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people, inviting decipherment, attract the attention of the traveller. The geological formation of its stony soil, so full of curious deposits of fossil shells of the Jurassic period (Plate I.); its unexplored caves, supposed dwellings of sprites and elves, creatures of the fanciful and superstitious imagination of the natives; its subterraneous streams of cool and limpid water, inhabited by bagres and other fish-are yet to be studied by modern geologists; whilst its flora and fauna, so rich and so diversified, but imperfectly known, await classification at the hand of naturalists.
The peculiar though melodious vernacular of the natives, preserved through the lapse of ages, despite the invasions of barbaric tribes, the persecutions by Christian conquerors, ignorant, avaricious, and bloodthirsty, or fanatical monks who believed they pleased the Almighty by destroying a civilization equal if not superior to theirs, is full of interest for the philologist and the ethnologist. Situated between 18° and 21° 35′ of latitude north, and 86° 50′ and 90° 35′ of longitude west from the Greenwich meridian, Yucatan forms the peninsula that divides the Mexican Gulf from the Caribbean Sea.
Bishop Landa 1 informs us that when, at the beginning of the year 1517, Francisco Hernandez de Cordova, the first of the Spaniards who set foot in the country of the Mayas, landed on a small island which he called Mugeres, the inhabitants, on being asked the name of the country, answered U-luumil ceh (the land of the deer) and U-luumil cutz (the land of the turkey). Until then the Europeans were ignorant of the existence of such a place; for although Juan Diaz Solis and
1 See Appendix, note i.
Diego de Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, chap. ii., p. 6.
Vicente Yañes Pinzon came in sight of its eastern coasts in 1506, they did not land nor make known their discovery.1
Herrera, in his Decadas, tells us that when Columbus, in his fourth voyage to America, was at anchor near the island. of Pinos, in the year 1502, his ships were boarded by Maya navigators. These came from the west; from the country known to its inhabitants under the general name of the Great Can (serpent) and the Cat-ayo (cucumber tree). The peninsula, then divided into many districts or provinces, each governed by an independent ruler who had given a peculiar title to his own dominions, seems to have had no general name. One district was called Chacan, another Cepech, another Choaca, another Mayapan, and so on. Mayapan, however, was a very large district, whose king was regarded as suzerain by the other chieftains, previous to the destruction of his capital by the people, headed by the nobility, they having become tired of his exactions and pride. This rebellion is said to have taken place seventy-one years before the advent of the Spanish adventurers in the country. The powerful dynasty of the Cocomes, which had held tyrannical sway over the land for more than two centuries, then came to an end.1
Among the chroniclers and historians, several have ventured to give an etymology of the word Maya. None, however, seem to have known its true origin. The reason is very simple.
At the time of the invasion of the country by the turbu
Antonio de Herrera, Hist. general de los hechos de los Castellanos en las
islas y la tierra firme del Oceano. (Madrid, 1601.) Decada 1, lib. 6, cap. 17.
Ibid. Decada 1, lib. 5, cap. 13.
'Landa, Relacion, etc., chap. v., p. 30.
Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., cap. iii., p. 179.
dix, note ii.
lent and barbaric Nahuatls, the books containing the record of the ancient traditions, of the history of past ages, from the settlement of the peninsula by its primitive inhabitants, had been carefully hidden (and have so remained to this day) by the learned philosophers, and the wise priests who had charge of the libraries in the temples and colleges, in order to save the precious volumes from the hands of the barbarous tribes from the west. These, entering the country from the south, came spreading ruin and desolation. They destroyed the principal cities; the images of the heroes, of the great men, of the celebrated women, that adorned the public squares and edifices. This invasion took place in the year 522, or thereabout, of the Christian era, according to the opinion of modern computers.1
As a natural consequence of the destruction, by the invaders, of Chichen-Itza, then the seat of learning, the Itzaes, preferring ostracism to submitting to their vandal-like conquerors, abandoned their homes and colleges, and became wanderers in the desert. Then the arts and sciences soon declined; with their degeneracy came that of civilization. Civil warthat inevitable consequence of invasions-political strife, and religious dissension broke out before long, and caused the dismemberment of the kingdom, that culminated in the sack and burning of the city of Mayapan and the extinction of the royal family of the Cocomes in 1420 A.D., two hundred and seventy years after its foundation. In the midst of the social cataclysms that gave the coup de grâce to the Maya civiliza
1 Philip J. J. Valentini, Katunes of the Maya History, p. 54.
Juan Pio Perez (Codex Maya), U Tzolan Katunil ti Mayab (§ 7): "Laixtun u Katunil binciob Ah-Ytzaob yalan che, yalan aban, yalan ak ti numyaob lae." ("Toward that time, then, the Itzaes went in the forests, lived under the trees, under the prune trees, under the vines, and were very miserable.")
* Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., cap. 3, p. 179.
tion, the old traditions and lore were forgotten or became disfigured. Ingrafted with the traditions, superstitions, and fables of the Nahuatls, they assumed the shape of myths. The great men and women of the primitive ages were transformed into the gods of the elements and of the phenomena of
The ancient libraries having disappeared, new books had to be written. They contained those myths. The Troano and the Dresden MSS. seem to belong to that epoch.1 They contain, besides some of the old cosmogonical traditions, the tenets and precepts of the new religion that sprang from the blending of the ceremonies of the antique form of worship of the Mayas with the superstitious notions, the sanguinary rites, and the obscene practices of the phallic cult of the Nahuatls; the laws of the land; and the vestiges of the science and knowledge of the philosophers of past ages that still lingered among some of the noble families, transmitted as heirlooms, by word of mouth, from father to son. These books were written in new alphabetical letters and some of the ancient demotic or popular characters that, being known to many of the nobility, remained in usage.
With the old orders of priesthood, and the students, the knowledge of the hieratic or sacred mode of writing had disappeared. The legends graven on the façades of the temples and palaces, being written in those characters, were no
See Appendix, note iii.
'Diego de Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan (chap. vii., p. 42): Que enseñavan los hijos de los otros sacerdotes, y á los hijos segundos de los señores que los llevaban para esto desde niños."
Lizana (chap. 8), Historia de Nuestra Señora de Ytzamal: "La historia y autores que podemos alegar son unos caracteres mal entendidos de muchos y glossados de unos indios antiguos que son hijos de los sacerdotes de sus dioses, que son los que solo sabian leer Ꭹ adevinar."
longer understood, except perhaps by a few archæologists, who were sworn to secrecy. The names of the builders, their history, that of the phenomena of nature they had witnessed, the tenets of the religion they had professed-all contained, as we have said, in the inscriptions that covered these antique walls were as much a mystery to the people, as to the multitudes which have since contemplated them with amazement, during centuries, to the present day.
Bishop Landa, speaking of the edifices at Izamal, asserts 1 that the ancient buildings of the Mayas, at the time of the arrival of the Spaniards in Yucatan, were already heaps of ruins-objects of awe and veneration to the aborigines who lived in their neighborhood. They had lost, he says, the memory of those who built them, and of the object for which they had been erected. Yet before their eyes were their façades, covered with sculptures, inscriptions, figures of human beings and of animals, in the round and in bas-relief, in a better state of preservation than they are now, not having then suffered so much injury at the hand of man, for the natives regarded them, as their descendants do still, with reverential fear. There were recorded the legends of the pasta dead letter for them as for the learned men of the present age. There, also, on the interior walls of many apartments, were painted in bright colors pictures that would grace the parlors of our mansions, representing the events in the history of certain personages who had flourished at the dawn of the life of their nation; scenes that had been enacted in former ages were portrayed in very beautiful bas-reliefs. But these speaking tableaux were, for the majority of the people, as
Landa, Relacion de las Cosas (p. 328): "Que estos edificios de Izamal eran xi á xii por todos, sin aver memoria de los fundadores."