The Popol Vuh on the Creation of Human Beings
The Popol Vuh outlines traditional Maya views on the creation of the world and human beings. The version of the work that survives today dates from the mid-sixteenth century, but it reflects beliefs of a much earlier era. According to the Popol Vuh, the gods wanted to create intelligent beings that would recognize and praise them. Three times they tried to fashion such beings out of animals, mud, and wood, but without success. Then they decided to use maize and water as their ingredients.
And here is the beginning of the conception of humans, no mother and no father. We have named the men by and of the search for the ingredients of the human body. themselves. No woman gave birth to them, nor were So they spoke, the [gods] Bearer, Begetter, the Makers, they begotten by the builder, sculptor, Bearer, Begetter. Modelers named Sovereign Plumed Serpent: By sacrifice alone, by genius alone they were made, they “The dawn has approached, preparations have been were modeled by the Maker, Modeler, Bearer, Begetter, made, and morning has come for the provider, nurturer, Sovereign Plumed Serpent. And when they came to
born in the light, begotten in the light. Morning has fruition, they came out human:
come for humankind, for the people of the face of the They talked and they made words. earth,” they said. It all came together as they went on They looked and they listened. thinking in the darkness, in the night, as they searched They walked, they worked. . . .
and they sifted, they thought and they wondered. And then their wives and women came into being.
And here their thoughts came out in clear light. Again, the same gods thought of it. It was as if they were They sought and discovered what was needed for human asleep when they received them, truly beautiful women flesh. . . . Broken Place, Bitter Water Place is the name: were there with Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Mahucu- the yellow corn, white corn came from there. . . . tah, and True Jaguar. With their women there they be- And these were the ingredients for the flesh of the came wider awake. Right away they were happy at heart
human work, the human design, and the water was for again, because of their wives.
the blood. It became human blood, and corn was also Celebrated Seahouse is the name of the wife of used by the Bearer, Begetter. . . . Jaguar Quitze.
And then the yellow corn and white corn were Prawn House is the name of the wife of Jaguar Night. ground, and Xmucane did the grinding nine times. Corn Hummingbird House is the name of the wife of was used, along with the water she rinsed her hands Mahucutah.
with, for the creation of grease; it became human fat Macaw House is the name of the wife of True Jaguar. when it was worked by the Bearer, Begetter, Sovereign So these are the names of their wives, who became Plumed Serpent, as they are called. . . . ladies of rank, giving birth to the people of the tribes,
It was staples alone that made up their flesh. small and great. These are the names of the first people who were
made and modeled. FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
This is the first person: Jaguar Quitze. Discuss the extent to which this account of human cre- And now the second: Jaguar Night. ation reflects the influences on Maya society of both And now the third: Mahucutah. agriculture and the untamed natural world.
And the fourth: True Jaguar.
And these are the names of our first mother-fathers. They were simply made and modeled, it is said; they had
SOURCE: Dennis Tedlock, trans. Popol Vuh: The Definitive Edition of the Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life and the Glories of Gods and
Kings. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985, pp. 163–65, 167.