Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 5

The Marvelous Story of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué


As said, the history of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué gives a synthesis of the whole prehistoric period of Quiché-Maya culture and culminates in the arrival of the cultural era. These facts are dramatized in the Dance of the Giants, which with good reason the Chortí call "The History." In this theatrical work, the two actors who represent the sun and the moon appear with faces covered by a veil, something that agrees with the following prolog from the Popol Vuh: "At that time only very little light was found on the earth because the sun did not exist. The faces of the sun and of the moon were still covered." At the end of the Chortí drama the two actors remove their veils, symbolically illuminating the scene of the fourth creation following the triumph of Gavite, who embodies the role of Hunahpú. These allegories as will be shown in the course of what follows refer to the era of ignorance or spiritual darkness that marked the prehistoric epochs, in contrast with the spiritual illumination of the era of true culture when the gods uncover their faces.

In those times, says the Popol Vuh, there lived an extremely vain being called Vukup Cakix — Seven-Macaw, or Seven Feathers of Fire, a title usurped from the solar god which in Maya mythology is named Kinich Kakmó (kak: fire, : bird) who aspired to be the sun and moon but lacked the qualities of those gods. While the world was still enveloped in semiobscurity, i.e., before the dawn of civilization, Vukup Cakix boasted that he was the sun which would illuminate and civilize humanity, proclaiming in a loud voice: "I will be their Sun, I will be their splendor, I will also be the moon because my eyes are like emeralds, my teeth glisten like precious stones, my nostrils dazzle from afar, like the moon; my house also shines."

In this paragraph are made known qualities proper to the starry gods, who have a house in which they enclose themselves and from which they come forth to move through the firmament to light up the universe. By mentioning that the "elements of splendor" are found in the teeth, eyes, and nose of the god, the Popol Vuh expresses a typically Mayan concept which we find objectified in iconography and statuary. Think, for example, of the faces of Ahau at Copán, in which the nose is represented by the glyph for the solar ray, the teeth and eyes by pearls or kin signs or even by a half-moon when the feminine goddess is being depicted. The gods, likened to precious stones broken off from the "Great Stone of Grace," radiate light from all of their being, but especially from those parts which, according to observations made by human beings, shine brighter or reflect better the solar rays. Because of this, it is natural that the eyes, teeth, and nose should have particular importance, to such a degree that in the majority of faces of Ahau, which we find on monuments and in codices, the only facial features shown are the mouth or teeth, the nose, and eyes, which are also chronographic elements. Later on the fingernails play the same role and, like the eyes and teeth, are likened to pearls or precious stones.

In reality, says the Quiché codex, Vukup Cakix was not the sun or the moon, and his vision did not embrace everything that was under the sky. The sun was still not to be seen, nor had true daylight appeared, and thus Vukup Cakix boasted of being something that illumined like the sun because the light of day had not commenced to spread itself. Following this we are told how Vukup Cakix became hopeless and discouraged when the new humanity was formed by Ajtzak and Ajbit, and died at the hands of Hunahpú.

Besides giving us an eloquent description of Venus, the brightest planet in the sky after the sun and moon, but whose light vanishes when the daystar appears as the shadows of barbarism are dissipated by the rise of civilization this account illustrates some fundamental principles of Maya ethics, based on theological virtues. The failure and death of the false god exemplify the punishment that awaits the proud and vain as well as those who usurp attributes that do not rightfully belong to them.

There can be only one Deity, and this monotheistic principle is proclaimed aloud by Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué:

Cabahuil only is the Creator; and they saw that what Vukup Cakix, full of pride, was thinking, what he wanted to do in the presence of the Heart of Heaven, was bad. The birth of people like that on the face of the earth in that manner was not good.

This anathema is also a sentence, since the young hero-gods will punish arrogance with death. To that end they went to the place where Vukup Cakix customarily ate fruits, so they could shoot him with their blowguns, causing the sickness that was to bring on his death.

The drama between the young gods and Vukup Cakix unfolds in two parts. The giant was accustomed to climb a berry tree (Byrsonima) whose yellow fruit, fragrant and delicious, was his sustenance. Lying in wait for him at the foot of the tree, Hunahpú fired his blowgun and hit Vukup Cakix in the mouth. The giant fell on his back upon the earth. This position prevented him from dying (for reasons that we will explain). Hunahpú ran to seize him and a struggle began in which Vukup Cakix grabbed Hunahpú by the shoulder, threw him to the ground, and brutally tore off one of his arms, which he carried to his house.

Vukup Cakix had two sons, Zipacná and Caprakán; his wife was named Chimalmat. Zipacná had made the mountains and volcanoes whose names are given in the text, and which correspond with Guatemalan geography. Caprakán busied himself moving the large and small hills and volcanoes. "I am the sun," Vukup Cakix said. "I made the earth," said Zipacná. "I am the one who troubles the sky, moving and stirring the earth," said Caprakán.

These are, then, four giants, the Atlas or Hercules of Maya legend, which in the Chortí drama are represented by the Black Giant who "with one kick of his foot makes the earth tremble." And, like Gilgamesh of the old Mesopotamian traditions, who in the time before Judea had to fight with giants in order to win immortality, Hunahpú confronts the giants of Quiché mythology, which he has to vanquish before the reign of the true gods and civilization can be established. This struggle also expresses the antagonism prevailing during the precultural cycle between the forces of heaven and of culture, represented by Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué — and those of earth personified by the giants when cosmic harmony did not yet rule.

Later on, the four giants, having been defeated by Hunahpú, would become the four heavenly bearers, placed in the corners of the cosmos.

The first episode of the struggle between Vukup Cakix and Hunahpú represents among other things an astronomical theme made evident in the return of the giant to "his house," carrying with him a part of the celestial body, and this cut-off portion must appear in the firmament. The constellations whose configurations reproduce the personage who lacks one of its extremities are those of Orion and the Great Bear. Both offer to the unaided vision a group of seven brilliant stars of which four are located in the corners of a square, but in Orion the other three are within the square (these are the Three Marías of Chortí theogony), while in the Great Bear the three form an arc of a circle that begins in one of the corners of the same square. In the group of seven stars is projected the ideogram of god-Seven, i.e., the name of Hunrakán, Heart of Heaven, whose etymology (the one having only a single leg: Sherzer) corresponds to the figure of the Great Bear. This is confirmed by another source, for in Mexican mythology Tezcatlipoca the one-footed god, a counterpart of Hunrakán also sallies forth to slay giants as did Hunahpú (the alter ego of Hunrakán). "And this appears in the sky, because they say that Ursa Major descends to the water because it is Tezcatlipoca and commemorates him," says the Historia of the Mexicans in its pictures.

Nevertheless, there is a discrepancy between the version of the Popol Vuh and the etymology of Hunrakán itself, which tells us of a one-footed and not a one-handed god. But this difference is more apparent than real, because at bottom this allegory, aside from the astronomical theme we describe, deals with a basic principle of monotheist theogony whereby the gods are only hypostases of one single deity, an idea that is expressed by the tearing off of a member of the divine body to signify that one god is a part divided off from another god. Elsewhere we have expanded upon this principle and have demonstrated that the foot which Tezcatlipoca lacks appears in the earth, converted into the Maize god. But this idea is not always rendered through the lack of a foot, since in Mayan art it is usually symbolized by a head lacking the lower jaw, while in Mexican codices one-handed gods appear. The figure shown here, depicting Xochipilli without one hand, is an example (on page 3 of the Borgia Codex).

image: Xochipilli
FIGURE 1. Xochipilli (after Hugo Moedano Koer). Note the seven points which adorn the throne and suggest the numeral god-Seven.

The equivalence of Xochipilli and Hunahpú with respect to Hunrakán is seen in the very name of Xochipilli, which W. Lehmann translates as "son of the foot." On page 18 of the Borgia Codex one sees descending from the sky a bird which has in its beak a human arm, whose symbolic value is identical to that of the foot wrenched from Tezcatlipoca, since both allegories equally represent the descent of the Maize god into the underworld. There is a correspondence in the field of linguistics, where the words foot, hand, leg, and arm, regularly proceed from equivalent roots in the various languages derived from the proto-Mayan trunk.

For example, in Maya, Chontal, Tzental, Tzotzil, Chañabal, Chol, Quekchi, Poconchi, and Chortí, ok signifies foot, while in Huastec ok is hand or arm. Quekchi, one of the most archaic of the tongues belonging to the Mayan family, uses the same word to designate arm and leg, a phenomenon leading one to think that in its primitive state Maya language had only one root for the words foot and hand, or leg and arm. In a more advanced period, when an effort was made to differentiate the terms hand and foot, recourse is generally had to a transposition or metathesis, whereby some languages designate the hand by the same term that in others means foot, all of which indicates that later differentiations stem from a common primitive term. Such a situation is seen in the oldest manifestations of aboriginal art, when the sculptor did not even know how to figurate the extremities of the human body, imitating thus the rude creatures of mud of the second creation.

All this leads to some interesting deductions that serve to enlighten us about the life of the primeval hunter-gatherers, whose family exemplified by that of Vukup Cakix with his two sons was quite small compared with the ideal type of family of the Mayas which should have at least six sons. The common weapon for the hunt was then the blowgun nowhere is the arrow mentioned and the blowgun was also the emblem of the solar ray, as was the arrow in more recent epochs. Thus the gods of the primeval epoch were blowgunners. Like the solar ray and the invisible dart of the witch, both these weapons "prick," and this is the method employed by Hunahpú to cast upon Vukup Cakix the spell that will make him fall sick and die.

Here is illustrated the procedure used by the sorcerer to bring harm to a person, the foundation of the belief still existing among the natives that there is no natural disease or death: these they regard as produced by conjurations. And this contrast between the methods of battle used by Hunahpú and Vukup Cakix, the former having recourse to magic and the latter to brute force, shows the superiority of intelligence over force, of science over ignorance. Here the actors of Quiché mythology play a part similar to that of Minerva against Mars in Roman mythology.

Following the tragic encounter, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué go to speak with two old white-haired people (the white hair symbolizes the color of the First Age, corresponding to the First Regent, an idea that the Chortís objectify in the white handkerchief with which the elder covers his head when he assumes the function of the First Regent. Also, in the Vatican Codex the "white head" characterizes the First Age and its cosmic Regent). These old ones are the protectors of the young pair, who ask their help in recovering Hunahpú's arm and in completing the punishment of Vukup Cakix. For that, the two youths disguise themselves as poor orphan children, while the old ones play their grandparents who are also healers (elsewhere the grandparents are identified by the names of Ixpiyacoc and Ixmucané), as a way of visiting Vukup Cakix without arousing his suspicions. Under pretext of healing the giant, wounded in the jaw by the blowgun, the two old people tell him they will take out his broken teeth and damaged eyes, and replace them with new teeth and eyes.

But Vukup Cakix protests that "this is not well because, being a Lord (Ahau), my teeth and my eyes are my riches" (attributes of rank and power; see what was said above about the symbolic value of those elements in the face of Ahau). The old ones insist upon the necessity of the operation, offering to replace the teeth with others that look like bone, intending to replace them with grains of white maize which resemble bone in appearance. Note the symbolic relation between bone, teeth, and maize grain, a relation that is also found on the level of linguistics. Finally the operation is performed; then the giant no longer feels pain, his presence as a great Lord rapidly fades, and he suddenly dies, having lost his attributes. Then Chimalmat also dies, and Hunahpú recovers his arm. The simultaneous death of the giant and his wife illustrates the concept of duality by which every divine pair forms an indivisible whole, the female aspect being an unfolding or alter ego of her "husband." The same idea prevails in contemporary beliefs concerning nahualism, i.e., when a person dies, his nahual or double also dies instantly.

The action wherein the supposed healer "takes away the emeralds which glittered in the beginning here on earth" reflects the triumph of the true gods over the false, of heaven over earth, and explains why the macaw has no teeth. This allegory also reveals the mythical origin of the servitude imposed upon Venus by Hunahpú in his role as god of the Dawn, as will be shown later on. For that reason Iko Kij nima chumil, the great star, carries the sun on its shoulders, and it is so represented in the Tellerianus Codex. Although Tlahuiscalpantecutli has been correctly translated as "god of First Light" or "of Dawn," (dieu de l'Aube du jour: Thévet), or "the Lord of the rosiness of morning" (Beuchat), and not as Venus, the two have frequently been confused, as the cosmic bearers are wont to be confused with the Regents of the angles of the cosmos. The relation of Venus with the god of Dawn is the same as that of the bearers to the Regents, and this is projected in the sequence of time where Venus has the value of "introducer of the sun" (tables of eclipses). In Mexican iconography Tlahuiscalpantecutli is presented at times as a hypostasis of Tezcatlipoca, who in Aztec mythology plays the same role as Hunahpú in the Quiché. Hunahpú is the equivalent of Ahau in the calendric series as the final day of the month, and that title he takes in a spectacular manner from Vukup Cakix, despoiling the latter of his "elements of splendor" which from then on will be Hunahpú's. Perhaps this scene also symbolizes the demise of the ancient worship of Venus, which could have existed during the hunter-gatherer period and which we still encounter among certain American tribes of lesser culture.


After defeating Vukup Cakix, the hero-gods using magical arts destroy Zipacná and then Caprakán. These episodes in the Popol Vuh are introduced by the legend of the 400 boys who drag an enormous beam with which to build their house. To cut that beam, they begin by burning the trunk, the accepted method of that time for felling trees.

This group of 400 individuals uniting their forces to transport the unusually large piece of wood affords a beautiful show of cooperation, highlighting the principle governing the communal type of society as well as the origin of a custom preserved to this day by the Indians: when anyone proposes to construct a dwelling, the whole group voluntarily offers to help him so that the labor is quickly done. The scene of the Flying Pole (Palo Volador), in which a large number of Quiché Indians (the equivalent to the number 400 of the Popol Vuh) transport an enormous beam from the woods into the plaza where it will be erected on end as a mast, reminds one of this passage in the Popol Vuh that the ceremony perpetuates. The same scene is reproduced in those places in Mexico where this curious custom still survives. Patricia Fent Ross says that in Panhuatlán, Hidalgo State, 200 Otomí youths carry a pole of 130 to 160 feet in length.

image: Quich??s carry the Flying Pole

FIGURE 10. Similarly, the Quichés carry the Flying Pole, as the 400 boys do in the Popol Vuh (Courtesy of Ovidio Rodas Corzo).

On their way the 400 boys encounter the giant Zipacná, who offers to help them, and carries the heavy beam himself after asking the boys, "What do you intend to do with that pole?" "It is going to be the centerpost of our house," the boys reply. This question and answer give in a few words the contrast between the habitation used in the hunter-gatherer period and that used in the civilized epoch. In the First Age that of the giants men didn't know how to make houses and this ignorance is reflected in Zipacná's curiosity and his innocent question: "What will you do with that pole?" Then, picking it up, he throws it on his shoulder and alone carries it to the boys' camp. This spectacle expresses in vivid image the antagonism between two social concepts: communal cooperation, personified by the 400 boys who work in unison, and the individualism embodied in Zipacná who "works alone," and in this picturesque way expresses the opposition between the two cycles. The idea is accentuated in the sentence which follows, voiced by the group of boys: "What Zipacná did, in taking up and carrying a beam by himself, is not properly done." Then the boys "think together about the matter and reach an agreement" (the identical procedure employed in the divine assemblies, exemplifying the model for human communities) as to how they can slay the giant, using astuteness instead of force for that purpose, and always proceeding in unison.

Employing a stratagem, they will lure the giant into the bottom of the hole they dig for setting up the mast and, once he is there, will crush him with the heavy wooden pole.

But Zipacná, who was the Earth god, had the ability to hear at any distance, a thing the Chortís explain by saying that all natural apertures in the earth caves, precipices, grottoes are the "ears of the earth" and allow this deity to hear all that is said in the world; a curious belief whose origin goes back to the myth of Zipacná (compare the name Zipacná, Earth god, with Cipactli and Cipactonal of Mexican mythology). Having learned of the plot, but without letting on, the giant went down to the bottom of the hole and there dug a lateral tunnel to save himself when his adversaries would let fall the heavy beam intended to kill him. Believing Zipacná dead, the 400 boys, now happy, prepared "their drink of three days" to celebrate their triumph, which had spared them taking Zipacná into their community. In the community's social structure there is no room for strangers, and that rule, which even now governs native custom, is here exemplified.

The three-day drink is today called chicha, the Indian's native beer, a fermented, alcoholic fluid whose preparation requires three days. As with all indigenous customs, this too is exemplified in the mythical part of the Popol Vuh. When there are reasons for rejoicing, the Indians still drink the chicha together, as did the 400 boys celebrating the supposed death of Zipacná. On the third day when the chicha was ready, the boys proposed to drink it on the very spot where they thought they had killed the giant, hoping then to see the ants attracted by the cadaver. But Zipacná, who heard everything they said as explained above — had cut hair from his head and chewed off his nails to give them to the ants and so deceived the boys. Seeing these remains of Zipacná being taken by the ants, the boys became drunk on the chicha and fell into a stupor. The giant then tumbled the house down upon them and killed them all, so that "not even one or two of the 400 boys saved himself." This legend, dramatizing the fatal consequences of drunkenness, illustrates another rule of native morality which prohibits excess in drinking liquor, limiting its use to a number of cups determined by ritual figures (four or five). As a notable example of the temperance of Quiché-Maya Indians, we can cite the case of the community of Nahuala (Guatemala) where there is no tavern because the indigenous community prohibits it, paying the government an annual tax to cover the estimated revenue that would ordinarily accrue from sales of aguardiente there. Thus the Indians are freeing themselves from the "benefits" of civilization.

The native belief that the foundation of the four "world pillars" (horcones) or cosmic bearers are set in the underworld where they nourish the spirits of the dead is illustrated in the legend of the 400 boys. But that story dealt with a malign spirit located in the bottom of the hole, and explains the Quiché custom of burning incense in the hole where the mast will be placed for the Flying Pole ceremony in order to expel bad spirits which, like that of the giant, could harm the actors.

Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué felt "dismay in their hearts when they learned of the death of the 400 boys." Some lines before this in the Quiché epic, the destiny of those boys is mentioned, which was that they became incorporated in the stars which thereafter, to commemorate the events recounted, were called Motz (those reunited in a group), that is, the Pleiades. But it is not until the final victory of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, when they are transformed into sun and moon, that the 400 boys come back to life through the intervention of these divine twins and are converted into the Pleiades, like the Atlantides (Hyades and Pleiades) of Greek mythology. Besides illustrating the religious doctrines of the immortality of the soul and the native belief which places life after death in the stars — and that explains why, in the Mexican glyphs, a seated dead person replaces a star in the figure of the sign for the day of the dead this myth contains a profound astronomical meaning. As the Chortís say, the Pleiades "are angels that lift up the Lord" on the day of the sun's first passage through the zenith. Then "they shine in the Glory," repeating the act whereby Hunahpú revives the 400 boys. According to Chortí observations, the position of the Pleiades determines that of the sun at the zenith, an event which marks the beginning of the rainy season and the base line of the calendar. This precise linkage between the star and the constellation is seen in the Quiché codex by the intimate relation between Hunahpú and the 400 boys, a relation that, on the other hand, evinces the social solidarity between related elements. The fact that the Pleiades come forth at the end of the Third Age indicates that from then on there was a perfect knowledge of the positions and movements of that constellation, so important in the Quiché-Maya astronomical system, and similarly the calendar of 400 days was used, a number that was in the beginning the highest mathematical and chronological expression known and, therefore, embraced the notion of innumerable. We will return to this point later when the apotheosis of the hero-gods is discussed.

The importance of the myth of the 400 boys and its great antiquity is evident in the versions of this legend preserved by peoples whose separation from the Quiché-Maya trunk goes back to very remote epochs such as, for example, the Lenca, who have among their traditions the following, as recounted by Fray Alonso Ponce in his Relacion Verdadera. One day as 400 boys were dancing about the spring at Uluapan, and with them an old one who accompanied their steps by drumming, they tired so much and were so sick of dancing that, despairing of life, they all decided to leap into the spring and drown themselves. So that none of them could escape, they brought up a long, strong rope and tied themselves together and, throwing themselves into the water, they were transformed into fish. Despite its variation, one sees in this the same social concept and the same relation between the boys converted into fish and Hunahpú who also, as we see later, is transformed into a fish, his nahual. The boys' invention of the intoxicating drink compares with a Mexican mythological account of 400 rabbits, gods of pulque, the Mexican alcoholic drink. In the Historia de los Reinos de Colhuacán y México (1563-1579), the starry gods are called the "400 cloud-serpents." But in Aztec mythology the 400 Huitznahua, copied from the Quiché tradition, are defeated by Huitzilopochtli who, being a copy of Hunahpú, nevertheless plays the role of Zipacná, for reasons of history (Girard, Los Chortís, "Ethnography and Religion").

The mythological connections between the Pleiades, the sun, and the moon are reflected in the field of linguistics. In the various languages emanating from the trunk-language, the expression of a common ancient cultural subsoil, the words sun, moon, and Pleiades are related genetically and substituted for each other through displacement of meaning. For example, in Xinca the term áhau is used for moon (R. Shuller); and in Chuj, moon is pronounced ahau. On the other hand, ahual is used to designate the name of the Sun god which follows the last day of the month in the Tzental calendar. The unusual term po, designating moon in Quekchi, Mixe, Pocomam, and Tapachultec (poya en zoque), is related to the root pu which in South American languages enters into the composition of names meaning moon and the Pleiades (Shuller) and in the words pu pu (Pleiades) in Miskito, pu pu (east) in Xinca and bul (star) in Hicaque. This goes to show once again that the origin of the word goes back to the age of myth and that, like cultures, languages emanated from the same trunk separated from each other in different historical moments and dispersed over a considerable area to the north and south of the country that was the cradleland of those cultures.

In order to avenge the death of the 400 boys, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué go in search of Zipacná, whose preoccupation was the search for fish and crabs by the rivers, wandering through the woods to get his daily sustenance. At night he busied himself by moving mountains about. This descriptive picture of human life during the hunter-gatherer period is noteworthy; previously the Popol Vuh told us that the favorite meal of Vukup Cakix was the yellow fruit, and has this personage saying, "If they had killed me, I would be hanging over a fire and roasting there," illustrating the First Age method of preparing foods. Both Mayan and Mexican sources refer to the time when primitive man depended on a parasitical economic regime. In the memorial of the Cakchiquels there is described the epoch of "misery, when people nourished themselves on wood, leaves, wanted nothing but earth, and couldn't speak." (Memorial de Tecpán-Atitlán, A. Villacorta, Guatemala, 1936.) Similarly, the Mexican codices specify that during the First Age man nourished himself with acorns (compare the yellow fruit of which the Popol Vuh speaks), pine nuts, pine resin, and mesquite fruit, etc. That not only confirms the thematic unity of Mayan and Mexican sources; it also gives a true description of primitive man's modus vivendi. And this, as with all that the Popol Vuh has to say about the life and customs of people during prehistoric cycles, is confirmed by comparative ethnography.

Having learned Zipacná's habits, the young pair of hero-gods work out a subterfuge for overcoming the giant, and construct an enormous crab, perfectly reproducing the form of the crustacean, making its eyes of ek (a Guatemalan parasite called pie de gallo) and then placing it in a cave at the foot of the mountain named Meaguan (a Guatemalan mountain). Then they go and find the giant wandering by the banks of a river, hungry because he hasn't eaten in two days (a notable description of the precarious state of life of the hunter and of his uncertain food supply). The youths approach and tell him where the beautiful crab is located, which "filled the giant with pleasure because of the hunger that constantly tormented him." When they reached the cave, the youths persuaded the giant to enter it lying on his back, so as to trap the crustacean. But when Zipacná's body disappeared inside the cave, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué "let fall on him the mountain that they had bored into through the middle, crushing the giant who became transformed into stone."

This episode, like all the others in the Quiché epic, has many meanings. In the first place, it illustrates the native belief in the immanence of living beings in stones, inasmuch as Zipacná was transformed into rock, becoming the soul of the hill, therefore embodying the image of the cosmic bearer. Since he had positioned himself with his mouth up when he was crushed, his spirit could not escape and he remained imprisoned within the hill. In fact, according to native beliefs, exemplified in this account in the Popol Vuh, witches and the defunct must position themselves on their backs so that their spirits can leave and return to the body. As we saw, that position prevented the death of Vukup Cakix when he fell on his back. To prevent the repetition of this with Zipacná, the youths, having learned from experience, sealed up the giant's mouth by letting the mountain fall upon him and so imprisoned his spirit within it. In their word p'a kma (bad, depraved, boaster), the Chortís preserve the characteristics attributed to the giants by the Quiché source, linked by analogy to the name Zipacná, showing once again that the origin of the word is tied to the origin of the myth.

Moreover, the Maya traditions cited by A. Tozzer say that the sun had scarcely appeared when the first men were transformed into stone (A. Tozzer, A Comparative Study of the Maya and the Lacandons, New York, 1907). And the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel explains the magical act whereby Hunahpú bored through the center of a mountain to cause the death of Zipacná, as an effect of the divine Word: "The Word of the Deity sounded and separated from the stone, and fell in the second time . . . and its Word . . . pierced and sundered the shoulder of the mountains."

We have already mentioned that Word and Action are magical equivalents, and we have an eloquent demonstration of this idea in the text of the Dance of the Giants (the Chortí dramatization of the Popol Vuh) in the scene specifically related to the death of Zipacná (personified in the Dance by the Black Giant). "Let death be spoken to this boastful giant," says the Chortí version, preserving in its Castilian diction the original semantics. This demonstrates once again the native authenticity of the Chortí drama.

That divine Word tells the twins that they should now do away with Caprakán, the last of the giants, since " 'this is our will, because what he does on earth is not good, pretending to equal the sun and the moon in grandeur. Therefore, tactfully see to it that he goes toward the place where the sun comes up,' Hunrakán told the two youths." And these, replying that what they have seen is not good, reaffirm the doctrine of divine unity as follows: "Aren't you the only one that should exist and live as the Heart of Heaven which you are?"

The youths leave to search for Caprakán (the theogonic antithesis of Hunrakán, expressed in their very names: "he of two feet" versus "he of one foot") and find him busy moving the mountains as expected, because being the god of Earthquakes that is his profession a malign being to whom the Chortís give the name of "he of the earthquakes."

Seeing the two youths, Caprakán, curious, asks, "Why are you here? I don't know your faces. What are your names?" (in the primitive mentality, the name is the person). But never in their adventures do Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué reveal their identity, since "he who knows the name is master of the person," and magically dominates that person, according to the Indian manner of thinking. Carrying out Hunrakán's order, the youths maneuver the giant toward the place "where the sun comes forth" which, in Mayan cosmogony, is the "good" side of the cosmos wherein the beneficent gods reside, whose influence will help the twins gain victory.

During the trip Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué aim their blowguns and, simply by breathing into the tube without using any darts, capture some birds, which exceedingly amazes Caprakán. This incident explains the esoteric value of the blowgun as symbol of the solar ray, which operates magically. All mythologies are in the habit of identifying the instrument that symbolizes the power of their solar deity with the chief weapon of the epoch in which the myths were formed: dagger, sword, hatchet, or arrow. In a recent epoch of their history, the Quichés adopted the bow and arrow, weapons that, as in Mexican mythology, replaced the blowgun as the emblem of the Solar god. Mention of the blowgun as the divine attribute at a time when it had been displaced by another weapon confirms the historical validity of the Popol Vuh.

The twins prepare a fire to roast the birds over the coals (showing the technique for preparing food), but they smear one bird with white earth, a procedure that by means of imitative magic should bring about the death and interment of Caprakán, since "just as the earth would cover the body of the bird, so it would enclose the giant within earth and in earth would he be buried." (This section has been translated perfectly in the version of A. Recinos, which we have reproduced here.)

Since Caprakán "thought only of eating, his heart desired only that," said the twins to each other as they cooked the birds. The roast gave off an appetizing smell which aroused Caprakán's wish to eat: "His mouth watered, it gaped, and saliva fell from it." Note the contrast between this primitive behavior and the ethical values of Maya culture. Caprakán's reaction to the vivid picture of the steaming bird is no different from that of a dog anxious for its food. The giant implored the twins for at least a mouthful of the savory meal, and they gave him the bewitched bird, which caused his downfall, for going eastward, he could no longer move the mountains, and fell unconscious "because of the earth on the bird." Instantly the youths tied him up "with hands behind, the collar tied to the feet, and then they buried him in the earth. Thus ended Caprakán, because of all the evil that he had done here on the earth."

Caprakán is tied up like an animal that is transported home by successful hunters. Then he is placed on the ground where he is buried according to the rules of primeval interment (horizontal position). And with his burial ends the era of the giants, the close of the first ethnical cycle of American prehistory. A painting in the Vatican A Codex illustrates the destruction of the First Age by a giant interred in a horizontal position under the surface of the earth.

image: End of the First Age, in the Vatican A Codex

FIGURE 2. End of the First Age, as pictured in the Vatican A Codex.

The mythical giants, compared to animals by the Popol Vuh, are in popular belief associated with the remains of bones of now extinct beasts. Through such beliefs, wrapped in the mantle of legend, we see a background of fact, since man of the First Age had really to fight against animals which were gigantic in comparison with those of later times. Primeval man's coexistence at the end of the Pleistocene Epoch with species of a now extinct fauna, such as the mammoth, giant bison, and camel, etc., has been scientifically confirmed.

Guaman Poma draws a vivid picture of the "first Indians who trod on American soil, who wandered as though lost in an unknown land, and had to fight against wild beasts. They killed these, conquered and ruled over the land, having entered it by order of God."

Thanks to the discovery at Tepexpan, that description corresponds to events which have been reconstructed. Tepexpan offers us the picture of a hunt for the imperial mammoth, cornered by its pursuers in a bog. Those very hunting techniques are still employed by the primitive Gés — contemporary representatives of the oldest ethnical horizon who, employing lances to hunt the tapir, surround this pachyderm by burning great extensions of the sertao (W. Krickeberg). The great merit of these native sources is the information they afford concerning the way of life of primitive man about which we previously knew nothing.

Chapter 6