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Maya Creation Myths

Words and Worlds of the Chilam Balam

By Timothy Knowlton

Publication Year: 2010

"The Chilam Balam books of Yucatan rank with the Popol Vuh as major works of Maya literature, and the most important book about them is this one. Timothy Knowlton's interpretation is the most insightful, sophisticated, and nuanced that has ever been written."—Dennis Tedlock, State University of New York at Buffalo There is no Classical Yucatecan Maya word for "myth." But around the close of the seventeenth century, an anonymous Maya scribe penned what he called u kahlay cab tu kinil, "the world history of the era," before Christianity came to the Peten. He collected numerous accounts of the cyclical destruction and reestablishment of the cosmos; the origins of gods, human beings, and the rituals and activities upon which their relationship depends; and finally the dawn of the sun and the sacred calendar Maya diviners still use today to make sense of humanity's place in the otherwise inscrutable march of time. These creation myths eventually became part of the documents known today as the Books of Chilam Balam. Maya Creation Myths provides not only new and outstanding translations of these myths but also an interpretive journey through these often misunderstood texts, providing insight into Maya cosmology and how Maya intellectuals met the challenge of the European clergy's attempts to eradicate their worldviews. Unlike many scholars who focus primarily on traces of pre-Hispanic culture or Christian influence within the Books of Chilam Balam, Knowlton emphasizes the diversity of Maya mythic traditions and the uniquely Maya discursive strategies that emerged in the Colonial period.

Published by: University Press of Colorado

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Figures & Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xii

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Foreword

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pp. xiii-xiv

The final page of the Dresden Codex, a pre-Columbian Maya document, displays a scene showing the end of the previous world creation. Water is vomited from the mouth of a celestial caiman, poured from a vase by an old woman deity, and discharged from eclipse glyphs appended to the sky beast’s body, all of the action displayed against a dark and somber...

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1: Introduction

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pp. 1-12

There is no Classical Yucatecan Maya word for “myth.” But around the close of the seventeenth century, an anonymous Maya scribe penned what he called u kahlay cab tu kinil (“the world history of the era”) before Christianity came to the Peten, the land of the Maya. In this he collected numerous accounts of the cyclical destruction and reestablishment of the...

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2: Aspects of Ancient Maya Intellectual Culture

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pp. 13-32

As with traditions of knowledge everywhere, the creation myths written in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel were composed in dialogue with the voices past and present, even (or especially) with those voices that conquistadors and missionaries attempted to appropriate or suppress. In this chapter I provide a brief orientation to some aspects of ancient Maya...

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3: Clandestine Compilations and the Colonial Dialogue

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pp. 33-52

Pages 42 to 63 of the Classical Yucatecan Maya–language manuscript known as the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is a collection of Maya creation myths dating to years following the Spanish invasion of the Americas. Although individual creation narratives and related accounts written in the Classical Yucatecan Maya language appear elsewhere in the...

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4: Creation and Apocalypse: The Katun 11 Ahau Myth

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pp. 53-84

This chapter examines the first creation myth contained in this Chumayel mythography, a kahlay ‘history’ of the destruction and re-creation of the world in Katun 11 Ahau. This myth is particularly interesting because it is attested to by redactions in two other Books of Chilam Balam, that of the town of Tizimín, and that of the town of Maní (contained in the Códice...

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5: Theogony, Cosmology, and Language in the Ritual of the Angels

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pp. 85-120

Munro Edmonson wrote in the introduction to his translation of the Book Students of the Books of Chilam Balam of Tizim

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6: The Creation of the First People and the Origin of Suffering

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pp. 121-152

Origin myths are often discourses on the human condition. These discourses often posit a theory of being (ontology) and construct fundamental degrees of sameness and difference between persons and groups, whether gender, kin, ethnic, or racial distinctions. ...

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7: The Calendar and the Catechism

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pp. 153-178

The final cosmogony contained in the Chumayel mythography is an especially beautiful narrative, titled here, following Edmonson (1986), the “Birth of the Uinal,” uinal being the twenty-day Maya week (V. Bricker 2002b).1 While the preface presents the purpose of the Chumayel mythography as an answer to the questions of origin posed to the Maya by their...

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8: “In Whatever Way It Is Chronicled”

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pp. 179-184

The final myth of the Chumayel mythography concludes on a hopeful note, remarking that the same Sun of the same creator travels across the sky to mark the day “in whatever way it is chronicled” (63.6). This state­ment, and the discourse of the entire cosmogony in fact, while subverting the monologues of the missionary catechists...

Appendix: Cross-Reference of Material in the Katun 11 Ahau Creation Myth Shared by Two or More Redactions

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pp. 185-200

References

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pp. 201-222

Index

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pp. 223-231


E-ISBN-13: 9781607320210
E-ISBN-10: 1607320215
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607320203
Print-ISBN-10: 1607320207

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 20 b&w photographs, 4 line drawings
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Mesoamerican Worlds Series
Series Editor Byline: Davíd Carrasco, Harvard University, and Eduardo Matos Moctezuma, El Colegio Nacional, Mexico, Series General Editors