Thury 11 Popol Vuh

Chapter 11
Mesoamerica: Popol
Ancient Quiché Mayan Culture
Major Periods of Maya History
2000 B.C.E.–250 C.E.
150 C.E.
300–600 C.E
600–900 C.E.
900–1200 C.E.
From 1200 C.E. to the
European invasion
Preclassic “collapse”
Early Classic
Late Classic
Early Postclassic
Late Postclassic
Meaning and Transmission of the Popul Vuh
• Popol Vuh means Council Book
• During the Early Classic period, the Mayans invented a
writing system using pictorial “hieroglyphics.”
• The Dresden Codex is considered the oldest book in the
Americas known to historians. It contains hieroglyphics
representing events in the Popol Vuh.
• In about 1701, the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez
used an alphabetic transliteration of an early Mayan
hieroglyphic text to produce a Spanish translation of the
Popol Vuh.
• The excerpt in this chapter is a translation into English
by Dennis Tedlock from the Ximénez translation.
Creation of the World
• The writer of the Popol Vuh confirms he is writing after
his world has been conquered by Christians.
• Creation in the Popol Vuh begins with an existing sea
and sky.
• The gods confer among themselves and with the
Sovereign Plumed Serpent in creating the physical
• The creation of humans is the culmination of the creative
Failed Attempts at Creating Humans
• The gods want the animals they create to speak and
praise the gods, but “each one gives a different cry.”
• The gods are disappointed and transform the animals.
• The gods attempt to make humans who will praise them.
• The gods make a body out of earth and mud, but it
• The gods then make beings out of wood carvings. These
manikins (little men) talk and multiply, but they do not
remember or praise the gods. The gods destroy the
manikins with a great flood.
The Hero Twins
• Part Two: genealogy and early adventures of Hunahpu
and Xbalanque, the Hero Twins.
– In the ancient tradition as well as in contemporary Mayan
culture, daykeeper is the premier position of respect in the
community: in the Popol Vuh, the grandparents Xpiyacoc and
Xmucane are daykeepers.
– The Hero Twins defeat Seven Macaw and members of his
The Hero Twins
• Part Three: playing ball with the lords of the underworld.
– One Death and Seven Death, lords of Xibalba, are annoyed by
the constant noise made by One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu
as they play ball, so they summon them to play ball in Xibalba.
– The brothers are killed and buried; One Hunahpu’s head is
placed in a tree.
– Blood Moon reaches out for the fruit of the tree; the head spits
into it and tells her “I live on through you.” She becomes the
mother of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
– Hunahpu and Xbalanque survive a series of tests by the lords of
Xibalba, but they are killed by being burned in an oven.
– The Twins reappear, demonstrate power over life and death,
communicate with their dead father and reconstruct his body.
Genealogy of the Hero Twins
Part Four: Successful Humans
• Corn is used in the successful creation of humans.
• Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now and Dark
Jaguar are the first four humans.
• These four humans
– are good people who talk, listen and work.
– see and understand everything perfectly. They thank the Maker.
Part Four: Limiting Humans, but
Giving Them Companions
• The gods are threatened by the first four humans and
“worry that “their deeds would become equal to ours.”
The gods then limit their abilities. This causes the loss of
the means of understanding and of knowing everything
by these four humans.
• The gods then create woman and wives for the first four
• “And this is our root, we who are the Quiché people.”
Part Four: Tulan, Tohil and Fire
• There are many reverent people who give praise to the
gods, before the birth of the sun and light.
• Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now and Dark
Jaguar tell their people to go in search of the light.
• They find what they are looking for in Tulan.
• They receive fire from the god Tohil. Only those with the
god Tohil have fire.
Part Four: the Origin of Ritual
• At Tohil’s request, Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not
Right Now and Dark Jaguar bleed their ears to give
• The tribes travel, carrying the gods on their backs and
watching for the dawning. Tohil directs Jaguar Quitze,
Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar to find
hiding places for the gods in nature.
• Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark
Jaguar find the sun, moon, and stars and burn incense.
Part Four: the Quiché Legacy
• Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark
Jaguar know of their death and leave instructions for
their sons. They then disappear.
• The Quiché legacy points to a tradition of righteous
ancestors who fulfilled their duty to the gods, as the
original creators wished.

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