The Popol Vuh is regarded as one of the most ancient and sacred texts created by the Mayan civilization in an effort to preserve their collection of stories and history during the era of Spanish conquest. With the oppression of Mayan descendants and indigenous people being discussed in this essay, it is important to revitalize their historic heritage in order to counteract possibilities of cultural erasure. My paper goes in depth about the literary context of the Popol Vuh and explains why the preservation of the Mayan civilization’s legacy is important to Latino culture, community, and consciousness.
The Popol Vuh showcases the origins and history of the universe through Mayan storytelling and displays the importance of modern Central American and Latino culture in order to prevent erasure of the great Mayan civilization’s influence and consciousness. The Popol Vuh is ancient text held sacred and revered as the “Mayan Bible.” It is celebrated as one of the greatest literary texts in classical Mesoamerican culture and can even be compared to the epic poem of the Odyssey. However, it is not the actual “word of God,” rather it is an account of the ancient stories told by the Mayans that reveal the origins of humanity. The Popol Vuh was written around 1554-1558 CE which was the time where Spanish conquerors were taking over the Mayans and wiping their religion away with Christianity. Therefore, the Mayans wrote these texts in order to save their history.
The story takes readers through a timeline of the creation of the world, the story of the Hero Twins, the creation of humans, and the early years of the Spanish Conquest at the turn of the 15th century. This essay will examine the poetic and literary devices used in the Popol Vuh and also compare the text to other literary works such as the Bible and a memoir. Mayan traditional beliefs and how they contributed to Mayan society will also be examined. Lastly, the audience will understand the importance of the Popol Vuh in order to preserve Mayan culture and humanity as it continues to impact Central American society to this day.
The text of the Popol Vuh, within the course reader, focuses on the story of the birth of the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and how they are significant to the creation of the world after their triumphs in the Underworld. The text uses various poetic devices such as parallelism, repetition, and heavy imagery to help the audience interpret the significant aspects within the text. Parallelism and repetition can go hand in hand in the Popol Vuh by repeating certain elements in the story to assert their importance. For example, antithetic parallelism which is the contrast of one element with an opposite or antithetical element is evident with the story of the Hero Twins. At the end of the story, the twins turn into the sun and moon and become rulers of the Earth. Therefore, they work every day to make night and day for the world. This example of antithetical parallelism also reemphasizes the parallel of light and darkness, which can also translate into the duality of good and evil. Another example of this parallelism involves the Hero Twins and their brothers, One Monkey and One Artisan. The brothers of the Hero Twins were spitefully jealous and envious of them. They even wished death on the Twins. The text states, “[One Monkey and One Artisan] hated their younger brothers with the coals of envy and hoped they would on the anthill and thistles.” (60). This projects to the audience the duality of good brothers and evil brothers.
Imagery plays an important part in the text because it helps the audiences visualize the story. A prime example of imagery in the text is shown when Blood Moon, the daughter of one of the gods from the Underworld, picks fruit from a special tree and becomes pregnant. The tree speaks to Blood Moon and says “In my saliva and spittle . . . I have given you my descendants. My head has a different look now without flesh, for the beauty of all men lies in their flesh . . . Now go to the surface of the world and keep your life. Believe in my words and they will be true.” (54-55). This is an important moment in the story because it shows the power that the archetype of Blood Moon being a mother holds as she produces the essence of life– Hero Twins who become rulers of the earth. The imagery, in this particular example, contributes to the poetic style of the Popol Vuh. Thereby, it produces magical, unworldly scenes to appeal to readers.
"The Popol Vuh showcases the origins and history of the universe through Mayan storytelling and displays the importance of modern Central American and Latino culture in order to prevent erasure of the great Mayan civilization’s influence and consciousness."
Apostrophe and dialogue are very essential to the plot of the Popol Vuh as they bring the story and archetypes to life. For example, Blood Moon expresses her frustration when trying to protect herself and her unborn twins. When Blood Moon’s father finds out that she’s pregnant, he becomes furious and wants her dead. Therefore, she says, “Oh, messengers! . . . I can’t believe that you will kill me! I’m innocent. What I carry in my stomach is no disgrace, it’s a miracle! I became pregnant by the magic tree. I can’t believe that you would sacrifice me!” (56). The importance of this type of poetic device is that it appeals emotionally to the audience as Blood Moon is able to express that her pregnancy is a miracle rather than a shameful action. This also proceeds to show how significant Blood Moon is to the plot for giving birth to the Hero Twins. Without the Twins, humans would have never come to be on earth.
All in all, the Hero Twins’ transformation into the sun and moon, and Blood Moon’s conception of the Twins are significant pieces in the overall plot of the Popol Vuh. In examining the literary devices mentioned, the audience is not only exposed to the indigenous, Mayan version of origin and creation, they are fully engaged and absorbed with the text. The poetic devices of antithetical parallelism and imagery appeal to the senses and emotions of readers. Apostrophe and dialogue aid in structuring and developing the plot of the Popol Vuh. These literary devices are what help the story evoke a sense of wonder and fascination of Mayan history. Therefore, with this curiosity and allure to Mayan origination, more interest can arise to preserve and appreciate Mayan culture.
Over time, as the ancient Mayan texts of the Popol Vuh translated into poetic English text in the course reader, the story eventually adapted into an animated film. The film screening of the Popol Vuh, further explained the story of the Popol Vuh in its entirety, rather than just the stories that focused on the Hero Twins and Blood Moon. The film provided the audience actual scenic visuals, filled with traditional Mayan artistry. The movie was also able to showcase the similarities between the Mayan creation stories and Biblical stories from Christianity. For example, the story of the Virgin Mary is very similar to the story of Blood Moon and how she became pregnant with the Hero Twins as mentioned earlier. The Virgin Mary became pregnant with Jesus Christ through God in the same way Blood Moon became pregnant by the saliva of a magical tree with the Hero Twins.
In addition, the same way people didn’t believe Mary and her story of conception, no one believed Blood Moon and her miraculous conception. Blood Moon's temptation to eat the magic tree’s fruit can also be seen as a similarity to the story of Adam and Eve when they were tempted by the devil to eat the fruit God forbade them to eat. Next, the Hero Twins being despised by their jealous brothers also brings to mind the story of Abel and Cain. God favored Abel, causing Cain to resent him immensely. This resulted in Cain murdering Abel. This mirrors the story of One Monkey and One Artisan wishing death upon the Hero Twins. There is a great importance in seeing the alignment of Biblical stories to the Popol Vuh. It can draw questions of origination and give readers insight as to how differently the Mayans viewed the creation of humanity versus traditional, biblical explanation. However, a display of coexistence between the Mayan and Western religion can also be seen, in a sense, due to the resemblances in each story
"It [Popol Vuh] can draw questions of origination and give readers insight as to how differently the Mayans viewed the creation of humanity versus traditional, biblical explanation."
The origin story of the Hero Twins showcases the importance of women in Mayan society as they were revered for the ability to carry a child and give birth to new life. Women played important roles in the religious rituals and political aspects of Mayan life. They were held highly during an era where other cultures believed that women were lesser and were to be domestic, obedient, and submissive. The film further expanded and explored the ideas and morals the Mayans held because it told the entire story of the Popol Vuh chapter by chapter. Each chapter contains a lesson and theme whether it be about respecting your elders and parents or the curse of arrogance and sin. Therefore, the richness and greatness of Mayan civilization is emphasized in the film because the visuals give the audience perspective on how Mayan society operated and what social dynamics were established. The visuals also materialize the story and makes it easier for the audience to engage and be interested in the subject matter, especially now, in a media-based society.
According to the text, I, Rigoberta Menchú is a testimonial narrative based on the life of Rigoberta Menchú, a Guatemalan Quiche Indian woman that was a peace activist and fought for the end of the Guatemalan Civil War. The testimonial sheds light on the horrors of the civil war and Rigoberta Menchú’s personal experience during that time period. Therefore, published her testimonial in order to expose the persecution of Guatemala’s indigenous people. The civil war was a dark time for the native people of Guatemala as the government was trying to wipe out an entire population of indigenous people. The war left hundreds of thousands of indigenous people dead and killed about 83 percent of the Mayan population. It is absolutely important to acknowledge and educate people about these atrocities and how important it is to preserve the Mayan culture, or it will be lost forever. According to the article written by Margaret Ramirez in the Los Angeles Times, “The validity of the Popol Vuh has long been in doubt. But in 1997 the discovery of a stone frieze inside a 1,500-year-old temple in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas bolstered the theory that the book was written by Indian converts to Christianity who wanted to preserve the religious texts that had been passed down orally or through Mayan hieroglyphics.”
In an interview Ramirez did with Victor Montejo, a Mayan schoolteacher and University of California, Davis professor, he further explains that the Mayans tried their best to preserve their culture. His opinion on how children should be educated on the ancient civilization for what it truly is that, “For decades, the Maya tried to hide their culture because they were targets of persecution . . . I believe that now young children should learn their religious traditions from the beginning. They can see and hear this and be proud of their Maya heritage. The world, too, can see it and help us revitalize it.” In addition, Ramirez states ways that our modern-day society now incorporates and tolerates Mayan and indigenous people and their practices. Ramirez states, “More recently, as the Central American immigrant population has surged, the Los Angeles Archdiocese has become more tolerant of Maya rituals and traditions, even organizing a procession earlier this year for the country’s patron saint, the Lord of Esquipulas.” The preservation of Mayan culture is essential to our society because before any colonization and the civil war, the Mayans were striving and prospering in what is now known as Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.
Overall, the Mayan civilization was sophisticated and advanced for their time. However, due to being colonized by the Europeans and indigenous people being persecuted in the civil war until the 1990s, there was an effort to erase the Mayans as an entire culture and civilization. The Popol Vuh ultimately is a product of preservation as the Mayans took it upon themselves to leave behind their origin story since they faced brutal colonization, genocide, and getting stripped of their identities when society wanted them to assimilate to the norm. The Mayan civilization will live on forever in the ancient, sacred, and poetic texts of the Popol Vuh.