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p. 196



In the prophetic literature of the Maya we find the names of certain animals mentioned in such manner as to suggest that they stand as the symbols for something else and that the reference is not to the actual animals. For example, we read: "There shall be no fox 1 to bite them," 2 "there shall be neither fox nor kinkajou that will bite," 3 "there shall be neither fox, puma nor weasel: there shall be none that bite. The claws of the puma shall be drawn; the claws of the jaguar shall be drawn." 4 "The time shall come when the burrowing opossum 5 and the jaguar 6 shall bite one another." 7 At first sight it seems strange to find the comparatively harmless fox, kinkajou, weasel and opossum classed with the jaguar and puma.

We can not but suspect that these fauna-names are referable to certain persons and that the prophecies tell of a time when the people will be freed of the presence of these unwelcome individuals. Indeed, a further examination of the related material confirms this conjecture. In the Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin we read: "At the time <of the year> 3 Kan the spots shall be removed from the red jaguars, the white jaguars. 8 The claws and teeth shall be drawn from the jaguars 9 of the Itzá." 10

We find further indications of the significance of these names of animals in the following passages: "There is no kinkajou, there is no fox, there is no weasel to suck men's blood; there are no pernicious rulers." 11 "The rulers shall be cut off, when the claws of the eagle 12 are cut, when the backs of the kinkajou

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and the fox are clawed and torn" 1 "Then the burrowing opossums who are greedy for dominion shall bite one another." 2 For Katun 12 Ahau, a period of good fortune, the prophecy states: "The burrowing opossum shall flee. He shall give up his delegated mat 3 and throne, and he shall go out into the wilderness. Men shall be happy; things shall go well in the towns." 4 From this we infer that these animals represent certain persons in authority, and such a conclusion is amply confirmed by the following passage: "In the ninth year of Katun 6 Ahau the puma (coh) and the jaguar (balam) claw one another's backs. The puma (coh) is a leon5 These are the head-chiefs (halach-uinicob)." 6

We have already seen how the central organization at Mayapan may be traced to a Toltec origin and followed to a certain extent the example of the Nahua institutions of the highlands of Mexico. It has also been noted that this foreign political structure was superimposed upon a form of local government that was probably indigenous. 7 We may therefore turn to the history of the Nahua peoples of Mexico for an explanation of some symbols connected with the higher ranks of the rulers in Yucatan.

Landa has given us to understand that with the exception of the Cocoms and Xius who ruled at Mayapan, the so-called "lords" possessed delegated powers only, and that it was only after the fall of that city that these halach-uinics became the real rulers of the various independent states into which the Spaniards found the country divided at the time of their arrival. 8 We have also noted in one of the prophecies just quoted that the "burrowing opossum" is to "give up his delegated mat and throne," or in other words, his authority. Consequently it seems permissible to draw an analogy between the halach-uinics symbolized by these animals and the tecuhtli, or so-called "lords," of the Nahua peoples of Mexico.

Seler has convincingly shown that the Mexican "king" delegated many of his functions to these men, and that the institution reached its highest development when the latter were set to supervising the collection of tribute and enforcing other rights which their own state had acquired over a conquered people. 9 Such would also be the case in Yucatan where the Toltec conquerors appear to have actually settled in the country and maintained their power for a long time in spite of the fact that they could never have formed more than a very small proportion of the population.

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Seler goes on to quote from the unpublished Sahagun manuscript a list of mantles worn by persons of high rank in Mexico. A number of these are described as representing the skins of animals which we have seen mentioned in the Maya prophecies, such as the jaguar, kinkajou, puma, wild-cat and coyote. 1 From the same source and from the Mexican picture-manuscripts he gives descriptions and illustrations of warrior-costumes representing coyotes and jaguars. 2 He believes that what he calls "royal rank" among the Mexicans went back in the first instance to Quetzalcoatl and the Toltec dynasty, 3 and we have already seen how Landa traces the authority of the "lords" of Yucatan back to the same source. 4

FIG. 47--Temple of the Warriors frescos: a, coyote-fox; 5 b, eagle. (After Ann Axtell Morris.)


If we are right in ascribing a Mexican origin to a large part of the symbolism discussed here, it is to the architectural remains of the Toltec occupation of Yucatan that we should look for archæological confirmation. The jaguar, it is true, appears frequently in the older Maya art, indeed it goes back to some of the earliest monuments; but before the appearance of an intrusive Nahua culture in Yucatan this animal is always connected with the priesthood. Only in the Toltec temples do we begin to find it a symbol of the warrior class, as in the reliefs of the Temple of the Tigers and the platform just to the east of it at Chichen Itzá. It is in the reliefs and frescos of that masterpiece of Maya-Toltec architecture, the Temple of the Warriors, that we find the most striking illustration of the animals symbolizing the Nahua warrior-chieftains who once ruled over Yucatan. Many of them bear human hearts in their claws, suggesting that the warriors whom they represent captured victims for human

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sacrifice. Here we see the puma, 1 the jaguar 2, the coyote or fox 3 and the eagle. 4

Although we have but little data on which to base an estimate of the age of the Toltec remains at Chichen Itzá, it seems probable that the political hegemony of this city preceded that of Mayapan. 5 Consequently we can hardly expect too close a correspondence between the references in the Books of Chilam Balam and the sculptures at Chichen Itzá. The Maya writers of the Spanish colonial period would have a much more vivid recollection of the hegemony of Mayapan which ended about the middle of the Fifteenth Century.

Among the Mexicans the jaguar was the strong and brave animal par excellence, the companion of the eagle. Indeed "Eagle and Jaguar" was the conventional designation of brave warriors. 6 The coyote was regarded in a two-fold aspect. He was the god of singing and dancing, but as a beast of prey he was also a symbol of the warrior. Certain outstanding warriors appeared both at dances and in battle clothed in a garment representing the coyote. 7 If it seems a little strange to find the coyote serving as a symbol of bravery, we can not but feel that a considerable stretch of the imagination was required to consider the kinkajou in the same light. And yet such was the case. Whether alone, or associated with the hawk, the kinkajou was, next to the eagle and jaguar, regarded as one of the bravest and strongest animals and the symbol of the bold warrior. 8 "Hawk and Kinkajou" are often mentioned in the Mexican myths and stories along with the "Eagle and Jaguar." 9

The weasel (Maya zabin or sabim) seems a more appropriate animal in this connection than either the coyote or kinkajou. Its association with ideas pertaining to military affairs is shown by certain expressions found in the Motul dictionary. "Zabim-be, ah-zabim-be: a look-out, sentinel and spy, when no battle-line has been formed; also to keep a look-out." "Zabin-katun: look-out

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or sentinel, when the battle-line has been formed, and to keep a look-out in this manner." Literally, zabim-be means the weasel of the road and zabin-katun, the weasel of the army. No portrayal of this animal has yet been found and identified.

This leaves the so-called "burrowing opossum" to be accounted for. It must be confessed that neither in Maya nor Mexican art have we found the opossum playing the rôle assigned to him in the Books of Chilam Balam. Frequently depicted in the Mexican picture-manuscripts, the animal appears as


FIG. 48--Jaguar. Relief-carving at Chichen Itzá.


lord of the lower regions or as the associate of certain gods. In the Maya Dresden Codex he is dressed as a dancer and brings on his back the Regent of the New Year. 1 Nowhere do we find him associated with either war or chieftainship except in the Books of Chilam Balam.

The frequent mention of these various animals in the Books of Chilam. Balam is therefore of unusual interest. Although the meaning of the jaguars and eagles at Chichen Itzá has long been known, we should be tempted to ascribe a religious or mythological significance to the other animals found in the reliefs and frescos of that city, if it were not for the information contained in these manuscripts. As it is, they take on the character of historical and political figures.


196:1 Maya, chamac, a term applied in northern Yucatan to the Grey Fox, Urocyon cinereo-argenteus fraterculus Elliot, identified by Goldman and Gaumer. The same name appears to be given to the coyote in some part of the Maya speaking area where the latter exists. Cf. Roys 1931, p. 331.

196:2 Chumayel, p. 125.

196:3 Maya, cab-coh, literally honey-puma, called oso melero in Spanish and identified by Goldman and Gaumer as the Aztec Kinkajou, Potas flavus aztecus Thomas. Cf. Roys 1931, p. 329. The quotation is from Chumayel, p. 159.

196:4 Tizimin p. 26; Mani (Codex Perez) p. 80. Coh is the puma, Felis concolor L., and zabin is the weasel, Mustela tropicalis Merriam. Cf. Roys 1931, pp. 330, 342.

196:5 Maya, holil-och, identified by Gaumer as Marmosa gaumeri Osgood, spec. nov. Cf. Roys 1931, p. 333.

196:6 Maya, chat-bolay, identified by Goldman as Hernandez's Jaguar, Felis hernandesii goldmani Mearns, and called tigre in Spanish. Pio Perez (1866-77) defines it as "el leoncillo" and Pacheco Cruz (1919, p. 14), as "tigrillo." Balam is the usual Maya word for jaguar.

196:7 Tizimin, p. 3.

196:8 Maya, chac-bob, zac-bob. Bobil-che was a general term for the tigre, or jaguar (Relaciones de Yucatan, I, p. 169). It is possible that smaller felines like the margay were also included by the term.

196:9 Maya, bal<a>mil.

196:10 Tizimin, p. 10.

196:11 Mani (Codex Perez), p. 80.

196:12 Maya, chuyum-thul (literally, that which holds a rabbit suspended) is defined by the Motul dictionary, Spanish-Maya portion as "Aguila o especie della, ave de rapina." In present-day Maya the word means both an eagle and a large hawk (Pacheco Cruz, 1919, p. 62,) and elsewhere we find the term defined as a hawk, osprey or kite (Motul, Maya-Spanish portion). Another word, coot is variously defined as the red eagle and the black eagle.

197:1 Tizimin, p. 32.

197:2 Ibid., p. 25.

197:3 The mat, like the throne, was a symbol of authority. Cf. p. 92, note  3.

197:4 Tizimin, p. 26.

197:5 In many parts of Spanish America the puma is called leon.

197:6 Mani (Codex Perez), p. 72.

197:7 Cf. Appendix E.

197:8 Landa 1928, pp. 70-72.

197:9 Altmexikanischer Schmuck und soziale und militärische Rangabzeichen, Seler 1904, pp. 509-619.

198:1 Ibid., p. 518.

198:2 Ibid., pp. 558-560.

198:3 Ibid., p. 510.

198:4 Cf. Appendix E.

198:5 Mrs. Morris notes that this animal wears the blue necklace common to the human warrior and considers it to be a composite bear and coyote, identifying it with a short-tailed long-haired animal which appears frequently in the sculptured frieze of the same temple. As the coyote would be known only from hearsay at Chichen Itzá, we might expect a less realistic treatment than in the case of other animals. Morris, Charlot and Morris, Plate 165.

199:1 See Plate 1, a; also Morris, Charlot and Morris 1931, pp. 40-41. Cit-chac-coh, literally Father-red-puma, appears to have been the name of one of the war-gods. In the month of Pax the warriors and nacom (war-chief) celebrated a festival to this deity, during which the nacom was given divine honors as though he were himself the god. It would seem from this that the war-chief was the especial representative of this puma war-god. (Landa 1929, p. 84.)

199:2 Morris, Charlot and Morris 1931, Pl. 151.

199:3 Ibid., Pl. 165; see fig. 47, a.

199:4 Ibid., Pl. 164.

199:5 Perhaps the most likely estimate of this period would be from the introduction of the Kukulcan cult some time in the Tenth Century A.D. to the conquest of the city by Hunac Ceel at the end of the Twelfth Century. We are told that the hegemony of Chichen Itzá lasted over two hundred years and that "at one time this entire land was under the dominion of a lord who reigned over the ancient city of Chichen Itzá. To him were tributary all the lords of this province, and even from outside the province, from Mexico, Guatemala, Chiapas and other provinces they sent presents in token of peace and friendship" (Relaciones de Yucatan, I, pp. 176, 120-121).

199:6 Seler 1923, p. 470.

199:7 Ibid., p. 496.

199:8 Ibid., p. 503.

199:9 Ibid., p. 595.

200:1 Seler 1923, pp. 506-509.

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