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The Books of Chilan Balam, the Prophetic and Historic Records of the Mayas of Yucatan   By: (1837-1899)

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Transcriber's Note

A number of typographical errors have been maintained in this version of this book. They have been marked with a [TN ], which refers to a description in the complete list found at the end of the text.

The following codes are used for characters not available in the character set used for this book:

dagger double dagger

THE BOOKS OF CHILAN BALAM,

The Prophetic and Historic Records of the Mayas of Yucatan.

By DANIEL G. BRINTON, M. D.

VICE PRESIDENT OF THE NUMISMATIC AND ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY OF PHILADELPHIA; MEMBER OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY; THE AMERICAN ANTIQUARIAN SOCIETY; DÉLÉGUÉ OF THE INSTITUTION ETHNOGRAPHIQUE, ETC., ETC.

[Illustration]

EDWARD STERN & CO., PHILADELPHIA.

PREFATORY NOTE.

The substance of the present pamphlet was presented as an address to the Numismatic and Antiquarian Society of Philadelphia, at its meeting in January, 1882, and was printed in the Penn Monthly , March, 1882. As the subject is one quite new in the field of American archæology and linguistics, it is believed that a republication in the present form will be welcomed by students of these branches.

THE BOOKS OF CHILAN BALAM.[5 ]

Civilization in ancient America rose to its highest level among the Mayas of Yucatan. Not to speak of the architectural monuments which still remain to attest this, we have the evidence of the earliest missionaries to the fact that they alone, of all the natives of the New World, possessed a literature written in "letters and characters," preserved in volumes neatly bound, the paper manufactured from the bark of a tree and sized with a durable white varnish.[5 ]

A few of these books still remain, preserved to us by accident in the great European libraries; but most of them were destroyed by the monks. Their contents were found to relate chiefly to the pagan ritual, to traditions of the heathen times, to astrological superstitions, and the like. Hence, they were considered deleterious, and were burned wherever discovered.

This annihilation of their sacred books affected the natives most keenly, as we are pointedly informed by Bishop Landa, himself one of the most ruthless of Vandals in this respect.[5 ] But already some of the more intelligent had learned the Spanish alphabet, and the missionaries had added a sufficient number of signs to it to express with tolerable accuracy the phonetics of the Maya tongue. Relying on their memories, and, no doubt, aided by some manuscripts secretly preserved, many natives set to work to write out in this new alphabet the contents of their ancient records. Much was added which had been brought in by the Europeans, and much omitted which had become unintelligible or obsolete since the Conquest; while, of course, the different writers, varying in skill and knowledge, produced works of very various merit.

Nevertheless, each of these books bore the same name. In whatever village it was written, or by whatever hand, it always was, and to day still is, called "The Book of Chilan Balam." To distinguish them apart, the name of the village where a copy was found or written, is added. Probably, in the last century, almost every village had one, which was treasured with superstitious veneration. But the opposition of the padres to this kind of literature, the decay of ancient sympathies, and especially the long war of races, which since 1847 has desolated so much of the peninsula, have destroyed most of them. There remain, however, either portions or descriptions of not less than sixteen of these curious records. They are known from the names of the villages respectively as the Book of Chilan Balam of Nabula, of Chumayel, of Káua, of Mani, of Oxkutzcab, of Ixil, of Tihosuco, of Tixcocob, etc., these being the names of various native towns in the peninsula.

When I add that not a single one of these has ever been printed, or even entirely translated into any European tongue, it will be evident to every archæologist and linguist what a rich and unexplored mine of information about this interesting people they may present... Continue reading book >>




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