The Maya were the only civilization that had a true writing system in the Americas, but catastrophically only a handful of their books survived, the rest burned in the name of religious purity. Like the Aztecs, they too had a tradition of music, song and poetry, most of which is found in a collection called “The Songs of Dzitbalche.”
The collection was entitled “The Book of the Dances of the Ancients that it was the custom to perform here in the towns when the whites had not yet arrived.” According to John Curl, the title “Songs of Dzitbalche” was given to the collection by the first translator Alfredo Barrera Vásquez. Like Aztec Flower Songs, they cross over into spoken word poetry.
What follows is one song/poem from the collection, as translated by John Curl.
TO KISS YOUR LIPS
BESIDE THE FENCE RAILS
Put on your beautiful clothes;
the day of happiness has arrived;
comb the tangles from your hair;
put on your most attractive clothes
and your splendid leather;
hang great pendants in the lobes of
your ears; put on
a good belt; string garlands
around your shapely throat;
put shining coils
on your plump upper arms.
Glorious you will be seen,
for none is more beautiful here
in this town, the seat of Dzitbalche.
I love you, beautiful lady.
I want you to be seen; in
truth you are very alluring,
I compare you to the smoking star
because they desire you up to the moon
and in the flowers of the fields.
Pure and white are your clothes, maiden.
Go give happiness with your laugh,
put goodness in your heart, because today
is the moment of happiness; all people
put their goodness in you.
TZ’UTZ’ A CHI
T U CAAP COOL HOK CHE
Tz’aex a hatz’uutz nokeex;
tz’ooc u kuchul kin h’cimac olil;
xeech u tzou tzotzel a pol;
tz’a u lemceech ciichcelmil a nok
tz’a hatz’utz xanaab;
ch’uuycinzah a nuucuuch tuup
tu tupil a xicin;
tz’a malob oochh’;
tz’a u keexiloob a x ciichpan caal;
tz’a, uu baakaal
hop men hop tu nak a kab.
T kailbeilt caa i laac ciichpameech
hebiix [maix] maace
uay tu t cahil,
H’ Tz’iitbalchee’ cah.
X Cichpan Colelbiil.
in kaat ca i[labe]ech
tumen cu yan
ca chiicpaaceech ti x buutz’ ek,
tu men ca u tz’iboolteech
u yetel u x lol nicte kaax.
zacan a nok,
xen a tz’a u cimac olil a chee
tz’a utz ta puczikal
u zutucil cimac olil
tu lacal uinic
lail cu tz’ailc
u yutzil ti teech.
Source and translation: Ancient Mesoamerican Poets, Translated and Compiled by John Curl
As Fray Bernardino de Sahagún observed: the Mexicans “are held to be barbarians and of very little worth; in truth, however, in matters of culture and refinement, they are a step ahead of other nations." We explore the history and legacy of the Nahua and Maya civilizations, both of which challenge our preconceptions.