Mayan Folklore

2019 February 2019 History Kirby Vickery

By Kirby Vickery from the February 2019 Edition

When I get into any Mesoamerican mythology, the first thing I latch onto is a tribe’s, or (to borrow a Canadian term) First Nation’s creation story. They are often full of woe, hardship, blood, war, guts, and death. It is as if all these most powerful gods couldn’t get it right the first time so they would have a lot of their early work destroyed, only to be replaced by better work [?].

The Mayan were no different. The Mayan’ Popol Vuh ends up killing and maiming entire worlds of people. Some of it so bloody that I won’t re-tell it for fear of nightmares. I know that there are softer sides to these mythological stories when one digs a little deeper. There are a host of short stories and parables. A lot of them are about animals.

Try this one out:

The Story of the Hummingbird

When Halach-Uinic, the Great Spirit, got around to creating all the different animals and other living things for man’s enjoyment and support, he concentrated on one small bird to make her his favorite. Tzunuum was the smallest of birds. She could fly backwards, hover in one spot for several minutes and ate nothing but flower honey.

She was brave and excitable yet very tiny and delicate. But, most of all, she had a personality very pleasing to all, except to the other hummingbirds, and the whole forest, as well as all the gods and spirits, loved her. Even though Tzunuum was dressed with a very drab set of feathers, because of her outgoing, positive, and yet humble, nature, no one really cared and she was most happy darting about keeping others happy, too.


                                                  The Azar Tree
  Vain Motmot

One day she announced that she was getting married to the spirits and to all the forest flora and fauna. Some of the other animals became concerned that she didn’t have a wedding dress and got some living things together to solve her problem. The Motmot donated her long tail feathers to be used to help make Tzunuum’s wonderful wedding gown.

Not to be outdone, Ya (a Crowned Flycatcher) donated a lot, but not all, of her bright crimson throat feathers, leaving her with just a ring. The Blue Bird known, then, as Uchilche, gave into the mix several of her blue feathers. The Cardinal thought a bright contrasting color would look nice and donated several of her red feathers.

And, so as to not be left out, the prideful Yumyum Oriole took on the responsibilities of putting it all together as she was known as a weaver and something of an engineer. With the help of Ah-leum’s talents, and gossamer spider webbing, they also formed a gorgeous veil.

Not to be out done by the animals, the trees voted for the Azar tree to drop all of its leaves for a nice soft but colorful area to hold the reception while Canac, the honey bee, put the…Mayan Folklore, Kirby Vickery’s version

The Gift From Ah-leum

word out to all of her sisters and cousins to provide the sweet honey repast for all the wedding guests.

Everything was put together and the entire forest surprised our little friend and she was so thrilled. The spirits were also pleased, and the Great Spirit was so happy to see how Tzunuum looked, due to her happiness, that he allowed her to wear her wedding dress every day from then on.

or Puhay Puhay

The Mayan Great Spirit, Halach-Uinic, liked to wander through his creation of the forests and simply enjoy the feel, smell, sight and sound of it. Although, of late, he had started to hear some discouragement among the birds. There was a growing squawking sound as they were sitting about arguing over things that didn’t matter or that they had no control over. “A little bit of this is fine and to be expected,” he said to, Naguel, the Jaguar. “I’m starting to not like my daily walks because of that raucous screeching argument coming out of my trees.” Naguel could only think of capturing a couple of the big ones for a fine dinner meal but he said nothing.

The next day Halach-Uinic called all the birds together and announced “all this bickering has to stop. You are ruining my forest creation and I can’t have that. I have decided that what you need is a little law and order among yourselves. Some simple social guidelines would do it. In order for that to happen, you need some local authority whom I will support and that should do it.

So, you will need to elect a King to govern and I will leave you to it. I will have Muwan, the Screech Owl, monitor your meeting to make sure everything is fair.” Muwan called the meeting to order when all the birds had gathered the following day and formed a ring in which volunteers for kingship could enter and plead their cases.

The first one to push his way into the circle was old Cutz, the wild turkey. His coloring was much the same as it is today, and he was every bit as big as any turkey anyone had ever seen.

“I am the biggest and strongest bird in the forest. I’m capable of defending any against bullying and can stop all this fighting. I should be elected as your King.” Muwan added a few words about his strength but doubted his intelligence. There were a number of other birds that agreed with him, especially when it became publicly known that these ‘Cutz’ had problems making X-Chol-Col-Chek the tropical mockingbird pushed herself, went into the ring and announced, in a loud high-pitched song she had obviously made up, “I am bright of plumage. I am smart. I am bold. And, I can sing like this all day,” she trilled out, blasting those close to the ring. Now, it is true that she had a wonderful voice and even got some applause from some of the other birds when she finished. The old owl muttered something about lacking substance and originality, and she was dismissed with her head hanging low.

A bright red Cardinal stepped into the ring and announced, in a high shrill voice that “I am the perfect answer for a king or queen because I am so beautiful and can command everyone’s attention.” He turned and strutted around the ring until he came face to face with the owl. All Muwan did was to frown and point to the stairs that led off into the crowd then, as he gaveled the meeting closed for the day, X-Chol-Col-Chek…Mayan Folklore, Kirby Vickery’s version
dragged himself off into some little corner until he regained his own cheery spirit and danced the rest of the way out of the forum.

Now Kukul, the Quetzal, was ambitious, smart, and a proud and elegant bird. But he knew that he was dressed in shoddy, dull and uninteresting plumage. He also knew that, if he wanted to be elected, he needed an edge over Tz’Ikb’Uul the Mayan Crow (or Cuervo in Spanish) who was also smart, outspoken, and dressed deliciously in black. He had noticed that the black bird was also waiting to get up in the circle.


Today’s Quetzal
As the place emptied out, he caught sight of Xtuntun-Kinil, the roadrunner, who was all dressed out in her finery, oh so colorful and bold. He caught up to her and said, “We need to talk.” “Look,” Kukul ended his long passionate spiel well after the place was empty. “All I need is to borrow some of your plumage and, with the rest of my attributes, I will be designated King of the Birds. Then I will split all my glory and rewards with you, forever.”

But the roadrunner wasn’t convinced and turned to walk away. Something kept telling Xtuntun-Kinil that Kukul wasn’t a bird to trust and continued to walk away. “I know,” he yelled after her, “that you could bring it off all by yourself because you are so bright and smart. But, with your duties as the Gods’ messenger – I would take this King job for you and still let you bask in the glory.” The brightly colored roadrunner just kept going.

After a few minutes down the road, Xtuntun-Kinil saw her brightly tropical sunset-colored theme decorated chest feathers fade into nothingness. Then she saw her bright four-foot-long

blue and emerald tail feathers shorten up and change into a darker brown and then disappear completely. This all happened because Kukul completely stole the roadrunner’s gallant plumage, one feather at a time, to include in his bill, turning it a bright corn yellow.

The next morning, when it was Kukul’s turn to enter the circle, it all ended quickly. Muwan called the place to order, took one look at Kukul and turned to Halach-Uinic, the head Spirit and said, “this one.” Halach-Uinic agreed with the owl and issued his proclamation: “Kukul, I hereby grant you the kingship of birds, with all the privileges and rights that go with it.” And, with that, he was established as the King of Birds. Kukul really didn’t need all that bright plumage anymore but, because he was kept very busy being King of the Birds, he kept putting the return of those feathers off, again and again, until he forgot all about it completely.

As the forum emptied out again, there were several friends of the roadrunner that hadn’t seen her at all since the night before. They became worried and set out looking for her. She was eventually found huddling in some corner, deep in the shade of the morning sun. They discovered that she was naked, cold and shaking.

One of these birds gave her some tail feathers of a muddy brown color. Another a chest full of downy feathers which were a lighter brown but flaked with tiny spots. This went on until Xtuntun-Kinil was again fully clothed but in nothing but dull and dun colored browns and darker browns.

Today you can find her running through the country roads muttering to herself over and over: “Puhay, Puhay.” Which, translated into English, means: “Where is he? Where is he?”

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