The Sacred Book of The Mayas
The Book of The Community
English Version by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley
(© 1950 by the University of Oklahoma Press)
Translation by Adrián Recinos
FORWARD BY SYLVANUS G. MORLEY
The Popol Vuh, or Sacred Book of the ancient Quiché Maya, as it has been happily subtitled, is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the most distinguished example of native American literature that has survived the passing centuries.
The original redaction of this most precious fragment of ancient American learning is now lost; however, it seems first to have been reduced to writing (in characters of the Latin script), in the middle of the sixteenth century, from oral traditions then current among the Quiché, by some unknown but highly educated, not to say literary, member of that race.
This now lost original was again copied in the Quiché language, again in characters of the Latin script, at the end of the seventeenth century, by Father Francisco Ximénez, then parish priest of the village of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango in the highlands of Guatemala, directly from the original sixteenth-century manuscript, which he had borrowed for the purpose from one of his Indian parishioners.
The Popol Vuh is, indeed, the Sacred Book of the Quiché Indians, a branch of the ancient Maya race, and contains an account of the cosmogony, mythology, traditions, and history of this native American people, who were the most powerful nation of the Guatemala highlands in pre-Conquest times. It is written in an exalted and elegant style, and is an epic of the most distinguished literary quality.
Indeed, the chance preservation of this manuscript only serves to emphasize the magnitude of the loss which the world has suffered in the almost total destruction of aboriginal American literature.
SYLVANUS G. MORLEY
Museum of New Mexico
PREFACE BY ADRIÁN RECINOS
Of all American peoples, the Quichés of Guatemala have left us the richest mythological legacy. Their description of the Creation as given in the Popol Vuh, which may be called the national book of the Quichés, is, in its rude strange eloquence and poetic originality, one of the rarest relics of aboriginal thought.--Hubert Howe Bancroft, The Native Races, III, 42.
The national book of the Quiché, which contains the mythology, traditions, and history of this remarkable American people, was not known by the scientific world until the past century, when two European travelers, Carl Scherzer and Abbé Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, published, respectively, the first Spanish version made in Guatemala at the beginning of the eighteenth century and a contemporary French translation. The two illustrious travelers visited the Central American countries almost at the same time, in 1854 and 1855, and both interested themselves in the study of the aboriginal races of Guatemala, which were those that had reached the highest degree of civilization in the center of the New World.
In the library of the University of San Carlos in the city of Guatemala, Scherzer found the manuscript which contains the transcription of the Quiché text and the first Spanish version of the Popol Vuh, made by Father Francisco Ximénez of the Dominican Order. This first Spanish version of the Quiché document was published by Scherzer in Vienna in 1857.
The Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg carried his interest in the Indian cultures of Guatemala much further. Having lived for some time in the country, he was in contact with the Indians, learned the Quiché and Cakchiquel tongues, and upon his return to Europe he published in Paris, in 1861, a handsome volume entitled Popol Vuh, Le Livre Sacré et les mythes de l'antiquité américaine, avec les livres héroiques et historiques des Quichés, which contains the original Quiché text, a translation into French, an extensive introduction, and rather full notes. The publication of this work at once attracted the attention of the public to the native peoples of Central America, whose existence and cultural achievements were at that time completely unknown in Europe and the United States. Since then, the book has been used by historians and ethnologists in their investigations of the native races and civilizations of America.
Brasseur de Bourbourg collected a number of old manuscripts in Guatemala, which he took with him to Europe and used in his writings on the history and the Indian languages of Central America. Among them was the volume which contains the Arte or grammar of the three principal languages of Guatemala, the Cakchiquel, the Quiché, and the Zutuhil, written in the eighteenth century by the same Father Francisco Ximénez, who was parish priest of Santo Tomás Chuilá, the present Chichicastenango. The same manuscript volume includes also the transcription and translation of the Popol Vuh, composed of 112 folios written in two columns, which has the title Empiezan las historias del origen de los indios de esta provincia de Guatemala. This volume, in the handwriting of Father Ximénez, was acquired in Europe by Edward E. Ayer, and today forms part of the valuable linguistic collection which bears his name and is preserved in the Newberry Library of Chicago.
The catalog of the Ayer Collection, however, did not list the manuscript of the Historias del origen de los indios, which as has been said, is bound together with that of the Arte de las tres lenguas by Father Ximénez. For this reason it was a very pleasant surprise to me to find it at the end of that volume, when I visited the Newberry Library for the first time in 1941. I wish to express here my gratitude to Mary Lapham Butler, in charge of the Edward E. Ayer Collection, for the facilities which she made available to me to complete my research in that center of study.
Comparing the original text transcribed by Ximénez with the text published by Brasseur de Bourbourg, I noticed some differences, important omissions, and other changes which affect the interpretation of the Quiché document· Furthermore, the possibility of clarifying and correcting passages in the existing translations stimulated my desire to undertake a new version direct from the original Quiché into Spanish. Thus, by making use of the work of my predecessors in this field, I would somewhat advance knowledge of the document that Bancroft has called the most valuable heritage which we have received from aboriginal American thought.
When the Spanish version was published in Mexico in 1947, my distinguished friend Sylvanus Griswold Morley, recognized as the highest authority on the Maya civilization, became interested in having an English translation made of this old book of the Quiché. It seems strange, indeed, that while this historical and mythological masterpiece is known in several Spanish, French, and German translations, there is no complete version in English for the use of readers and students of the English-speaking world. Mr. Morley's enthusiasm found generous response in the Rockefeller Foundation, always disposed to lend its support to intellectual pursuits, and with its valuable assistance the present English translation has been carried to a happy conclusion.
In both the Spanish and the English version of the Popol Vuh, I have tried to keep to the original text and to adjust myself strictly to the peculiarities of the Quiché language, which is simple and synthetical and yet does not lack elegance of expression. It would have been easy to give the narrative a literary form more pleasing to the modern reader; but this could have been done only by sacrificing the fidelity which must be the translator's guide in a work of this kind. In general I have tried to preserve the original construction, its passive forms and its frequent repetitions. In doing so, I have found very helpful the grammars and vocabularies of the Quiché and Cakchiquel languages compiled by the Spanish missionaries, which may be consulted in various libraries of Europe and the United States. The words of the original manuscript appear in footnotes when they have been omitted or altered in the transcription by Brasseur de Bourbourg. The spelling is that of the original text. Father Francisco de la Parra, in the middle of the sixteenth century, invented four characters to represent certain sounds peculiar to the Indian languages of Guatemala.
The original manuscript is not divided into parts or chapters; the text runs without interruption from the beginning until the end. In this translation I have followed the Brasseur de Bourbourg division into four parts, and each part into chapters, because the arrangement seems logical and conforms to the meaning and subject matter of the work. Since the version of the French Abbé is the best known, this will facilitate the work of those readers who may wish to make a comparative study of the various translations of the Popol Vuh.
The etymology of the proper names is a difficult matter and lends itself to dangerous conjectures and deceptive suppositions. For this reason, I have accepted only those which seem natural, without entering into an analysis of the components of the ancient names, a work which seldom gives real results. In various places, however, I have pointed out the relation of these names to others of the Maya tongue, to which the Quiché has a close resemblance, and sometimes with the Náhuatl tongue of Mexico, which has greatly influenced the languages of Central America.
I have also proceeded with caution in the use of geographical names. Some of the places mentioned in the text still retain their old names; but many others are known by the Mexican or Spanish names which were given to them after the Conquest. The modern names of the ancient places which it has been possible to identify may be found in the notes.
The map of the Maya-Quiché region, which has been especially prepared for the better understanding of the book, gives an idea of the wanderings of the Guatemala tribes and of their final settlement in the interior of the country. It serves, also, in my opinion, to explain the geographical and ethnical unity which exists among the peoples of southern Mexico and Yucatán and the native races which in pre-Columbian times occupied the land of Guatemala; and shows clearly the course of the large rivers, through which in those days an active intertribal trade was carried on.
I wish to express my gratitude to the Rockefeller Foundation for its valuable help, as well as my appreciation of the brilliant co-operation of my late friend Sylvanus G. Morley and of the able American writer Miss Delia Goetz in the making of the present English version. I wish also to mention the contribution of Isaac Esquiliano in the design of the dust jacket. And last, but not least, I wish to acknowledge the interest and encouragement of the University of Oklahoma Press with regard to the publication in English of the Quiché book.
Guatemala, C. A.
This is the beginning of the old traditions of this place called Quiché. Here we shall write and we shall begin the old stories, the beginning and the origin of all that was done in the town of the Quiché, by the tribes of the Quiché nation.
And here we shall set forth the revelation, the declaration, and the narration of all that was hidden, the revelation by Tzacol, Bitol, Alom, Qaholom, who are called Hunahpú-Vuch, Hunahpú-Utiú, Zaqui-Nimá-Tziís, Tepeu, Gucumatz, u Qux cho, u Qux Paló, Ah Raxá Lac, Ah Raxá Tzel, as they were called.* And [at the same time] the declaration, the combined narration of the Grandmother and the Grandfather, whose names are Xpiyacoc, and Xmucané,** helpers and protectors, twice grandmother, twice grandfather, so called in the Quiche chronicles. Then we shall tell all that they did in the light of existence, in the light of history.
*These are the names of the divinity, arranged in pairs of creators in accord with the dual conception of the Quiché: Tzacol and Bitol, Creator and Maker. Alom, the mother god, she who conceived the sons, from al, "son," alán, "to give birth." Qaholom, the father god who begat the sons, from qahol, "son of the father," qaholah, "to beget." Ximénez calls them mother and Father; they are the Great Father and the Great Mother, so called by the Indians, according to Las Casas; and they were in heaven.
**Xpiyacoc and Xmucané, the old man and the old woman (in Maya, xnuc is "old woman"), equivalents of the Mexican gods Cipactonal and Oxomoco, the sages who, according to the Toltec legend, invented their astrology and arranged the counting of time, that is, the calendar. Although in the Quiché legend there was also the other abstract pair previously mentioned, Xpiyacoc and, above all, his consort Xmucané, this pair had a more direct contact with the things of this world; together they were what the Mexican archaeologist Enrique Juan Palacios calls "the active Creator-couple who are directly concerned with the making of material things."
This we shall write now under the Law of God and Christianity; we shall bring it to light because now the Popol Vuh, as it is called,*** cannot be seen any more, in which was clearly seen the coming from the other side of the sea and the narration of our obscurity, and our life was clearly seen. The original book, written long ago, existed, but its sight is hidden to the searcher and to the thinker. Great were the descriptions and the account of how all the sky and earth were formed, how it was formed and divided into four parts; how it was partitioned, and how the sky was divided; and the measuring-cord was brought, and it was stretched in the sky and over the earth, on the four angles, on the four corners, as was told by the Creator and the Maker, the Mother and the Father of Life, of all created things, he who gives breath and thought, she who gives birth to the children, he who watches over the happiness of the people, the happiness of the human race, the wise man, he who meditates on the goodness of all that exists in the sky, on the earth, in the lakes and in the sea.
***Popo Vuh, or Popol Vuh, literally the "Book of the Community." The word popol is Maya and means "together," "reunion," or "common house." Popol na is the "house of the community where they assemble to discuss things of the republic," says the Diccionario de Motul. Pop is a Quiché verb which means "to gather," "to join," "to crowd," according to Ximénez; and popol is a thing belonging to the municipal council, "communal," or "national." For this reason Ximénez interprets Popol Vuh as Book of the Community or of the Council. Vuh or uúh is "book," "paper," or "rag" and is derived from the Maya búun or úun, which means at the same time both paper and book, and finally the tree, the bark of which was used in making paper in ancient times, and which the Nahua call amatl, commonly known in Guatemala as amatle (Ficus cotinifolia). Note that in many words the n from the Maya is changed to j or h in Quiché. Na, "house" in Maya, is changed to ha, or ja; húun or úun, "book" in Maya, becomes vuh or úuh in Quiché.
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P.S. I am wondering why the (Rockefeller Foundation) are invovled in this?
Also, to view this -open a new window browser from your desktop and copy the link in the address window. ~LisaMarie~