Dennis Tedlock - Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life

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The Mayan story by the Mayans - Popol Vuh

Jan 1, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Popol Vuh is a wonderfully preserved book of the Mayan culture.

Cons:So much of the Mayan writings were deliberately destroyed by the Spanish missionaries.

The Bottom Line: Popol Vuh is the story of the Mayans creation and history as written by the Mayans.


It's 2012. Many say that the Mayans predicted the end of the world this December. The Mayans were a rich and advanced culture in what is now the Yucatan peninsula area of Mexico and Guatemala.  Although Spanish conquistadors conquered their people and Catholic Missionaries burned most of their writings in an attempt to erradicate their culture, some artifacts were preserved which tells us about Mayan life. One of the most famous is the Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life.

A brief History of the Popol Vuh

Back when the missionaries tried to teach Christianity to the Mayans, they taught them Spanish so that they could translate the Bible into Mayan.  However, some of the Mayans used this new language to do the opposite.  They translated the Mayan creation and history from the complex Mayan hiroglyphics system into Spanish.   Today modern science and archeology has managed to make many new discoverys and rescue information about the Mayans.

I had many choices which Popol Vuh to download, but the reviews on Amazon indicated that Dennis Tedlock's translation was one of the most up to date and complete Translations complete with commentary and revisions based on what we now know about the Mayans.

Introduction

Before the Popol Vuh even begins, Tedlock gives us a great deal of background and an overview of how the Popol Vuh was written and what it is about. Popol Vuh was written from memory by Mayans quite familiar with it. 

"We shall write about this now, amid the preaching of God, in Christendom now. We shall bring it out because there is no longer a place to see it"

The Spanish had imposed Christianity on the Mayans by means of torture and often execution. Diego De Landa, a Spanish missionary had burned hundreds of Mayan writings.  The Mayans wanted to preserve their culture and their history, so in 1554 or so, they wrote this alphabet version. The original Popol Vuh is in Mayan heiroglyphics, and some of the stories told in it are in large murals on Mayan sites. The Mayans who wrote the translated Popol Vuh did not want the Spanish to find it, for fear that they would destroy it.  

The Mayan Popol Vuh is half mythology, their creation myth, their gods and origins. It is also half history with the real  lineage and exact dates of all their kings, marriages, births and date for ascending the throne, right up until the time of the Spanish conquest.  The Popol Vuh, is indeed the story of the Mayan people.

Popol Vuh - In the beginning...  (part 1)

The Norse had the tree of life, the Summerians had the seven tablets of Creation, the Christians have the book of Genesis, so too did the Mayans have a mythological story of their origin.

"And then the earth arose because of them, it was simply their word that brought it forth. For the forming of the earth ,they said 'earth'. It arose suddenly, just like a cloud, like a mist, now forming, unfolding.  Then the mountains were seperated from the water, all at once the great mountains came forth.. And the Plumed Serpent was pleased with this"

The creation myth tells of the Mayan gods and how they formed the sky, the earth, the waters, the mountains and the animals.  It also describes how they tried four times to make man.  Men made of wood and mud were abandoned.  The gods wanted man that would keep the holy days and pray to them.

"They came into being, they multiplied, they had daughters, they had sons, these manakins, woodcarvings. But there was nothing in their hearts and nothing in their minds, no memory of their mason and builder. They just went and walked wherever they wanted. Now they did not remember the Heart of the Sky."

Those familiar with Genesis may recognize the fate that awaited the wood people who did not worship their gods.

"The Heart of the Sky devised a flood for them. A great flood was made, it came down on the heads of the manakins, woodcarvings"

The Hero Twins  (part 2)

The epic story of the start of life is told in Popol Vuh.  Hunaphu and Xbalanque were the hero twins who overcame Seven Macaw.   The exploits of Zipacna, the son of Seven Macaw who killed the four hundred boys is told, and then of Zipacna's defeat at the hands of the hero twins.  Earthquake, the second son of Zipacna is then defeated by Hunaphu and Xbalanque.

The Birth of the Hero Twins (part 3)

Popol Vuh doesn't always go in order, the exploits of the hero twins were told before Part III which actually details the Mayan creation myth. It describes how the parents of the twins were taken to Xibalba, the underworld.  The various lords of the underworld are described from Scab Stripper and Blood Gatherer to the Demon of Filth and the Demon of Woe.

I found it interesting that One Hunaphu and Seven Hunaphu were defeated at the crossroads, with one road being the road to Xibalba. Even the Mayan had a "devil at the crossroads" myth.

The sport of the gods, Mayan ball is also described in the Popol Vuh and this game was played by Mayans until their conquest in the 1500s. In it, two teams would try to put a large rubber ball into a hoop mounted at the end of a playing field.  No hands were allowed. The losing team got to be decapitated and sacrificed.

When the maze god was killed in a game of Mayan ball with the lords of the underworld, it was the hero twins who went down and faced all the tricks and traps of the underworld and defeated the lords of the underworld. They found the head of the maze god and resurrected him.

Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now and Dark Jaguar (part 4)

Finally Part IV of Popol Vuh outlined the birth of the humans and the lineage of the Mayans.  The first people were Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now and Dark Jaguar.  They were the equivalent of Christianity's Adam and Eve.

"These are the names of our first mother-fathers. They were simply made and modeled, it is said; they had no mother and no father. We have named the men by themselvs. No woman gave birth to them, nor were they begotten by the builder, sculptor, Bearer, Begetter. By sacrifice alone, by genius alone, they were made, they were modeled by the Maker, Modler Bearer, Begetter, Soverign Plumed Serpents."

At first the men could see everything. However, the Heart of the Sky didn't want them to be as gods, so "they were blinded as the face of a mirror is breathed upon. Their vision flickered. Now it was only from close up that they could see what there was with any clarity"  Then women were created, Red Sea Turtle, the wife of Jaguar Quitze; Prawn House the wife of Jaguar Night; Water Hummingbird, the wife of Not Right Now and Macaw House the wife of Dark Jaguar.   These four couples gave birth to the Mayans.

The Lords of the Mayan (part 5)

In the final chapter of Popol Vuh the descendants of the four original couples spread throughout the land and bestow the emblems of lordship. It details the reigns of the Mayan kings.  The book ends on a sad note.

"This is enough about the being of Quiche, given that there is no longer a place to see it. There is the original book and ancient writing owned by the lords, now lost, but even so, everything has been completed here concering Quiche, which is now named Santa Cruz."

Other details

Even the Kindle edition has a nice collection of photographs, which appear quite clearly and detailed even though my Kindle is greyscale. The table of contents is an active table, so you can click to various sections of the text easily. The book also has a detailed section of end notes. I found the Popol Vuh to be a most interesting and beautiful tale.  I hope that one day the original Popol Vuh in its Mayan Heiroglyphics is discovered.

Summary

This translated detailed Kindle version of the Popol Vuh was well worth the $8.50 download price.  If you enjoy history and the creation stories of other cultures, this was well worth downloading. I gave it five stars.


Recommend this product? Yes


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