Maya: The Popol Vhu, Condensed

The Quiché Creation-Myth is a remarkable survivor from the book burning and cultural genocide that was the conquest. We offer various versions of the creation legend, this one being a condensed account from Hubert Bancroft Howe.
— Orly

And the heaven was formed, and all the signs thereof set in their angle and alignment, and its boundaries fixed towards the four winds by the Creator and Former, and Mother and Father of life and existence—he by whom all move and breathe, the Father and Cherisher of the peace of nations and of the civilization of his people—he whose wisdom has projected the excellence of all that is on the earth, or in the lakes, or in the sea.

Behold the first word and the first discourse. There was as yet no man, nor any animal, nor bird, nor fish, nor crawfish, nor any pit, nor ravine, nor green herb, nor any tree; nothing was but the firmament. The face of the earth had not yet appeared—only the peaceful sea and all the space of heaven. There was nothing yet joined together, nothing that clung to anything else; nothing that balanced itself, that made the least rustling, that made a sound in the heaven. There was nothing that stood up; nothing but the quiet water, but the sea, calm and alone in its boundaries: nothing existed; nothing but immobility and silence, in the darkness, in the night.



Alone also the Creator, the Former, the Dominator, the Feathered Serpent—those that engender, those that give being, they are upon the water, like a growing light. They are enveloped in green and blue; and therefore their name is Gucumatz. Lo, now how the heavens exist, how exists also the Heart of Heaven; such is the name of God; it is thus that he is called. And they spake; they consulted together and meditated; they mingled their words and their opinion. And the creation was verily after this wise: Earth, they said, and on the instant it was formed; like a cloud or a fog was its beginning. Then the mountains rose over the water like great lobsters; in an instant the mountains and the plains were visible, and the cypress and the pine appeared. Then was the Gucumatz filled with joy, crying out: Blessed be thy coming, O Heart of Heaven, Hurakan, Thunderbolt. Our work and our labor has accomplished its end.

The earth and its vegetation having thus appeared, it was peopled with the various forms of animal life. And the Makers said to the animals: Speak now our name, honor us, us your mother and father; invoke Hurakan, the Lightning-flash, the Thunderbolt that strikes, the Heart of Heaven, the Heart of the Earth, the Creator and Former, Him who begets, and Him who gives being—speak, call on us, salute us! So was it said to the animals. But the animals could not answer; they could not speak at all after the manner of men; they could only cluck, and croak, each murmuring after his kind in a different manner. This displeased the Creators, and they said to the animals: Inasmuch as ye can not praise us, neither call upon our names, your flesh shall be humiliated; it shall be broken with teeth; ye shall be killed and eaten.

Again the gods took counsel together; they determined to make man. So they made a man of clay; and when they had made him, they saw that it was not good. He was without cohesion, without consistence, motionless, strengthless, inept, watery; he could not move his head, his face looked but one way; his sight was restricted, he could not look behind him; he had been endowed with language, but he had no intelligence, so he was consumed in the water.

Again is there counsel in heaven: Let us make an intelligent being who shall adore and invoke us. It was decided that a man should be made of wood and a woman of a kind of pith. They were made; but the result was in no wise satisfactory. They moved about perfectly well, it is true; they increased and multiplied; they peopled the world with sons and daughters, little wooden mannikins like themselves; but still the heart and the intelligence were wanting; they held no memory of their Maker and Former; they led a useless existence, they lived as the beasts live; they forgot the Heart of Heaven. They were but an essay, an attempt at men; they had neither blood, nor substance, nor moisture, nor fat; their cheeks were shrivelled, their feet and hands dried up; their flesh languished.



Then was the Heart of Heaven wroth; and he sent ruin and destruction upon those ingrates; he rained upon them night and day from heaven with a thick resin; and the earth was darkened. And the men went mad with terror; they tried to mount upon the roofs and the houses fell; they tried to climb the trees and the trees shook them far from their branches; they tried to hide in the caves and dens of the earth, but these closed their holes against them. The bird Xecotcovach came to tear out their eyes; and the Camalotz cut off their head; and the Cotzbalam devoured their flesh; and the Tecumbalam broke and bruised their bones to powder. Thus were they all devoted to chastisement and destruction, save only a few who were preserved as memorials of the wooden men that had been; and these now exist in the woods as little apes.

Once more are the gods in counsel; in the darkness, in the night of a desolated universe do they commune together; of what shall we make man? And the Creator and Former made four perfect men; and wholly of yellow and white maize was their flesh composed. These were the names of the four men that were made: the name of the first was Balam-Quitzé; of the second, Balam-Agab; of the third Mahucutah; and of the fourth, Iqi-Balam.  They had neither father nor mother, neither were they made by the ordinary agents in the work of creation; but their coming into existence was a miracle extraordinary, wrought by the special intervention of him who is preëminently The Creator. Verily, at last, were there found men worthy of their origin and their destiny; verily, at last, did the gods look on beings who could see with their eyes, and handle with their hands, and understand with their hearts. Grand of countenance and broad of limb the four sires of our race stood up under the white rays of the morning star—sole light as yet of the primeval world—stood up and looked. Their great clear eyes swept rapidly over all; they saw the woods and the rocks, the lakes and the sea, the mountains and the valleys, and the heavens that were above all; and they comprehended all and admired exceedingly. Then they returned thanks to those who had made the world and all that therein was: We offer up our thanks, twice—yea verily, thrice! We have received life; we speak, we walk, we taste; we hear and understand; we know both that which is near and that which is far off; we see all things, great and small, in all the heaven and earth. Thanks then, Maker and Former, Father and Mother of our life! we have been created; we are.

But the gods were not wholly pleased with this thing; Heaven they thought had overshot its mark; these men were too perfect; knew, understood, and saw too much. Therefore there was counsel again in heaven: What shall we do with man now? It is not good, this that we see; these are as gods; they would make themselves equal with us; lo, they know all things, great and small. Let us now contract their sight, so that they may see only a little of the surface of the earth and be content. Thereupon the Heart of Heaven breathed a cloud over the pupil of the eyes of men, and a veil came over it as when one breathes on the face of a mirror; thus was the globe of the eye darkened; neither was that which was far off clear to it any more, but only that which was near.

Then the four men slept, and there was counsel in heaven: and four women were made—to Balam-Quitzé was allotted Caha-Paluma to wife; to Balam-Agab, Chomiha; to Mahucutah, Tzununiha; and to Iqi-Balam, Cakixaha.[II-6] Now the women were exceedingly fair to look upon; and when the men awoke, their hearts were glad because of the women.



Next, as I interpret the narrative, there were other men created, the ancestors of other peoples, while the first four were the fathers of all the branches of the Quiché race. The different tribes at first, however, lived together amicably enough, in a primitive state; and increased and multiplied, leading happy lives under their bright and morning star, precursor of the yet unseen sun. They had as yet no worship save the breathing of the instinct of their soul, as yet no altars to the gods; only—and is there not a whole idyl in the simple words?—only they gazed up into heaven, not knowing what they had come so far to do!  They were filled with love, with obedience, and with fear; and lifting their eyes towards heaven, they made their requests:—

Hail! O Creator, O Former! thou that hearest and understandest us! abandon us not, forsake us not! O God, thou that art in heaven and on the earth, O Heart of Heaven, O Heart of Earth! give us descendants and a posterity as long as the light endure. Give us to walk always in an open road, in a path without snares; to lead happy, quiet, and peaceable lives, free of all reproach. It was thus they spake, living tranquilly, invoking the return of the light, waiting the rising of the sun, watching the star of the morning, precursor of the sun. But no sun came, and the four men and their descendants grew uneasy: We have no person to watch over us, they said, nothing to guard our symbols. So the four men and their people set out for Tulan-Zuiva, otherwise called the Seven-caves or Seven-ravines, and there they received gods, each man as head of a family, a god; though inasmuch as the fourth man, Iqi-Balam, had no children and founded no family, his god is not usually taken into the account. Balam-Quitzé received the god Tohil; Balam 50Agab received the god Avilix; and Mahucutah received the god Hacavitz; all very powerful gods, but Tohil seems to have been the chief, and in a general way, god of the whole Quiché nation. Other people received gods at the same time; and it had been for all a long march to Tulan.

Now the Quichés had as yet no fire, and as Tulan was a much colder climate than the happy eastern land they had left, they soon began to feel the want of it. The god Tohil who was the creator of fire had some in his possession; so to him, as was most natural, the Quichés applied, and Tohil in some way supplied them with fire.

But shortly after, there fell a great rain that extinguished all the fires of the land; and much hail also fell on the heads of the people; and because of the rain and the hail, their fires were utterly scattered and put out. Then Tohil created fire again by stamping with his sandal. Several times thus fire failed them, but Tohil always renewed it. Many other trials also they underwent in Tulan, famines and such things, and a general dampness and cold—for the earth was moist, there being as yet no sun.

Here also the language of all the families was confused so that no one of the first four men could any longer understand the speech of another. This also made them very sad. They determined to leave Tulan; and the greater part of them, under the guardianship and direction of Tohil, set out to see where they should take up their abode. They continued on their way amid the most extreme hardships for want of food; sustaining themselves at one time upon the mere smell of their staves, and by imagining that they were eating, when in verity and in truth, they ate nothing. Their heart, indeed, it is again and again said, was almost broken by affliction. Poor wanderers! they had a cruel way to go, many forests to pierce, many stern mountains to overpass and a long passage to make through the sea, along the shingle and pebbles and drifted sand—the sea being, however, parted for their passage.



At last they came to a mountain that they named Hacavitz, after one of their gods, and here they rested—for here they were by some means given to understand that they should see the sun. Then indeed, was filled with an exceeding joy the heart of Balam-Quitzé, of Balam-Agab, of Mahucutah, and of Iqi-Balam. It seemed to them that even the face of the morning star caught a new and more resplendent brightness. They shook their incense pans and danced for very gladness: sweet were their tears in dancing, very hot their incense—their precious incense. At last the sun commenced to advance: the animals, small and great, were full of delight; they raised themselves to the surface of the water; they fluttered in the ravines; they gathered at the edge of the mountains, turning their heads together toward that part from which the sun came. And the lion and the tiger roared. And the first bird that sang was that called the Queletzu. All the animals were beside themselves at the sight; the eagle and the kite beat their wings, and every bird, both small and great. The men prostrated themselves on the ground, for their hearts were full to the brim.

And the sun, and the moon, and the stars were now all established. Yet was not the sun then in the beginning the same as now; his heat wanted force, and he was but as a reflection in a mirror; verily, say the histories, not at all the same sun as that of to-day. Nevertheless he dried up and warmed the surface of the earth, and answered many good ends.

Another wonder when the sun rose! The three tribal gods, Tohil, Avilix, and Hacavitz, were turned into stone, as were also the gods connected with the lion, the tiger, the viper, and other fierce and dangerous animals. Perhaps we should not be alive at this moment—continues the chronicle—because of the voracity of these fierce animals, of these lions, and tigers, and vipers; perhaps to-day our glory would not be in existence, had not the sun caused this petrification.

And the people multiplied on this Mount Hacavitz, and here they built their city. It is here also that they began to sing that song called Kamucu, 'we see.' They sang it, though it made their hearts ache, for this is what they said in singing: Alas! We ruined ourselves in Tulan, there lost we many of our kith and kin, they still remain there, left behind! We indeed have seen the sun, but they—now that his golden light begins to appear, where are they?

And they worshiped the gods that had become stone, Tohil, Avilix, and Hacavitz; and they offered them the blood of beasts, and of birds, and pierced their own ears and shoulders in honor of these gods, and collected the blood with a sponge, and pressed it out into a cup before them.

Toward the end of their long and eventful life Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Agab, Mahucutah, and Iqi-Balam were impelled, apparently by a supernatural vision, to lay before their gods a more awful offering than the life of senseless beasts. They began to wet their altars with the heart's blood of human victims. From their mountain hold they watched for lonely travelers belonging to the surrounding tribes, seized, overpowered, and slew them for a sacrifice. Man after man was missing in the neighboring villages; and the people said: Lo! the tigers have carried them away—for wherever the blood was of a man slain, were always found the tracks of many tigers. Now this was the craft of the priests, and at last the tribes began to suspect the thing and to follow the tracks of the tigers. But the trails had been made purposely intricate, by steps returning on themselves and by the obliteration of steps; and the mountain region where the altars were was already covered with a thick fog and a small rain, and its paths flowed with mud.

The hearts of the villagers were thus fatigued within them, pursuing unknown enemies. At last, however, it became plain that the gods Tohil, Avilix and Hacavitz, and their worship, were in some way or other the cause of this bereavement: so the people of the villages conspired against them. Many attacks, both openly and by ruses, did they make on the gods, and on the four men, and on the children and people connected with them; but not once did they succeed, so great was the wisdom, and power, and courage of the four men and of their deities. And these three gods petrified, as we have told, could nevertheless resume a movable shape when they pleased; which indeed they often did, as will be seen hereafter.

At last the war was finished. By the miraculous aid of a horde of wasps and hornets, the Quichés utterly defeated and put to the rout in a general battle all their enemies. And the tribes humiliated themselves before the face of Balam-Quitzé, of Balam-Agab, and of Mahucutah: Unfortunates that we are, they said, spare to us at least our lives. Let it be so, it was answered, although you be worthy of death; you shall, however, be our tributaries and serve us, as long as the sun endure, as long as the light shall follow his course. This was the reply of our fathers and mothers, upon Mount Hacavitz; and thereafter they lived in great honor and peace, and their souls had rest, and all the tribes served them there.



Now it came to pass that the time of the death of Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Agab, Mahucutah, and Iqi-Balam drew near. No bodily sickness nor suffering came upon them; but they were forewarned that their death and their end was at hand. Then they called their sons and their descendants round them to receive their last counsels.

And the heart of the old men was rent within them. In the anguish of their heart they sang the Kamucu, the old sad song that they had sung when the sun first rose, when the sun rose and they thought of the friends they had left in Tulan, whose face they should see no more forever. Then they took leave of their wives, one by one; and of their sons, one by one; of each in particular they took leave; and they said: We return to our people; already the King of the Stags is ready, he stretches himself through the heaven. Lo, we are about to return; our work is done; the days of our life are complete. Remember us well; let us never pass from your memory. You will see still our houses and our mountains; multiply in them, and then go on upon your way and see again the places whence we are come.

So the old men took leave of their sons and of their wives; and Balam-Quitzé spake again: Behold! he said, I leave you what shall keep me in remembrance. I have taken leave of you—and am filled with sadness, he added. Then instantly the four old men were not; but in their place was a great bundle; and it was never unfolded, neither could any man find seam therein on rolling it over and over. So it was called the Majesty Enveloped; and it became a memorial of these fathers, and was held very dear and precious in the sight of the Quichés; and they burned incense before it.

Thus died and disappeared on Mount Hacavitz Balam-Quitzé, Balam-Agab, Mahucutah, and Iqi-Balam, these first men who came from the east, from the other side of the sea. Long time had they been here when they died; and they were very old, and surnamed the Venerated and the Sacrificers.

Such is the Quiché account of the creation of the earth and its inhabitants and of the first years of the existence of mankind.


Source:  HHB [1]

Culture:  Maya

Language:  The Maya languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America.  Guatemala formally recognizes 21 Maya languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more within their territory.  The Maya language family is one of the best-documented and most studied in the Americas.  Modern Maya languages descend from the Proto-Maya language, thought to have been spoken at least 5,000 years ago.



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