Esotericism of the Popol Vuh by Raphael Girard

Theosophical University Press Online Edition

Chapter 8

Infancy of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué


The Popol Vuh now offers us a family scene of the times, showing us Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén with their grandmother — whom they call mother — invested with the power of the paterfamilias or head of their family.

Ixquic, coming from Xibalbá, presents herself to them and says, "I am come to you, my mother, I am your adoptive daughter, since I am your daughter-in-law, my mother." But the old woman rejects her, saying, "Who knows where you come from? My sons have died in Xibalbá, their only descendants are Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén. Get out of here," she tells Ixquic, having shown her that she recognizes only those two as her legitimate heirs, the recipients of the wisdom of the Ahpú. Because the latter were their fathers, the two were "singers, writers, orators, and sculptors in bas-relief; these things only did they do as their daily occupation, and because of it they filled the heart of the old woman with pride."

Those paragraphs make us understand that Maya society was then based on the matriarchal principle and its economy on horticulture, i.e., on the work of women. Such a situation permitted the men to devote their free time to cultivating the arts that we see coming into being in this period, as well as the professional activities mirrored in the skills attributed to Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén. These brothers are the heroes of the time; they excel in every line and, following the eclipse of the Camé, occupy without contest the world regency.

This is fully in accord with the Quiché-Maya method of projecting in the change of Regent the successive stages of history, and it moreover agrees with the order of succession of the primary series in which Chuen (Chouén) follows Cimi (Camé). Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén close the period of their regency by becoming transformed into monkeys, and this explains the etymology of their names.

The Third Age, inaugurated under the auspices of the Third Regent, has its equivalence in the Third Katún of Maya prehistory, which in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is described as

a time of disorder and fury in which he of the false mat, the false throne, reigned: the Monkey of the gods [compare with Hun Bátz], the cunning rascal. And so in the Three Ahau Katún, full of arrogance and with faithless hearts, there walked the descendants of the nobles, the men of royal blood, until it occurred to them to say that they should regain the leadership of the peoples, and they proceeded to do so ["Book of Tests"].

These expressions, until now an enigma, agree wholly with the Quiché account of the Third Age, an epoch in which Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, descendants of the seven Ahpú, suffer every kind of trial and tribulation, constantly warred upon by their cousins Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, until at last they castigate the latter, transforming them into monkeys and replacing them as Regents of the Fourth Age which inaugurates the era of Maya culture.

In accord with this, Mayan iconography symbolizes in the figure of god C — having the face of a monkey — the Third Regent of the primary period; and we find it associated with the sign chuén as its prefix, on page 43 of the Tro-Cortes Codex. The texts of Mayan and Quiché sources mutually confirm and complete each other. They agree that during the Third Age or Third Katún, humanity was imperfect from the point of view of Mayan ethics, and the vices of that epoch, stereotyped in the character of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, caused its ruin. Among those characteristics stand out cruelty, envy, and indolence in the men as seen in the invention of the hammock, which is regarded even now as a symbol of idleness. References to that period also speak of the use of nets, a technical advance in human industry.

The hammock began to lose its importance in the era of Maya culture from the time of the change in the social arrangement (passing from the matriarchal to the patriarchal) that reflected new concepts about work and condemned the vice of slothfulness.

We saw that by way of greeting, the grandmother received Ixquic with marked hostility, saying "I don't want you as my daughter-in-law; you carry only dishonor in your womb. You deceived me, because my sons to whom you refer are already dead." Such repudiation expresses the moral judgment of the time against the woman who bears children the identity of whose father is unacknowledged, as well as the social principle by which ingress into the clan is impossible for anyone who cannot prove his or her right of admission by consanguinity. Thus Ixquic insists upon her right by virtue of the offspring she bears within her and which according to the laws of the time belongs to its grandmother's clan, equally with Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, because it is the child of the seven Ahpú, which will be proven "by the beauty of countenance of her child."

Once again we have here a proclamation of the law of atavism by which the physical characteristics as well as the moral and intellectual qualities of forebears are inherited, from which it follows that for Ixquic the physiognomy of her offspring will be the decisive proof of the truth of her claims. In native thought — as in Aristotle's — the concept of beauty is inseparable from that of the good. Therefore Hunahpú will be as perfect in body as in character. This standard is seen in Mayan statuary, since that people always applied the best of their artistic talents to images of the young god (equivalent to Hunahpú), and in the period of their cultural apogee brought its figure to perfect anatomical proportions.

Finally, the grandmother decides to test the truth of Ixquic's claims by giving her an impossible task: to fill "a large net to the full with maize," from only one plant of the precious cereal. "If you are my daughter-in-law, then help me," said the old woman. "Go and get me something to eat; we will wait for you here, and come back so you can keep on helping me." "All right," replied Ixquic. She left to go to the maize field along the path cleared by Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén. This paragraph describes the division of labor in effect during the matriarchal period, it being the woman's responsibility to work and harvest the milpa, providing the family its subsistence, while the man had to clear the ground.

Turning again to the comparative analysis of peoples, like the Talamanca, for example, who represent the Third-Age cultural type, we find an identity of custom between what these still employ and those described to us in the Popol Vuh. Says R. Fernández Guardia of the Talamanca:

The Talamanca men cut down and clear the ground for sowing, but only the women sow the maize and collect the harvest. As only women give birth, they say, only they can sow seed that will grow and collect what has grown. . . . Those Indians who are respected because wealthier, with more authority or of greater vigor than the rest, have more than one wife, who ordinarily are their sisters-in-law, and add to their prestige. . . . The menstruating woman, or the one close to giving birth, is considered impure and is not permitted while in such condition to come into the houses or the sowing fields. . . . When women are with child and feel themselves near to giving birth, they go to the woods to do so where they will not be seen.. — Reseña Histórica de Talamanca, San José de Costa Rica, 1917

The same customs can be observed even now among the Taoajka (Sumo) who live in the Mosquitia forests, a people of matriarchal-horticultural culture closest to the area of the classical Mayas, and of considerable ethnological interest. The author made several expeditions among the Sumo, Payas, Miskitos, and Hicaques to investigate their interrelations, finding that the Sumo group is the only one to have a social system based on pure matriarchy. Among these the grandmother holds the predominant place within the family hierarchy. The women cultivate small vegetable gardens and bring the produce to their houses. The men occupy themselves with clearing the woods, hunting, fishing, and making canoes, but enjoy resting in hammocks which they make from vegetable fibers, and their life is less active than that of the women.

image: A Taoajka grandmother

FIGURE 8. A Taoajka grandmother, the family head, together with her daughter who will succeed her. Hamlet of Dimikian in the Honduran Mosquitia.

Manuel Fleury reports the same observation. He says:

The women are much given to work, and although the men are not totally idle, they are not as industrious as the women. The men are much given to liquor, and when they take it are continually inebriated; but when they can't get it, they get drunk with chicha — Cited by R. Heliodoro Valle, in Semblanza de Honduras, Tegucigalpa, 1947

This was, we recall, a vice proper to the matriarchal period. For the rest, the customs of the Sumo are similar to those of the Talamanca, and the same cultural features characterize the peoples who from Honduras (Mosquitia) southward live along the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

Among the surviving elements of that ethnic period preserved by the Chortís, the following are worthy of mention: the linguistic peculiarity that the word hijo (son) is different if spoken by the father or if by the mother, because the pronunciation indicates the respective parental role, for, as the Chortís say, it is the mother and not the father who brings the son to birth; the systematic marriage between brothers and sisters of two families; the tabu that prevents the pregnant or menstruating woman from entering the seed field; the custom whereby the woman works in the maize field, but only during the tilling done with the hoe, an implement from the matriarchal period; the special word for maize field worker (ah cor war isik) given to the woman; the collection of wild edible fruits, roots, and plants in baskets, at fixed times, exclusively by women, who remain at some kilometers from their houses during the collecting season, following a custom that has not varied since the prehistoric epoch; medicinal and magical use of tobacco; the use by women of cloth bands to carry their children; the bridegroom giving service to the father or father-in-law, depending upon the case, before establishing his own household within the family group; regulation of hunting and fishing, and community hunts and fishing enterprises; use of pits with stakes for hunting animals; the community importance of the old people.

During the horticultural cycle, maize was not yet exactly the food or the object of the systematic and extensive cultivation that it became in the era of agriculture. The maize field of Ixmucané, which had only a single maize plant, appears to bring out this contrast between the economies of the two periods.

Faced with that single plant, from which she had to get enough maize to fill a large net, Ixquic became disheartened at the thought of not being able to accomplish the task imposed upon her by Ixmucané, and so being refused acceptance into her family. Ixquic therefore turns to her supernatural protectors, exclaiming, "I am under obligation because of many faults. When will I be able to take away a netful from that maize field!" She began to implore the being (Chajal) responsible for making the seeds come to fruition, that the food grains should appear. "Ixtoj, Ixcanil, Ixcacau, you who prepare the maize! You, Chajal, guardian of the food of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén!" cried out the maiden.

In this episode Ixquic inaugurates the rite of confession, acknowledging her indebtedness resulting from many sins, a rite that the Chortís continue by voicing their unworthiness in the same way in front of the feminine deity — the originator of this custom — to obtain the help of the agrarian deities in assuring an abundance of food. This rite is carried out before the ground is sown with seed. There also appears here for the first time the goddess of Cacao (Ixcacau) as one of the agrarian deities, and the name will occur again later on. We can therefore infer the discovery of this American tree during the matriarchal-horticultural period, completing the group of plants on which Maya subsistence was based. As said, cacao is a Mayan word, confirming once again the historical validity of the Popol Vuh. The god of Cacao is based on the individuality of the Agrarian god, as explained regarding Chortí theogony, and therefore they are seen as a union in the pleas of Ixquic. But the gods invoked by her are feminine (the ix prefix), while in Quiché-Maya theogony they are masculine. This shows the existence of these goddesses — as well as of cacao itself — in the period preceding that of agriculture, and their conversion into masculine deities when Maya society passes from the matriarchal to the patriarchal regime. In Ixquic's invocation of the agrarian deities we have also a paradigm of the entreaties the present-day Indian continues to make to his gods to obtain a good harvest. When the pleas are made with the necessary religious fervor and the person making them has purified himself through confession — as did Ixquic — and in addition has fulfilled the requirements demanded by religious ethics, then the gods listen to the entreaties — as they did to Ixquic's supplications — made in perfect conformity with the ritual that she exemplifies. As a result, the gods invoked "brought the flowering of the maize field," which miraculously produced such a quantity of ears that "when she gathered them and filled the net with them, her protectors had to help her carry the burden."

Here is illustrated the principle of divine-human cooperation, vital for the harmonious functioning of the cosmos and fundamental to the Maya religious system. In fact, man must invoke the gods, pay them homage, feed them, and abide by the rules of religious ethics if he would have them nourish and sustain him. The Indian regards himself as the eternal debtor of the gods, a conception implicit in Ixquic's words "I am under obligation. . . ." But this knowledge is gained only when humanity as a whole shall have achieved a high degree of ethical perfection. Only then will humankind be able to survive because, thanks to the inner communion between Divinity and humankind, that harmony which guarantees the stability of the world will have been established in a manner to impede its destruction by cataclysms such as took place in preceding epochs.

Deity amply rewards those who observe its commandments, and this is represented objectively in the miraculous harvest achieved by Ixquic. The yield from the single maize plant in Ixmucané's seed field was such that it filled "a portable cupboard that was in the house" (showing the means of storing the maize ears which were placed in this crate in a corner of the hut).

Having witnessed the miracle, the grandmother told the maiden, " 'This alone is enough of a sign that you are certainly my daughter-in-law. I will look after you and care for the children you will have, who are wise ones.' "

"When their day arrived, Ixquic gave birth to twins, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué, born at dawn; but the grandmother did not see them born, because they saw the light of day in the woods."

What a wealth of teaching in so few words! First, the custom of that time by which the woman must "give birth by herself alone" in the woods where she would not be seen, as still practiced by the Talamanca; then, the principle of predetermination, typical of Maya mentality, is emphasized. The Chortís signify this in the aphorism: "All things have their day and their hour," determined by Providence. But, even more, the explicit statement that Hunahpú was born at dawn is not arbitrary but shows the advent of the solar hero who comes forth with the Dawn.

The story of Hunahpú, moreover, reproduces on the plane of astronomy the course of the sun not only on its diurnal path but also on its annual sweep, which symbolizes the cycle of human life. Thus Hunahpú is born with the dawn and dies on descending into the underworld (Xibalbá), only to resurge again in the east, triumphant. His birth takes place during the winter solstice, and from then on he grows according as the day lengthens in duration, reaching his plenitude when the daystar passes through the zenith and then returns, "flagging in pace" like an old person, during the apparent return movement of the star. The eternal universal renewal is illustrated in the constant repetition of these movements. Weak and helpless like an infant, he has come forth into life during the shortest days and longest nights, and thus is surrounded with dangers during his infancy, since the dominion of the shadows (barbarism, in the historic sense, and rulership by malefic spirits in the spiritual sense) is longer than his reign ("day" identified with "sun"). But Hunahpú surmounts all the dangers and in the end rises triumphant to heaven.

Hunahpú becomes human in order to raise the status of man to that of the divine, by exemplifying in himself the model of the grand True Man (in Maya, Halach winik; in Quiché, Achi). But the ideal of human and social perfection, whether of a culture or of a single man, can be gained only through sacrifices and life-experience. The tribulations suffered by humankind during the course of the three racial cycles that preceded the era of Maya culture, like those that the individual must suffer to make of himself a man, or the man has to undergo to merit eternal felicity, are projected in the troubled infancy of Hunahpú. This parallelism between the stages of history and those of human life reflects the essence of the Indian's mental sense of the flow of time and history, and has its equivalent in the comparison of Ages with Suns. As said, a Sun represents a unit of time that can mean one day as well as a calendric cycle.

In accordance with that conception, the infancy of the twins is lived out in an atmosphere full of dangers and uneasinesses. Scarcely are they brought under the family roof by their mother than the grandmother, vexed at their crying, orders them to be thrown outside, "and immediately they were put on an anthill" by Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén. But there the twins slept very nicely, so they were taken from the anthill and placed upon a spiny plant. Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén really wanted them to die on the anthill or the spines because of their hatred and envy of their younger kin.

But neither caused any harm to the twins, who were invested with divine power. As we shall see, the ants are Hunahpú's faithful servants, as they are of Quetzalcoatl in Mexican myth.

We have in the Quiché account of the torture by ants another testimony regarding customs that were operative in the Third Age and which are still to be seen among groups like the Tupi-Guaraní and the Caribs who belong to that cultural cycle. Alfred Métraux comments that the Mauhé of the Tupi-Guaraní family subject their youths to the ant torture ("La Civilisation guyane-amazonienne et ses provinces culturelles," in Acta americana, 1945). M. Acosta Saignes notes the trial by savage ants as a Carib cultural feature, young girls are subject to this test at the time of their first menstruation — ("Los Caribes de la Costa Venezolana," in Acta Antropológica, Mexico, 1946.). Such customs were gradually transformed through cultural evolution, losing their character as forms of cruelty or punishment and becoming part of the initiation rite of apprentices to magicians. (Girard, Los Chortís, chapter 21).

Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén prevent the twins from remaining in the family house, so that the latter would not know them, and thus the twins grew up in the forest. This once more highlights the principle of magic by which knowledge of the person implies magical dominion over him. On the other hand, Hunahpú is in his element, exemplifying one of his functions as god of the Woods. Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué grow up amidst many labors, sufferings, and sadnesses, finally acquiring — like their older brothers — great wisdom. Consequently they were also singers, writers, sculptors in bas-relief, and knew how to do everything well. Similarly they learned the origin of their line and that

they were beings with feelings who came to replace the seven Ahpú. From the latter also came Hun Bátz' and Hun Chouén's great learning, although the latter two thought it was only because they were older than the twins. So they never displayed their feelings because of the envy they had for their younger brothers and the ill will toward them which sprang up in their hearts. This was the cause of the hostility they displayed toward Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué.

This paragraph in the Quiché text promulgates the Maya principle whereby within the order of elders the hereditary right is not by itself sufficient for exercise of the post. Besides his birth within the order, the candidate must win the post through personal merit and exemplary conduct. The same, therefore, is true for the individual: his divine descent is not enough in itself for achievement of eternal felicity, and he must prove that he deserves such a destiny through his good conduct — a beautiful inculcation of and incitement to seek personal worthiness of reward. In addition we are presented with an ethical lesson in the picture of discord among brothers, which will have fatal consequences for the older ones. By contrast, a perfect fraternal harmony characterizes the Maya family that adheres to the standards set by Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué. Thus, we steadily learn more in the Quiché-Maya epic about the norms of religious morality whose finality is the development of an ethically and esthetically prepared human being.

But we have not finished with the difficulties undergone by the twins, detested by their grandmother and elder brothers. These give the two nothing to eat and, when meals are prepared, Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén serve themselves first "and only afterwards do the twins come in." When the latter bring in birds for the table, the older two eat them and leave nothing for Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué. This exemplifies the dominion of the older son in the household, a hierarchical order that has not varied down to our own time.

Despite such great oppression by their older brothers, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué become neither angry nor irritated. They endure it all in silence because they know its origin and purpose, and so give a notable example of self-control, a basic quality of the Maya character.

Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén do not work (confirming the man's status in the matriarchal regime), but only "recite and sing." On the other hand, the twins, by profession hunters with the blowgun, every day bring into the family house the results of their hunting.

The situation cannot last forever, since every evil has its limits and if Deity allows such, it is for the purpose of testing its creatures. When the test has been judged sufficient, it says, "so far and no farther" (a Chortí aphorism). Conversely, in accordance with the rule that "everything has its day and its assigned hour," the time is drawing near when Hunahpú must manifest his power.

One day when the twins have returned to the house without bringing their accustomed provision of birds for the table, the grandmother reproaches them, but they excuse themselves by saying that the prey remained fast, high in a tree which they could not climb. So the twins ask for help from their older brothers to get the birds, and the latter agree to go with them on the morrow at daybreak.

By the very fact that they allow themselves to be taken to a place selected by the twins, the older brothers have already been defeated. (Compare the same procedure employed for vanquishing Caprakán by leading him toward the east.) Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué have now changed in attitude toward their older brothers, since the day of the end of their regency had arrived. "They wanted to kill us and cause us to disappear, we who are their kindred. They have believed that we came to be their servants. So we shall punish them as a demonstration of our power." Thus the twins reasoned as the four came together at the foot of the tree named Canté (yellow wood; called madre de cacao in Spanish, because it is used to give shade to the cacao plants).

Here, thought has the same magical potency as word: what is thought or what is spoken is a thing done or about to be accomplished. But, because we are dealing with gods who, like the twins, embody the theogonic duality and exemplify the social patterns of the Maya community, their thoughts or words must come into being in unison. They will apply the rule of "an eye for an eye" to their older brothers: these regarded the twins as their servants and therefore they will be transformed into servants of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué in a manner similar to that applied to the giants earlier.

Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén climbed the tree, but the tree grew and thickened as if it were inflated; when they later wanted to come down they were unable. "What has happened, brothers? Alas! This tree frightens us just to look at it." The twins answer: "Untie your sashes [maxtli, clothing of the time], fix them below the waist letting the ends hang down behind like tails, and then you can come down." "Very well," the older ones replied. They threw the ends of their sashes out behind, and these immediately became tails and the brothers assumed the appearance of monkeys. Then they went about along the branches of the tree through large and small woodlands and hid themselves in the forest, grinning and swinging in the branches. Thus Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén were defeated by the divine twins, thanks to the supernatural power of their nahual (Hunrakán).

We find here the mythical origin of the symbolic equivalence of the sash, lariat, or cord with the tail or the serpent. But the interest of the account is centered in the transformation of the older brothers into monkeys and their position in the top of the yellow tree, which is the cosmic tree that is the bearer of the Third Regent. Both in the Popol Vuh and the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the succession of the Regents and of their respective colors follows in the same order: the yellow pole follows the black and the white poles. The Quiché codex gives this equivalence as follows:

First Regent is identified by the white color of its hair, as in the Vatican Codex in which it is called Tzon Iztak (white head or hair).

Second Regent, the Camé, with black, the color of its quality of consciousness or of the epoch of barbarism that it represents.

Third Regent, recognized by the yellow color of its bearer, the tree named Canté. In no other native American source do we find so clearly expressed the mythical origin of the ritual colors. The Canté is also the tree that gives shade to the cacao plantations, and so is called madre de cacao. Here we have an ethnographic reference to the system of planting of that time, an objectification of the sentence whereby Hunahpú subjects the Third Regent and its bearer to his servitude, just as the Canté serves the cacao. As noted, the god of Cacao is none other than one of the aspects of the Agrarian deity, the alter ego of Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué.

Following this the twins return home to tell their grandmother what has happened. On recounting to her the misfortune that means her separation from her older sons, they tell her: "Don't be sad, grandmother, you will see our brothers again. They will come here, but take care not to laugh when you see them."

Immediately they begin to play on their musical instruments, the flute and drum (note the origin of those instruments in the remote past), the song of Hunahpú-coy to attract their older brothers, now become monkeys. Hunahpú-coy literally means "the monkey of Hunahpú," and signifies the dependency of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén upon the twins who henceforth are their masters. Regarding the antiquity of the drum and the flute, we also have the evidence of the Chortí drama in which the Black Giant orders his drum to be played. The wooden drum is an artifact proper to the matriarchal horizon, typical of those peoples such as the Caribs, Tupi-Guaraní, Arawak, etc., who represent it. Among the monuments at Copán can be seen a gigantic stone tuncul on which is sculpted the tongue of a jaguar (the nahual of the feminine deity), expressive of the relation between the instrument, invented during the matriarchal cycle, and the feminine deity which characterizes that cycle.

On hearing the sound of Hunahpú's musical instruments — organs of the divine Word (compare the symbolic value of Tezcatlipoca's flute which is the voice of the Mexican deity) — the older sons draw near dancing. When the grandmother catches sight of their ugly visages, she laughs and is unable to contain her smile, and they run away instantly and hide their faces from her.

Hunahpú reminds the old woman that she must not laugh, saying he will call only four times to his simian brothers. The twins again play the same song and the monkeys return immediately, dancing; but "their movements were so pleasing, throwing themselves upon the grandmother in their frolics, making faces, displaying their bottoms, puffing their muzzles, hiding between her legs, and making such funny grins that the grandmother couldn't contain her smile. . . ."

Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué tried to call the simians back a fourth time but they would no longer come, and so the twins gave it up. Their calls express the position of Hunahpú relative to Hun Bátz, the first being the Fourth Regent and the latter the Third, figures projected in the number of calls made: Hun Bátz could return only three times. And so was established the custom of asking no more than three times, as is done, for example, in requests to marry, in which the third time is the final one.

Recapitulating these events, the Quiché codex tells us that in former times Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén were invoked as artists, "when they lived with their grandmother and mother" (in the matriarchal residence). But they were transformed into monkeys because they became filled with pride and mistreated their siblings. The twins console their grandmother, telling her not to torment herself, that they will stay with and provide for her, because now they know that she is their mother and their grandmother. In these expressions can be seen the prelude to a change in the family and social regime, in which from then on men will labor to maintain the family, taking this responsibility over from women.

The end of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén corresponds to the account of the Third Age that we have already analyzed, and the Third Katún of Maya tradition, an epoch during which the humanity of the time changed into monkeys. That experience is represented masterfully in the picture in the Vatican A Codex, reproduced in Figure 9, showing a field adorned with spirals — serpentlike symbols assimilated with the tails of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén — monkeys whose genesis the Popol Vuh has explained to us. Moreover one sees in this picture the color yellow, corresponding to that age, whose meaning accords with what is said in Maya and Quiché sources.

image: Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén


Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén are converted into patrons of dance, music, smiles, merriment, pleasure, and lasciviousness inasmuch as they danced naked to the music played by the twins, provoking the irresistible laugh of their grandmother who saw their strange penes. The memory of this episode survives in the song of Hunahpú-coy which the Quiché Indians continue to play. But it is in the picture on page 13 of the Borgia Codex that we have the most vivid illustration of the "monkey of Hunahpú." There we see a simian dancing before Xochipilli, who is seated on a throne (in Mexican mythology Xochipilli is the equivalent of Hunahpú). This association of the monkey with the young Solar deity is also expressed in the Tonalpohuali, where Xochipilli is represented by Ozomatli (monkey), the name of the eleventh day in the Aztec calendar. Likewise in Copán, on the altar located in front of Stela D, appears the monkey with attributes of the Solar god. Just as the giants were brought into subjection and converted into secondary gods so, after being vanquished, Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén join the Quiché-Maya theogonic complex, like the sacred ape (Papio hamadryas, African monkey) in the mythology of ancient Egypt. In this way the worship of the older gods did not disappear but was transformed, as the older brothers were changed into monkeys through the twins' action.

Nevertheless, veneration of the monkey acquired greater importance on the Mexican altiplano than it did in Maya culture, to judge by the frequency of its reproduction as found in archaeological remains. This becomes more remarkable inasmuch as the monkey is not known in that highland, a fact showing that this element of Mexican mythology is merely traditional and originated elsewhere. To this there must be added that the Quichés preserve in their calendar the name ba'tz (big monkey), an animal that is unknown in both the highlands and the Mexican altiplano. On the other hand, simians abound in the original homeland of Mesoamerican culture, a fact that attracted the attention of the Spanish conquistadores coming from Mexico under Alvarado's command. The chronicles of that time tell us of "the monkeys with prehensile tails" encountered on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, a region where there exist all of the animal and vegetable species as well as the mountains described in the Popol Vuh. Examples of the latter are the group of great volcanic peaks bordering Guatemala's broad coastal band: Tacaná, Tajamulco, Gagxanul, Atitlán, Pekul, Chikac, and Cajol-Juyub, known to the Indians as the Vukup Camé (seven Camé) according to P. Zamora Castellanos ("Itinerarios . . . "Rev. Soc. Geog. e Hist., Guatemala, June 1945).


It remains for us to say that the most spectacular representation of the drama of Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén can be seen in the public performance at Chichicastenango of the Flying Pole (Palo Volador), i.e., in the same area and by the same people who produced the Popol Vuh.

As in the Chortí Drama of the Giants, the Palo Volador reproduces scenes from the Popol Vuh that develop in the same serial order as they appear in the famous Quiché manuscript. We have already referred to the symbolism of the bringing of the mast and its relation to the tragedy of the 400 boys, as well as the purpose of fumigating the mast's base with incense to banish evil spirits such as Zipacná — a procedure identical with the one Ixquic used to overcome the Xibalbans.

image: the Flying Pole
FIGURE 10. The Quichés carry the Flying Pole, as the 400 boys do in the Popol Vuh (Courtesy of Ovidio Rodas Corzo).
image: base of the pole
FIGURE 11. The base of the pole is rendered immune to evil spirits by the application of incense (Courtesy of Ovidio Rodas Corzo).

Between the transport of the mast and the scene that dramatizes the conversion of the elder brothers into monkeys, there fall twenty days or one uinal, it being made known in this way that the two events correspond to distinct historical periods. In the moment of raising the mast two actors dressed as monkeys, representing Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén, attract the public's full attention by their clowning near the mast's tip. Then one of them remains on the ground while the other rises up into the air as he climbs up the enormous mast, mimicking the posture of Hun Bátz in the top of the Canté tree, which grew and grew.

image: Raising the Flying Pole
FIGURE 12. Raising the Flying Pole in Chichicastenango. The "monkey" climbs higher as the pole is raised (Courtesy of Ovidio Rodas Corzo).

Meanwhile, the other actor on the ground diverts the audience by his grimaces, and dances to the song of Hunahpú-coy. These actions represent the first born, both in the tree and responding to Hunahpú's musical summons. In its details this presentation exhibits variations from one place to another; for example, in Joyabaj (a Quiché area) the two monkey-men climb to the tip of the mast where they remain throughout the performance, while in Chichicastenango the two cling for a moment together on the end of the great pole and then separate.

The grimaces and contortions of the monkey-men bring torrents of laughter from the audience, which unconsciously repeats the role of the grandmother whose laugh was uncontainable. (In the drama of the Dance of the Giants, the audience also participates in this way.) Even the small gestures mentioned by the Popol Vuh are reproduced by the Quiché actors, who stretch their heads down between their legs and gesticulate as though they would touch their privates, "that fleshy thing which was seen below their belly," and which so struck Ixmucané. That gesture expresses one of the characteristics of the Simian god, the model of lasciviousness, and gives to this part of the performance a frankly erotic note that is not found in any of the Chortí celebrations.

image: marimba sounds the Hunahpú-coy song
FIGURE 14. The marimba sounds the Hunahpú-coy song, while one of the 'monkeys" dances and gesticulates.

A detail of significance is that the actors do not put on the monkey mask and tail until the exact moment they begin climbing up the pole. This faithfully renders the idea that their transformation did not occur until they were up in the Canté tree. The masks are of wood painted black — like that of the Black Giant in the Chortí drama — the color symbolic of the bad consciousness the firstborn had, as well as of the age of barbarism which they exemplified. This esoteric meaning of the color black had been noted long ago by Father Avendaño who, in referring to the warpaint that covered the faces of the Itzá, compared the blackness of the face with the perversity of the heart. The use of wooden masks goes back to the matriarchal-horticultural era, as we shall demonstrate.

The principal monkey-actor clings to the wooden frame placed over the tip of the mast, and makes as though he would catch hold of the bird-men (actors dressed as birds) in the four corners of the frame. But these fly away, frustrating the intentions of the monkey-actor, Hun Bátz, like the birds of Hunahpú who did not allow themselves to be caught.

image: Flying Pole in Chichicastenango
FIGURE 13. Top portion of the Flying Pole in Chichicastenango (Courtesy of Ovidio Rodas Corzo).

This episode, which also has chronological connotations, gave the name of Palo Volador to the whole performance. The actor representing Hun Bátz has the chief role and is at one and the same time master of ceremony and the theatrical director. As such, he is the repository of the tradition and charged with preserving it, a responsibility that he shares with his companion who personifies Hun Chouén and will succeed him in the task when he is no longer able. The process of fumigating the base of the mast with incense is the responsibility of a native elder who, after doing it, gets into the hole dug to receive the mast and directs copal smoke to the four cosmic directions. Placement of the mast in the enormous hole symbolizes cosmic union, the marriage of the god of Heaven with the Terrestrial goddess. This aspect of a fertility rite is also clear from the fact that the Palo Volador performance takes place before the time of sowing the seed fields as well as during the harvest (April and December, respectively), first on the very date of the ritual blessing of the seeds, and later as an act of thanksgiving. The celebration in December coincides with the fiesta in honor of the tribal deity, an event falling at the winter solstice, anniversary of Hunahpú's birth.

The symbolic relationship between the Palo Volador performance and the sowing of the maize is borne out from the fact that the actors must abstain from all sexual contact for fifteen days before the event, the same tabu that is in force before the maize seeds are sown.

In regard to the time-reckoning significance of the performance, there should first be mentioned the value of the cosmic bearer, symbolized by the mast itself, which supports the celestial framework. Heaven is represented by a square wooden frame in the center of which, in Mexico, is placed an actor who turns it while he plays a flute (the instrument of Hunahpú or of Tezcatlipoca), while in each corner of the frame is tied an individual dressed as a macaw. In this manner the cosmic plane is objectified above the earth with its four regents in the corners who with the central god form the diagram of god-Five, the deity of Summer and of the Performance and at the same time the tribal god, a replica of Hunahpú. God-Five's dual character (Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué) is sometimes symbolized, as in the Volador of Joyabaj depicted in figure 15, in the dichotomous form of the turning wooden cap-piece that represents the twins or their alter ego, the pair which inhabit the Center of Heaven, i.e., the highest heaven. This cosmic position is figured in the difference in level between the wooden cap-piece and the squared wood frame below it. Formerly the astronomic cross that divides the squared cosmic frame into four quarters was also figured, according to the following reference from Fuentes y Guzman: "To the mast were tied with cord four small ladders which crossed the pole in a cross" (Recordación Florida, Madrid, 1882). The actors dressed as macaws simultaneously let themselves fall into space. The ropes that sustain them, unwinding, cause the cap-piece (on which the central actor stands upright) and suspended wooden frame to turn. Each of the four swinging individuals makes thirteen turns in his descent, symbolizing the cycle of 52 years with its cosmic divisions and connections. In Mexico the performance of the Palo Volador was part of the ceremony held to celebrate the renewal of the cycle.

image:  Mechanism of the Flying Pole

FIGURE 15. Mechanism of the Flying Pole used in Joyabaj, according to a sketch by F. Termer. The dual deity in the center of the highest Heaven is portrayed in the forked cap-piece. The cosmic quadrangle is represented by the four-sided, pyramidal frame suspended from the cap-piece.

The Mayas do not know the Palo Volador, although they preserve elements related to it. For example, in Chan Kom the ritual of fructification is executed by an individual dressed as a simian (as a coati, says Redfield, from whom we obtain this datum; the coati is very much like the macaque), who climbs a ceiba tree. That monkey-man entertains the audience by his clowning and throws seeds to the winds to show that the tree has produced fruit.

We must ask: Why is it that, in light of the fact that the Mayas and the Quichés shared a common mythology and tradition, the Palo Volador which expresses them is not found among the former? On the other hand, it is a typical feature of peoples such as the Huastecs, Otomís, Totonacs, and Quichés, who represent the contemporary state of Toltec culture, as well as of the Nahuas, acculturated by the Toltecs.

Such a phenomenon is explained in terms of historical causality. We know that the 52-year cycle formed the longest time period of Toltec culture. On the other hand, for the Mayas, who had in the Long Count possessed a practically infinite computation of time, the wheel of 52 years had only a very relative importance and was incorporated into larger cycles which cannot be projected by means of the Palo Volador. The stela for recording time divisions, characteristic of the Mayan theo-cosmogonic system, is the functional replica of the Palo Volador. The material itself from which the stelae were constructed, perishable in the Volador, durable in the stela, is expressive of the different conceptions of the cosmos and life that were held by Mayas and Toltecs. While the latter thought that the world could end at the close of each cyclical wheel, the former conceived of the eternal duration of the comos.

Both the raising of the mast and of the stela contained the same symbolism of union of heaven and earth. This explains the etymological relation among the words for base, seat, fundamental support, and vital organ that Flavio Rodas has pointed out in his excellent work on Quiché and Maya symbols. Therefore, from the procedures attending the raising of the Palo Volador mast, we can infer the nature of ceremonies carried out at the raising of the Maya stone stela.

The Drama of the Giants and the game of the Palo Volador complement each other, offering in dramatic form a synthesis of the mythical part of the Popol Vuh.

Chapter 9