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The ancient Maya sages sometimes likened the earth to a caldron, cum, because as nutriment is cooked in such utensil, so also all that exists on the surface of the earth is first elaborated in its bosom. Sometimes, likewise, on account of its rotundity, and because it contains the germs of all things, they compared the earth to a calabash, kum, full of seeds. These similes seem to have been favorite ones, since they made frequent use of them in illustrating their explanations of the geological phenomena which have convulsed our planet. Perhaps also the second reason was what caused them to generally adopt a circular shape for the characters they invented to give material expression to the multitudinous conceptions of their mind (unless it be that they gave that form to these characters from that of their skull, containing the brain, organ of thought). The fact is that their symbol for the name Mayach, of the peninsula of Yucatan, affects the shape of a calabash, with its tendril just sprouted a yach or ach, as the natives call a young sprout.
What can have induced the hierogrammatists to select a hand at the end of the scorpion's tail. The rope that connects said hand with the raised right forefoot of the deer indicates that not only the seismic action was felt throughout the length of the Caribbean Sea, from south to north, but that it produced the upheaval of some locality in the northern parts of said sea. Beginning, naturally, the reading of the legend by the column on the right, we find that he describes the phenomenon in the following words: "Oc ik ix canab ezah nab" (that is, "A handful (small quantity) of gases, escaped from the crater, caused canab to show the palm of his hand "). According to its location this raised forefoot may be the upheaval of the large volcano that looms high in the air in the middle of the island of Roatan, the largest of the group called Guanacas in the Bay of Honduras, where the Mayas met the Spaniards for the first time in 1502. The second column reads: "Cib canalcunte lam a ti ahau O.” ("The lava having filled (raised) the submerged places, the master of the basin," etc.) (The last sign being completely obliterated, we cannot know what the author had said.)
germinating calabash as part of the name of their country, remains to be explained.
If we examine the map of the lands back of the peninsula, it will not be difficult to discover the idea uppermost in the mind of the draughtsman at the time of composing the symbol; and to see that he was as thoroughly acquainted with the geography of the interior and the western shores of those parts of the continent, as with the configuration of its eastern coasts; also that their geological formation was no mystery to him.
with the shape of the the peninsula, notwith
By comparing this symbol countries immediately south of standing the changes that are continually taking place in the contour of the coast lines, particularly at the mouth of rivers,1 by the action of currents, etc., we cannot fail to recognize that
the hierogrammatist assumed it to be the sprout of a calabash, the body of which was represented by the lands comprised within the segment of a circle having for
radius the half of a line, parallel to the eastern and western shores of the peninsula, starting from Point Lagartos, on the northern coast of Yucatan, drawn across the country to the shore of the Pacific Ocean on the south. For if, from the middle of said line as centre, we describe a circumference, part of it will follow exactly the bent of the coast line of said ocean, opposite the northern shore of the peninsula; another part will cross the
1 Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, vol. i., chap. iii., p. 252.
Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the northern frontier of the Maya Empire, and, if carried overland on the south until it intersect the seaboard of the Bay of Honduras, the segment of the circle thus formed resembles the bottom of a calabash, and the peninsula the sprout.
Analyzing the character yet more closely, we see a line of dots on each side of the base of the sprout, the which is made to repose on the curled figure to represent the curling of the smoke as it ascends into the air from the crater of the volcanoes among the mountains, indicated, as on our maps, by the etchings on both sides of the body of the symbol. These tokens prove that the designer knew the geological formation of the country in which he lived; and that the peninsula had been upheaved from the bottom of the sea by the action of volcanic forces, whose centre of activity was in his time, as it still is, in the mountains of Guatemala, far away in the interior of the continent. By placing the small end of the sprout deep into the figure on the focus of the volcanic action, on the curling line of the smoke, and by the dots, on both sides of the root of the sprout, he shows that he knew that the upheaval of the peninsula was effected by the expansive force of the gases, which produce earthquakes by their pressure on the uneven under surface of the superficial strata, too homogeneous to permit their escape.1
Thus it is that we come to learn from the pen of an ancient Maya philosopher that the name of his people, once upon a time so broadly scattered over the face of the earth, had its
'Sir Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, chap. xxxii., xxxiii. Augustus Le Plongeon, "The Causes of Earthquakes," Van Nostrand's Engineering Magazine, vol. 6, Nos. 41, 42.
in the northern tropical
origin in that of the country they inhabited, a place situated parts of the Western Continent, that mysterious home of their
in that “Land of Kui,"
ancestors, where the Egyptians thought the souls of their departed friends went to dwell, which was known to its inhabitants as Mayach, a word that in their language meant the "first land," the "land just sprouted," also the "hard land," the "terra firma," as we learn from the sign of aspiration, hardness, coagulation, placed each side of the body of the calabash, to indicate, perhaps, the rocky formation of its soil, and that it had withstood the awful cataclysms which swept from the face of the earth the Land of Mu and many other places with their populations. The priests of Egypt, Chaldea, and India preserved the remembrance of their destruction in the archives of their temples, as did those of Mayach on the other side of the
The latter did not content themselves with recording the relation in their treatises on geology and history, but in order to preserve its memory for future generations they caused it to be carved on a stone tablet which they fastened to the wall in one of the apartments of their college at Chichen, where it is yet seen. The natives have perpetuated, from generation to generation, for centuries, the name of that inscription. They still call it Akab-oib, the awful, the tenebrous writing.
1 Sir Gardner Wilkinson, Manners and Customs of Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii., p. 70. “Kui Land,” according to the Maya language the "land of the gods," the birthplace of the Goddess Maya, "the mother of the gods" and of men, the feminine energy of Brahma by whose union with Brahma all things were produced.
2 Landa, Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, chap. xli., p. 322.