Thomas William Francis Gann.

The Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras online

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made this holy offering.

Cin Kubic ti nah tatail, ti u cahil San Roque, u cahil Patchacan, ti Chan Sapote.


I offer you, great father, for your town of San Roque, your town of Patchacan, and
Chan Sapote.

The assistant then brought up some burning incense (pom) on a
piece of plantain bark, which the priest took, and after waving it about
for a short time placed it upon the altar, after which he dipped out a
small portion of balche and scattered it in three directions, murmur-
ing while doing so the following prayer:

Noh Nah ti Uxmal, ti atepaloob Ixcabach Chen Mani, ti Xpanterashan, Chacanchi,
Chacantoc, ti Xnocachan, Xcunya, Yaxutzub, Yaxaban, ti atepaloob.


Great house of Uxmal, of the majestic Ixcabach, Chen Mani, of Xpanterashan,
Chacanchi, Chacantoc, of Xnocachan Xcunya, Yaxatzub Yax&ban of the majestic


A small portion of balclte was next passed around to each of the
participants, the priest again scattering a little on the ground and
repeating the prayer. The calabash, which was now nearly empty,
was then removed to the house for the benefit of the women. It
was soon brought back by the assistant and refilled from the jar,
and the same procedure gone through again. This was repeated till
no more balche remained to be drunk. The priest then scattered some
of the sopas in four directions, using one of the fowls' claws to scoop
it up from the calabash, after which what remained of the sopas was
divided up among the participants, each one being given a calabash
in which a fowl's claw was placed for use as a fork. A small quantity
of the mixture which remained was taken to the house for use of the
women. Lastly the priest removed the tutiua and yokua from the
altar, and divided these among the participants, giving each one at
the same time a corn-husk cigarette. The ceremony was now
finished, and the last act was completely to destroy all the objects
used in it, including buildings, altar, calabashes, and chuyubs; this
was done by fire.

This Cha chac ceremony as performed by the Santa Cruz and
Icaiche Indians bears a strong resemblance to certain ceremonies
performed before the conquest, in honor of the Chacs, or Rain gods,
and also to ceremonies carried out at the present day by the Lacandon

The names given to the modern priests were, according to Landa,
all in use in his day. The ('hues were four old men chosen to assist
the priests. 1 The men was an inferior priest or sorcerer, while the
name AKkin 2 was applied after the conquest, both to their own and
to Christian priests by the Maya. Landa also mentions (Chap, xl,
p. 260) a fiesta given to the Chacs, in conjunction with other gods,
held in one of the plantations, when the offerings were consumed by
the people after being first presented to the gods; these offerings
consisted of turkeys and other fowls, corn cake, siMl, and posol, 3 all
of which are used in the modern Maya Cha chac.

The god Yumcanchacoob (Lord of all the Chacs) of the Santa
Cruz probably corresponds to Nohochyumchac (Great Lord Chac)
of the Lacandones, as does the Ahcanankakabol (keeper of the
woods) of the Santa Cruz, to the Kanancash of the Lacandones,
whose name has practically the same significance. A belief in
Xtabai, or spirits, and ITcoob, or Wind gods, seems common alike
to the Santa Cruz, the Lacandones, and the Indians of Yucatan.

1 "Los chaces eran quatro hombres ancianos elegidos siempre de nuevo para ayudar al sacerdote a bien
y complidamente hazer las fiestas." — Landa, op. cit., chap, xxvn, p. 160.

2 "En contrario llamavanse y se llaman oy los sacerdotes en esta lengua de Maya AKkin, que se deriva
de un verbo kinyah, que significa 'sortear 6 echar suertes.'" — Landa, ibid., p. 362.

a Landa, ibid., chaps, xxxv, p. 212; xxxvi, p. 222.


Classification of the Mounds

In the following pages is a description of the mounds opened
during the last few years in that part of the Maya area now con-
stituting British Honduras, the southern part of Yucatan, and the
eastern border of Guatemala (pi. 7). For descriptive purposes these
mounds may be divided, according to their probable uses, into six
main groups:

1. SejmlcJiral Mounds. — This group includes mounds which, orig-
inally constructed for other purposes, were afterwards used as burial

2. Refuse Mounds. — This group includes kitchen middens, shell
heaps, deposits of waste material remaining after the manufacture
of lime, and heaps of stones gathered from the surface of the ground.

3. Foundation Mounds. — As the buildings themselves invariably
stood on the summits of flat-topped mounds, such mounds, capped
with the debris of the earlier structures, formed the bases of later

It.. Defensive Mounds. — Some of these mounds were crescent-shaped ;
others were in the form of a horseshoe.

5. Lookout Mounds. — These mounds extend in chains, at intervals
of 6 to 12 miles, along the coast and up some of the rivers; they are
lofty, steep-sided, and usually form the nuclei of groups of other
mounds. As a rule they contain neither human remains nor arti-
facts, though in one or two of them superficial interments seem to
have been made at a comparatively late date.

6. Mounds of Uncertain Use.— No trace of human interment was
found in these mounds. Many of them are too small at the summit
to have supported buildings, and it seems probable that they are
sepulchral mounds, in which no stone, pottery, or other indestruct-
ible objects were placed with the corpse, and in which the bones
have entirely disintegrated. The larger mounds of this class, many
of them flat topped, are carefully constructed of blocks of limestone,
marl dust, and earth, and no doubt at one time served as bases for
buildings — either small temples or houses — which, being built of
wood, have long since vanished.

70806°— IS— Bull. 64 4 49


Most of the mounds are distributed in small and large groups,
the latter usually containing one or more examples of each class,
the former consisting for the greater part of small burial mounds,
probably of late date, as they are less carefully constructed than the
mounds of the larger groups, and the objects which they contain are
of rougher and cruder workmanship.

The burial mounds comprise more than half of all the mounds
opened, followed in order of numbers by (a) foundation moimds;
(b) mounds of uncertain use; (c) refuse mounds; (d) lookout moimds;
(e) defensive mounds.

It has been found that, as a rule, rich land contains many mounds;
poor land, fewer; and sour-grass savannah, pine ridge, and swamp,
none at all. The better the land the more numerous the mounds
scattered over it, as is natural, since the more fertile the land the
denser the population it would sustain. Not all the mounds opened
have been described, as small burial mounds, especially in the same
group, in both construction and contents, resemble one another
closely, as do foundation mounds also.

This part of the Maya area must cither have been occupied during
a very considerable period or at one time must have supported a
dense population, as wherever it is possible to cultivate the soil,
especially to raise maize, mounds are to be found in great abundance;
moreover, the surface everywhere bears such indestructible rubbish as
potsherds, flint chips, and fragments of obsidian knives. It would
probably be impossible to find anywhere in this area an acre of
moderately good land on which dozens of such objects could not
be discovered. This indicates that what is now dense tropical bush,
with a few small Indian villages scattered through it at considerable
intervals, was at one time a highly cultivated and thickly populated

Referring to Yucatan before the conquest, Landa uses the words,
"toda la tierra parescia un pueblo; " 1 while 200 years after the con-
quest Villagutierre 2 mentions by name 10 tribes with whom the Itzas
were at war, who lived to the east of the lagoon, nine days' journey
away — in a region corresponding to the territory of coastal tribes of
British Honduras and Quintana Iloo.

1 Que estas gentes tuvieron mas de XX afios de abundancia y de sahid y se multiplicaron tanto que toda
la tierra parescia un pueblo, y que entonces se labraron los templos en tanta mucbedumbre, como se vee oy
en dia por todas partes y que atravesando por montes se veen entre las arboledas assientos de casas y edificios
labrados a maravilla.— Landa, op. cit., p. 58.

2 Que en Aiios passados tuvieron quatro Batallas eon los Indios Aycales (que son los Mopanes) Chinamitas,
y Tulunquies, y Taxchinehan, Nob, y Acabob, Zuacuanob, Ahtimob, Teyucunob, Ahehemob, Ahcamulob.
. . . y que todas estas Xaciones estavan viviendo juntas al Leste, u Oriente, y que de aquel I'eten, a sus
Poblaciones, avia nueve dias de Camino, que era el que ellos gastavan en ir a ellas.— Villagutierre,
Historia de la conquista de la provincia de el Itza, p. 554.


Ancient Inhabitants of the Region

From the contents of the mounds we are able to deduce many valu-
able facts relating to the physical appearance, social life, religion, and
art of the former inhabitants of this area.

PHYSICAL appearance

A very accurate idea of the physical appearance of these people
may be derived from the figurines, paintings, stucco moldings, and
skeletons found in the mounds. It would appear that they very
closely resembled the modern Maya Indians. 1 They were broad
of face, with small features and rather high cheek bones; without
beard or mustache, but with straight,- black, coarse hair, which was
allowed by both men and women to grow long.

The skull was naturally brachicephalic, and as this characteristic
was (and is now by the Maya) admired, it seems to have been almost
invariably accentuated artificially by pressure applied over the occipi-
tal and frontal regions during early infancy. 2 The average cephalic
index of eight skulls removed from the mounds was found to be 110.
The following list gives the average lengths of a number of bones of
adults taken from the mounds, though in no case were all the bones
of one individual found in a sufficiently perfect condition to permit of
their accurate measurement:

Humerus, 29.21 cm.

Ulna, 25.38 cm.

First phalanx (little finger), 3.04 cm.

Femur, 36.83 cm.

Tibia, 33.27 cm.

Metatarsal bone of great toe, 5.33 cm.

The bones are small, the ridges for muscular attachment not well
marked, and the phalanges, metacarpal, and metatarsal bones small
and delicate, indicating a body with rounded contours, poor muscular
development, and small extremities. The front teeth in some cases
were filed, in others filled with round plugs of obsidian, iron pyrites,
or jadeite, for ornamental purposes. .

1 Son en lo personal, estos Indies Itzaex, bien agestados; color triguefio, mas claro que el de los de Yuca-
tan. Son agiles, y de buenos cuerpos, y rostros, aunque algunos se los rayavan, por seiiales de valentia.
Traian las Cabelleras largas, quanto pueden crezer: Y assi, es lo mas diftcultoso en los Indios el reduzirlos
a cortarles el pelo; porque el traerlo largo, es sefial de Idolatria. — Villagutierre, op. cit., p. 498.

Que los Indios de Yucatan son bien dispuestos y altos y rezios y de muchas luercas. — Landa, op. cit.,
p 112.

2 Que las inaias criavan sus hijitos en toda aspereza y desnudez del mundo, porque a cuatro o cinco dias
nacida la criatura la pouian tendidita en un lecho pequeiio hecho de varillas, y alii boca abaxo le ponian
entre dos tablillas la caiieca, la una en el colodrillo, y la otro en la frente, entre las quales se le appretavan
reciamente y le tenian alii padeciendo hasta que acabados algunos dias le quedava la cabeca liana y enmol-
dada como lo usavan touos ellos.^LANDA, op. cit., p. ISO.



Among the lower class the men seem to have worn no garment
except the maxili, consisting of a loin-cloth wound several times
around the waist, the ends hanging down in front and behind, like
small aprons. The women wore two garments, similar to those of
the modern Maya, the Jiuijnl, or loose, sleeveless upper garment reach-
ing to the hips (at the present this is worn longer, reaching well below
the knees) and a short, loose skirt, both of cotton, and both embroid-
ered hi colors at the borders. 1 The warriors wore in addition to the
maxili a breastplate of thick quilted cotton, saturated with salt,
arrow and spear proof, and ornamented with bows, studs, and tassels.
To its upper border was attached a hollow bar, through which passed
a cord, continued round the back of the neck, holding the breastplate
in place.

Both warriors and priests wore very elaborate headdresses. Those
of the former were decorated with plumes of feathers and many of
them held in front the head of some animal carved in wood, 2 as the
jaguar, eagle, peccary, snake, or alligator. Some of the headdresses of
the priests were shaped like a bishop's miter, while others resembled the
Egyptian headdress. All classes wore sandals of leather or platted
henequen fiber. The ornaments worn consisted of large circular ear
plugs of shell, greenstone, or pottery, many with a tassel dependent
from the center; studlike labrets at each side of the mouth;
and occasional triangular ornaments attached on each ala of the
nose. Round the neck were worn strings of beads, some in the
form of human or animal heads, others with a gorget of greenstone
or shell in the form of a human mask dependent from them.
Wristlets and anklets of large oval beads, fastened with ornamental
loops, were common, and copper finger rings have been found on two
occasions, though it is possible that these may not have been intro-
duced till after the conquest. Among the upper classes the orna-
ments were made from jade, greenstone, iron pyrites, obsidian,
mother-of-pearl, and copper; among the lower, from pottery, shell,
and stone.


The offensive weapons of the natives here dealt with consisted of
flint and obsidian tipped arrows, 3 javelins, and spears, flint and stone

1 Sus vestiduras, de que vsavan, eran vnos Ayates, 6 Gabachas, sin Mangas, y sus Mantas, todo de Algoddn
texido de varios colores: Y ellos y las Mugeres, vnas como Faxas, de lo mismo, de cosa de quatro varas de
largo, y vna tercia de ancho, con que se §eilian, y cubrian las partes; y algunas al canto, u orilla, mucha
I'lumeria de colores, que era su mayor gala.— Villagutieree, op. cit., p. 498.

2 Tenian algunos senores y capitanes como moriones de palo y estos eran pocos, y con estas arrnas ivan
ala guerra, y conplumajes ypellejos detigres, y leones, puestoslos que los tonian. — Landa, op. cit., p. 172.

3 Y en las orillas de la Playa, solo se veian amontonadas la multitud de Flechas, que la rcsaca de las olas
aviallevado a Tierra. De adonde se puede inferir, quan inmenso seria el numero de ellas, que los Infieles
arrojaron a los Pobres Christianos.— Viilagutierre, op. cit., p. 4S3.


axes, with slingstones, and stone-headed clubs, made for the most
part of hard limestone. Their defensive weapons were small circular
shields of leather-covered wickerwork and thick cotton breastplates.


The lower classes probably lived exclusively in thatched pimento-
walled houses, identical in construction with those used by the Maya
of the present day; naturally, these have completely disappeared,
but the former sites of villages composed of such huts may easily
be recognized by the presence of half-choked wells and the great
number of malacates, broken pots, weapons, implements, ornaments,
and rubbing stones, which are to be found scattered all over them.
The priests, caciques, and upper classes doubtless lived in the stone
houses, the remains of which lie buried in considerable numbers in
the mounds. The walls of these houses were of stucco-covered stone
and lime, the floors of hard cement, and the roofs, no doubt, of
beams and thatch, as many of them are too wide to have been
covered by the so-called "American arch."

Many of these buildings were doubtless used as temples, but prob-
ably the majority of them were private houses. 1 In one of them an
interment had taken place beneath the floor of the house before the
structure was destroyed. 2


The former inhabitants of this part of the Maya area do not seem
to have fallen far behind those of northern Yucatan in the arts of
scidpture upon stone, stucco molding, mural painting, ceramics, and
the manufacture of stone implements and weapons, as excellent
examples in all these fields have been found.

At Seibal, Holmul, Naranjo, and Benque Viejo, cities of the old
Empire lying along the British Honduras-Guatemala frontier, examples
of sculptured stelse and altars have been found, equal in fineness of
workmanship to those found at any other site within the Maya area.
The molded stucco figures at Pueblo Nuevo are beautifully executed,
while the painted stucco upon the temple walls at Santa Rita is prob-
ably the finest example of this kind of decoration yet brought to
light in the whole Maya area. The colors used (green, yellow, red,
blue, black, and white) seem to have been derived from colored
earths and vegetal dyes ground to a paste in small shallow stone

1 Estava en vn gran Sal

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Online LibraryThomas William Francis GannThe Maya Indians of southern Yucatan and northern British Honduras → online text (page 5 of 15)