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among them, to which they adhere with great tenacity, and that the persecution and ill-treatment they have endured have been powerless to extirpate. Yes, indeed, up to the present time, they keep whatever knowledge of their traditions they may still possess carefully concealed in their bosoms; their lips are hermetically sealed on that subject.
Their confidence in, their respect and friendship for, one not of their blood and race must be very great, for them to allow him to witness their ceremonies, or become acquainted with the import of certain practices, or be told the meaning of peculiar signs and symbols, transmitted to them orally by their fathers. This reserve may be the reason why some travellers, unable to obtain any information from the aborigines, have erroneously asserted that they have lost all traditionary lore; that all tradition has entirely disappeared from among them.2
Maya was the name of a powerful nation that in remote ages dwelt in the peninsula of Yucatan and the countries, to-day called Central America, comprised between the Isthmus of Tehuantepec on the north and that of Darien on the south. That name was as well known among the ancient civilized nations the world over as at present are the names of Spain, France, England, etc. As from these countries colonists, abandoning the land of their birth, have gone and still go forth in search of new homes in far distant regions; have carried and do carry, with the customs, manners, religion, civilization, and language of their forefathers, the name even of the mother country to their new abodes-so we may imagine it happened with the Mayas at some remote period in the past.
1 See Appendix, note iv.; Cogolludo, Hist. de. Yucathan, lib. v., cap. xvi., xvii., xviii.
2 John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, vol. ii., pp. 446, 449.
For it is a fact that, wherever we find their name, there also we meet with the vestiges of their language and customs, and many of their traditions; but nowhere, except in Yucatan, is the origin of their name to be found.
Among the various authors who have written on that country several have endeavored to give the etymology of the word Maya: none has succeeded; for, instead of consulting the Maya books that escaped destruction at the hands of the Zumarragas, Landas, and Torquemadas, they have appealed to their imagination, as if in their fancy they could find the motives that prompted the primitive inhabitant to apply such or such name to this or that locality.
Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguiar1 fancied that the name Maya was given to the peninsula on account of the scarcity of water on its surface, and intimated that it was derived from the two vocables ma, "no," and ha, "water"-" without water." Brasseur, following his own pet idea, combats such explanation as incorrect and says: "The country is far from being devoid of water. Its soil is honeycombed, and innumerable caves exist just under the surface. In these caves are deposits of cool, limpid water, extensive lakes fed by subterranean Hence he argues that the true etymology of the word Maya may possibly be the "mother of the waters" or the "teats of the waters ma-y-a"-she of the four hundred breasts, as they were wont to represent the Ephesian goddess. Again, this explanation did not suit Señor Eligio Ancona,3
Ramon de Ordoñez y Aguiar, the author of Historia de la Creacion del cielo y de la Tierra, was a native of the ciudad Real de Chiapas. He died, very much advanced in years, in 1840, being canon of the cathedral of that city.
'Brasseur (Charles Etienne), Maya Vocabulary, vol. ii., p. 298, Troano MS. Ancona (Eligio), Hist. de Yucatan, vol. i., chap. i. See Appendix, note v.
" he says,
for he ridicules the etymologists. "What nonsense, "to thus rack their brains! They must be out of their mind to give themselves the work of bringing forth these erudite elucidations to explain the word Maya, that everybody knows is a mere Spanish corruption of Mayab, the ancient name of the country." In asserting that the true name (nombre verdadero) of the peninsula in ancient times was Mayab, Señor Ancona does not sustain his assertion by any known historical document; he merely refers to the Maya dictionary of Pio Perez, that he himself has published. He is likewise silent as to the source from which Señor Pio Perez obtained his information concerning the ancient name of the peninsula.
Landa, Cogolludo, Lizana,1 all accord in stating that the land was called U-luumil ceh, "the land of the deer." Herrera says it was called Beb (a very thorny tree), and the 66 great serpent" Can; but we see in the Troano MS. that this was the name of the whole of the Maya Empire, not the peninsula alone. Señor Ancona, notwithstanding his sneers, is not quite sure of being right in his criticism, for he also tries his hand at etymologizing. Taking for granted that the statement of Lizana is true, that at some time or other two different tribes had invaded the country and that one of these tribes was more numerous than the other, he pretends that the word Mayab was meant to designate the weaker, being composed, as he says, of Ma, "not," and yab, "abundant.”
I myself, on the strength of the name given to the birthplace of their ancestors by the Egyptians, and on that of the tradition handed down among the aborigines of Yucatan, admitting that one of the names given to the peninsula, Mayab, was cor
See Appendix, note v.
Antonio de Herrera, Decada 1, lib. 7, chap. 17.
rect; considering, moreover, the geological formation of its soil, its porousness; remembering, besides, that the meaning of the word Mayab is a "sieve," a "tammy," I wrote: "It is very difficult, without the help of the books of the learned priests of Mayab, to know positively why they gave that name to their country. I can only surmise that they called it so from the great absorbent quality of its stony soil, which in an incredibly short time absorbs the water at the surface. This water, percolating through the pores of the stone, is afterward found filtered, clear and cool, in the senotes and caves, where it forms vast deposits.
When I published the foregoing lines, in 1881, I had not studied the contents of the Troano MS. I was therefore entirely ignorant of its historical value. The discovery of a fragment of mural painting, in the month of February, 1882,2 on the walls of an apartment in one of the edifices at Kabah, caused me to devote many months to the study of the Maya text of that interesting old document. It was with considerable surprise that I then discovered that several pages at the beginning of the second part are dedicated to the recital of the awful phenomena that took place during the cataclysm that caused the submersion of ten countries, among which the "Land of Mu," that large island probably called "Atlantis" by Plato; and the formation of the strangely crooked line
of islands known to us as "West Indies," but as the "Land of the Scorpion" to the Mayas. I was no less astonished than gratified to find an account of the events in the life of the personages whose portraits, busts, and statues I had discovered among the ruins of the edifices raised by them at Chichen
'Aug. Le Plongeon, Vestiges of the Mayas, p. 26.
Cities of Central America," Désiré Charnay.
'Explorations of the Ancient
and Uxmal, whose history, portrayed in the mural paintings, is also recounted in the legends and the sculptures still adorning the walls of their palaces and temples; and to learn that these ancient personages had already been converted, at the time the author of the Troano MS. wrote his book, into the gods of the elements, and made the agents who produced the terrible earthquakes that shook parts of the "Lands of the West" to their very foundations, as told in the narrative of the Akab-ɔib, and finally caused them to be engulfed by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.1
The author of the Troano MS. gives in his work the adjoining map (Plate II.) of the "Land of the Beb" (mulberry tree), the Maya Empire. In it he indicates the localities which were submerged, and those that still remained above water, in that part of the world, after the cataclysm.
In the legend explanatory of his object in drawing that chart, as in many other places in his book, he gives the serpent head kan,"south," as symbol of the southern con
tinent. He represents the northern by this monogram that reads aac, "turtle." By this sign Oplaced between the two others, he intends to convey to the mind of his readers that the submerged places to which he refers are situated between the two western continents, are bathed by the waters of the Mexican Gulf, and more particularly by those of the Caribbean Sea-figured by the image of an animal resembling a deer, placed over the legend. It is well to remark that this animal is typical of the submerged Antillean valleys, as it will plainly appear further on.