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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 Chicħen-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.3 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. 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
1 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 y adevinar.”
longer understood, except perhaps by a few archaeologists, 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, asserts1 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
1 Landa, Relacion de las Cosas (p. 328): "Que estos edificios de Izamal eran xi á xii por todos, sin aver memoria de los fundadores."
much enigmas as they are to-day. Still travellers and scientists are not wanting who pretend that these strange buildings were constructed by the same race now inhabiting the peninsula or by their near ancestors regardless of Cogolludo's assertion that it is not known who their builders were, and that the Indians themselves preserved no traditions on the subject; " unmindful, likewise, of these words of Lizana: "That when the Spaniards came to this country, notwithstanding that some of the monuments appeared new, as if they had been built only twenty years, the Indians did not live in them, but used them as temples and sanctuaries, offering in them sacrifices, sometimes of men, women, and children; and that their construction dated back to a very high antiquity."3
The historiographer par excellence of Yucatan, Cogolludo, informs us that in his day-the middle of the seventeenth century-scarcely a little more than one hundred years after the Conquest, the memory of these adulterated traditions was already fading from the mind of the aborigines. “Of the people who first settled in this kingdom of Yucathan," he says, "nor of their ancient history, have I been able to find any more data than those I mention here.” 4
The books and other writings of the chroniclers and historians, from the Spanish conquest to our times, should therefore be considered well-nigh valueless, so far as the history of the primitive inhabitants of the country, the events that transpired in remote ages, and ancient traditions in general are
1 John L. Stephens, Incidents of Travels in Yucatan, vol. ii., p. 458. Désire Charnay, North American Review, April, 1882.
'Diego Lopez de Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., chap. iii., p. 177.
'Lizana, Historia de Nuestra Señora de Ytzamal, chap. ii.
Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., chap. iii., p. 177.
concerned, seeing that Cogolludo says they were unable to procure any information on the subject. "It seems to me that it is time," he says, "to speak of the various things pertaining to this country, and of its natives; not, however, with the extension some might desire, mentioning in detail their origin and the countries whence they may have come, for it would be difficult for me to ascertain now that which so many learned men were unable to find out at the beginning of the Conquest, even inquiring with great diligence, as they affirm, particularly since there exist no longer any papers or traditions among the Indians concerning the first settlers from whom they are descended; our evangelical ministers, who imported the faith, in order to radically extirpate idolatry, having burned all characters and paintings they could get hold of in which were written their histories, and that in order to take from them all remembrances of their ancient rites."1
Those who undertook to write the narrative of the Conquest and the history of the country, in order to procure the necessary data for this, had naturally to interrogate the natives. These were either unable or unwilling to impart the knowledge sought. It may be that some of those from whom inquiries were made were descendants of the Nahuatls, ignorant of the ancient history of the Mayas. Others may have been some of the Mexican mercenaries who dwelt on the coasts, where they were barely tolerated by the other inhabitants, because of their sanguinary practices. They, from the first, had welcomed the Spaniards as friends and allies-had maintained with them intimate relations during several years,2 be
1 Cogolludo, Historia de Yucathan, lib. iv., chap. iii., p. 170. 'Nakuk Pech. An ancient document concerning the Nakuk Pech family, Lords of Chicxulub, Yucatan. This is an original document belonging to Srs. Regil y Peon, of Merida, Yucatan.