The Maya Prophecies - Part II
The Prophecies of Chilam Balam - Introduction
The Chilam Balam Books
After de Landa and other Catholic priests burned the body of literature that expressed the heart of the Mayan religious faith, written with Maya glyphs, the Maya attempted to recapture that body of knowledge with other written works. With the help of the Catholic priests, the Maya had learned to read and write their traditional literature in the Mayan language but in European script. This was part of a Catholic endeavor to convert the Mayan people to the Christian faith, founded on the assumption that the Maya would be more persuaded if they had to deal in Christian symbols. Unfortunately, the program was only partially successful. The Maya did not convert; they adapted to their religious framework. As a result we have some remnants of their old religious beliefs to this day, contained in manuscripts that stem from the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the texts that found their way into these books date back before the Spanish conquest. The books show that in the earliest manuscripts the element of prophecy was highly important.
This effort resulted in several written works: The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Lizana, Codex Perez (Mani), Codex Perez (Oxkutzcab), and The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin. These texts are named after the towns in which they were found. They consist mostly of disparate texts in which Mayan and Spanish traditions have coalesced. These include texts of history (both pre-Spanish and colonial), calendrics, astrology and herbal medicine. Whereas the medical texts are quite matter-of-fact, the historical and astrological texts contain much Mayan mythology.
Importantly for our knowledge, these texts include prophecies called "U Tzol Than Ah Kinoob" (the interpretation (of visions) of the priests). This collection contains prophecy by the priest Chilam Balam, which were interpreted by the Spanish, and all subsequent generations, as statements of the coming of foreigners bringing with them a new religion. Naturally, everyone looked upon this prediction as pertaining to the Spanish conquest. Since the predictions had no other context, this seemed perfectly natural. But a careful and thorough examination of these prophecies shows that other events are predicted, referring not to the Spaniards, but to events of the future this world has not yet seen.
The texts included minor prophetical statements by other Mayan priests. When added to the statements of Chilam Balam this body of prophecy is the portion of colonial Yucatan Mayan literature which has received the most attention by outsiders, since these prophecies were well known to the Spanish friars. The archaic Yucatec idiom and the often allusive, metaphorical nature of the books offer a formidable challenge to translators. The outcome is sometimes heavily influenced by external assumptions about the purpose of the texts. As a result of these factors, the quality of existing translations varies greatly.
A portion of these prophecies was published by Lizana as early as 1633. Since the prophecy by Chilam Balam is the most important of these prognostications, it is from this prophet that the whole body of native Yucatan Mayan literature dealing with Mayan religion has received its name, namely "The Books of Chilam Balam".
A precise date when these prophecies might have been written is difficult. As David Bolles states it:
Of course, this is strictly speculative groping for answers to the date of the prophecies.
Study of the various texts shows that much of the prophetic material in the Books of Chilam Balam has a uniformity in writing style (grammar, vocabulary, phraseology, etc.). This fact suggests that the prophecies come from one original source, remembered by different tribes as important for them to include it in the different manuscripts. David Bolles has suggested that this uniformity could be the result of an educational system in which much of the learning was done by rote, but this suggestion sidesteps the question of the original source of the material.
I now present the Chilam Balam prophecies from the three most important English translation sources. The reader may compare them for consistency and disparity in translation. David Bolles offers the Mayan text. This gives an opportunity for other persons acquainted with the Mayan language to compare the quality of the translation.
Other papers will discuss the details of the prophecies.
My sources are:
A Grammar of the Yucatecan Mayan Language by David & Alejandra Bolles, The Prophecy of Chilam Balam, which may be found at:
This is a general discussion of the various Maya sources. The exact text may be found at:
The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel [translated by] Ralph L. Roys, with an introduction by J. Eric S. Thompson, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1967.
Since the original text is out of copyright, and because of its popularity, this text may be found various places from various publishers.
I obtained my copy from the Internet:
The Codex Perez and the Book of Chilam Balam of Mani, [translated by] Eugene R. Craine and Reginald C. Reindorp, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1979.
I have removed all section and line numbers used by the translators to reference the original text.
David Bolles does not give a citation for his material. It appears that he used the Chumayel text as his source, since it replicates the Roys material one-on-one. The Book of Mani translation by Craine and Reindorp is an abbreviated version, with less than fifty percent of the parallel texts.
Regardless of the town in which these texts were found, they all give Mani as their original source. This reinforces a proposal that these texts all come from one source, that found its way around the Mayan countryside to appear historically at different locations.
This Chilam Balam prophecy given here does not contain the several small prophecies whose authenticity is debatable. From examination of the several versions we can see that the translators used some literary license in the renderings.