The Mayas, the Sources of Their History / Dr. Le Plongeon in Yucatan, His Account of Discoveries
by Stephen Salisbury, Jr.
Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse

True, I am but a cool searcher of the stupendous monuments of the mighty races that are no more, but have left the history of their passage on earth written on the stones of the palaces of their rulers, upon the temples of their gods. The glowing fires of enthusiasm do not overheat my imagination, even if the handiwork of the ancient artists and architects—if the science of the Itza H-Menes—wise men, fill my heart with a surprise akin to admiration. Since four years we ask the stones to disclose the secrets they conceal. The portraits of the ancient kings, those of the men with long beards, who seem to have held high offices among these people, have become familiarized with us, and we with them. At times they appear to our eyes to be not quite devoid of life, not entirely deaf to our voice. Not unfrequently the meaning of some sculpture, of some character, of some painting,—till then obscure, unintelligible, puzzling,—all of a sudden becomes clear, easy to understand, full of meaning.

Many a strange story of human greatness and pride, of human, petty and degrading passions, weakness and imperfections, has thus been divulged to us;—while we were also told of the customs of the people; of the scientific acquirements of the H-Menes; of the religious rites observed by the kins (priests); of their impostures, and of the superstition they inculcated to the masses; of the communication held by the merchants of Chichen with the traders from Asia and Africa; of the politeness of courtiers and gracefulness of the queen; of the refinement of the court; of the funeral ceremonies, and of the ways they disposed of the dead; of the terrible invasions of barbarous Nahua tribes; of the destruction, at their hands, of the beautiful metropolis Chichen-Itza, the centre of civilization, the emporium of the countries comprised between the eastern shores of Mayapan and the western of Xibalba; of the subsequent decadence of the nations; of their internal strife during long ages. For here, in reckoning time, we must not count by centuries but millenaries. We do not, in thus speaking, indulge in conjectures—for, verily, the study of the walls leaves no room for supposition to him who quietly investigates and compares.

How far Mrs. Le Plongeon and myself have been able to interpret the mural paintings, bas-reliefs, sculptures and hieroglyphics, the results of our labors show. (Some of them have been lately published in the "Illustration Hispano-Americana" of Madrid.) The excavating of the magnificent statue of the Itza king, Chac-Mool, buried about five thousand years ago by his wife, the queen of Chichen, at eight metres under ground (that statue has just been wrenched from our hands by the Mexican government, without even an apology, but the photographs may be seen at the residence of Mr. Henry Dixon, No. 112 Albany street, Regent park, London, and the engravings of it in the "Ilustracion Hispano-Americana"); the knowledge of the place where lies that of Huuncay, the elder brother of Chac-Mool, interred at twelve metres under the surface—of the site where the H-Menes hid their libraries containing the history of their nation—the knowledge and sciences they had attained, would of itself be an answer to Professor Mommsen's ridiculous assertion, that we are anxious to find what cannot be known, or what would be useless if discovered. It is not the place here to refute the learned professor's sayings; nor is it worth while. Yet I should like to know if he would refuse as useless the treasures of King Priam because made of gold that belongs to the archaic times—what gold does not? Or, if he would turn up his nose at the wealth of Agamemnon because he knows that the gold and precious stones that compose it were wrought by artificers who lived four thousand years ago, should Dr. Schliemann feel inclined to offer them to him. What says Mr. Mommsen?

Besides my discovery of the statues, bas-reliefs, etc., etc., which would be worth many thousands of pounds sterling to—if the Mexican government did not rob them from—the discoverers, the study of the works of generations that have preceded us affords me the pleasure of following the tracks of the human mind through the long vista of ages to discover that its pretended progress and development are all imaginary, at least on earth. I have been unable to the present day to trace it. I really see no difference between the civilized man of today and the civilized man of five thousand years ago. I do not perceive that the human mind is endowed in our times with powers superior to those it possessed in ages gone by, but clearly discern that these powers are directed in different channels. Will Professor Mommsen pretend that this is also useless after being found? Man today is the same as man was when these monuments, which cause the wonder of the modern traveller, were reared. Is he not influenced by the same instincts, the same wants, the same aspirations, the same mental and physical diseases?

I consider mankind alike to the waters of the ocean; their surface is ever changing, while in their depths is the same eternal, unchangeable stillness and calm. So man superficially. He reflects the images of times and circumstances. His intellect develops and expands only according to the necessities of the moment and place. As the waves, he cannot pass the boundaries assigned to him by the unseen, impenetrable Power to which all things are subservient. He is irresistibly impulsed toward his inevitable goal—the grave. There, as far as he positively knows, all his powers are silenced. But from there also he sees springing new forms of life that have to fulfil, in their turn, their destiny in the great laboratory of creation. The exploration of the monuments of past generations, all bearing the peculiarities, the idiosyncracies of the builders, has convinced me that the energies of human mind and intellect are the same in all times. They come forth in proportion to the requirements of the part they are to represent in the great drama of life, the means in the stupendous mechanism of the universe being always perfectly and wisely adapted to the ends. It is therefore absurd to judge of mental attainments of man in different epochs and circumstances by comparison with our actual civilization. For me the teachings of archaeology are these: "Tempora mutantur, mores etiam in illis; sicut ante homini etiam manent anima et mens."

Alchemists have gone out of fashion, thank God! Would that the old sort of antiquaries, who lose their time, and cause others to lose theirs also, in discussing idle speculations, might follow suit. History requires facts,—these facts, proofs. These proofs are not to be found in the few works of the travellers that have hastily visited the monuments that strew the soil of Central America, Mexico and Peru, and given of them descriptions more or less accurate—very often erroneous—with appreciations always affected by their individual prejudices. The customs and attainments of all sorts of the nations that have lived on the western continent, before it was America, must be studied in view of the monuments they have left; or of the photographs, tracings of mural paintings, etc., etc., which are as good as the originals themselves. Not even the writings of the chroniclers of the time of the Spanish conquest can be implicitly relied upon. The writers on the one hand were in all cases blinded by their religious fanaticism; in many by their ignorance; on the other, the people who inhabited the country at the time of the arrival of the conquerors were not the builders of the ancient monuments. Many of these were then in ruins and looked upon by the inhabitants, as they are today, with respect and awe. True, many of the habits and customs of the ancients, to a certain extent, existed yet among them; but disfigured, distorted by time, and the new modes of thinking and living introduced by the invaders; while, strange to say, the language remained unaltered. Even today, in many places in Yucatan the descendants of the Spanish conquerors have forgotten the native tongue of their sires, and only speak Maya, the idiom of the vanquished. Traditions, religious rites, superstitious practices, dances, were handed down from generation to generation. But, as the sciences were of old the privilege of the few, the colleges and temples of learning having been destroyed at the downfall of Chichen, the knowledge was imparted by the fathers to their sons, under the seal of the utmost secrecy. Through the long vista of generations, notwithstanding the few books that existed at the time of the conquest, and were in great part destroyed by Bishop Landa and other fanatical monks, the learning of the H-Menes became adulterated in passing from mouth to mouth, merely committed to memory, and was at last lost and changed into the many ridiculous notions and strange practices said to have been consigned afterward to these writings.

Withal the knowledge of reading those books was retained by some of the descendants of the H-Menes. I would not take upon myself to assert positively that some of the inhabitants of Peten—the place where the Itzas took refuge at the beginning of the Christian era after the destruction of their city—are not still in possession of the secret. At all events, I was told that people who could read the Maya pic-huun (books), and to whom the deciphering of the Uooh (letters) and the figurative characters was known, existed as far back as forty years ago, but kept their knowledge a secret, lest they should be persecuted by the priests as wizards and their precious volume wrenched from them and destroyed. The Indians hold them yet in great veneration. I am ready to give full credit to this assertion, for during my rambles and explorations in Peru and Bolivia I was repeatedly informed that people existed ensconced in remote nooks of the Andes, who could interpret the quippus (string writing) and yet made use of them to register their family records, keep account of their droves of llamas and other property.

I will not speak here at length of the monuments of Peru, that during eight years I have diligently explored; for, with but few exceptions, they dwindle into insignificance when compared with the majestic structures reared by the Mayas, the Caras, or Carians, and other nations of Central America, and become, therefore, devoid of interest in point of architecture and antiquity; excepting, however, the ruins of Tiahuanaco, that were already ruins at the time of the foundation of the Incas' empire, in the eleventh century of our era, and so old that the memory of the builders was lost in the abysm of time. The Indians used to say that these were the work of giants who lived before the sun shone in the heavens. It is well known that the Incas had no writing characters or hieroglyphics. The monuments raised by their hands do not afford any clew to their history. Dumb walls merely, their mutism leaves large scope to imagination, and one may conjecture any but the right thing. Of the historical records of that powerful but short-lived dynasty we have nothing left but the few imperfect and rotten quippus which are occasionally disinterred from the huacas.

If we desire to know anything about the civil laws and policy, the religious rites and ceremonies of the Incas, their scanty scientific attainments, and their very few and rude artistic attempts, we are obliged to recur to the "Comentarios reales" of Garcilasso de la Vega, to the Decadas of Herrera, to Zarata and other writers of the time of the conquest of Peru by Francisco Pizarro. None of them—Montesinos excepted—try to shed any light on the origin of Manco-Ceapac and that of his sister and wife, Mama-Oello, nor on the state of the country before their arrival at Cuzco.

I have been most happy in my researches into the history of this founder of the Inca dynasty, whom many consider a mere mythical being. In the library of the British Museum I came across an old Spanish manuscript, written by a Jesuit father, A. Anilla, under, as he asserts, the dictation of a certain Catari, an ex-quippucamayoe,—archive-keeper.

Writing now from memory, far away from my books, notes, plans, etc., etc., left for safe-keeping in the hands of a friend in Merida, I do not remember the number of the catalogue. But it is easy to look for "Las vidas de los hombres ilustres de la compania de Jesus en las Provincias del Peru," where I have read of the origin of Manco-Ceapac, of his wanderings from the sea coasts to those of the lake of Titicaca, and hence through the country till at last he arrived at the village of Cuzco, where he was kindly received by the inhabitants and established himself. This MS. also speaks of the history of his ancestors, of their arrival at Tumbes after leaving their homes in the countries of the north in search of some lost relatives, of their slow progress toward the South, and the vain inquiries about their friends, etc., etc. Now that I have studied part of the history of the Mayas and become acquainted with their customs, as pictured in the mural paintings that adorn the walls of the inner room of the monument raised to the memory of Chac-Mool by the Queen of Itza, his wife, on the south end of the east wall of the gymnasium, at Chichen (the tracings of these paintings are in our power), and also in the traditions and customs of their descendants, by comparing them with those of the Quichuas, I cannot but believe that Manco's ancestors emigrated from Xibalba or Mayapan, carrying with them the notions of the mother country, which they inculcated to their sons and grandsons, and introduced them among the tribes that submitted to their sway.

Let it be remembered that the Quichua was not the mother-tongue of the Incas, who in court spoke a language unknown to the common people. They, for political motives, and particularly to destroy the feuds that existed between the inhabitants of the different provinces of their vast dominions, ordered the Quichua to be taught to and learned by everybody, and to be regarded as the tongue of Ttahuantinsuyu. Their subjects, from however distant parts of the empire could then also understand each other, and came with time to consider themselves as members of the same family.

I have bestowed some attention upon the study of the Quichua. Not being acquainted with the dialects of the Aryan nations previous to their separation, I would not pretend to impugn the grand discovery of Mr. Lopez. But I can positively assert that expressions are not wanting in the Peruvian tongue that bear as strong a family resemblance to the dialects spoken in the Sandwich Islands and Tahiti, where I resided a few months, as the ruins of Tiahuanaco to those of Easter Island, that are composed of stones not to be found today in that place. When I visited it I was struck with the perfect similitude of the structures found there and the colossal statues, which forcibly recalled to my mind those said by Pinelo to have existed in Tiahuanaco even at the time of the Spanish conquest. This similarity in the buildings and language of the people separated by such obstacles as the deep water of the Pacific, hundreds of miles apart, cannot be attributed to a mere casual coincidence. To my mind it plainly shows that communications at some epoch or other have existed between these countries. On this particular point I have a theory of my own, which I think I can sustain by plausible facts, not speculative; but this is not the place to indulge in theories. I will, therefore, refrain from intruding mine on your readers. On the other hand, they are welcome to see it in the discourse I have pronounced before the American Geographical Society of New York in January, 1873, which has been published in the New York Tribune, lecture sheet No. 8.

The Quichua contains also many words that seem closely allied to the dialects spoken by the nations inhabiting the regions called today Central America and the Maya tongue. It would not be surprising that some colony emigrating from these countries should have reached the beautiful valley of Cuzco, and established themselves in it, in times so remote that we have no tradition even of the event. It is well known that the Quichua was the language of the inhabitants of the valley of Cuzco exclusively before it became generalized in Ttahuantinsuyu, and it is today the place where it is spoken with more perfection and purity.

In answer to the question, if man came from the older (?) world of Asia,—and if so how, there are several points to consider, and not the least important relates to the relative antiquity of the continents. You are well aware that geologists, naturalists and other scientists are not wanting who, with the late Professor Agassiz, sustain that this western continent is as old, if not older, than Asia and Europe, or Africa. Leaving this question to be settled by him who may accomplish it, I will repeat here what I have sustained long ago: that the American races are autochthonous, and have had many thousand years ago relations with the inhabitants of the other parts of the earth just as we have them today. This fact I can prove by the mural paintings and bas-reliefs, and more than all by the portraits of men with long beards that are to be seen in Chichen Itza, not to speak of the Maya tongue, which contains expressions from nearly every language spoken in olden times (to this point I will recur hereafter), and also by the small statues of tumbaya (a mixture of silver and copper) found in the huacas of Chimu, near Trujillo on the Peruvian coast, and by those of the valley of Chincha.

These statues, which seem to belong to a very ancient date, generally represent a man seated cross-legged on the back of a turtle. The head is shaved, except the top, where the hair is left to grow, and is plaited Chinese fashion. Not unfrequently the arms are extended, the hands rest upon pillars inscribed with characters much resembling Chinese. I have had one of these curious objects long in my possession. Notwithstanding being much worn by time and the salts contained in the earth, it was one of the most perfect I have seen. It was found in the valley of Chincha. I showed it one day to a learned Chinaman, and was quite amused in watching his face while he examined the image. His features betrayed so vividly the different emotions that preyed upon his mind,—curiosity, surprise, awe, superstitious fear. I asked him if he understood the characters engraved on the pillars? "Yes," said he, "these are the ancient letters used in China before the invention of those in usage today. That"—pointing to the image he had replaced, with signs of respect and veneration, on the table—"is very old; very great thing,—only very wise men and saints are allowed to touch it." After much ado and coaxing, he at last told me, in a voice as full of reverence as a Brahmin would in uttering the sacred word O-A-UM, that the meaning of the inscription was Fo.

Some families of Indians, that live in the remote bolsones (small valleys of the Andes), sport even today a cue as the inhabitants of the Celestial empire, and the people in Eten, a small village near Piura, speak a language unknown to their neighbors, and are said to easily hold converse with the coolies of the vicinage. When and how did this intercourse exist, is rather difficult to answer. I am even timorous to insinuate it, lest the believers in the chronology of the Bible, who make the world a little more than 5800 years old, should come down upon me, and, after pouring upon my humble self their most damning anathemas, consign me, at the dictates of their sectarian charity, to that place over the door of which Dante read,—

Perme si va tra la perduta gente. * * * * * Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch' entrate.

And yet mine is not the fault if reason tells me that the climate of Tiahuanaco, situated near the shores of the lake of Titicaca, 13,500 feet above the sea, must not have always been what it is now, otherwise the ground around it, and for many miles barren, would not have been able to support the population of a large city. Today it produces merely a few ocas (a kind of small potato that is preserved frozen), and yields scanty crops of maize and beans. Tiahuanaco may, at some distant period, have enjoyed the privilege of being a seaport. Nothing opposes this supposition. On one hand, it is a well-known fact that, owing to the conical motion of the earth, the waters retreat continually from the western coasts of America, which rise at a certain known ratio every century. On the other hand, the bank of oysters and other marine shells and debris, found on the slopes of the Andes to near their summits, obviously indicate that at some time or other the sea has covered them.

When was that? I will leave to sectarians to compute, lest the reckoning should carry us back to that time when the space between Tiahuanaco and Easter Island was dry land, and the valleys and plains now lying under the waters of the Pacific swarmed with industrious, intelligent human beings, were strewn with cities and villas, yielded luxuriant crops to the inhabitants, and the figure should show that people lived there before the creation of the world. I recoil with horror at the mere idea of being even suspected of insinuating such an heretical doctrine.

But if the builders of the strange structures on Easter Island have had, then, communications with the rearers of Tiahuanaco by land, then we may easily account for the many coincidences which exist between the laws, religious rites, sciences,—astronomical and others,—customs, monuments, languages, and even dresses, of the inhabitants of this Western continent, and those of Asia and Africa. Hence the similarity of many Asiatic and American notions. Hence, also, the generalized idea of a deluge among men, whose traditions remount to the time when the waters that covered the plains of America, Europe, Africa and Asia left their beds, invaded the portions of the globe they now occupy, and destroyed their inhabitants.

Since that time, when, of course, all communications were cut between the few individuals that escaped the cataclysm by taking refuge on the highlands, their intercourse has been renewed at different and very remote epochs—a fact that I can easily prove.

But, why should we lose ourselves in the mazes of supposition, where we run a fair chance of wandering astray, when we may recur to the monuments of Yucatan? These are unimpeachable witnesses that the Peninsula was inhabited by civilized people many thousand years ago, even before the time ascribed by the Mosaic records to the creation.

Among the ruins of Ake, a city unique in Yucatan for its strange architecture, evidently built by giants, whose bones are now and then disinterred, a city that was inhabited at the time of the conquest, and where the Spaniards retreated for safety after the defeat they suffered at the hands of the dwellers of the country near the ruins of Chichen-Itza, is to be seen an immense building composed of three superposed platforms. The upper one forms a terrace supporting three rows of twelve columns. Each column is composed of eight large square stones, piled one upon the other, without cement, to a height of four metres, and indicate a lapse of 160 years in the life of the nation. These stones are, or were, called Katun. Every twenty years, amid the rejoicings of the people, another stone was added to those already piled up, and a new era or epoch was recorded in the history and life of the people. After seven of these stones had thus been placed—that is to say, after a lapse of 140 years—they began the Ahau-Katun, or King Katun, when a small stone was added every four years on one of the corners of the uppermost, and at the end of the twenty years of the Ahau-Katun, with great ceremonies and feasting, the crowning stone was placed upon the supporting small ones. (The photographs of this monument can be seen at the house of Mr. H. Dixon.) Now, as I have said, we have thirty-six columns composed of eight stones, each representing a period of twenty years, which would give us a total of 5760 years since the first Katun was placed on the terrace to the time when the city was abandoned, shortly after the Spanish conquest.

On the northeast of the great pyramid at Chichen-Itza, at a short distance from this monument, can be seen the graduated pyramid that once upon a time supported the main temple of the city dedicated to Kukulcan (the winged serpent), the protecting divinity of the place. On three sides the structure is surrounded by a massive wall about five metres high and eight wide on the top. On that wall are to be seen the columns of the Katuns. The rank vegetation has invaded every part of the building, and thrown many of the columns to the ground. I began to clear the trees from the pyramid, but was unable to finish work because of the disarming of my workmen, owing to a revolution that a certain Teodosio Canto had initiated against the government of Yucatan. I counted as many as one hundred and twenty columns, but got tired of pushing my way through the nearly impenetrable thicket, where I could see many more among the shrubs.

Those I counted would give an aggregate of 19,200 years,—quite a respectable old age, even for the life of a nation. This is plainly corroborated by the other means of reckoning the antiquity of the monuments,—such as the wear of the stones by meteorological influences, or the thickness of the stratum of the rich loam, the result of the decay of vegetable life, accumulated on the roofs and terraces of the buildings, not to speak of their position respecting the pole-star and the declination of the magnetic needle.

The architecture of the Mayas is unlike that of any other people of what is called the Old World. It resembles only itself. And, notwithstanding that Mayapan, from the most remote times, was visited by travellers from Asia and Africa, by the wise and learned men who came from abroad to consult the H-Menes; notwithstanding, also, the invasion of the Nahuas and the visitation of the pilgrims, the Maya art of building remained peculiar and unchanged, and their language was adopted by their conquerors. The Nahuas, after destroying the city of the wise men, established themselves in Uxmal, on account of its strategic position, in the midst of a plain inclosed by hills easily defended. To embellish that city, where dwelt the foes of Chichen, they copied the complex ornamentation of the most ancient building of that metropolis,—the palace and museum,—disdaining the chastity, the simplicity, the beautiful and tasteful elegance of the monuments of the latter period. These, of graceful and airy proportions, are utterly devoid of the profusion and complexity of ornamentation and design that overload the palaces and temples of Uxmal. When gazing on the structures of that city, and comparing them with those of Chichen, it seemed that I was contemplating a low-born, illiterate man, on whom Fortune, in one of her strange freaks, has smiled, and who imagines that by bedecking himself with gaudy habiliments and shining jewelry he acquires knowledge and importance. All in Uxmal proclaims the decadency of art, the relaxation of morals, the depravity of customs, the lewdness of the inhabitants. In Chichen they represent the life-giving power of the universe under the emblems of the Sun and Kukulcan. In Uxmal they worshipped the phallus, which is to be seen everywhere, in the courts, in the ornaments of the temples, in the residences of the priests and priestesses, in all the monuments except the house of the governor, built by Aac, the younger brother and assassin of Chac-Mool.

The edifices of Uxmal are evidently constructed with less art and knowledge than those of Chichen. The latter remain whole and nearly intact, except in those places where the hand of man has been busy; the former have suffered much from the inclemencies of the atmosphere, and from the ignorance and vandalistic propensities of the visitors. I have been present at the destruction of magnificent walls where the ruins stand. Some prefer to destroy these relics of past ages, rather than to pick up with more ease the stones that strew the soil in every direction.

The ornaments of temples and palaces are mostly composed of hieroglyphics, highly adorned, of the emblems of religious rites, of statues of great men and priests, surrounded by many embellishments. In Uxmal the columns are representations of the phallus-worship of the Nahuas. In Chichen the base is formed by the head of Kukulcan, the shaft by the body of the serpent, with its feathers beautifully carved to the very chapter. On the chapters of the columns that support the portico, at the entrance of the castle in Chichen-Itza, may be seen the carved figures of long-bearded men, with upraised hands, in the act of worshipping sacred trees. They forcibly recall to the mind the same worship in Assyria, as seen on the slabs found by Layard in the ruins of Nineveh, now in the Assyrian gallery of the British Museum. No one can form an exact idea of the monuments of Mayapan by reading mere descriptions. It is necessary to either examine the buildings themselves (and this is not quite devoid of danger, since the most interesting are situated in territories forbidden to white men, and occupied by the hostile Indians of Chan-Santa-Cruz, who since 1849 wage war to the knife on the inhabitants of Yucatan, and have devastated the greatest part of that State), or to study my magnificent collection of photographs where they are most faithfully portrayed; that can be done with more ease, without running the risk of losing one's life.

It is said that the deciphering of the American hieroglyphics is a rather desperate enterprise, because we have no Rosetta stone with a bilingual inscription. I humbly beg to differ from that opinion; at least as regards the inscriptions on the walls of the monuments of Mayapan. In the first instance, the same language, with but few alterations, that was used by the builders of these edifices is today commonly spoken by the inhabitants of Yucatan and Peten, and we have books, grammars and dictionaries compiled by the Franciscan friars in the first years of the conquest, translated in Spanish, French and English. We do not, therefore, require an American Rosetta stone to be discovered. Secondly, if it is undeniable that Bishop Landa consigned to the flames all the books of the Mayas that happened to fall into his hands, it is also true that by a singular freak he preserved us, in great part at least, the Maya alphabet in his work, "Las Cosas de Yucatan," discovered by Brasseur de Bourbourg in the national library of Madrid. The Americanists owe much to the researches of the abbe. I consider his works as deserving a better reception than they have ever had from the scientific world at large. It is true that he is no respecter of Mosaic chronology,—and who can be in presence of the monuments of Central America? Reason commands, and we must submit to evidence and truth! I have carefully compared the characters of said manuscript with those engraved upon the stones in Chichen, which I photographed, and found them alike. Some on the frontispieces of the palaces and temples differ, it is true, but do not our ornamented capital letters from the small? Their deciphering may give a little more trouble.

The Mayas, besides using their alphabet, employed at the same time a kind of pictorial writing, something not unlike our rebus. They also would record domestic and public life-customs, religious worship and ceremonies, funeral rites, court receptions, battles, etc., etc., just as we do in our paintings and engravings, portraying them with superior art and perfect knowledge of drawing and colors, which also had their accepted and acknowledged meaning. These we have already partly deciphered, and now understand.

I have said it was my firm conviction that among the inhabitants of Peten—nay, perchance, also, of Chan-Santa-Cruz—some one may be found who is still possessed of the knowledge of reading the ancient Pic-huun. But the Indians are anything but communicative, and they are at all times unwilling to reveal to the white men whatever may have been imparted to them by their fathers. To keep these things a secret they consider a sacred duty. They even refuse to make known the medicinal properties of certain plants, while they are willing, provided they feel a liking for you, or are asked by a person whom they respect or love, to apply these plants, prepared by them, to heal the bite of a rattlesnake, tarantula, or any of the many venomous animals that abound in their forests.

During the many years that I have been among the Indians of all parts of America,—now with the civilized, now amidst those that inhabit the woods far away from the commerce of people,—strange to say, reciprocal sympathy and good feeling have always existed between us; they have invariably ceased to consider me a stranger. This singular attractive feeling has often caused them to open their hearts; and to it I owe the knowledge of many curious facts and traditions that otherwise I should never have known. This unknown power did not fail me in Espita, a pretty little town in the eastern part of Yucatan, where I received from a very old Indian not only the intelligence that forty years ago men still existed who could read the ancient Maya writing, but also a clue to decipher the inscriptions on the buildings.

Conversing with some friends in Espita about the ancient remains to be found in that vicinity, they offered to show me one of the most interesting relics of olden times. A few days later they ushered into my presence a venerable old Indian. His hairs were gray, his eyes blue with age. The late curate of the place, Senor Dominguez, who departed this life at the respectable age of ninety, was wont to say that he had, since a child, and as long as he could remember, always known Mariano Chable, the same old man. They give him 150 years at least; yet he enjoys perfect health; still works at his trade (he is a potter); is in perfect possession of his mental faculties, and of an unerring memory. Having lost his wife, of about the same age as himself, but a short time before my interview with him, he complained of feeling lonely, and thought that as soon as the year of mourning was over he would take another wife to himself. It was a Sunday morning that we met for the first time. He had been to church, assisted at mass. There the recollection of his departed life-companion had assailed him and filled his old heart with sadness,—and he had called to his relief another acquaintance—rum—to help him to dispel his sorrow. Sundry draughts had made him quite talkative. He was in the right condition to open his bosom to a sympathizing friend,—so I was to him already. The libation I offered with him to the manes of his regretted mate unsealed his lips. After a few desultory questions, with the object of testing his memory and intelligence, with great caution I began to inquire about the points I had more at heart—to wit, to gather all possible information and traditions upon the ruins of Chichen-Itza I was about to visit. The old man spoke only Maya; and my friend Cipriano Rivas, well versed in that language, was my interpreter, not being myself sufficiently proficient in it to hold a long conversation.

"Father," said I, "have you ever been in Chichen? Do you know anything about the big houses that are said to exist there?"

"I have never been in Chichen, and of my own knowledge know nothing of those big houses; but remember what the old men used to say about them when I was young."

"And what was that, pray. Will you tell me?"

"Oh yes! I had a friend in Saci (Valladolid today),—he died forty years ago or so,—a very, very old man. His name was Manuel Alayon. He used to tell us all about these enchanted houses. He had a book that none but he could read, which contained many things about them. We used to gather at his house at night to listen to the reading of that book."

"Where is the book now, father?"

"Don't know. Alayon died. No one ever knew what became of the sacred book. Afterwards came the insurrection of the Indians, and the old friends also died."

"Do you remember what the book said?"

"Now, one of the things comes to my mind. It said that there was a very old house called the Akab-sib, and in that house a writing, which recited that a day would come when the inhabitants of Saci would converse with those of Ho [Merida] by means of a cord, that would be stretched by people not belonging to the country."

When I heard this, the idea occurred to me that the old fellow was quietly having his little bit of fun at my expense. In order to be sure of it I inquired:—

"What do you say, father? How can that be? Do you imagine how people forty leagues apart can converse by means of a cord?"

But when my interlocutor answered that he could not either know or imagine how that could be done, and particularly when my friends assured me that Chable had no idea of the electric telegraph, I then became convinced of his good faith, and began to ponder on the strange disclosure we had just listened to. The old man soon rose to take his departure, and I invited him to call again, when he had not been to church and consoled himself with his spiritual friend, in order that I might be able to take his portrait. He repeated his visit a few days later, as requested. I took his portrait, and asked him again about the monuments of Chichen. But, alas! that day his lips were sealed, or his memory failed, or his Indian secrecy had returned. He knew nothing of them; had never been there; did not remember what the old men said of the enchanted houses when he was young, except that the place had been enchanted for many, many years, and that it was not good to sleep near them, because the Xlab-pak-yum, the lord of the old walls, would be angry at the intrusion, and chastise the offender by disease and death within the year.

Some months later I arrived at Chichen. The revelation of the old man recurred vividly to my mind. I immediately went in quest of the building he had mentioned—the Akab-sib. [This name literally means—Akab, dark, mysterious; sib, to write. But we believe that anciently it was called Alcab-sib; that is, Alcab, to run in a hurry; sib, to write.] We had some trouble in finding it, concealed and confounded as it was among the tall trees of the forest, its roof supporting a dense thicket. We visited its eighteen rooms in search of the precious inscription, and at length discovered it on the lintel of an inner doorway in the room situated at the south end of the edifice. The dust of ages was thick upon it and so concealed the characters as to make them well-nigh invisible. With care I washed the slab, then with black crayon darkened its surface until the intaglio letters appeared in white on a dark background. (The photographs of this inscription can be seen at Mr. H. Dixon's.)

While thus employed Mrs. Le Plongeon stood by my side, studying the characters as they gradually appeared more and more distinct. To our astonishment we soon discovered the cord mentioned by Chable. It started from the mouth of a face (which represents the people of Saci), situated near the right-hand upper corner of the slab, then runs through its whole length in a slanting direction and terminates at the ear of another head (the inhabitants of Ho). The inclined direction of the cord or line indicates the topographical position of the respective cities—Saci (Valladolid)—being more elevated above the level of the sea than Ho (Merida). But imagine now our amazement at noticing the strange fact that the mode of communication that Chable ignored was ... by means of electric currents! Yes, of electricity! This fact is plainly indicated by the four zigzag lines, representing the lightning, coming from the four cardinal points and converging toward a centre near the upper or starting station, and also by the solitary zigzag seen about the middle of the cord—following its direction—indicating a half-way station. Then the electric telegraph, that we consider the discovery par excellence of the nineteenth century, was known of the ancient Itza sages 5000 or 10,000 years ago. Ah, Nihil novum sub solem! And in that slab we have a clue to the deciphering of the Maya inscriptions,—an American Rosetta stone.

I will now say a few words of that language that has survived unaltered through the vicissitudes of the nations that spoke it thousands of years ago, and is yet the general tongue in Yucatan—the Maya. There can be no doubt that this is one of the most ancient languages on earth. It was used by a people that lived at least 6000 years ago, as proved by the Katuns, to record the history of their rulers, the dogmas of their religion, on the walls of their palaces, on the facades of their temples.

In a lecture delivered last year before the American Geographical Society of New York, Dr. C. H. Berendt has shown that the Maya was spoken, with its different dialects, by the inhabitants of Mayapan and Xibalba and the other nations of Central America south of Anahuac. He ought to be a good authority on the subject, having dedicated some years in Yucatan to its study.

The Maya, containing words from almost every language, ancient or modern, is well worth the attention of philologists. And since, as Professor Max Muller said, philology is the shining light that is to illuminate the darkness of ethnology, besides the portraits of the bearded men discovered by me in Chichen, those of the princes and priests, and the beautiful statue of Chac-Mool, which serve to determine the different types, may be a guide to discover whence man and civilization came to America, if the American races can be proved not to be autochthonous. Notwithstanding a few guttural sounds, the Maya is soft, pliant, rich in diction and expression; even every shade of thought may be expressed.

* * * * *

Whence, then, are the Maya language and the Mayas? I should like to learn from the Americanists who are soon to congregate in Luxembourg.


NOTE. The omission (as indicated) at the close of Dr. Le Plongeon's letter is a repetition of what he has previously stated in other communications, in regard to the many foreign words found in the Maya language, and that the Greek is there largely represented. Then the question arises, who brought this language to Mayapan? He continues: "The customs, religion, architecture of this country, have nothing in common with those of Greece. Who carried the Maya to the country of Helen? Was it the Caras or Carians, who have left traces of their existence in many countries of America? They are the most ancient navigators known. They roved the seas long before the Phoenicians. They landed on the North-East coasts of Africa, thence they entered the Mediterranean, where they became dreaded as pirates, and afterwards established themselves on the shores of Asia Minor. Whence came they? What was their origin? Nobody knows. They spoke a language unknown to the Greeks, who laughed at the way they pronounced their own idiom. Were they emigrants from this Western continent? Was not the tunic of white linen, that required no fastening, used by the Ionian women, according to Herodotus, the same as the uipil of the Maya females of to-day even, introduced by them among the inhabitants of some of the Mediterranean isles?"

* * * * *

The latest information about the statue exhumed at Chichen Itza must be discouraging to those solicitous for the careful conservation of this work of art. La Revista de Merida of May 31, 1877, has this quotation from a Mexican newspaper:—


"LA PATRIA has the following paragraph copied from the EPOCA, which ought to attract the attention of all interested. 'The notable statue of Chac-Mool, which was received in the capital of Yucatan with so great demonstrations of jubilee, and with unaccustomed pomp, has remained in our city since its arrival, some days ago, abandoned in a small square, afar off and dirty, where the small boys of the neighborhood amuse themselves by pelting it. If Sr. Dn. Augustin del Rio had known the little value that would have been placed upon his gift, it is certain that he would have guarded there [at Yucatan] his king and his records, about which no one here concerns himself.'"

How much of the above unfavorable criticism on the neglect of this archaeological treasure by the central government, is due to the political bias of the source of this information, cannot be determined. We can, however, protest against any want of appreciation of a monument of past history in this manner lost to the State of Yucatan and to the discoverer, Dr. Le Plongeon, by the arbitrary exercise of official authority.


[58-*] Stephens' Travels in Yucatan, Vol. II., page 303.

[59-*] The hostile Indians (sublivados) so often spoken of by Dr. Le Plongeon in his communications, are a body of revolted natives, variously estimated at from 50,000 to 140,000. They are called Indians of Chan-Santa-Cruz, from the name of their chief town, in the south-eastern part of the peninsula. During political troubles in 1847, a formidable rising of Indians against the whites took place in Yucatan, which has not yet been subdued. Nearly every year the frontier towns and plantations bordering upon the territory of these rebels, suffer from their attacks; their inhabitants are slain and their property is destroyed. So formidable is this enemy that at one time their soldiers, said to be supplied with English arms, advanced to within 15 miles of the city of Merida. As matters stand to-day, about two-fifths of the territory of the state is in their power, and a large number of the best plantations in the peninsula are deserted.

A friend, Sr. Dn. Andres Aznar Perez, of Merida, a gentleman of large public spirit and much knowledge of this subject, informs the writer that "the principal Indian leaders in the revolution of 1847, were the cruel Cicilio Chi', and Jacinto Pat, the latter assassinated for his sympathy with the whites. Crecencio Poot (spoken of by Dr. Le Plongeon), is one of their later leaders. I am well convinced that the revolt of our Indians will never be brought to an end by force, as has been thus far pretended. I call this unfortunate race noble, and well it deserves the title if we follow dispassionately the sufferings it has had to endure from the remote times of the conquest until the present, with habits so moderate, so frugal, so mild, that only the inhuman treatment of civil as well as religious authorities has been able to exasperate them. Theirs have been always the sufferings, the labors—never the enjoyments—that accompany enlightenment and healthy morality." An extended and unprejudiced account of this rebellion has just been published at Merida, called "Historia de las Revoluciones de Yucatan," by Sr. D. Serapio Baqueiro, in two volumes, which covers a period from 1840 to 1864. For years a constant military surveillance of the main avenues of approach from the eastern and south-eastern sections of the state has been maintained at a great expense to the government without affording adequate protection against periodical hostile incursions.

[63-*] This idea was better expressed by our learned associate, Mr. Haven, in Proceedings of this Society, No. 55, page 56, in commenting upon the works of Brasseur de Bourbourg.

[74-*] See Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, de Diego de Landa. By L'Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg. Paris, 1864, page 327.

[89-*] Stephens' Travels in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan, vol. I., page 158.

[89-[+]] Id. vol. II., page 349.

[89-[+]] Encyclopaedia Britannica. Boston, 1859: Article Sculpture.

[90-*] Relacion de las Cosas de Yucatan, de Diego de Landa. By L. Abbe Brasseur de Bourbourg. Paris, 1864, page 347.

[90-[+]] Id. 197.

[90-[+]] Id. 199.

[90-Sec.] Id. 183.

Transcriber's Note

The following typographical errors were corrected:

Page Error 7 of this region. changed to of this region, 11 Cites et Ruines Americaines changed to Cites et Ruines Americaines 14 a thick dust changed to a thick dust. 21 a guadas changed to aguadas Fn. 29-* sur le Mexique changed to sur le Mexique 57 discovery of the statute changed to discovery of the statue 58 1 Represents changed to 1. Represents 58 3 Shows changed to 3. Shows 58 5 Represents changed to 5. Represents Ill. 1 LePlongeon changed to Le Plongeon 62 7 Represents changed to 7. Represents 62 9 Shows changed to 9. Shows 62 10 Apparently changed to 10. Apparently Ill. 2 LePlongeon changed to Le Plongeon 71 Plate No 7 changed to Plate No. 7 74 was dated Meri a, changed to was dated Merida 77 oblong. changed to oblong, 79 wise archaeologist. changed to wise archaeologist, 88 munificient changed to munificent 91 upon the the changed to upon the 93 rambling mong changed to rambling among 94 respect a d changed to respect and 95 Bisop Landa changed to Bishop Landa 96 particularly to destory changed to particularly to destroy 96 that the Quichua, changed to that the Quichua 96 valley if Cuzco changed to valley of Cuzco 99 nclemencies changed to inclemencies 99 buildings th mselves changed to buildings themselves 100 commerce of people. changed to commerce of people, 101 Do you rember changed to Do you remember

The following words were inconsistently spelled and hyphenated:

3d / 3rd &tc / etc. cenote / senote Chaac-mol / Chaacmol / Chac-Mool / Chac Mool Cukulcan / Kukulcan debris / debris l'Ecriture / l'Ecriture Merida / Merida north-east / northeast Orosco / Orozco Senor / Senor south-eastern / southeastern Tabasco / Tobasco to-day / today


Previous Part     1  2  3
Home - Random Browse