The Popol Vuh

  
The original manuscript of the Popol Vuh was discovered in the early eighteenth century by Fray Francisco Ximénez, born in Éjica, Upper Andalusia, on November 28, 1668. Ximénez, a lay brother, was a very young man when he arrived in Guatemala's capital on February 4, 1688  1-he had not yet turned twenty-as part of the entourage accompanying the new governor, Jacinto Barrios Leal. He continued his education at the Dominican monastery in Guatemala, completing it in Ciudad Real de Chiapa, and then moved on to serve as curate in Chimaltenango, San Pedro de las Huertas, Xenacoj and Sacapulas. At the age of thirty-two, he took charge of the curacy of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, where he lived from 1701 to 1703, approximately. Among the curia's documents in this ancient indigenous population center, he came across a manuscript written some one hundred years earlier, in the Quiché language transcribed into Latin script.
I translated all its tales into our Castilian language from the Quiché language in which I found them written at the time of the Conquest for then [as they say there] they reduced their mode of writing to our own; but it was done with great stealth and it was preserved among them with so much secrecy that the elder ministers did not even retain the memory of such a thing having existed.
The translation of the Popol Vuh, completed prior to 1721, was included by Fray Francisco Ximénez in his chronicle, Historia de la Provincia de San Vicente de Chiapa y Guatemala. It was preserved unpublished in the same Dominican monastery, where it was discovered by Ordóñez y Aguiar who used it in another work.
The Popol Vuh did not become widely known until midway through the last century, when it was published by Dr. C. Scherzer, who had found the manuscript in 1854 at the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City-the beneficiary of Ximénez's papers. Scherzer copied the manuscript and published it in Vienna in 1857, "at the expense of the Imperial Academy of Sciences." In Paris four years later, 1861 to be precise, Abbot Charles Brasseur de Bourbourg-a scholar with close links to our own historical research who had arrived in Guatemala from El Salvador in February 1855-published his own French version, placing it alongside the original.
It was in Rabinal where he had served as curate that Abbot Brasseur de Bourbourg came across Warrior-Prince of Rabinal. This ballet-drama of uncomplicated plot, its simple action well narrated, contains not a shadow of occidental tradition. It is autochthonous, without any trace of Christianity, and free even of indirect allusions to Spanish culture. If we place this work alongside other Guatemalan books, the most noteworthy of them being The Memorial of Sololá (Annals of the Xahil or Annals of the Cakchiquels) and The Title of the Lords of Totonicapán (though the quality of the Popol Vuh is certainly without peer), and alongside the ancient cities, steles, ceramics and the three known Mayan codices-the Dresden, Tro Cortesian and Paris Codices-we complete our picture of the primordial world of Guatemala. At times, so close, and barely covered by a thin layer of dust. At times, so remote and irrecoverably buried.
In books bequeathed us by the Quiché and Cakchiquel nations, we find information on the origin of the peoples of a vast region of North America, Mexico and Central America, and historical or legendary vicissitudes steeped in the cultural vestiges of ancient habitats. What legends about such migrations might exist on the other side of the Bering Strait, among the Chinese, Moguls, Siberians and Koreans?
The Popol Vuh and Annals of the Cakchiquels (or Memorial of Tecpán-Atitlán or Memorial de Sololá) seem to penetrate obscurely into regions of a very distant world hidden behind ancient Mayan and Toltec civilizations, both of which felt its influence until the late ninth century.
The Annals of the Cakchiquels contain legend as well as elements of more direct historical consequence than the Popol Vuh, which focuses almost exclusively on cosmogonies and theogonies. The Annals of the Cakchiquels do, however, send out a few probes into the mythic world populated by miracles and zoomorphic gods-the realm of the Popol Vuh. Quiché accounts of the creation of humanity coincide with those of the Cakchiquels; they have the same origin. The Annals of the Cakchiquels (like the Popol Vuh, and The Books of Chilam Balam of the Yucatán Maya) describe the birth of the migratory current from the other side of the ocean that reached Tulán in the West. Stories of lineages, deeds, pilgrimages and battles against magical forces and tribes. "Our hearts," say the Annals, "rested in the shade of our spears."
Tula, the capital of the Toltec nation, shrouded in mist to this day, was the early nucleus for the diaspora of peoples that migrated southward to settle in our lands. There, they divided into seven tribes and sought new sites to establish themselves. This is how the Annals of the Cakchiquels tell it, referring to later traditions "taken from the more contemporary mythology of the Nahuas," as Brinton clarifies.
It is an arduous task to identify in these texts the influences of the diverse cultures that produced them. They are too closely interwoven. Links between Toltec and Mayan myths abound. Each of these two cultures has a unique and original background, detected only with difficulty because of later cultural contributions-perhaps superficial, perhaps deep-rooted-which bear great similarity to each other. A few decades ago, Tula was identified with reasonable certainty as the beautiful ruins by that name in the state of Hidalgo, not far north of the Mexican capital. It is the legendary city of the seven caves or gullies of Quetzalcóatl, which the Aztecs called Chicomoztoc, and the Quichés, Tulán Ziván.
Quetzalcóatl, the central myth, and history of the Toltec culture at the same time, ties these traditions together: the Maya call him Kukulkán; the Quichés, Gucumatz. The basins of three large rivers-the Chiapas, Usumacinta and Motagua-sheltered the peoples during the so-called Old Empire, a period whose history is not told in any indigenous book. It has yet to be extracted from hieroglyphic inscriptions that have only begun to be deciphered.
The reasons for the decline of the Old Empire are unknown: superstitions that caused them to abandon the metropolises; or the depletion of the land's fertility, making life materially impossible for the insufficient supplies of corn; or epidemics and civil wars. Paul Valéry, sacrificing taste to esprit, hyperbolized, "a civilization annihilated by a mosquito." Tikal, Palenque, Piedras Negras, Copán and Quiriguá all collapsed around the close of the ninth century.
The Popol Vuh is our fundamental text, the Bible for we, the children of corn. Other indigenous creations (The Books of Chilam-Balam and Xac Chalub-Chen, both from Yucatán) are a far cry from its richness and complexity. There are numerous versions of it, at times differentiated only by aspects too trivial to merit their existence. I am not captivated by the elegant Spanish in them, but by the sense they give me of indigenous thought, the distant pulse of my blood. Because of its visionary quality, the Popol Vuh never loses its power of enchantment, even in less felicitous versions of the book. Like the Bible, it is a collection of sacred and profane texts, a work of heroic proportions where gods, men and animals ferment in the magical ambiance that envelops the origin of the world, of man and of the gods. Myth, legend, history are but ages of the human mind.
There are numerous parallels between this work and others pertaining to primitive mentalities (the Finnish Kalevala, the Ramayana, Genesis, and so forth). The Popol Vuh tells of the Flood, of the destruction of the first men and the creation of the right ones, the definitive ones, made of white corn and yellow corn by Xmucané, who had been enriched by previous experience. It tells of the loss of wisdom, because Xmucané had created perfect beings, and the gods clouded their vision so they might not see and know things that corresponded solely to the gods: "Then the Heart of Heaven blew mist into their eyes, which clouded their sight as when a mirror is breathed upon." The work is prodigiously germinal and tellurian, in the battle between the men of death and shadows-the men of Xibalbá-and the first men of life. The dualities of good and evil, heaven or hell, day and night, grapple the whole length of its infant nocturnal flow. Dense, seething poetry, refined and brutal. With the rhythm of magical obsession, man-gods and god-men travel through the dawn of sleep and through time, creating and destroying worlds. Certain episodes of the battle against Xibalbá and the legend of Xquic-our own Eve and Venus-appear to be stories from when the earth began to cool; from the time when minerals, still in a semi-liquid state, and the recently formed mountain ranges, still soft, began to dream of moss and space; from when those gods or man-gods saw life emerging and the rocks stirring themselves into serpents and crocodiles with the memory of the earth alive within them, sleep-laden, their eyes atonic and listless. And so we come to the blood, Xquic-phonetically also the incarnation of rubber: latex that almost comes to life as it rebounds in the Ball Game that served the gods as entertainment and a test of skill-as far as our blood, as far as our Now and our Tomorrow.
The extraordinary thing about Guatemala and Mexico, the indigenous heart of the Americas, is how the slash of the Spanish sword has not severed us from the ancient world, from the primordial poetry of our origins, from our magical, explosive charge. Myth became flesh. When the Plumed Serpent shattered the sword, the pieces acquired new and old life. And they went into the forests and hid themselves everywhere. Today they slither and soar in words, blood and dreams, as alive there as in the codices, legends, frescos and monoliths.
Holy water did not extinguish the central fire of our planet, of the land we made yesterday. At once the same land as everybody's, and another one altogether. The flames leapt up, and even the holy water fell onto the blaze like a new kind of fuel, onto the ash that has never cooled and that heated the obsidian night of the Bearers, of the Great Master Magicians.
The first cross, the first white cross, was that of the sword; it served to bring us death. Our grandparents huddled up, withdrawing into themselves. They wrapped themselves in the mantle of Jaguar Quitze, the Sorcerer of the Shroud, like the snail in its shell, like the tortoise or armadillo. They still cover themselves the same way, watching the world with distrusting eyes. Each time they have tried to poke out a limb, the bolt of lightning has struck them. From within their sanctuary, protected by myth, through a fissure in the white feather headdress-Tiger Knights, Eagle Knights-they have observed the fatal explosion of powder, the bonfires of the Inquisition, the brazier that reddened the branding-iron which marked their flesh like animals.
The lamentation rises up from between the pages. Sometimes only irony, that smile concentrated in the teeth, the face expressionless, an opossum's smile between the thin points of the Indian's wan, drooping mustache. In the Popol Vuh we read about Francisco Marroquín, first Bishop of Guatemala, in this story of the Quiché kingdom and its capital, Gumarcaah:
Then they divided into nine clans; the quarrel of the sisters, the daughters having ended, the decision for twenty-four Great Houses to govern was enacted, and this is what happened. It had been a long time since all (the men) had arrived there, to their city, when the twenty-four Houses were adjusted there in the city of Gumarcaah. Blessed by the Holy Bishop, this city is empty, abandoned.
The dove of the Holy Spirit brought not an olive branch but sparks. It was not the prey of eagles but the annihilator of quetzals. And now that the cloud of gunpowder has dissipated-though we may still sense its acrid, foul smell if we breathe deeply-we can see that the pontifical church and language has joined our yesterday and today with a poetic vertebra, like the one joining man and horse in the centaur.
And that is America, the Popol Vuh's America. The shuttle of myth can always be heard weaving the warp thread of our footsteps at daybreak. Nocturnal America with its own sky and stars. With the four hundred youth killed by Wise Earth Fish. Where one of the grandfathers is the sun and the other is the moon, linked to the Mediterranean world and to the cross that erased the name of our principal kingdom, in that terrifying lamentation: the pure, brief and naked pain with which the great sacred book concludes. "Such was the existence of the Quiché people, the reason it is no more, it is lost, that which permitted us to see what the first chiefs once were. That was the end of all the so-called Santa Cruz Quiché people."2
Rhythm and rhyme are excellent for exercising our mnemonic abilities in the spoken word, just as rhythm and melody are in music. That way, we are not as likely to lose the thread we unwind from the spool as we walk in order to find our way out of the labyrinth, leaning on the monster's arm. There is a certain correlation between the different forms of expression-or more accurately, there is a single expression in each art form, but the media are manifold. Man interprets, he serves his epoch, conditioned by his environment and by the social structure. What is surprising is not that a given style corresponds to a particular society or historical period, but that art conserves its validity even when far removed from such structures. The sociological interpretation of an expression as being partly the result of its environment possesses the objective bases for reaching a judgment. The same cannot be said of a purely aesthetic interpretation, with its fluctuating and imprecise values that have not yielded to the exact and empirical sciences.
The Popol Vuh-a heroic story, saga of the Quiché people, reality and legend-penetrates the era of the most archaic ceramics, down to the very foundations of the temples. It is a slice into the Mayan soil, where we discover diverse cultural strata and phases. It is a slice of the Mayan mind, where we find ancient ceiba trees and vines that are barely sprouting. In it, as occurs with all books produced by primitive mentalities, a people takes its first steps in a poetry that is alive and blind, like an embryo. The forces of nature and the necessities of life are metaphysically linked from the very beginning. Man provides them with reality, with a tangible form and dimensions. Signs and symbols emerge-drawings and paintings. What the symbols exhort, what is requested or invoked before them, the entreaties or threats, the suppositions as to acts and powers, are mythology, legend, history, and no one knows if the gods were men, because men were deified many times. The associations of a power or natural phenomenon-rain, lightning, earthquake, storm, death, wind, fire, eclipse, fecundation, night or dawn-become consubstantiated in such a way that the hero disappears behind the name he is given. He is dawn tapir, obsidian butterfly, serpent covered with feathers. And the world of natural phenomena that are meshed with life becomes confused with the materialization of those phenomena, with the wise men who receive the symbolic names of those forces or gods. There exists a way of thinking, a conception of life and death; a philosophy and an interpretation of the explicable and the inexplicable, eternally plagued by immediate concerns because the world of the primitive mentality is very practical. In the poetry of delirious texts such as these, rhythm fulfills certain specific functions, like the flute before the cobra.
Poetry did not create a thaumaturgy, a fraud strictly speaking, a simulation. It created faith rather than fanaticism. It was positively magical in relation with that faith. The unique nature of the Popol Vuh is set off by the fact that it is one of the purest forms of man's dawning word. The consummate word, charged with the capacity to create and destroy. It is the wellspring of a faith so blind that it buries itself in its origins, managing to open its eyes in the depths, and then to bring all it sees and experiences up to today's sky for us. Out of the journey back thousands of years and the radical change of setting emerges astonishment.
It is not that we have discovered the workings of the primitive mind do not function for us, nor that the terrible god is as inoffensive as he is non-existent. The problem lies elsewhere. What torments us is not any god but the fervent assumption of man and his faith. The power of the word. The miracle does not take place before our eyes because we do not share that faith. Because we do not have the primitive mentality. The god in the text, in the sculpture, in the temple that was erected in his honor, is not an impostor. And he never grows cold to the point of becoming a corpse. The demiurgic spirit abides in the seething superstition of man.
Over and above the spoken or written word, sculpture, architecture, music and dance, there is an intangible universe of powers and general human passion, of thirst for eternity, thirst for myth and practical truth, as in all poetry that never withers and dies, even when the inner workings and construction of belief have been dismantled and examined in detail.
The tension with which the Popol Vuh concentrates the psychic and genetic spirit is the book's truth, its indestructible eternal force. Everything the Quichés accumulated over centuries in the creation of its pages, we learn in a brief instant. We are struck by a sudden nostalgia for the aboriginal sacred, and we travel not only through human prehistory, but through human longing. We do not believe in the genesis of man and the world, or perhaps we prefer the Old Testament version, or that of modern science. This amounts to dismantling the inner workings, doing the dissection, identifying the substance-and verisimilitude falls short, lame and inefficient before creative exaltation. Its passion and obsession with eternity give the Popol Vuh enduring poetic validity. By adding together the fractions, we are left with the whole-if we leave aside the soul of the words. The Popol Vuh, like a mere handful of other books, stores the essence of the human condition as raw, uncut poetry, so direct and elemental that in order to narrate or explain, it resorts to a constant assumption of myth. On every side, myth hatches its feathered monsters full of death and wisdom, with all the accompanying prenatal suffering. It is a logbook, a compass. A route mapped out and described with a poetic purpose-that is, out of hunger for peremptory practical truth. A history of man, of his battles and beliefs and their reciprocal adaptation, to break the trail, but also to follow it, and become impassioned along the way and to imagine some goal for it.
At death, man penetrates eternity in the space of a second. I recall an assertion made by Lucretius to the effect that in the first second of death, we know as much about eternity as the first person to enter it. We enter the infinite in an instant, with the same amount of light and night as the first man. We reintegrate ourselves into nature, into the Elements, so rapidly that the lightning flash of absolute and total awareness carries us with it. We know about the sun and the ant. About wind and fire.
We are dazzled: we feel the planets like grains of sand beneath our fingers. The poetry of cosmogonic and theogonic creation is but a shred of all that knowledge-imperfectly presented and lacking the speed of death. It awkwardly moves forward and backward to the first man. Sometimes one would even say we were looking through the wrong end of the magic spyglass and do not know if it is the vault of heaven we are seeing, or a drop of water. The Popol Vuh, Magna Carta of the Guatemalan soul, is a slow flash of lightning.
The frescos and sculptures were created by the same mentality as the sacred texts: the tangible illustrations or materializations of poetry. If we were to place a monolith from Copán or Quiriguá in earth, like the stone of a fruit from such a world, a legendary ceiba tree would sprout. Understanding that world was a necessity. And thus emerged drawing and sculpture, and narratives that are like sculptures and paintings in words.
The Popol Vuh, we have said, is like a slice of the Mayan soil and mind. This skull thought of the gods and symbols that adorn the dishes. That other one, more recent, contains the memory of its ancestors, though the form and ideographic representation of dreams and fears may be more perfect. And it continues onward until the sun emerges from the cavern, erects walls and columns and attempts vaulted ceilings. In them is its world and its afterworld.
In the Popol Vuh, man builds a palace, a pyramid, and because he rests his own material structures upon ancient ones, linking them together many times, it is a book of fragments, of constructions one on top of the other, and shards of pottery from different periods. The surviving version of the Popol Vuh does not represent any precise era, as though one man had written it during such-and-such a year, about the life of his people and his own life. A succession of collective, disjointed narratives passed from memory to memory among the priests of the different tribes; a rolling stone that was gradually polished in its odysseys through time, picking up color and matter as it went. The Indian or Indians who set it down in the form we are familiar with may not have understood it any better than we do. A text is different because the person who perceives it is different. The definitive, absolute and existent truth of poetry is made up of the sum of all those parts-across eras and men.
The Popol Vuh-anonymous as I believe it to be, or by the Quiché Diego Reynoso-was a Popol Vuh in ruins, deserted, lost in the jungles of memory, as Yaxilán, Tikal and Uaxactún were lost in the jungles of El Petén for the anonymous author and his contemporaries. What the author salvaged in his writing were vestiges of the indigenous world. He found embers in his memory and in that of his contemporaries, and to keep them from dying down even more, he managed to transcribe the oral poetry of the stories, thinking them out first in his own language and then setting them down in Spanish. The genius of language and the incantation of thought burn with a single flame, and that was the origin of the Popol Vuh's style: one of its most significant aspects at the dawn of human experience. In that style, another note of its undying voice reverberates.
Like paintings and sculptures, which are language and poetry made line or volume, the Popol Vuh is a unique and consummate testimony to the primitive sensibility, so radically aboriginal, and displays unrivaled perfection and quality. The unity of this sensibility is evident in our expression, despite the fact that today, mestizaje, cultural blending, is what embodies our voice. The indigenous world wields tremendous power and will continue to do so. The ornamental capacity, baroque form and fascinating imaginative abundance, blended with its more concrete reality, including information of every order-legend, history, religion, government, customs, concerns-give the Popol Vuh one of its distinct flavors. From the ceramics, codices and murals, these aspects were transmitted to the more elaborately ornamented pre-Columbian textiles. So, present-day textiles contain the root of Mayan sensibility. Colors and forms, the spots of birds and jaguars, infiltrated on all sides-not only through the eyes-and even now embellish our world. The words bring quetzal feathers and orchids and the red clay idols. The indigenous character has survived to such a great extent because of this: a style born from the natural environment in which we live. We love adornment, volutes, color. An estival lavishness that never loses its refined rigor. An organistic, severe wisdom. There is always either pleasure in excess-clamor or visual and poetic metaphors-or it goes to the other extreme, more out of inhibition than for some too distant memory of elemental geometric forms, resulting in periphrasis, the murmur of a subtle petition that disguises slippery affirmations with euphemisms, in a constant give-and-take, sinuous, indirect and ulterior, using the conditional or subjunctive third person or first person plural, attenuated, muffled, going beyond reticence and bluntness to reach silence itself. Above all those crushed, submerged silences, tamed by the colonial trauma of Indians and mestizos and the terrible trauma of mestizo tyranny, rises the irate explosion or the slow, drawn out arborescence that is the baroque quality of our expression.
Some of these narratives were perhaps presented schematically (Warrior-Prince of Rabinal) at festivities related to agricultural life, the calendar and diverse entities of the Mayan pantheon. There are similarities in the dawning of the peoples: the episodes embrace mythology, legend and history, and are evoked in dance, music and psalmody. Their monotony, relentless parallelism and plaintive psalms are reminiscent of Chinese theater. Much of the poetry from other civilizations was theater and dance originally, like the Song of Songs.
Periodic celebrations assured the survival of legends and the feats of mythological founders of the race. In present-day Guatemala, even in communities that are not isolated, ritual dances are performed and ritual speeches recited. The most widely known of them almost invariably evoke the conquest. These performances date to the sixteenth century, having been mixed with Catholicism and directed at the "infidels" by the first missionaries. The "Santiago" masks exaggerate Spanish features and peculiarities: blue or green eyes, bushy beards and moustaches, aquiline noses, wigs of blond ringlets. The "infidels," "Moors," or Indians are represented by grotesque dark masks covered in vermin-batrachians, spiders, snakes-incarnating their truck with the Devil. It would not surprise me in the least to discover that the Popol Vuh, which may have existed in a similar form centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards, had formed a heroic cycle, preserved through oral tradition, through elemental forms of theater which present the legend over a period of days, objectifying it through masks, dance and music.
Those who bequeathed us the indigenous books-half-forgotten and obscured by shadows-hold a unique position, solitary and magnificent, in the most Guatemalan and beautiful of Guatemala's letters, however one might judge their work. It is to these indigenous chroniclers, these marvelous poets, that we owe the millenary testimony of blood, an inheritance as distinguished as the ceramics, codices and temples.
The link representing our peoples, forged by aboriginal chroniclers, is joined to that of the Spanish chroniclers to unite two different worlds. Without them, what a gap would exist in our most legitimate spiritual heritage! They experienced the passion of nationalities, extracting the portentous from all that occurred and from folk traditions passed down from one generation to another. The anonymous Quiché Indian who wrote the Popol Vuh is a priest and master magician, like the heroes of his narrative. To Diego Reynoso, we probably owe part of the Title of the Lords of Totonicapán. To Bartolo Ziz, the ballet-drama Warrior-Prince of Rabinal. To Francisco Hernández Arana and Francisco Díaz, Annals of the Cakchiquels, with the anonymous collaboration of other analysts from the community, at different times. The names of these compilers or rhapsodes occupy a place apart in the history of pre-Columbian literature. Nevertheless, they are unfamiliar.
The Popol Vuh survives like flotsam from a shipwreck, like coals from a fire. Its anonymous author-midway through the sixteenth century or in its final years-composed it, reintegrated it anew, availing himself of the memories of those who had kept the traditions gathered in the primitive Popol Vuh, which may have once existed in a written form, or been memorized and perpetuated by oral tradition.
The version we know today may come from lost codices. More so than books in the strict sense, codices served to fix the memory, to stimulate the imagination.
After looking at the book, or more precisely, the painting, the reader would recount and relate the hidden legend, the symbolic images and signs of the pictograph. Mnemonic fixation was necessary, and meter and music helped forge it, as in all literary cultures in their infancy. That was the origin of the song, poem, story or relation-the name frequently given to the commented reading of what was written in a codex. It is not without reason that pohua, the Nahuatl word expressing our notion of reading, corresponds to that of telling, whether enumeration or narration. The song very quickly freed itself from its subjection to the painting. It ran along its own course, like a living thing, and was transmitted by word of mouth. One of the priest's tasks was to conserve, compose, compile, teach, and disseminate those songs.3
The probable oral origin of this version of the Popol Vuh explains gaps and obscurities in many passages. Because we still do not know whether the traditions preserved orally were also written in native languages, the existence of an indigenous literature has been disavowed. Instead, there have been attempts to establish an emphatic distinction: without the written word in the native tongue, one cannot speak of a determined literature. The limitations of such a criterion have been detected and demonstrated over and over. The literature of primitive peoples is in the word, in the oral tradition or in whatever written form it reaches us, in vernacular languages or in Spanish. What was destroyed by people like Fray Diego de Landa and Juan de Zumárraga would have provided a much more authoritative answer: "We found a great number of books of their letters," Landa recounts, "and because there was nothing in them that was not superstition and devilish falsehood, we burned all of them, which act they perceived as a marvel and made them shameful."
The great Guatemalan books are the self-expression of a people, with its social conditions and the aspirations of a culture. Other debris from the shipwreck confirm these testimonies: cities, sculptures, steles, jewelry, codices, ceramics. The Popol Vuh, the Memorial of Sololá or Annals of the Cakchiquels, Warrior-Prince of Rabinal and the Title of the Lords of Totonicapán span two territories to very differing degrees: the first, in which myth dominates, the poetic fabulation of gods in their works and their days, and men as portentous as gods; the second, in which the proven true fact dominates, clearly stated-the restoration of land rights as a goal, the history of a bloodline, accusations against the conquest, the registry of names incarnating relief or pain, as well as events that struck their imaginations and their calculations. A concern for chronology abided in these men who measured time: the Annals of the Cakchiquels record the arrival in Sololá, on February 2, 1584, of Gregory XII's 1582 decree ordering the rectification of the calendar.
Those who transmitted us the Popol Vuh, the Annals of the Cakchiquels, the Title of the Lords of Totonicapán and Warrior-Prince of Rabinal possessed the ability to delve into memory, and into blood with all its roots. The ability and the will, as well as passion, and pride in the Mayan pantheon and bloodline. They were luminaries that could not be extinguished with holy water. The teponaxtle has not been replaced by bells, nor has the xicolaj by the flute. The new idols have not defeated the old ones.
The most brilliant flames among these books are not concerned with the particular problems or complaints of men: they are the direct expression of an entire people that conceived them by amassing them over centuries and millennia, along with their obscure common experience and an exceptional inventive capacity derived from the very virginity of their emotion and reason. On reading the large body of posterior works based on these texts, whether stories or legends-invested with all the prestige of a metaphoric system that seeks to penetrate the primordial and even surpass it, using the most brilliant forms from the most developed letters, as certain writers have tried to do in our time-we corroborate that none ever managed to approach the essence of autochthonous texts. Attempted adaptations for the stage, seeking the magical deflagration of indigenous tales, have also demonstrated their congenital bastardy, and their impotence to reach some part of the heaven that has been lost forever.
The books are the crystallization of the yearnings and fears of these cultures, of their gods and of their men elevated to apotheosis-at times indistinguishable-entwined in the tale like roots in the earth. They are not history: they transfigure events that were probably real, and fantastically interpret them. They nourish themselves with air, with minerals, with birds and planets, to bring about the flowering of a limbo, fetal and pristine, for a stammering humanity. We arrive at the embryo, the first words of all the bones. We touch our remoteness. We prostrate ourselves, perpendicularly, in the time when there was no time. They form their dreams like gods. Men in the act of creation, in their purest and most visible presence, create like demiurges. Entire cultures are seen amassing the sleep and wakefulness of millennia; realities with desires, fears and hopes, the original clay to which they gave the breath of life with the stolen fire, recovered.
Our destiny was made incarnate by those who left us such an astonishing inheritance: we hear the indigenous flow merging with the Spanish blood. We are nourished in their night, in the maternal cloister of the people, irrigated for a thousand plus a thousand capillary years which, like tiny roots, are buried in the vernacular myths, with a magnetization that has shaped our life. "The world was grafted onto our poetry," José Martí once said, "but the stock was American." Guatemala has the profile of the God of Corn. Blood and poetry are the same thing here.



 

1. El libro del consejo. 2nd ed. Mexico City: Biblioteca del Estudiante Universitario, 1950. Prologue by Francisco Monterde. (On page 38 of his introduction to the Fondo de Cultura Económica's edition of the Popol Vuh (Mexico City, 1953), Adrián Recinos cites 1666 as Father Ximénez's date of birth.)
2.  El libro de consejo, 2nd ed., translation and notes by Georges Raynaud, J. M. González de Mendoza and Miguel Ángel Asturias (Mexico City: Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 1950), p. 183.
3.  Introduction. Épica náhuatl. Ángel María Garibay K. Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Colección del Estudiante Universitario, 1945.

 


 

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