THE CAKCHIQUEL MS.
The Annals of the Cakchiquels
Now here is an "Atlantis" story if there ever was one! The Cakchiquel people came to the Valley of Mexico "from across the sea," from an island which was dominated by a volcano and a snow-capped (white) mountain! From there they migrated, en masse, eventually coming to Tulán in Central Mexico, settling for a time there. Sounds great, doesn't it?
Daniel G. Brinton (1880s), was the first American to translate "The Annals of the Cakchiquels" directly from the original Cakchiquel Maya text. However, I will use the later translation of Adrián Recinos and Delia Goetz (1953) as a basis for the following discussion. Most, if not all, of the Indian tribes of Mesoamerica migrated originally from some "mythical" point of origin to a place in Mexico called Tulán, before spreading out into the various areas of Mexico, Yucatán, Honduras, and Guatemala.
But only a few pages later it gets a little confusing to one who is not a professional Mayanist. Initially the text seems to indicate that there are four Tuláns in all; and moreover (and worst of all for atlantologists) that they crossed the sea, from the West, before arriving at Tulán. We would have expected, as in the Popol Vuh, for them to have come from the Eastfrom the direction of Atlantis.
Then we learn (from a long footnote) that all is not as appears on the surface. I had learned of Ferdinand d'Alva's translation of the Cakchiquel MS. (1658) over fifty years ago; but this later, more modern, translation was shocking to say the least! However, the shock was softened when I read the long explanation (only about one-third of which is reproduced here) given by the modern translators of this puzzling passage. A portion of the explanation reads as follows:
"It is clear that the author wished to name this site as the origin of the four groups of people that arrived at Tulán (not those who came from Tulán, as translators mistakenly read). This passage is sometimes interpreted as meaning that there were of old four places called Tulán. Omitting the Tula where God is and the Tula of Xibalbay, dominions of Heaven and Hell, would leave two centers from which the Meso-american races originated. Historical documents, nevertheless, mention only one city of this name." (Resinos & Goetz, 1953) Allow me to add that, archeologically we know of only one Tula.
Now let's take a look at d'Alva's rendition of this same passage: "Four persons came from Tulán, from the direction of the rising sunthat is one Tulán. There is another Tulán in Xibalbay, and another where the sun sets, and it is there that we came, in the direction of the setting sun; and there is another, where is the god." (d'Alva, 1658; italics are mine) Notice, d'Alva's version describes a migration from an "eastern" Tulán which arrived at a Tulán located "in the direction of the setting sun".
Chac, God of the Deluge
Ignatius Donnelly interpretes the passage to mean that of the two real (earthly) Tulás, one was the place of origin and the other was the destination (Donnelly, 1882). No doubt the Quiché passage is troublesome, otherwise no long explanation would have been necessary. However, this is the only interpretation which stands up to historical reality as well as the other literary sources, such as the Popol Vuh. It wouldn't be the first time the name of a place of origin was carried along with the people and re-applied to their achieved destination. Thus, it seems to be a matter of interpretation, and in this case I am inclined to favor that of d'Alva. The following item lends credence to such an interpretation.
This, rather oblique, piece of information comes from one of the historical songs or chants of the Lenni-Lenapi, or Delaware Indians living along the Delaware River. After placing the events in a time very long ago, at the first land beyond the great ocean, their Song of the Flood rings out: "Much water rushing, much to the hills, much penetrate, much destroying. Meanwhile at Tula, at that island, Nana-Bush becomes the ancestor of beings and men." (Rafinesque, 1836) In other words, this source calls Tula an island, and locates it "beyond the great ocean," which could refer to a possible submerged original, or "lost" Tula.
Reading a little further in the Annals, we learn that the Quichés (said here to consist of only seven tribes) arrived first; and that sometime later the Cakchiquels (thirteen tribes*) arrived in Tulán. In regard to the Flood, Francisco Ximénez says that similar ideas could have been present among the Cakchiquels: "What these people said about the flood was also attested at Guatemala by Achi Indians (these are the Cakchiquels) who had it painted [in Codices] among their other antiquities . . ." (Ximénez, 1929-31)
It seems to me that the only way of reconciling the apparently contradictory translations of the sacred traditions of the various Maya sources is to look at them collectively (that is, in their entirety), rather than individually (especially when we have alternate translations representing a given document), and do what we can to sensibly harmonize them. Only in this way can we derived a consistent account from this apparent confusion.
* Oxlahuh chob ka vukamag, oxlahu chob ka ahlabal. The number thirteen was a favorite of the Mayas and their descendants, who probably considered it lucky. The Popol Vuh states unequivocally that there were thirteen branches of the people who "came from the East" (oxlahu u go amag). Thirteen is also a prominant number in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, the Dresden Codex, and other Mayan texts.
Copyright © 2010 by R. Cedric Leonard