THE MAYAN FLOOD

Extracts from the Books of Chilam Balam




Of the various Mayan writings telling of catastrophes and floods, this is my pick of the lot. It seems to contains elements which go far beyond a mere flood, such as subterranean fires, land sinking, the shifting of the "face of the Heavens", etc. Some of these elements are more indicative of a violent shift in the axis of the planet than a mere downpouring of rain (as in the biblical story of Noah's flood), and I am inclined to think that these would be the very elements accompanying the demise of Atlantis.

Since some of the most well-known and well-accepted translations may be somewhat abstruse for the average reader, I have reversed the usual proceedure of leaving untranslated Quiché words in the text with footnotes at the bottom (as per Roys, 1967); instead I have chosen to use more recognizable English words in the text where possible, and to place the original words in brackets—which makes for a far more readable (and intelligible) text.

Among the Maya groups that left behind written records we find various accounts of a great flood that wiped out the previous world and allowed the creation of a new cosmological order. Bartolomí de Las Casas (1967) mentions that among the Quiché Maya people from Verapaz there was a story about a flood, and the end of the world, which they called Butic, meaning a "deluge of many waters". Other than that of Chumayel, only the texts of Mani, Tizimin, Kaua, Ixil, and Tusik have survived.

The value of The Books of Chilam Balam rests in the fact that they were written by Quiché Maya authors, mostly in the Quiché language (using Roman characters) shortly after the Spanish conquest, and thus does not entail the problems normally experienced when attempting a translation from Mayan hieroglyphics.* The translation below is influenced by the Spanish translation of Mayanist Prof. A. M. Bolio (1930). Here, then, is the English translation of the Quiché text.

FROM THE BOOK OF CHILAM BALAM OF CHUMAYEL

"It was during the Eleventh Ahau Katún when Ah Mucencab came forth and obscured the face of the Heavens [Oxlahun-ti-Ku] . . . It [the eclipse] occurred when the whole Earth began to awaken, but nobody knew what was to happen. Suddenly the Underworld Fires [Bolon-ti-Ku] seized the Heavens, and fire rained down, and ashes descended, and rocks and trees fell down, and wood and stone smashed together. Then the Heavens were seized and split asunder, the face of the Heavens [Oxlahun-ti-Ku] was buffeted back and forth . . . and thrown on its back . . . After that the fatherless, the miserable ones and the widows were all pierced through [the Tizímin and Mani versions say: "torn to pieces"]: they were all living when their hearts were stopped. And they were buried in the sand beneath the waves.

"And in one great sudden rush of water their Great Serpent [Canhel] was ravished from the Heavens [Oxlahun-ti-Ku] . The sky fell down and the dry land sank, when the four gods, the four Bacabs arose, who had brought about the annihilation of the world.**

"After the destruction was complete . . . the four pillars of the sky [Bacab trees] were re-established . . . And the Great Mother Seiba rose amidst recollections of the destruction of the Earth." (Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, ch. x)

An "eclipse" preceeded the unleashing of the watery cataclysm, and the forthcoming re-erection of the "sky pillars" (Bacab trees) immediately afterward indicates that a cycle of world destruction and renewal had been completed, as noted by Taube (1995). And just as in the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, when the Creator-god Marduk lances the cosmic dragon Tiamat, splitting it asunder, using its carcass as material for the universe; likewise in the Tizimin and Mani texts, a Cosmic Crocodile is decapitated initiating a flood, after which its body is used as material for the new cosmos.

Having compared several of these ancient Chilam Balam texts with one another, Mayanist Erik Velásquez García provides the following information:

"An important passage contained in the Chilam Balam book of Tizimín and Maní describes how the flood was pre-ceeded by an eclipse and caused by a pluvial and celestial caiman [crocodile], whose head was severed in order to build the new cosmological order out of its dismembered remains. . . This passage confirms what is told in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, in the sense that B'olon ti' K'uh and the cthonic [terrestrial] forces of the Underworld were the agents that brought down the skies . . . this text satisfactorily explains the presence of eclipse hieroglyphs that we can appreciate in the Postclassical scenes of the flood. . . ." (García, UNAM; bracketed words added)

García then quotes a translated passage (Craine & Reindorp, 1979) from The Book of Chilam Balam of Maní as contained in the Pérez Codex:

"[In the reign of Ahau 13 and Ahau 1 were the days and nights that fell without order and pain was felt throughout the land because of this] Oxlahun ti Ku [the thirteen gods] and Bolon ti Ku [the nine gods] created the world and life: there was also born Itzam Cab Ain [Iguana earth crocodile]. [Ah Mensencob] turned the Petén and the sky upside down, and Bolon ti Ku raised up Itzam Cab Ain; there was a great cataclysm, and the ages ended with a flood." (Bracketed words in the above are per Garcia's published text.)

Now the Oxlahun ti Ku are literally the 13 gods of the Heavens, which are in this case and in others treated as one deity; in like manner the Bolon ti Ku are literally the 9 gods of the subterranean fires, but are also grouped as one in this text. I should point out that Atlantis is never mentioned in any of these texts; so, while any such connection would be pure speculation, there is no doubt among Mayan scholars that these texts do indeed represent widespread Mayan traditions of a universal cataclysm—a fact long denied by scholars.

So, are the above accounts much different in content than the controversial (and previously dismissed) translations of Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg and Dr. Augustus LePlongeon of the hieroglyphic texts, the Codex Troano and Codex Cortesianus? What say the scholars?

"Comparative analysis of hieroglyphic texts . . . has made it possible to verify the diachronic and geographical persistence of a basic core of Maya beliefs, related to a destruction of a previous world by flooding, a cataclysm that allowed the construction of a new cosmological order. Beyond this, the myth of the great flooding . . . in the Books of Chilam Balam . . . in the Dresden Codex [a hieroglyphic text] and the colonial sources that followed, the liquid can be identified as water. On the other hand, the eclipse that served as a preamble to the flooding does not seem to be present in the Palenque version (platform of Temple XIX), while the names of gods and entities that appear in all these accounts are also different." (García, UNAM)

The above is quite an admission on the part of scholars that the hieroglyphic texts are not dealing "only with almanacs and calendars" as was once claimed, but deal also with cataclysms and floods. So it seems the Abbé de Bourbourg and Dr. LePlongeon's translations of the Mayan glyphs may not be so far off after all. However, rest assured that any future translations of these texts will be done in the same obscure, unintelligable style as we find in today's scholarly tomes (Roys, 1967; Craine & Reindorp, 1979, et al.).

A significant number of authors writing on the subject of Atlantis have included excerpts from the Troano MS. as translated by the Mayanists Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg and/or Dr. Augustus LePlongeon. And although both translations have been basically dismissed by the world of Mayan scholars, one thing seems clear: these texts do seem to be recording a great cataclysm or deluge. Of course, we know now that Cortesianus and Troano are parts of the same codex which inadvertantly became separated.

In one of its vignettes, Codex Tro-cortesianus clearly portrays the Mayan hieroglyph for "land" or "country" being sacrificed on an altar, flames leaping up around it, with the four Bacabs shown as definitely being a part of the event. The Dresden Codex significantly portrays the god Itzamna in the form of a monstrous celestial serpent pouring out the waters of the Great Flood on the earth (chapter 9 "torrential downpour"; Thompson, 1972) The only thing lacking is the mention of Atlantis by name.

NOTES

*Only four Mayan hieroglyphic manuscripts have survived the organized book-burnings of the Franciscan missionaries following the Spanish Conquest. The collection includes the Codex Dresden, the Codex Tro-Cortesianus (Madrid Codex), and the Codex Peresianus (Paris Codex). The recently (1971) discovered Grolier Codex is the fourth one. J. Eric S. Thompson has argued that the books Cortés sent to the Spanish court as gifts were Mayan. The variant name Tro-Cortesianus is a result of the early separation of the manuscript into two parts, the first part (pages 22-56 and 78-112) being known as Troano for its first owner, Juan Tro y Ortolano, and the second (pages 1-21 and 57-77) being known as Cortesianus. [Back]

**Pedro Beltran de Santa Rosa Maria (1746) defines the Maya word Canhel as "dragon". In the Chumayal text canhel is written cangel even though g is almost never employed in writing a Maya word (Roys, 1967). Roys believes the writer may have associated the word with the Christian concept of "angel". [Back]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Beltran, Pedro, Arte del idioma Maya reducido a succintas reglas y semi-lexicon, Yucateco, Mexico, Merida, 1746.
Bolio, Antonio Mediz, Libro de Chilam Balam de Chumayel, Imprenta y Libreria Lehmann (Sauter & Co.), Costa Rica, 1930.
Craine, Eugene R. & Reindorp, Reginald C., "The Codex Pérez and the Book of Chilam Balam of Maní," University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1979.
de Bourburg, Brasseur, Manuscrit Toano, Paris, 1869.
García, Erik Velásquez, "The Maya Flood Myth and the Decapitation of the Cosmic Caiman," Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticus, UNAM, Pari Online Publications.
Kingsborough, Lord Edward, "Antiquities of Mexico," Robert Havel & Calnaglie & Sons, 9 vols., London, 1830-1848.
Las Casas, Bartolomí de, Apologetíca historia sumeria, etc., E. O'Gorman ed. Universidad Nacíonal Autonóma de México, Instituto de Investígacíones Históricas, Mexico City, 1967.
LePlongeon, Augustus, "Maya/Atlantis: Queen Móo and The Egyptian Sphinx," Rudolf Steiner Publ., Blauvelt NY, 1973.
Roys, Ralph L., "The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel," University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1967.
Taube, Karl E., "The Legendary Past: Aztec and Mayan Myths," British Museum Press, London, 1995.
Thompson, J. Eric S., "A Commentry on the Dresden Codex: A Maya Hieroglyphic Book," American Philosophical Society, 1972.


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