The Popol Vuh is the most important source of information on the mythology of the ancient Maya. A sacred book of the Quiché Maya of Guatemala, it was written down in the mid-1500s. A Spanish priest discovered the Popol Vuh manuscript in the early 1700s. After copying the text, he translated it into Spanish.
The Popol Vuh is divided into five parts. The first contains an account of the creation of the world and of the failed attempts to produce proper human beings. The second and third parts tell of the adventures of the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Xbalanqúe, and their forebears. The last two parts deal with the issue of creating humans from corn and then tell the story of the Quiché people, from the days before their history began to accounts of tribal wars and records of rulers up until 1550.
Creation of the World. At the beginning of time, the gods Hurucan and Gugumatz (also known as Quetzalcoatl) shaped the earth and its features and raised the sky above it. The gods then placed animals on the earth, hoping that they would sing the praises of the gods.
When the gods discovered that the animals could not speak, they tried again to make a creature that could praise its creator. Hurucan and Gugumatz called on the ancestral beings Xpiacoc and Xmucane to help, and together they created men of mud. However, these creatures talked endlessly and dwindled away. Next the gods fashioned humans out of wood. These beings populated the earth but soon forgot about their creators. The angry gods sent floods and various objects to destroy them.
The Hero Twins. In Part Two of the Popol Vuh, Hunahú and Xbalanqúe appear and take on the self-important Vucub-Caquix, as well as his sons, Zipacna and Earthquake. Using blowpipes the twins knocked out Vucub-Caquix's jeweled teeth, which gave him his radiance. Vucub-Caquix accepted corn as a replacement for his teeth. But because he could not eat with his corn teeth and because they did not shine, he was defeated.
In Part Three of the Popol Vuh, the story goes back to an earlier time to Hun-Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú, the father and uncle of the Hero Twins. These two disturbed the lords of Xibalba, the underworld, with their constant ball playing. The lords commanded the brothers to come to the underworld for a contest. Tricked by the lords, the brothers lost the contest and, as a result, were sacrificed and buried in the ball court. However, the head of Hun-Hunahpú remained unburied and was placed in a tree.
A young goddess named Xquic heard of a strange fruit in a tree and went to see it. The fruit was actually the head of Hun-Hunahpú, which spat in her hand and made her pregnant. She later gave birth to the Hero Twins. Hun-Hunahpú already had another set of twins, Hun Batz and Hun Chuen, who resented their baby brothers. When the Hero Twins grew old enough, they outsmarted the older twins and turned them into monkeys.
The Hero Twins became great ballplayers, as their father and uncle had been, and one day the lords of Xibalba summoned them to the underworld for a contest. The twins saw this as an opportunity to avenge their father's death. Challenged to a series of trials, they passed every one they were given. They survived a night in the House of Cold, escaped death in the House of Jaguars, and passed unharmed through the House of Fire. They almost met defeat in the House of Bats, when a bat cut off Hunahpú's head. The lords of Xibalba took the head to the ball court as a trophy, but Xbalanqúe managed to return the head to his brother and restore him.
underworld land of the dead
immortal able to live forever
Knowing they were immortal, the Hero Twins now allowed the lords of Xibalba to defeat and "kill" them. Five days later, the twins reappeared, disguised as wandering performers, and entertained the lords with amazing feats. In one of these feats, Xbalan-qúe sacrificed Hunahpú and then brought him back to life. Astounded, the lords of Xibalba begged to be sacrificed themselves. The Hero Twins agreed to the request but did not restore the lords of Xibalba to life. The twins then dug up the bodies of their father and uncle and brought them back to life.
History. The final two parts of the Popol Vuh tell how the ancestral couple once again tried to make humans who would praise the gods. The four men they created from maize became the founders of the Quiché Maya. These people praised their creators and flourished. The generations that followed them are listed in the closing section of the Popol Vuh.