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PART I: Chapter 1

THIS IS THE ACCOUNT OF HOW ALL WAS in suspense, all calm, in silence; all motionless, still, and the expanse of the sky was empty.

This is the first account, the first narrative. There was neither man, nor animal, birds, fishes, crabs, trees, stones, caves, ravines, grasses, nor forests; there was only the sky.

The surface of the earth had not appeared. There was only the calm sea and the great expanse of the sky.

There was nothing brought together, nothing which could make a noise, nor anything which might move, or tremble, or could make noise in the sky.

There was nothing standing; only the calm water, the placid sea, alone and tranquil. Nothing existed.

There was only immobility and silence in the darkness,

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in the night. Only the creator, the Maker, Tepeu, Gucumatz, the Forefathers, 1 were in the water surrounded with light. 2 They were hidden under green and blue feathers, and were therefore called Gucumatz. 3 By nature they were great sages and great thinkers. 4 In this manner the sky existed and also the Heart of Heaven, which is the name of God and thus He is called.

Then came the word. Tepeu and Gucumatz came together in the darkness, in the night, and Tepeu and Gucumatz talked together. 5 They talked then, discussing and deliberating; they agreed, they united their words and their thoughts.

Then while they meditated, it became clear to them that when dawn would break, man must appear. 6 Then they planned the creation, and the growth of the trees and the thickets and the birth of life and the creation of man. Thus it was arranged in the darkness and in the night by the Heart of Heaven who is called Huracán.

The first is called Caculhá Huracán. The second is Chipi-Caculhá. The third is Raxa-Caculhá. And these three are the Heart of Heaven. 7

Then Tepeu and Gucumatz came together; then they conferred about life and light, what they would do so that there would be light and dawn, 8 who it would be who would provide food and sustenance.

Thus let it be done! Let the emptiness be filled! 9 Let the water recede and make a void, let the earth appear and become solid; let it be done. Thus they spoke. Let there be light, let there be dawn in the sky and on the earth! There shall be neither glory nor grandeur in our creation and formation until the human being is made, man is formed. So they spoke.

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Then the earth was created by them. So it was, in truth, that they created the earth. Earth! they said, and instantly it was made.

Diego Rivera (1886-1957)
The Creation [Illustration for Popol Vuh], ca. 1931

Like the mist, like a cloud, and like a cloud of dust was the creation, when the mountains appeared from the water; 10 and instantly the mountains grew.

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Only by a miracle, only by magic art were the mountains and valleys formed; and instantly the groves of cypresses and pines put forth shoots together on the surface of the earth. 11

And thus Gucumatz was filled with joy, and exclaimed: "Your coming has been fruitful, Heart of Heaven; and you, Huracán, and you, Chipi-Caculhá, Raxa-Caculhá!"

"Our work, our creation shall be finished," they answered.

First the earth was formed, the mountains and the valleys; the currents of water were divided, the rivulets were running freely between the hills, and the water was separated when the high mountains appeared.

Thus was the earth created, when it was formed by the Heart of Heaven, the Heart of Earth, as they are called who first made it fruitful, when the sky was in suspense, and the earth was submerged in the water.

So it was that they made perfect the work, when they did it after thinking and meditating upon it.


6:1 p. 199 E Alom, literally, those who conceive and give birth, e Qaholom, those who beget the children. In order to follow the conciseness of the text here I translate the two terms as the "Forefathers."

6:2 They were in the water because the Quiché associated the name Gucumatz with the liquid element. Bishop Núñez de la Vega says that Gucumatz is a serpent with feathers, which moves in the water. The Cakchiquel Manuscript says that one of the primitive peoples which migrated to Guatemala was called Gucumatz because their salvation was in the water.

6:3 E qo vi e mucutal pa guc pa raxón. Guc or q'uc, kuk in Maya, is the bird now called quetzal (Pharomacrus mocinno); the same name is given to the beautiful green feathers which cover this bird's tail; in Náhuatl they are called quetzalli. Raxón, or raxom, is another bird with sky-blue plumage, according to Basseta; it is a bird with "chestnut-colored breast and blue wings," according to the Vocabulario de los Padres Franciscanos. In the common native language of Guatemala it is called ranchón, the Cotinga amabilis, a turquoise blue bird with purple breast and throat, which the Mexicans call Xiuhtototl. The feathers of these tropical birds, which abound especially in the region of Verapaz, were worn as decorations in the ceremonials by the kings and noblemen from the most ancient Maya times.

6:4 E nimac etamanel, e nimac ahnaoh, in the original.

6:5 X chau ruq ri Tepeu, Gucumatz. Here the word ruq indicates the reciprocal form of the verb.

6:6 Ta x-calah puch vinac. With the conciseness of the Quiché language, the author says how the idea was clearly born in the minds of the Makers, how the necessity for creating man, the ultimate and supreme being of the creation, was revealed to them, according to the philosophy of the Quiché. Brasseur de Bourbourg interprets this phrase as follows: "et au moment de l'aurore, l'homme se manifesta." This interpretation is erroneous; the idea of creating man was conceived then, but as will be seen farther on in the account, it was not actually carried out until a much later time.

6:7 Huracán, a leg; Caculhá Huracán, flash of a leg or the lightning; Chipi-Caculhá, p. 200 small flash. This is Ximénez' interpretation. The third, Raxa-Caculhá, is the green flash, according to the same author; and, according to Brasseur de Bourbourg, it is the lightning or thunder. The adjective rax has, among other meanings, that of "sudden" or "instantly." In Cakchiquel Rax-haná-hih is lightning. Nevertheless, despite all this, in both Quiché and Cakchiquel, racan means "large" or "long. "According to Father Coto, it means a long thing, rope, etc. And also giant (hu racán),"a name which applies to every animal which is larger than others of its species," Father Coto adds. These ideas agree with the form of the flash and the lightning as it is drawn in the sky. The Caribs of the West Indies adopted the name huracán to designate other natural phenomena equally destructive, and the word was later incorporated into modern languages. See Brinton, Essays of an Americanist.

6:8 Hupachá ta ch'auax-oc, ta zaquiró puch. Here and in other places in this book, Ximénez and Brasseur de Bourbourg confuse the form of the Quiché verb auax, auaxic, which corresponds to the verb and substantive "dawn," with auan, "plant," and auix, the "cornfield." The Maya language has the word ahalcab which means "dawn," "break of day," and ahan cab, "it has already dawned," from ahal, "awaken." In olden times the two verbs "to sow" and "to dawn" were also very similar in Maya. According to the Diccionario de la lengua maya by José Pío Pérez, oc cah is to sow grain or seed, and ah cah cab, to dawn, to make light. It is curious to observe that the Maya cognate was preserved in the ancient Quiché; and it seems probable that these analogous forms in the Maya and the Quiché had a common root.

6:9 Qu'yx nohin-tah.

6:10 X-ta pe pa ha ri huyub, the mountains came, or emerged from the water. The similarity of the words x-ta pe with tap, "crab," suggested to Ximénez the comparison of the mountains with the crab. Brasseur de Bourbourg followed him in this. Nevertheless, the sentence could not be clearer.

6:11 Xaqui naual, xaqui puz x-banatah vi. The expression puz naual is used to indicate the magic power to create or transform one thing into another. Puz naual haleb, says Father Barela, was the sorcery used by the Indians to transform themselves into balls of fire, eagles, and animals.

Next: I. Chapter 2