Sacred Texts  Native American  Maya  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at

p. v


The position of Diego de Landa in history rests upon two of his acts, one the writing of the book that is herewith published in English for the first time, and the other the famous Auto de fé of July 1562 at Maní, at which, in addition to some 5000 'idols,' he burned as he tells us twenty-seven hieroglyphic rolls, all he could find but could not read, as 'works of the devil,' designed by the evil one to delude the Indians and to prevent them from accepting Christianity when it should in time be brought to them. Both acts were monumental, one to the ideas of his time, and the other as the basis and fountain of our knowledge of a great civilization that had passed.

It is perhaps not too strong a statement to make, that ninety-nine percent of what we today know of the Mayas, we know as the result either of what Landa has told us in the pages that follow, or have learned in the use and study of what he told. Landa left for us there the knowledge of their days and months, and the ceremonial festivals for planting, hunting and their other daily activities; the same preparations for a prosperous New Year by the favor and protection of the powers of the earth and sky, the devotions, new resolutions and the dismissal of the scapegoat of the old year and invocation of a coming better one, all as we do when we clean house and decorate for the coming of Santa Claus and his reindeer—who would certainly have been 'demons' to him had he found their images among the Mayas: in short, the many social and communal functions in which their life was expressed.

These things were told him possibly by Gaspar Antonio Chi (of whom we shall read later), but more probably by Nachi Cocom as stated by Landa himself, and whose bones he later dug up and cast into the fields on the suspicion that he had practised ancient Maya customs after he had been baptised; and from them we learned the structure of their yearly social calendar, and therefrom got our start.

He knew of their greater "count of ages," but only that such a count existed. He did not understand it, but left a one-line formula which, used as a mathematical and chronological key, opened to us their greatness in that science, and their almost perfect astronomy.

He also told us, as learned probably through Chi and derived from the Xiu sources of western Yucatan, much of the history of the northern part of the peninsula, after the fall of what we have called the Old Empire.

If ninety-nine hundredths of our present knowledge is at base derived from what he told us, it is an equally safe statement that at that Auto de fé of

p. vi

[paragraph continues] ‘62, he burned ninety-nine times as much knowledge of Maya history and sciences as he has given us in his book.

Landa's fame thus rests on the repercussions of his conduct as provincial of the Franciscan order in Yucatan, and on this book, both events preceding his appointment as bishop. It is also quite fair to add that it is to Bishop Toral, a man of wholly different character, who arrived in Yucatan on the very heels of this event at Maní, released the prisoners Landa had incarcerated and forced Landa's own return to Spain for trial before the Council of the Indies, that we actually owe the present book. For it was written in Spain as a matter of self-support, as is clearly shown in chapters xvii and xviii, and the final Paragraph 12, his epilogue and appeal. Had he remained in Yucatan he would probably never have written his Relación de las Cosas de Yucatan; it would not there have been necessary to his plans and objectives.


The present translation is a revision of one I made for my own use over twenty years ago. The constant calls, and still more the need, for an English edition, caused me to take it up seriously a year ago. From the first I planned to illustrate the work as herewith appears, with line drawings of things or places referred to in the text. Soon the material for this and for comments piled up so that only one way out resulted: first, an edition of Landa, restricted as to notes to just enough to let the general reader (as distinct from the specialist) into the subject, and help to visualize the life of the people he was reading about; restricted also as to illustrations to Landa's Yucatan. After that another, broader work to follow, covering the whole field of 'Maya,' and the Yucatan that Landa did not know.

A further step was promptly called for, in connection with this present work; this was to use the other, largely unpublished and almost entirely uncoordinated material in my own collection, to make of this a composite volume, picturing the Yucatan and its people of whom Landa wrote, as they were in his time; also his position in their history. This brought in the Xiu Papers, with all their highly valuable information, non-existent elsewhere.

On this came an obvious, though previously shadowy aid to the whole, namely a Maya map, or better termed, a map of Mayadom, as found by Landa and the Spaniards who preceded him by the seven years from 1542 to 1549. The names and general boundaries of the various chiefdoms at that initial time were known, and in fact are named in Landa. The key to Yucatecan history at and before that time lies in an understanding of the true relation between the two halves of this map. By adding to what Landa tells us (from western, Xiu sources of history) the information to be gathered in a detailed digest of what is scattered through the Reports called for by the Crown, of 1579-81, a picture of the 'Things of Yucatan' comes out, much

p. v

wider than, and complementary to Landa's Relation, and supremely illuminating as to not only the state of the country when he left it with his death, but also as to his part in what was done to impose Spain and her ways on them, as their spiritual creditor, in place of their own "founders and progenitors, who had begotten them in sin," as he tells us in his epilogue.

This we may summarize by quoting Ancona, in his History of Yucatan. There he says that the Provincial Landa and his Franciscans, supported by the Auditor Tomás López wits his Ordinances and his direct authorization for the town removals so bitterly complained of, made for "more convenient doctrination and ecclesiastical supervision," had turned the whole country into "a Franciscan monastery," effectively independent and superior to the regular Church authorities. And further, that Landa returning in 1573 as bishop, in succession to Toral (who had been so unable to make headway against the dominating Franciscan friars intrenched in their great, Indian-labor built structures, that he had at last retired back to Mexico, where he died, in 1571)—that Landa, Bishop, set more store by his provincialate in the Franciscan order than in his bishopric, which he used the rather to support his Franciscan ideology.

Then finally came a fortunate turning up of the unpublished Tax List of 1549, the very year that Landa arrived in Yucatan as a simple Franciscan friar. Without this as a concrete documented background for the population figures then, more than half the value of the 1579-Relations would not have come out.

A few shorter pieces of documentation, published and unpublished, came up to fit in place. The first is the delicious bit of political 'back-up' play shown by the multiple set of 'form letters,' ostensibly signed by a number of native caciques, to be sent to the king asking him to send back their beloved friar Landa and other Franciscans. One of these was printed 60 years ago in the great volume of Cartas de Indias, and since supposed to stand alone as an expression of love especially for Landa himself; the fact being that this was but one of a number, all the Indians' names signed for them in the same hand as the letters, a second instance of which appears in facsimile immediately after the text of the Relation and its final epilogue. This has not before been known, or published. It is also followed by another long letter, signed by the very Francisco de Montejo Xiu, governor of Maní, he who first came of his own accord to yield to Montejo in January 1542, together with other governors of high standing, disavowing these "procured" duplicate letters as false, and then relating what had in fact been done to their people.

Finally I have added two more official documents of the time, without whose inclusion no sure and clear envisioning of the forces at play, and their work and results would have been possible. One is the Ordinances of Tomás

p. vi

[paragraph continues] López, Auditor and Judge of the High Court of Guatemala and the Confines, himself a Franciscan friar and later one of those to sit in judgment on and finally absolve their co-member, friar Diego de Landa, of any illegality or wrong in doing what López, assuming the imperial authority, had told the friars in Yucatan they should do, in the matter of full ecclesiastical regimentation of daily and social life, and punishment as by inquisition for any violation on the part of the Indians of the friars' orders. These ordinances are given, in condensed form, at the end.

Also the declaration required to be read by all Spanish captains at once on landing for the purpose of conquest, regardless of whether the native inhabitants were present to hear, or if so could understand the words as spoken; the last part of this proclamation was quoted by Stephens, but it is here given in full. In this amazing declaration lies the key to the whole course of affairs in Spanish America to the present day, from the landing of the first conquistadores. And it is exactly at issue in the world today. Philip II, seeking not merely world supremacy but world ownership, relied for the legality of his course on the Bull dividing the new found world between the kings of Spain and Portugal, which authority in turn rested on the 'keys of Peter,' and the principle of divine vice-gerency; just as we today rest on recognized international law in matters of search and freedom of the seas. The Indian race, as still too little recognized, represented the active principle of communalism, which is not 'common ownership,' but a community-approved principle of social cooperation in the vital necessities of production and distribution—something we are today in the white race groping for as a dim but needed goal. It is simply social peace, not senseless and destructive economic war, that costs all sides more than they gain, in the mere ambition to control.

And today, as Spain struggles, the same Mexico and Yucatan are effectively giving scope and freedom to that age-long ingrained Indian principle of town community action; a system that through freedom to work and produce without being robbed, gives spur to the desire to learn how to work better, produce better, in—yes—social security. The peasant farmer, on his own land, educated to his station, does not have to deny 'God' because he goes to a local school to learn better how to treat his 'great mother' the land, or to work a motor. To the Indian, far more truly religious than we are, 'God' is the beneficent (and therefore divine) overruling force that shines on all and aids nature to produce, in her (and his) ceaseless struggle to produce and grow; for there can be no production without hard labor, nor growth without struggle. And the hardest of the struggle is with those who want to control others. All this is the problem of the town removals, and the López Ordinances; its natural revolt is in the Mexico of today, where she is after

p. vii

these same 400 years actually making her great Indian population (which is Mexico) a self-reliant farm citizenry, not economic (nor human) slaves, but an economic asset in a country of immense possibilities.

We have said that Landa's fame rests on two facts, the Auto at Maní and his book, the latter the incidental result of that Auto and its results. Both are monumental, in widely different yet connected ways. It is exactly these questions of ideology that are today at universal issue on the world stage. In our small research region we are trying to learn what we can of the great American past culture and civilization of the Maya race, to restore to view their forms of life and sciences before obscurity descended on them, by supposedly divinely ordered autos de fé. And the syllogism is complete, and it is not attacking religion to question history or use logic so as not to evade patent, or confessed facts that lie below the whole.

The Czar owned Russia, owned it; by law every acre, every thing, every person, belonged to him, to dispose of. With us the State, which is the corporate body of the whole people, has the same ultimate right in emergency to enlist all the people and impound all resources, for the common safety; the fountain of the law here, in England since the earliest days, and on the continent since the French Revolution, is the people. In the system of the Czar, of Metternich, of the Holy Roman Empire, and of Philip II and Spain, it rests on the assertion of divine right, in complete exclusivism through the keys of Peter. Thus the Proclamation required to be made by each Spanish captain on landing was not only utterly logical, but necessary. And, when each captain landed, Montejo or other, he believed fully in the legality of his act, and of that proclamation, harsh as it seems to us today. So also did Landa and López and their Franciscans, believe their acts (however abhorrent to our sensibilities today) were implacably necessary in order to root out the 'demon's' control over the Americas. The syllogism is simply:

God created the universe and the world, even to putting the salt into the rain-water to fill the lagoons on the north shore of Yucatan; therefore he owned it, and also made provision for its conduct and salvation, that identical thing which Landa in his epilogue calls the "justice and peace"!! that Spain brought to America. Then he appointed his Church to guide and govern it, not only factually but necessarily universal and exclusive. When Philip II issued his famous decree condemning at one stroke the entire population of Holland to death, he was entirely logical just as much so as when Mussolini, claiming the Mediterranean says there shall not be a center of opposite ideology maintaining itself at Barcelona. For there is only one possible answer to the principle of 'divine right' and that is the denial that it is of divine origin.

p. viii

We are told by all that in the oldest days, under the almost legendary Itzá rule, the Mayas worshipped One Supreme 'God,' formless, and without images. As to the Egyptian with his life-giving Nile, his wheat fields and Ra, the life-giving sun, to the American, 'god' was the ever-acting beneficent force above and behind nature, and life, life of every kind. The Mayas had two actual words that show this: bail is the physicality of things, and lail the 'inner essence,' in Spanish the ser interior, the inner being. Now when by centuries of slavery, and the wiping out of those who taught him in this, the ah-miatzil or scientists and the chilánes or proclaimers, you reduce his conception of 'God' to that of a being who gave him and his lands to the King of Spain, telling him that that is God, and there is no 'God' save that; then when after centuries of powerlessness and with all 'news' of any other view shut out, and kept out by the Bull of Paul III, given as in his favor, in 1537, he at last comes to the era of the científico rule under Díaz, is ground by it to the last degree of exploitation and loss of even the individual farm and town ownerships that had survived somehow through the 'years of darkness and evil' the Chumayel manuscript tells us about, and then revolts, nothing is more certain than that for a while he will revolt against the whole scheme, and for a while say "there is no God," as Job was urged to do. But you can no more make the Indian an atheist than his comforters could Job; it just cannot be done. And thus it is no more nor less than a sin against man to tell the Indian that his 'communalism,' his restored cooperative social order, which is social order, is 'communism,' the denial of private ownership, and atheism; the two concepts have no relation, except through the false syllogism of universality and exclusivism, to support the 'divine right' claim.

That the principle itself is at issue appears in our very present 'affaire Landa,' in the work of Molina Solis. Outside of Justin Winsor's Narrative and Critical History, we have hardly a work in the United States to compare with his on the History of Yucatan, for pure scholarship in the real sense, for fair and unbiassed treatment of his facts. Himself an element in the aristocratic Díaz régime, with his family made wealthy by the new-found 'green gold,' the sisal hemp that with cattle and sugar turned the last screws on Indian independence, he is unsparing in his Indemnation of Landa, both humanely and legally. And yet he defends and believes in the López Ordinances for the ecclesiastical regimentation of all Indian life, for the plain reason that he believed in that ideology. My personal remembrances of him are those of a charming scholar, a delightful man, and I imagine too a lovable man (not at all like Audomaro, who just was not). I think he was kindly (a rather rare quality), and that in his heart he worshipped that which we refer to as 'God,' but he wrapped it up, legalistically, in the keys of Peter; hence the accepted 'beneficence' of the López regulations. Of course he

p. ix

also thought of the Indians as a subject, certainly inferior race, really benefitted by having Spanish people in charge for the reformation of their lack of a civilized life.

As will appear somewhat in the Xiu Papers to follow in this volume, once the Landas and Pachecos had been curbed in their worst excesses (even by complete depopulation in much of eastern-Yucatan) and the Mayas, powerless, had accepted without forgetting, things did not go so unbearably badly in the back-waters of Yucatan; and even at the coming of colonial independence there came the Sanjuanistas, of white local blood, declaring that the country did and should belong to the Mayas. The uprising of 1847, Santa Ana and the seizure and sale of Mayas in Cuba to recoup quite cynically the State treasury, passed. But then came the needs of our modern machine and corporate age. In imitation of our Homestead Laws, to allow individual settlement on quarter sections of government lands, under Díaz came a patterned law of 'denunciation to private ownership of vacant lands.' But the object and results were different; any one could denounce any amount, by posting a notice in the near cabildo. Soon the Indian lands they had farmed individually or collectively from before the Conquest, passed before their owners had heard of the 'notice,' to create the great landed cattle ranches of the north, the hemp haciendas of Yucatan, the sugar lands of Morelos, where at the time of the Madero revolt practically every bit of arable land in the whole state was owned by a few great landholders, and the Church. And that struck the issue. Were there excesses? Of course; excessive abuse of concentrated power, and especially with the throttling power of greet corporate extension, affecting production and distribution on a nation-wide scale (whether divine-royal or business-corporate) always at the end brings excesses in the outburst. After which excesses subside, comes the conflict of ideologies.

It is thus by understanding Landa, the Proclamation and the Ordinances, and the town-burnings and removals of 15 50, that we can understand better their reactions today, on both continents: the one Spain took and failed to hold, and the one in which she fights in herself the same conflict of national ideas. People call them 'religious issues,' and make a religious war out of them, in defense of power just as they were in Yucatan; but they are not so in final fact, not matters of religion but only of dogma, on the surface, and of social and economic rights here on earth, where we have to live and work to produce.

It is also by seeing the same ideologies, supported by the same elements on the two sides, before us today, that we can further form a better idea of what the Yucatan of pre-Landa Mayadom was, and suffered. The story is implicit in the Map.

p. x

Our own view of the subject would not be complete, nor would we be historically just to Diego de Landa himself, did we not here give the legal grounds on which rested the ecclesiastical controversy that caused his being sent to Spain for trial before the Council. These are wholly clear, are disputed and attested by the surviving original documents and letters.

At the beginning Leo X and Adrian VI gave various privileges to the religious orders, whose members are usually referred to as los religiosos, 'the religious,' or members of the orders, as distinguished from the priests or regular clergy of the apostolic church; the first were fraters, friars, brothers of the Orders, the second were padres, fathers of their flocks. The Orders were governed by their custodians, provincials, and general; the second constituted the consecrated hierarchy, the priests, bishops and at their head the Supreme Pontiff, deriving in 'apostolic succession,' from the apostles, and in whose hands thus lay the 'power to bind and to loose,' to excommunicate and to absolve. This passing down of a consecrated succession is and always has been an essential part of any priesthood, Roman, Brahmanical, or 'pagan.' The religious orders, being of later human constitution. though accepted divine approval as 'missionary bodies,' with the task of conversion and teaching as a preparation for the consecration of baptism, did not share the 'apostolic' succession, as integral in the church constitution as is the principle of heredity in a peerage or monarchy. Thus in the Middle Ages when the system was complete, and unquestioned until the Reformation, and both spiritual and temporal sovereignty came through the single channel, the consecration by anointing of the monarch was as necessary upon his succession as it was to the bishop upon his appointment; and this is what gives point to the Provincial, Landa's message to Bishop Toral on his landing at Campeche in August 1562, that if he had been consecrated, he, Landa would recognize him; otherwise not. The following events, and the whole Landa controversy, with its far-reaching consequences, are only understandable in the light of the above facts.

These orders and privileges of Leo and Adrian were then amplified by Paul III, in the Bull of Feb. 15, 1535. Then later that year, in November the bishops of Mexico, Oaxaca and Guatemala met and wrote the Emperor to solicit the 'plenary authority' for them through his ambassador at Rome. This autoridad omnimoda, or plenary authority, then involved the right of the bishops, the consecrated apostolic body as above, to call on the civil power for aid in rooting out heresy, the particular task of the Holy Office, the Inquisition. It was the illegal assumption of this authority, especially when accompanied by such brutalities on the Indians, who were by ecclesiastical law not subject to the Inquisition, being 'infants in the faith,' just as minors

p. xi

of tender age are not under criminal but only paternal care, which sent Landa to Spain for trial.

The members of the orders had meanwhile been seeking for themselves special 'emergency' rights for the use of plenary authority in distant places, where the episcopal hierarchy was afar off or unavailable, or not yet appointed. (It corresponded quite to our own emergency legislation, sought 'even if of doubtful constitutionality,' on the basis of the 'public good,' and the hope that once granted it might somehow stick and come to justify itself, and be credited with returning prosperity, and the expulsion of the 'demon' of depression.) In the interval, however, in June 1537 Paul III sent out another Bull, especially in the Indians’ favor and protection. This concluded:

That under pain of excommunication by sentence carried, latae sententiae, no apostate shall presume to go to these parts (the Indies), so that the Indians be not infected and perverted by bad examples. The bishops shall see that all such apostates are expelled from their dioceses, that they may not deprave and deceive souls tender in the faith.

Elsewhere the 'apostates' are referred to as 'ateistas luteranos.' This rule that no apostate, and above all no 'judaizing heretic,' could come to or remain in Spanish America under penalty of expulsion or death, remained the law until colonial independence, and the same total intolerance was even one of the three major principles of the short Iturbide reactionary 'Empire' in Mexico. But also, it was this very Bull on which the religious friars sought to rest their emergency Inquisitional claims, by an interpretation they claimed as its necessary meaning and expansion. But in this they never gained their point, although over in Mexico a certain friar, one Augustin de la Coruba, hunting for a 'concealed' idol, assumed the autoridad omnimoda, constituted himself inquisitor, built a great fire in the plaza and threatened to burn the town governor and the whole town alive, unless they showed him the idol.

The matter then came to formal consideration, and on April 27, 1539, the four bishops met in Mexico, among other things took note of the claims by the friars to authority in derogation of the bishops, and ordered that whipping and flogging should not be used to enforce obedience to the church, or in matters of faith. All three of the Orders were also present, and signed the procedure. While this did not of course abolish the Inquisition itself, it put a definite ban on all the acts of the friars with which we have to do in the present work. This was then two years before the youth Diego de Landa entered the Franciscan order, at the age of 17; also before Montejo reached Ti-ho, established Merida, and "by the aid of the Xius of Maní, began the tributes." See besides the letter of this same Kukum, Montejo Xiu, the Lord of Maní, and others, to the king, in 1567.

p. xii

Nevertheless, in the Audiencia at Guatemala was the Franciscan, Tomás López, and Landa having procured copies of the above-mentioned Bulls of Leo and Adrian, the friars of his convent at Izamal reported to the Audiencia that in the service of God it was necessary that they have the aid of the public officials in punishing cases which the bishops were under obligation to take on, and they got from the Audiencia a decree allowing the friars to act in the bishop's place, in the matters in the said Bulls. This the friars did; appeals to Mexico were denied, on the ground that only appeal to Rome could be had. Landa also established prisons in the other convents than his own, and appointed judges of the Holy Office, ordering that they proceed por via de inquisición. On this then came on the events we are considering. Declaring himself "apostolic judge," (see above), and inquisitor under the said Bulls of 1535, he proceeded without process or previous informations, or any other steps, to imprison all Indians whom he thought might be guilty of idolatry. See the letter of the notary Contreras to Toral, that all this was without previous informations, and based on forced confessions under torture and fear of death; also his report on those killed under torture, with their names; also the many left without arms or hands to eat with, to say nothing of those who fled or hung themselves. And further the letter of Father Bienvenida on these events, and the letters herein at pages 119 to 125, for the effects on the country.

Then Toral arrived, himself a Franciscan, but officially as bishop. Lodged in a Franciscan convent he was so treated that he had to remove to the house of a civilian. Of his action we have told elsewhere; it is to be read in his letter to Bienvenida, commissary general of the Franciscans in Guatemala, and especially in Toral's letter of March 3, 1564, to the king, still in the royal archives (if Franco's guns have not yet destroyed them). Therein he says:

Most of the caciques imprisoned in the monastery at Mérida, and all of the towns in revolt. Remained to investigate until the end of April; freed the innocent from prison and sent them home, although many died in the city, and others when they got home, from the tortures imposed. Remitted the slavery of others, up to ten years service to Spaniards, as such slaves; also removed the sambenitos the friars had compelled them to wear. They had been condemned of things they were innocent of, solely on their own confessions under torture and fear of death; justice and right availed nothing, the cause being that the friars "were men of little learning and less charity "—pocas letras y menor caridad.

Landa, sent to Spain for trial, was condemned severely by the Council of the Indies, but his case was referred to a committee of learned doctors, including his own Tomás López, and after the necessary delays, he was absolved. Thus from 1562 to 1573 he remained in Spain, until, Toral having died in

p. xiii

[paragraph continues] Mexico as related above, in 1572 the "learned friar Diego," his work written, returned as bishop to his provincialate of Yucatan.

Then, still untamed, and "absolved," he again began his efforts for conversion, and the eradication of the ancient ways. First he sent Fuente Ovejuna out, who continued the floggings, "in matters of faith." Then himself followed with his own visits, resulting again in appeals for the Indians to Mexico for amparo, 'relief.' This the Royal Audiencia granted, on August 12, 1574, setting out therefor the royal cédula of four years before, before Landa had become bishop or left Spain, under date of Sept. 4, 1570, prohibiting the friars from having prison cells in the monasteries, shaving the heads or flogging, and ordering those held in prison set free.


In 1557 the conference at Maní took place, settling the boundaries of the western Maya chiefdoms, those of Maní, of Canul and Maxcanú, of those of Sotuta, and of Calotmul in Cochuah; see pages 132-4.


We have said above that all Indian life has been communal, in those activities that supply the essentials of existence, and also in those seasonal and other festivals that express them, become a full and socially satisfying part of the life and ways, and put joy into the labor of supplying these needs. This social order is founded on the natural use of nature's resources, adjusted to the environment; it creates the 'honorable tea, the honorable rice' of the Chinese, just as in more sophisticated communities it creates the afternoon tea without which life is not, to the Briton; it is the most conservative of all human forces, just because it is rooted in nature herself, and you can change the external expression of religion easier than you can shift this; it obeys the Galton law and becomes the personality of the local life, because it is the local life. It renders obeisance to the earth, the waters and the sky by which the community lives.

Now the food of the Indian race, at least of North and Middle America, is maize, which quickly exhausts the nitrogen, and in the usual milpa agriculture of burning over, and without restorative crop rotations to renew the soil (such as the new education of the Mexican rural Government schools is now introducing) requires long fallow periods of grown-up 'bush,' and changes of site. Thus for more centuries than our history knows, the agricultural town units of this region have had town-owned communal districts, called their ejidos, sufficient for, and near enough to, the town to whose members belongs the right of use. With those town-lands, the Indian is a freeman; take them away as was done in the reachable and exploitable parts of Mexico under the Díaz period, the people become wage-paid serfs of the soil and the hacienda. They must take what is offered them, take what is done to them,

p. xiv

or try to escape (where?) and leave the place that has been home to them and theirs. But that home stability, as with the French peasant whose ancestors have farmed the land he still owns, or the Chinese in like case, for actually hundreds and many hundreds of years, spells sturdy strength and peace, with a genuine reverence for the sun and the soil and the waters; break it up, and it spells the unrest of him who has no home to keep him, with the pleasure of its building and its keeping, and its protection, to him, and by him; and then in necessary sequence, however delayed, revolt.

One Maya town I have at various times visited, the one in fact which sent forth its surplus to found other town units (among them Chan-kom, or 'Little Valley'), held its town titles, known and recorded in its own archives, each by name, to twenty-seven such ejidos. Now take that picture, and those facts in mind, and consider the unspeakable sudden uprootings of the townsfolk, houses and goods burned over their heads that six, seven, thirteen even, such self-sustaining towns might be moved to "more convenient doctrination" centers and be at hand to build the convents on the sites of their ancient shrines. It is there that lies the inner story of Landa's Yucatan, "before and after the conquest," as he found it, and as he left it, in the fragmentary story of the thirty years from ’49 to ’79, to which this volume is devoted.


The original manuscript of Landa's Relation has long disappeared; as shown by the irregular numbering of the chapters (practically none of whose headings are in the manuscript we have, but are due to Brasseur and for their convenience have been kept) and references to omitted statements or sections, it must have been materially longer. The copy we have is a shortened transcript, although bearing what is quite surely the original date of the year it was written, 1566; see for the evidence of this the chapter on the annual calendar.


The present copy also had long been unknown until it was discovered in Madrid by the untiring Brasseur de Bourbourg, to whom we owe the preservation of more original documents on Maya, or Mayance, languages and history than we do to all others combined. It was translated, annotated, with a long introduction, by him in Paris in 1864. This however stopped at sec. XLII, on the Edifices.


A new annotated French translation was published in 1928-9, but it also, due to the untimely death of its scholarly editor Jean Genet, stopped with sec. XLI, on the system of writing. Two Spanish, unannotated editions appeared, one in Madrid in 1884 as an appendix in a now very scarce volume containing a translation of a work by the French Americanist, Léon de Rosny,

p. xv

and the other in the second volume of the Relaciones de Yucatan, to which we refer at length in our final chapter on the period from ’49 to ’79. No edition has yet appeared in English.


The illustrations herein have been drawn from whatever sources were apt and available. Some are from unpublished photographs by Teoberto Maler, taken 50 years ago, which I have had for over twenty years; most of the small marginals from the Dresden and Madrid hieroglyphic codices, with a few from the Aztec; the two of structures at Maní were redrawn after Catherwood; others from illustrations we have courteously been allowed to use by the American Museum of Natural History, the University Museum at Philadelphia, and the U. S. National Museum, who have with a very gracious liberality taken for me photographs of many objects needed to illustrate artifacts, models, etc.; also the like courtesies shown by the Field Museum, the Carnegie Institution at Washington, Mr. T. A. Willard of Beverly Hills, and Major George Oakley Totten of Washington. To Dr. Elizabeth Stewart finally, I owe the identification of the Maya plant names appearing in the text.

Next: Map