Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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the remedy and the disease.

Many eye troubles are treated by placing, a small rough seed
beneath the lower lid of the affected eye, where it remains for a day;
when the seed is withdrawn it is covered with mucus, to which the
doctor points as the injurious matter, the cause of all the trouble,
which he has removed.

Massage is practiced chiefly for uterine and ovarian pains by the
older women, who also act as midwives; it is used also in conjunc-
tion with kneading and manual manipulation in the cure of neuralgic
pains, strains, stiffness, and rheumatism.

In confinements, which usually take place either in the hammock
or on the floor, the dorsal position is invariably assumed. In such
cases also massage over the uterus is performed by the midwife.
If the desired results are not secured, the patient is made to vomit
by thrusting a long coil of hair down her throat, while a woman of
exceptional lung power is sent for to blow into her mouth, with
the object of hastening delivery.

The Indians use for medicinal purposes a great variety of plants
which grow in their country; some of these are purely empirical
remedies; others produce definite physiological results and are
frequently used with good effect, while a few, apparently on the
assumption that "similia similibus curantur," are employed because
of some fancied resemblance in form to the diseased part, as xhudub
pelc, twin seeds of the size of small eggs, the milky juice of which is
used as an external application for enlarged glands and for various
forms of orchitis.

The following plants arc used medicinally by the Indians as
remedies for the diseases named, respectively:

Acitz. — The milky juice of a tree, used as an application for chronic sores and

Acam. — The leaves of this plant are applied hot to reduce the swelling and relieve
the pain in enlargement of the spleen and liver.

Purgation Xiu. — An infusion made from the leaves is administered warm in
bladder and urethral troubles.

Pakaal. — An infusion made from the leaves of the orange tree is given as a sudorific.

Pichi. — A paste made from the leaves of the guava is applied to "bay sore." a
specific ulcer somewhat resembling "oriental sore."

Pomolche. — A mouth wash made from the milk of this tree is used in cases of sto-
matitis and ulceration of the mouth.


Quimbombo. — The wild okra is greatly esteemed as an external application in
cases of snake lute.

Sisim. — An infusion made from the leaves is used as a sudorific in cases of malarial

Sicilpuz. — A yellowish fruit sometimes used as a purgative

Cabalpixoy. — The fruit of this tree is given in cases of diarrhea, and an infusion
made from the bark is used in diarrhea and dysentery.

Claudiosa Xiu. — An infusion made from the whole 1 ush is greatly esteemed as
a hath and lotion in all uterine and ovarian, complaints.

Chalche. — The spinous leaf of this plant is used as a local application to relieve
neuralgic pains, and an infusion made from the leaves is given for rheumatism.

Chamico. — An infusion made from the leaves of the convolvulus mixed with other
leaves is given to relieve asthma and bronchial catarrh.

Chaac. — The arrowroot, eaten raw, is regarded as a useful remedy in all bladder
and urethral complaints.

Cuouc. — The wood, ground into a paste, is applied to the heads of small children
suffering from fever and convulsions.

Ruda. — The leaves of this plant are universally used as an external application
for children suffering from convulsions, and frequently in the same manner for the
relief of almost any nervous complaint in adults.

Pica pica. — A sort of cowhage which, mixed with atol or some corn beverage, is
largely used as a vermifuge for children.


Both children and adults play many games, most of which have
probably been introduced since the conquest. A favorite among
these is a game known as talc in Tcul, in which a number of players
stand in a row with their hands behind their backs while one, who
holds a small pottery disk in his hand, stands behind the row, another
standing in front. The one holding the disk places it in the hands of
one of those in the line, who in turn passes it to his neighbor, so that
it travels rapidly up and down the line. The player in front has to
guess in whose hand the disk is at the moment of guessing. If he is
right, the holder of the disk has to come in front while the one who
guessed correctly joins the line.

Chac is a sort of "knucklebones," played with pottery disks, which
are tossed from the palm to the back of the hand and back again;
the one who drops fewest disks in a given number of double throws
wins the game.

The boys make little bows (poJioche) and arrows (/ml) tipped with
black wax, with which they play war and hunting games.

A seesaw made from a small tree balanced on a stump is popular,
as is also a sort of merry-go-round constructed from a cross of poles
fixed on top of a stump by means of a wooden pin, which rotates
freely. The children sit at the extreme ends of the poles and make
the contrivance rotate by kicking against the ground vigorously at
intervals as they go around.


The bull roarer, made from a dry seed pod, is popular in some
villages and is probably one of the few toys used by the natives
before the conquest.

Cricket, baseball, marbles, kites, and spinning tops have been
introduced among the Indians of British Honduras, and all have their


The Indians, who are extremely superstitious, believe that the air
is full of pishan, or souls of the dead. They imagine that these
souls are at liberty at all times to return to earth, and that at cer-
tain seasons they are compelled to do so. They are regarded as
being capable of enjoying the spirit, though not the substance,
of food or drink provided for them. Some of these pishan the
Indians believe to be friendly and some inimical to mortals. They
believe also in spirits, usually mischievous or harmful, known as
xtahai, who often take the form of beautiful women, though they
have never been human. The natives will whisper a message into
the ear of a corpse with the certainty of having it conveyed to a
friend or relative in the next world. They firmly believe that the
clay images of the gods upon incense burners, at one time found in
considerable numbers in forests which had been uncut since the days
of their ancestors, live, walk about, and dance at certain seasons.
Another belief held by the Indians is that the images of Christian
saints are endowed at times with life and perform acts desired by
their devotees. A celebrated wooden image, supposed to represent
San Bernardo, was credited with considerable powers in this respect,
and when an Indian wanted rain for his milpa, the return of an
errant wife, or any similar blessing, ho would come and pray to
the image to obtain it for him. On one occasion an Indian came
asking the saint to aid him in the recovery of pigs which he had
lost, and on returning to his village found that the pigs had arrived
home before him. Next day he returned with the intention of
making an offering to the saint, and incidentally to the owner of
the house where the image was kept. Ho found the poor Santo
with torn clothes and many burs sticking all over him. On inquir-
ing how this happened he was informed that the saint had been
out in the bush hunting for pigs, a quest which had given him
a great deal of trouble before he could find and drive them home,
and that when he got back he was tired out, his clothes torn by
thorns, and covered with burs — an explanation with which the
Indian was perfectly satisfied.

The men are very unwilling to dig either in ancient mounds or
ruins, as they are afraid of being haunted by the pishan of those
whose remains they may disturb; and nothing will induce them to


go into caves or burial chambers in mounds. Many curious super-
stitions hang about the ruins found throughout the country. I was
assured by an Indian at Benque Vie jo that he had gone on one
occasion to the ruins situated near the village, and seeing a pigeon
seated on a tree, raised his gun to shoot it; before he could do so,
however, the pigeon turned into a cock, and this almost imme-
diately into an eagle, winch flew at him, driving him away. There
is another superstition about these ruins to the effect that when
the first settlers came to Benque Vie jo they wished to build the
village near the ruins, where the land is very good for growing corn,
but were repeatedly driven off by a little old man with a long gray
beard. At last, giving up the idea, they contented themselves with
the present- site for the village.

For many years, between the expulsion of the Yucatecans from
Bacalar by the Indians and the conquest of the latter by the Mexican
troops, some 12 years ago, no Catholic priests were permitted to
visit the Santa Cruz country. The Indians, however, appointed
priests from among themselves, who carried out, so far as can be
ascertained from those of their number who left the territory and
settled in British Honduras, a sort of travesty of the rites of the
Roman Catholic Church freely interspersed with many of those of
their ancient religion, which had survived. The headquarters of
this religious cult was the capital, where it centered around what
was known as the "Santa Cruz," a plain wooden cross, 2 to 3 feet
high, which had probably been removed from some church after
the expulsion of the Spaniards. This cross was supposed to be
gifted with the power of speech (a belief arising no doubt from the
exercise of ventriloquial powers by one of the priests), and acted as
a sort of oracle, to whom all matters of importance — civil, military,
and religious — were submitted for decision. It need hardly be said
that the cross never failed to return an answer to all these questions,
in entire conformity with the wishes of the chief. 1

1 In 1S59 a mission was dispatched by the superintendent of British Honduras to the chiefs of the Santa
Cruz, with the object of rescuing Spanish prisoners held by them. The following account is from "A
narrative of a journey across the unexplored portion of British Honduras, with a sketch of the history
and resources of the colony," by Henry Fowler, colonial secretary (Belize, 1879):

"That night as usual all the available Indians in Bacalar arrived in front of the home where the Santa
Cruz is kept. The boy attendants or sentries on the idol, called angels, were in front of it and the drums
and bugles sounded at recurring parts of the song. The chief was inside with the image and the angels.
The subordinate chiefs and soldiers knelt outside, and did not rise until the service was over, when they
crossed themselves and rubbed their foreheads in the dust. About 11 o'clock the Indians were heard
running backward and forward, and an order was given to bring out the prisoners, who were placed in a
line before the Santa Cruz, and a large body of soldiers were placed with them. They all knelt down in
the road. There were about 40 female prisoners, with one arm tied to the side, and 12 or 14 men pinioned
by both arms. All were calm, except the children, although it was known Santa Cruz was pronouncing
their doom. A squeaking whistling noise was heard issuing from the oracle, and when it ceased it was
known the Santa Cruz wanted a higher ransom from the prisoners. * * *

"Some of the women and children were separated from the rest, amongst whom was a young Spanish
girl well known in high circles. A procession was then formed and marched off to the east gate; first came
a strong body of troops, then alternately in Indian file, a male prisoner and his executioner, who drove nim
on with his machete, holding him by a rope; next came the women, 35 in number, driven and held in a


The Indians here under consideration occupy an intermediate
position between the civilized Maya of northern Yucatan, who
have lost nearly all tradition and traces of their former civilization,
and the Lacandones of the Usumasintla Valley, who have probably
changed but little in their customs and religious observances since
the conquest. Nominally they are Christians, but the longer one
lives among them, and the better one gets to know them, the more
he realizes that their Christianity is to a great extent merely a thin
veneer, and that fundamentally their religious conceptions and even
1 heir ritual and ceremonies are survivals — degenerate, much changed,
and with most of their significance lost — but still survivals of those
of their ancestors of pre-Columbian days. To Christianity, not as
a separate religion, but as a graft on that which they already prac-
ticed, they seem to have taken kindly from the first; and at the
present day, as will be seen, the sun god, the rain god, St. Laurence,
and Santa Clara may all be invoked in the same prayer, while the
Cross is substituted in most of the ceremonies for the images of the
old gods, though many of the latter are called on by name. The
four principal religious ceremonies of the Indians are, as might be
supposed, closely associated with agriculture, especially with the
corn crop. The first of these ceremonies takes place at the cutting
of the bush in which the corn plantation is to be made, the second
at the planting of the corn, the third during its ripening, and the
fourth at harvest time. Of these the third, known as the Cha cliac,
which takes place during the ripening of the corn, and whose object
is to secure sufficient rain for that purpose, is by far the most impor-
tant, and it alone will be described, as it embraces the offerings and
ritual of all the other ceremonies.

The day previous to the ceremony the men of the family prepared
the plb, an oblong hole in the ground, in which the various corn
offerings were to be baked, while during the night the women were
busy grinding corn to make masa (a thick paste of ground maize)
and pumpkin seeds to make sikil. Very early in the morning of
the day of the ceremony the priest with his assistant arrived at the
house of the giver. This priest called himself men, but was called
by the owner a chac, while the Chichanha priest called himself an
ah Jcin. The Indians chose a site in the midst of a grove of
large trees. After clearing away the undergrowth they swept clean
a circular space about 25 feet in diameter. In this they proceeded

similar manner; then another body of soldiers closed the rear; the Englishmen were not allowed to follow.
The procession halted under a clump of trees about 150 yards off. And soon the butchery commenced;
shrieks were heard, but in 10 minutes all was over.

"The Santa Cruz was mixed up with some Catholic rites/but retains the leading characteristics of the
god who was best propitiated by placing bleeding human hearts within his lips."

In 1S63 the Icaiche were beaten by the Santa Cruz, and, says the chronicler: "The account of the
slaughter and human sacrifice made oh that occasion is appalling."



to erect two rude huts, one 12 feet the other 6 feet square; both
were thatched with huano leaf, and the floor of the smaller hut
was covered with wild plantain leaves. In the center of the larger
hut was erected a rough altar 6 by 4 feet and 4 feet 6 inches high, built
of sticks bound together with bejuco (fig. 1 1 ) . The central part of this

Fig. ll.-Coichanha Indian priest in front of altar at Clia chac ceremony.

altar was covered by an arch of "jabin" branches with the leaves
still attached. About a dozen small calabashes in their ring supports
(Maya chuyub) were placed on the altar, and three more were hung
to a string passing from the side of the shed to a post a few yards
away. The masa prepared the previous night was then brought
out in four large calabashes, two of these being placed under the altar



[BULL. 64

and two on top of it ; a large calabash of sikil and one of water were
also placed on the altar and a jar of balcJie (a drink made of fermented
honey in which is soaked the bark of a tree) beneath it. Beneath the
suspended calabashes was placed a small table containing piles of
tortillas and calabashes of masa and water. In carrying out this
ceremony it is essential that everything used in it be perfectly fresh
and new; the leaves, sticks, bejuco, and jab in must be freshly cut,
and the masa, sikil, balclie, and even the calabashes must be freshly
made. The masa was taken from the large to the small shed, where

the priest and several
male members of the
family sat around it.
After flattening out a
small ball of the masa
the priest placed it on
a square of plantain
leaves and poured
over it a little sikil
(a thin paste made of
ground pumpkin seed
an d water) . Then the
next man flattened out
a piece of masa, which
he placed over the
sikil, and the process
was continued until a
cake was formed con-
taining 5 to 13 alter-
nating layers of masa
and sikil. On top of
each cake, as it was
completed, the priest
traced with his fore-
finger a cross sur-
rounded with holes;
these were first partly
filled with balche, which was allowed to soak into the cake, after
which they were filled completely with sikil, whereupon the whole
cake was carefully tied up in plantain leaf, with an outer cover-
ing of palm leaf (fig. 12). These cakes are known as tutiua; their
number is generally gauged by the number of participants in the
ceremony. When sikil is not available, a paste of ground black
beans is used; in this case the cakes are known as buliua (Maya
bul, "bean"; ua, "bread"). The priest next made a deep
depression hi a ball of masa about the size of a tennis ball, which he
filled with sikil, covering it with the masa, so as to leave a ball of

Fig. 12.— Priest tracing cross on cake and filling it in with sikil.




masa with a core of sihil. A number of these balls, known as yokua,
were made, each wrapped in plantain leaves. When finished, all of
them were wrapped in a large palm leaf and tied into a bundle with
split palm-leaf strands. Two more tutiua were next made, and lastly
all the masa and sikil left were mixed together with a few ounces of
salt. After being well kneaded this mass was divided into two por-
tions, each of which was tied up in plantain and' palm leaf coverings.
In the meantime some members of the family had filled the pib or

Fig. 13.— Sacrificing a turkey at the Cha chac ceremony.

oven with firewood, over which they placed a layer of small blocks
of stone. The priestnext made a bowl of saclta (literally "white water,"
a drink made from ground corn and water), with which he filled
the small calabashes on the altar, as well as the suspended calabashes ;
these he explained were for the tuyun pishan, or solitary souls. A
turkey and four fowls were then placed in front of the altar, alive,
while the priest lighted a black wax candle by blowing a piece of
glowing wood to a flame ; this candle he placed upon the altar. He
next took up the turkey, around whose neck the assistant had placed


a wreath of jabin leaves, and poured a little balche down its throat,
its legs being held by the assistant (fig. 13). While doing this the
priest murmured the following prayer:

In kubic ti hahnal cichpan colel, ti San Pedro, San Pablo, San Francisco.


I offer a repast to the beautiful mistress, to San Pedro, San Pablo," San Francisco.

The turkey and the other fowls were then killed by having their
necks wrung, and the carcasses of all five were removed to the
house to be prepared by the women. The various bundles of masa
and sihil in their leaf coverings were next removed to the pib, where
the fire had burned itself out, leaving the hole half full of ashes
and red-hot stones. A lining of plantain bark was laid over the
stones, upon which the bundles were arranged; over these were
placed more hot stones and over the latter palm leaves; lastly, the
earth which had been dug from the pib was raked over all. The
priest next took a small quantity of the sacha from a calabash, in
a jabin leaf, and scattered it on the ground in three directions,
meanwhile murmuring this prayer:

Cin kubic ti atepalob, 1i nob yum kab yetel uahmetan, atepalob, tiaca tzib nab.


I offer to the majestic ones, to the great lord, com cake, great ones. [Tiara tzib
nah is somewhat obscure. The reading, according to Don Juan Martinez, of Merida,
should be tia ca oib-nah.]

Afterward, the priest repeated the performance with sacha from
the calabashes on the altar, and lastly with some from the cala-
bashes of the tuyun pishan. The saclia was then distributed in
calabashes to the participants, it being essential that every drop of
it be drunk. After a wait of about an hour all proceeded to the
pib, which, after it had been sprinkled by the priest with balche
from a small calabash, was opened. The red-hot leaf-wrapped
bundles were carried to the small shed, where the coverings were
removed, exposing the tutiua and yokua, crisp, brown, and hot.
These were placed upon the altar, with the exception of one tutiua,
which was tied to the string holding the calabashes of the tuyun
pishan. The cakes made from the remainder of the masa and sikil
were now crumbled into a large calabash and mixed with another
large calabash of Tcool (a reddish liquid made from water, ground
corn, black pepper, and achiote). The two mixtures were stirred
with a peeled wand of jabin till they formed a thick paste known
as sopas. While the sopas was being made the hearts, heads, and intes-
tines of the fowls were removed to the pib where they were buried, lest
some animal by eating them should defile the offering. The cooked
and dismembered turkey and other fowls were brought out to the
small shed in calabashes; the livers, gizzards, and immature eggs
were chopped up fine and well mixed with the sopas. A small


calabash full of this mixture was placed with the calabashes of the
tuyun pishan, while the rest, in a large calabash, the fowls' claws
standing upright in it, was placed upon the altar, together with the
dismembered birds wrapped in a clean cotton cloth. The priest
next removed some balche from the jar and filled a calabash, which
he placed upon the altar, as he did so murmuring these prayers:

Ea, in cichpan cole] kanleoox, yetel bacan tech in cichkelem tat yum San Isidro,
ah koikal, yetel bacan tech yum kankin, culucbalech ti likin, yetel bacan in chant-
tupchaac, culucbal chumuc caan, ti likin, yetel bacan yum canchaacoob; kin kubic
yetel bacan ahooil atepalo chumuc caan, yetel bacan tech in cichkelem tata ahcanan
kakabool, yetel bacan tech in cichkelem tata Cakaal Uxmal, yetel bacan tech in
cichpan colel Santa Clara, yetel bacan tech in cichkelem tata yum xualakinik,
yetel bacan tech in cichpan colel Xhelik, yetel bacan tech in cichkelem tatayum
Santo Lorenzo, yetel bacan tech in cichpan colel Guadelupe, yetel bacan tech tun
yum Mosonikoob, meyahnaheex ichil cool kat tocah. Cin kubic bacan letie Santo
Gracia, utial a nahmateex, yetel bacan tech u nohchi Santo uai yokol cab halibe
in yumen sates ten in cipil. Minan a tzul pachkeech letie Santo Pishan, Ooki in
mentic letie Santo Promicia.


Now my beautiful lady of the yellow-leaf breadnut, as well as you, my handsome
father San Isidro, tiller of the earth; as well as you, lord sun, who art seated at the
east; as well as you, Chanttupchaac, who art seated in the middle of the heavens,
in the east; as well as you, Yumcanchaacoob : I deliver to you, with the majestic
servants in the middle of the heavens. As well as you, my handsome father, Ahca-
nankakabool; as well as you, my handsome father Cakaal Uxmaal; as well as you, my
beautiful lady Santa Clara; as well as you, my handsome father Xualakinik; as well
as you, my beautiful lady Xhelik; as well as you, my handsome father San Lorenzo;
as well as you, my beautiful lady of Guadelupe; as well as you, Lord Mosonicoob,
that blows within the milpa when it is burnt. I deliver then to you this Holy Grace,
that you may taste it, and because you are the greatest Santos on earth. That is all
my master. Pardon my sins; you have not to follow the holy souls, because I have

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 4 of 15)