Images de page

nothing now stands in the way of acquiring a perfect knowledge of the manners and customs, of the scientific attainments, religious and cosmogonic conceptions, of the history of the builders of the ruined temples and palaces of the Mayas.

May this work receive the same acceptance from students of American archæology and universal history as was vouchsafed to "Sacred Mysteries among the Mayas and the Quiches." It is written for the same purpose and in the same spirit.


NEW YORK, January, 1896.



THE Country known to-day as Yucatan, one of the states of the Mexican confederacy, may indeed be justly regarded by the ethnologist, the geologist, the naturalist, the philologist, the archæologist, and the historian as a most interesting field of study. Its area of seventy-three thousand square miles, covered with dense forests, is literally strewn with the ruins of numerous antique cities, majestic temples, stately palaces, the work of learned architects, now heaps of débris crumbling under the inexorable tooth of time and the impious hand of iconoclastic collectors of relics for museums. Among these the statues of priests and kings, mutilated and defaced by the action of the elements, the hand of time and that of man, lie prostrate in the dust. Walls covered with bas-reliefs, inscriptions and sculptures carved in marble, containing the panegyrics of rulers, the history of the nation, its cosmogonical traditions, the ancient religious rites and observances of its

[ocr errors]

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 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 y la tierra firme del Oceano. (Madrid, 1601.) Decada 1, lib. 6, cap. 17. 2 Ibid. Decada 1, lib. 5, cap. 13.

[blocks in formation]


Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., cap. iii., p. 179.

See Appen

dix, note ii.

« PrécédentContinuer »