Here is the final Part 5 of a fantastic 5-part series by our contributing writer Michal Pawlus, describing in more detail the concession to conquer the Maya Yucatan. You can find the full series linked below.
Antonio de Ciudad Real wrote in 1588 that when reaching Yucatan they asked the local ruler what the name of this place was, but he did not understand what the Spanish were saying, so he answered uic athan in his language, which meant what do you speak, we do not understand you. So the Spaniards considered this place to be called the Yucatan.
This name is a symbol of a new chapter in the history of this region and the emergence of a new identity on the peninsula. The beginning of the period of political and religious struggle on the peninsula and the feeling of its separateness from Mexico and attempts to create one’s own state. An example would be the seasonal state of the Republic of Yucatan.
This series of articles will focus on the “last days of the Mayans” during the Spanish conquest of the Yucatan, and their effects.
Concession to Conquer the Yucatan is a Pentalogy that has the following five parts:
1. Concession to Conquer the Yucatan: Incomprehensible Language
2. Concession to Conquer the Yucatan: People called Yucatecos
3. Concession to Conquer the Yucatan: Interrogation of Faith
4. Concession to Conquer the Yucatan: Standard of the Maya People
5. Concession to Conquer the Yucatan: Green Jaguar (We are here)
Bring the sun … bring the sun my son, carry it in your hand to my plate. In the center of his heart is a spear, a lofty cross. A green jaguar sits above the sun and drinks its blood.Source:The Books of Chilam Balam – The puzzle in Zuyua language, relating to the “lofty cross”, after the conquest
At the mouth of the well
Chichen Itza is a Mayan city-state that was a regional power between the tenth and twelfth centuries. To this day, it is identified with the Mayan Power, thanks to its magnificent buildings.
In the thirteenth century, there was an influx of Putún groups who are not considered indigenous Maya, but rather Mexican peoples of that period. They won the war of domination with Chichen Itza. The new groups assimilated and lost importance over time, as was the case with the Mayapan that rose after the defeat of Chichen Itza.
The history of the outer groups that conquered the Yucatán at the base of the story is similar to the conquest of the Mexican valley by the Aztecs, or the conquest of the Imperial Empire by the ‘barbarians’.
The nations that defeated Rome adopted the Roman way of life of knowledge, language, and architecture. Thus the conquerors became the continuators of the Roman culture that the Spaniards also represented in the new world.
The ”Armageddon” brought by the Spaniards to the Yucatan, perceived by the Maya, could have compared it to the situation during the war with Hunac Ceel Cauich (the general who conquered Chichen Itzá). For the Mayans, the world before the Spanish conquest was a time of prosperity and holiness, a time in which, according to them, there was no sin, no disease, everything was organized according to the rhythm of the stars. On the other hand, the colonial world was perceived in the opposite way as a catastrophe, a collapse, as every conquered nation perceives it. The conquest was a time of poverty, slavery, church tributes, the destruction of their beliefs and cultural monuments, and the taking of their women.
It is possible for the Mayans to adopt a controlled assimilation tactic that may have resulted from their political powerlessness, or they assumed that they would be able to control it and wait out the unfavorable period. Recognizing it as a natural cycle. The Chichen Itza experience was for them an example that the assimilation of an outside people is possible. But the Spaniards had a less cultural connection to the Maya than the Putún groups.
Another important factor was that the Maya did not know what opportunities and resources the Spanish Metropolis had, and they did not have enough knowledge about European cultures.
The initial small Spanish population may have appeared to be a very easy target of self-assimilation, under Mayan supervision.
The small population of conquerors was to overcome the time that was to change to the benefit of the Maya as the natural continuum in the universe.
Two of the Chilim Balam books that have come to light contain a set of esoteric questions and answers known as “the language of the Zuyua.” The Zuyua language was developed in the pre-conquest period as a sort of examination by the commander in chief to identify and remove those who managed to infiltrate the ranks of the rightful chief. This test was still used clandestinely during the colonial period and was held in reserve as one of the main weapons to be used in the purges that were to follow the return to power of legitimate chiefs, when the “offspring of harlots, two-day occupiers of power, rogues of reign” will be destroyed.”
Fifty years after the conquest, the Maya leaders tried to dress like Spaniards and even applied for permission to ride horses.
One of Mesoamerican favorite tactics was the mock retreat.
Was this tactic consistently implemented during the colonial period?
A strategy to adapt the traditional Mayan power structures to the Spanish system. Reorganization of its own structure, adopting from the Spanish cultural and technological elements that are at a higher level but protecting the foundations of its own philosophy through falsehood in relation to strangers.
The Franciscan Commissar, who traveled the Yucatan in 1588, was pleased with the enthusiastic and unforced greetings he received in the village. He reported that he was in – rains of fruit, turkeys, and flowers. Dances in the style of Castile and this country. Castilian or Spanish because that is how the Spaniards were called then, as the region that is the cradle of their culture.
To what extent have traditional intercountry and interprovincial tivalias fueled these extravagances?
The amusements were also devised autonomously, and one “ancient dance” turned out to be particularly popular: the Indians brought him a strange device to greet him, and it was:
litter-like frames with a round and narrow tower like a pulpit, more than two vars high; covered from top to bottom with pieces of painted cotton, with two flags on top, one on each side. On this pulpit, visible from the waist up, sat the Indian very well and nicely dressed, who, with the rattles of the country in one hand, and a fan in the other, facing the Father Commissioner, did not stop gesturing and whistling to make the teponastle [drum of the log] rumble. Another Indian near the litter was very loud and made shrill whistles; the six Indians carried this litter and the tower on their shoulders, and even they danced and sang, playing among the many who sang to the same sound, steps and the same dance tricks as the others, to the sounds of teponastle: this tower was very visible, very high and it was visible from a distance, being so tall and painted.
This dance and trick is called zo in this language and is what was used in antiquity. Diego López de Cogolludo (SpanishFranciscan historian of Yucatan) noticed that the natives were bold and able to ridicule the Spaniards in their presence, knowing that they did not understand them. It describes the relentless worship of the Indians for the “singer” responsible for their traditional songs.
Assimilation of the One Almighty God
Diego López Cogolludo, in his work, mentioned the Mayan God Hunab Ku, which, according to historical sources, was not represented in the form of sculptures and paintings because it was incorporeal. Hispanic missionaries used it to equate him to the God Judeo-Christian. This god had similar characteristics to the Christian God in that Hunab translates as “one”, “unique” and K’u as “god” meaning “One God” or “One God”. This deity was credited by Diego López
Cogolludo in his work History of the Yucatan:
The Yucatan Indians believed that there was one true and living God who claimed to be the greatest of gods, and that he had no form, nor could he be portrayed as incorporeal. His name was Hunab Ku, as can be found in their rich vocabulary that begins with our Spanish. From him they said, that everything comes from him, and as incorporeal they did not worship him with any image, nor did they…
In 1688, Lopez published his book, About 150 Years of Colonialism.
The Mayan world was different then. Most of the Mayans, due to constant indoctrination, abandoned idolatry and became Christians. So some question Hunab Ku, who could have played the role of the supreme Mayan god, with features similar to the Christian God.
As you browse the History of the Yucatan, it turns out that López Cogolludo developed his writings from primary sources and built a history based on what is now called historiographic practice.
Moreover, his speech horizon differs from that of the first evangelizers of the Yukatek area. He had the opportunity to observe with the eyes of the present the events that took place in the past by members of his Franciscan order, by the royal authorities, and by the Mayan Indians.
Therefore, a distinction has to be made when it comes to data given for the first time, information obtained from another source, or the explanation and interpretation of the author himself.
It is worth remembering this when reading the publications on the Maya that took place after a long period of colonization, and the people who described the reality of the sixteenth-century Yucatan played the role of historians, not chroniclers.
In the book The History of the Yucatan, he identifies Hunab Ku as a deity pre-Hispanic. His descriptions of the Mayan religion and worldview describe in the book part of the Mayan religious thought:
That their elders, from whom they descended, for many centuries worshiped those Gods whom they also worshiped and considered good: from whom they received the goods and health they had, and therefore did not dare to take them from there or abandon their adoration because they would lose their crops and the rest they had received, and that they would flee into the sea furiously and lose them…
When the Spaniards discovered Jukathan, they found more political people in their rooms than the rest had discovered by that time. They continued their profession of religion, as well as being idolatrous, worshiping various idols, ruling over various pretended deities, and not knowing the one Almighty God (the spiritual disease of all these Indian nations), who allowed them to know the truth when by his divine grace he brought them down to the obedience of the Roman Church, the only Mother of true faith and submission to our Catholic kings…
That he had found the Chief Lord who, asking about his ancient religion, which they followed, told him:
What did they know and believe in God who was in heaven and that God was Father, Son and Spirit. Saints, and that the Father’s name was Yzóna, who was raised by men, and the Son’s name was Bacáb, who was born of a Virgin Virgin, called Chiribias, who is in Heaven with God, and Chiribias’ mother was Yxchel, and the Holy Spirit was He called Echvah… Asking what he meant by the three names of the three, he said that Yzón meant the Great Father, and Bacáb, The son of the Great Father and Echvah Mercader, Chiribias sounds like the Mother, the son of the Great Father…
The Yucatan Indians believed that there was a real and living God Vonic, that they considered themselves the greatest of Gods, and that he had no form or representation because he was incorporeal.
The one that they called Hunab Ku as in his large vocabulary that begins with our Spanish. From Him, they said that everything happened, and as immaterials they did not worship Him with any image, nor did they have (as it is elsewhere) that He had a Son whom they named Hun Itzamná or Yaxcocahmut.
For López Cogolludo, these events take place at the same historical time, based on a mythical vision whose beginning is uncertain but culminating in the arrival of Spaniards to the lands of the Maya. Lopez’s descriptions may indicate that the Maya long ago knew the one all-powerful God Hunab Ku, without the pictorial, without the carnal.
In time, however, they changed their path and became idolatrous people.
However, the fact of describing Lopez may be evidence that despite the change in direction of his religion, the God Hunab Ku was still remembered and worshiped by the Maya, which shows that the Maya were participants in the same natural history that permeated all mankind.
“About some especially revered idols and the reasons they had for it,” deities Kinchahau and Itzamná are evidence of oblivion and ignorance culminating in idolatry, which is why López Cogolludo says the Maya had many Gods. But they did know one almighty God.
Lopez likens the Mayan Ceremonies to the Catholic Liturgy Ceremonies such as baptism, confession, penance in which the Indians called God “Ku” or “Kue”.
Such a comparison may be taken as an image of Lopez’s forgery. Because the congregation seems almost unbelievable. One supreme deity is found in all religions of the world, he makes a comparison, but the coincidence of Diego López Cogolludo emphasizes two different aspects of Mayan life: Ytzamná and Chac, but also speaks of gods he considers lesser, such as Ixchel, Citbolontun, and Kukulkán, distinguishing from all of them Kinchahau as the supreme god:
They pretended that God was bigger than everyone else they also called Kinchahau. He was married and that his wife was the inventor of the cotton textile they dressed him in, and therefore they worshiped her for the Goddess, calling her Ix açaol voh. The Son of the One God, who, as I said, felt that they had seen him and called him Ytzamná I think it was this man who first invented among them characters that served as letters to the Indians, because they also called him Ytzamná and worshiped him for God, as well as another goddess, and was called by Ix Kanleox and various other names…
On the other hand, he explains that Ytzamná or Itzamná was a God with history and extraordinary powers:
after his death, he was a great deified king who called himself “the dew or substance of heaven and clouds”,
Additionally, they said that they brought him the dead, who raised up and healed the sick and thus held him in great veneration.
These natives had this merit and therefore did not know another God who was the author life, but that idol that they said would resurrect and heal them:
Itzamná was a mighty god and a cultural hero because of his qualities, but there is no doubt that his attributes were very similar to those of Jesus of Nazareth…
This may cause consternation as it seems to keep describing that the Maya worshiped multiple gods without arguing for the existence of this “one Almighty God”.
In another chapter, Lopez describes the possibility of the Maya knowing the Supreme God, which is described in chapter six, History of the Yucatan.
The Mayan natives believed in the existence of one supreme God without representation. Such a religious phenomenon was possible thanks to the grace of God, because at least he remarks:
It is not known with all surely that the preaching of the Gospel gave birth to the people of this America before it was revealed to our Spaniards.
It seems that the natives were a fertile land that needed the seeds of Christianity, thanks to:
The wonderful disposition with which the Majesty of our Lord God prepared the spirits of these natives to receive them.
In this context and as evidence that the Mayans had knowledge of one God, he quotes Antonio de Remesal:
10 who relates that Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas received a letter from a clergyman
Francisco Hernández, who knows the Indian language, in which he told him that, by asking the chief lord of the Campeche region about his old religion, he told him about Yzón, Bacab, Chiribias, Yxchel, and Echvah, which in Hernández’s interpretation corresponded to God the Father, God the Son, the mother of the Son, that is, respectively, the Virgin Mary, St. Anna, mother of Mary, and the Holy Spirit; López Cogolludo dates these events between 1545 and 1546.
Catholic ceremonies with Maya ceremonies seem less likely, which does not mean that Lopez did not describe the truth.
Not only the monks (referred to in the previous chapter, Part 4) knew what was said; but that the Yucatan natives also had and used an oral confession of sins somewhat similar to The Blessed Sacrament of Penance and some other ceremonies of the Catholic Church. From what they confessed, it concerned some serious sins and to whom they said it was a priest or a doctor, and the wife to the husband, and this to the woman. The one who served as the minister of confession announced the sins he had been told about among his relatives, and that all would ask God, receive forgiveness, for which they prayed a special prayer.
In the old newspaper, Fr. Lizana says he stated that for this purpose some of those who worshiped God did not seek God, but only called Him with many sighs saying:
Kue, which is the same as God, and I hear we see saying to God Ku is introduced in the same way at this time, because in his language Ku is the same as God in our Castillian (spanish) and it doesn’t point to no God, those whom the Gentiles have worshiped in vain, but only one God who is true. Although this way of praying under these circumstances seems peculiar to the Indians Yucatheco…
Francisco Javier de Lizana y Beaumont describes Mayan practices that resemble confessions similar to those of the Catholic Church.
There was confession among these people, but it was the moment of death or childbirth. They confessed their serious sins. To whom they told their sins it was to the priest or doctor or wife, the husband and the husband the wife. And it should be noted that later these sins were published by the one who was the confessor among relatives.
And it happened that everyone would ask God for the forgiveness of sins, and they would say a special prayer. And I even state on old paper that they were not looking for any god they worshiped for this purpose, but that they only called upon God from many sighs, saying Kue, which means the same thing as “God”.
And today we see him speaking to God Ku is in the same way introduced at this time because in his Ku language it is the same as “God” in our Spanish. And it does not indicate any a god whom the Gentiles worship in vain, but for his only God who is true. So do some who reproach the Indians of Dezir Kue, “God”, invoking him in his needs, because they say “God” as we do. And the Biscayans speak to God Jaung [o] ycoa, [Lord on the mountain] and others, in their language as they call him. And in Arabic they say to God Do, and it’s not crossed out because he was stupid, because each language has a different name, and so on. And I have never seen those who are perfect tongues put up a cross because they know it…
The existence of Almighty God is described in the Historical-Geographical Accounts of the Government of the Yucatan, which are intended to indicate that the Mayans in distant times were aware of the existence of one God-creator of everything, but forgot about it, becoming idolaters.
In some of them, there is also the presence of one god – Relations. “Merida’s Account” gives an account of a prophecy of a chief Indian and a priest named Chilam Balam who said”
That in a short time white and bearded people will come from where the sun will rise… and that the inhabitants of the earth will abandon their idols and worship one God whom they worshiped and were to proclaim…
They had news of the creation of the world and the creator of heaven and earth and said that he who created them no man can paint him as he was… They also had news of the fall of Lucifer and the flood, and that the world must have ended with fire… They also had the news that they used to live without idols, and later, due to breaking their morals and introducing strangers, they began to idolize…
Believing in one Almighty God is not unique in cultures that simultaneously worship many gods.
Ometeotl played a similar role in the Aztec beliefs. In the beliefs of the Aztecs and other Nahua peoples, a dual creator God, creator of the world, and all other deities. It consisted of the male Ometecuhtli and the female Omecihuatl.
This similarity can be found in all the world’s beliefs. Ometeotl is the concept of yin and yang which comes from ancient Chinese philosophy and metaphysics. It describes two primary and opposite but complementary forces that are found throughout the universe.
The similarities described by Spanish chroniclers and historians do not undermine their credibility, just because the Spaniards were Mayan conquerors.
The similarities may have been used to justify the Spanish presence in America, but that did not necessarily mean that they were falsified.
Searching for religious similarities was used in every religious conversion, as was building new temples in place of old temples.
This is the end. The final parts of the Crusade to Tenochtitlan series.
Thank you for reading this article, and feel free to comment and share your own thoughts on the topics covered.
My future plans are to write a series of articles about the Inca conquests that took place after the Aztec conquest. The next series will focus on the conquest of the Inca and the series will be titled ‘’Expedition to the United States Inca’’, and it will likely be a decalogue.
Best regards for all readers,
If you have specific questions on this topic, you are also welcome to email me.
Full Concession to Conquer the Yucatan Series:
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