their flesh was brought low. They were made to serve. The animals that were on the face of the earth were eaten and killed.

FINIS

For an early attempt at translation of the Popol Vuh, see our Lewis Spence's version.

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