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The Books of Chilam Balam are the sacred books of the Maya of Yucatan and were named after their last and greatest prophet. Chilam , or chilan , was his title which means that he was the mouth-piece or interpreter of the gods. Balam means jaguar, but it is also a common family name in Yucatan, so the title of the present work could well be translated as the Book of the Prophet Balam.

During a large part of the colonial period, and even down into the Nineteenth Century, many of the towns and villages of northern Yucatan possessed Books of Chilam Balam, and this designation was supplemented by the name of the town to which the book belonged. Thus the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is named for a village in the District of Tekax, a short distance northwest of the well-known town of Teabo.

The prompt fulfilment of this prediction so enhanced his reputation as a seer that in later times he was considered the authority for many other prophecies which had been uttered long before his time. Inasmuch as prophecies were the most prominent feature of many of the older books of this sort, it was natural to name them after the famous soothsayer.

The Books of Chilam Balam were written in the Maya language but in the European script which the early missionaries adapted to express such sounds as were not found in Spanish. Each book is a small library in itself and contains a considerable variety of subject material. Besides the prophecies we find brief chronicles, fragmentary historical narratives, rituals, native catechisms, mythological accounts of the creation of the world, almanacs and medical treatises.

As time went on, more and more European material was added to the native Maya lore. In some of the books not only do we find the ritual of a religion which is a. In two of these books we even find part of a Spanish romance translated into Maya. The ability of the Maya to write their own language in European script was due to the educational policy of the Spanish missionaries. Although at first they rather admired the Maya for having a graphic system of their own, they were determined to destroy the old manuscripts and eradicate all knowledge of the glyphs from the minds of their converts.

The Indians had a great reverence for their hieroglyphic writing which was permeated with the symbols of their old religion, and the friars felt that if they could wipe out this knowledge and substitute for it the European system of writing, it would be an effective means for the complete Christianization of the native population.

This should be the easier, since the knowledge of hieroglyphic writing was confined to the priesthood and certain members of the nobility. Diego de Landa, afterward bishop of Yucatan, burned twenty-seven hieroglyphic manuscripts at the famous auto de fe in Mani in , and although many of the Spaniards severely criticized him for this, there is little doubt that other missionaries followed his example whenever they had the opportunity.

The chiefs and former priests were ordered to send their sons to the schools established by the Franciscan friars, where they were taught to read and write their own language in European letters. Although some of the more promising pupils were taught Spanish, there does not seem to have been any general policy of attempting to impose the language of the conquerors upon the Indians. In the first place such a scheme was plainly impracticable owing to the comparatively small number of Spaniards in Yucatan and, besides, many of the missionaries frankly admitted that they preferred the local officials of the villages in their charge not to know Spanish.

From a purely educational point of view the schools were a success, for after a time every village had its town clerk who could read and write, as well as many members of the more important native families; but the Spanish settlers complained in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century that many native schoolmasters and choir-masters were still practising idolatry in secret and that idols had even been found in the school-houses.

If such persons as these were not completely reformed, it is hardly surprising to find the successors of the former prophets and priests, the herb-doctors and sorcerers of colonial times, making use of this new and more convenient graphic system of the white man in the pursuit of their ancient.

After Landa's famous bonfire at Mani, it is needless to say that the surviving hieroglyphic manuscripts were kept concealed, although now and then one of them came to the notice of the Franciscans. Seventy years after the Conquest, Aguilar wrote that "in these they painted in colors the count of their years, the wars, epidemics, hurricanes inundations, famines and other events. A comparison of these descriptions with the existing Books of Chilam Balam shows plainly that many portions of the latter are simply transcriptions of the old hieroglyphic manuscripts into European script.

Aguilar mentions one of these early transcriptions which was written in a copy-book and contained an account of the creation of the world. He confiscated this book from a choir-master of the town of Sucopo. Fewer people were now able to read the glyphs, and much as the clergy condemned the Books of Chilam Balam, they were not considered such prima facie evidence of the crime of idolatry as was anything written in hieroglyphics.

Aguilar also tells us how in their assemblies the Indians read the fables and histories contained in the books. None of the Books of Chilam Balam that have come down to us were compiled earlier than the last part of the Seventeenth Century, and most of them date from the Eighteenth Century.

The older ones were probably worn out by constant use. Nevertheless we have Maya legal documents covering almost.

At the present time we have photographic reproductions of the Books of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Tizimin, Kaua, Ixil, Tekax and Nah as well as copious extracts copied from the Mani and Oxkutzcab manuscripts. The latter were made by Dr.

This scholar also made copies of the Chumayel and Tizimin manuscripts about sixty years ago, when they were in better condition than when the present photographs were made.

Consequently a complete transcription and translation of the texts can only be made with the aid of these copies. Of these books the Chumayel, Tizimin and Mani manuscripts have the greatest value for the study of Maya civilization, although the others are not lacking in interest.

The Chumayel was a small quarto volume which appears to have originally consisted of fifty-eight numbered leaves.

There are only written pages in the University of Pennsylvania reproduction. Three leaves, numbers 1, 50 and 55, are missing, and there are breaks in the text at these places. The other pages seem to have been blank.

The writer has seen only the leather cover, in which a hole had been burned; the book itself had disappeared. A number of the leaves are either torn or have crumbled away along the edges, and some of the pages are badly water-stained in places.

Nevertheless the manuscript is very legible on the whole. Although it dates only from the year , the language suggests the Seventeenth Century much more than it does the Eighteenth. The book contains comparatively little of the intrusive European material which predominates in other Books of Chilam Balam written at so late a date. The drawings which illustrate the volume are quite European in character, although many of the ideas which they represent are purely Maya.

Brinton was the first to make a translation of any considerable portion of the Chumayel. We know from internal evidence that the Chilam Balam of Chumayel was compiled by Don Juan Josef Hoil of that town, as we find his name signed to a notation written in the same hand as the rest of the book and dated Subsequently the book passed into the possession either of a certain unnamed priest or of his secretary, Justo Balam, who inscribed two baptismal records on one of the blank pages in and It is possible that the priest was Don Diego Hoil, the son of the writer.

The date here is badly written, but it is probably Some time during the next ten years it was acquired by Don Audomaro Molina, how or where, we do not know; but the latter stated to Sr. It was already in the Bishop's possession when Dr. Berendt copied it in , and he permitted Teobert Maler to make the first photographs of it in When Bishop Carrillo died in , the book passed into the hands of Don Ricardo Figueroa, and through the efforts of Sr.

Molina it was loaned in to George B. Gordon, Director of the Museum of the University of Pennsylvania, who photographed it the same year. The original was returned to Figueroa, in whose house Dr. Morley saw it in After Figueroa's death the manuscript was removed in to the Cepeda Library in Merida, but when Dr. Morley visited the Library in it had disappeared and its whereabouts is still unknown. As Dr. Morley has already noted, "In view of its doubtful fate, it is nothing short of providential that two photographic copies of it exist, the one made by Maler in , a copy of which is in the Gates collection, and the other made by Gordon in The attempt has been made to learn something about Don Juan Josef Hoil, the compiler of the manuscript, from the surviving members of the Hoil family of Chumayel, and although he has not been completely identified, the results of the inquiry are not without interest.

The writer is indebted to Sr. Martinez Hernandez of Merida for the following information. There appears to have been but one Hoil family in Chumayel. The present generation consists of Miguel, care-taker at Uxmal; Alejandro, a brakeman on. After much consultation with the various members of the family, Miguel Hoil reported on February 28, , that their father was Epitacio Hoil, who married Cristina Parra and had a brother, Maximo. He could hardly be the Don Juan Josef Hoil who signed the manuscript in , however.

From his time down to that of Epitacio the family seems to have lived at Tekax. This is a suburb of Merida and was an important Indian parish, which indicates that Don Diego was a man of some learning and considerable importance. This would take us back to about the time when the manuscript was written, but unfortunately our information ceases at this point. Needless to say, the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is difficult to translate, although the spelling is better on the whole than that of some of the other manuscripts.

As Professor Tozzer has noted, many words are separated arbitrarily into syllables, the same word sometimes being divided in several different ways on the same page. There is little division of the text into sentences, and a capital letter rarely begins either a sentence or a proper name. Consequently it is necessary to establish a critical text before attempting a formal translation. The greatest difficulty of all is found in the numerous obsolete words and phrases which occur.

It has already been noted that the Chumayel is a compilation made from various earlier works, many of which were probably copied from still older books.

This would account for an occasional corrupt text, which can often be rectified from parallel passages or similar stereotyped phrases occurring in the other writings. The meaning of obsolete words and phrases can be learned in three ways. They may be found in the older dictionaries which were written at a time when they were still in use; a more. Sometimes the Maya writer of a manuscript will even explain the significance of an obscure term which he thinks his readers might not understand.

For an explanation of the many proper names found in the Chumayel, especially those of deities, we are obliged to rely largely on the Spanish source material such as Landa, the Relaciones de Yucatan, Cogolludo, Aguilar and Lizana.

This information may be supplemented by the reports of such modern ethnological investigators as Tozzer, Redfield, Thompson and Gann. Many unfamiliar words not found in any Maya dictionary have turned out to be plant-names. These will be found in the Maya medical literature, and a great many of them have been identified by the botanists.

It has been suggested that a modern Maya Indian should be of great assistance in translating these old books, but none of the few efforts which have been made along this line of inquiry have had much success. The vocabulary of the average Indian is limited. Many words are now used with a changed meaning, and he is entirely too ready to resort to a typical Volksetymologie to explain any word which has now passed out of current use.

This is evident from the explanations made by natives to the botanists in the case of plant-names composed of obsolete words. The errors of such native derivations are amply demonstrated by the Sixteenth Century Motul dictionary, in which many of these old words are found. Up to the present a little has been done in this respect with the native Maya priests, or h-menob , some of whom can still recite a number of the old incantations.

Such men would be likely to rely more on tradition than on their own improvised etymology. Redfield's elucidation of the puzzling name of Ah Muzencab, the bee-god, from the explanation of one of these native sorcerers is an example of the results which may be looked for from this line of inquiry. Needless to say, it is difficult to persuade these native priests to explain their rituals.

Doubts have been expressed in the past as to whether it was possible to translate some of the passages in the Book of Chilam Balam.


Princeton University Library Catalog

Jump to navigation. The Maya developed a complex and detailed understanding of astronomy and calendrics, including a method for predicting both solar and lunar eclipses, long before the arrival of the Spanish. This manuscript, found by Don Adumaro Molina in the early nineteenth century, when Mexico was still a Spanish colony, describes the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula as well as the history, rituals, prophecies, astronomy, architecture, mythology, calendar, songs, and incantations of the local Maya peoples. This page in particular bears writing in both Spanish and the Yucatec Maya language that discusses eclipses of both the moon and the sun.


The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel

Nine Books of Chilam Balam are known, [2] most importantly those from Chumayel , Mani , and Tizimin , [3] but more have existed. Both language and content show that parts of the books date back to the time of the Spanish conquest of the Yucatec kingdoms — In some cases, where the language is particularly terse, the books appear to render hieroglyphic script, and thus to hark back to the pre-conquest period. Taken together, the Books of Chilam Balam give the fullness of 18th-century Yucatec-Maya spiritual life. Whereas the medical texts and chronicles are quite matter-of-fact, the riddles and prognostications make abundant use of traditional Mayan metaphors.


Chilam Balam


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