In the mid-16th century, just a few decades after the Spanish conquest, a group of Mayan nobles in the town of Santa Cruz del QFantastic translation.
In the mid-16th century, just a few decades after the Spanish conquest, a group of Mayan nobles in the town of Santa Cruz del Quiché (in what is now Guatemala) set out to preserve in phonetic Latin script one of their culture’s most important documents: the Popol Vuh or “Book of the People,” a history of their community beginning from the creation of the world.
The Mayans living in Santa Cruz del Quiché had emigrated there from the Yucatan peninsula several centuries earlier, when the mighty kingdom of Chichen Itza had collapsed. Their culture, carefully preserved despite Toltec and Aztec influences, was dealt a heavy blow when Pedro de Alvarado, second-in-command to Hernán Cortez, burned their city of Q'umarkaj to the ground, along with much of its literature.
For nearly two centuries after the phonetic transcription, the elders of the nearby town of Chichicastenango kept the Popol Vuh manuscript hidden from Spanish eyes until a priest named Francisco Ximénez was given access in the early 1700s, and he transcribed and translated the document into Spanish. His translation was soon forgotten, until republished in the mid-1800s. The Mayan version was finally rediscovered in 1941.
The Mayan holy book has been translated into several languages, including English. The most recent of these is Allen Christensen’s 2004 Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. Twenty-five years in the making, this translation is clear and accurate, with copious notes and great ancillary materials.
The most accessible sections of the Popol Vuh are contained in the first half, which recounts the multiple creation attempts by a group of creator gods including the pair Heart of Sky and Feathered Serpent (equivalent to the Aztec Tezcatlipoca and Quetzalcoatl). Like most Mesoamerican myths of the primordial world, the gods have to destroy and remake their work, refining it as they go.
In the midst of this account, the story of the Hero Twins is told. Two brothers, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, are summoned to Xibalba, the Underworld where their father was killed years earlier by the rulers of that place. They succeed in tricking the nobility of the netherworld and revive their father, who becomes a god of maize.
That very corn becomes the key ingredient in making the final version of humanity. The first men and women are too wise and far-seeing, however, so their vision has to be clouded. Nonetheless, these ancestors of the Quiché Maya grow to prominence in Mesoamerica, having dealings with the mighty city of Tollan and receiving authority to rule from the demi-god ruler of central Mexico.
For anyone fascinated by the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, this tale of the rise of a chosen people and a way of life is essential reading. ...more
Very accomplished translation of Ruiz de Alarcón's study; the notes correct both his Christian-centric glosses/interpolations and his faulty transcripVery accomplished translation of Ruiz de Alarcón's study; the notes correct both his Christian-centric glosses/interpolations and his faulty transcription of Nahuatl. Great for anyone trying to get a handle on Mesoamerican religion and ritual magic. ...more