Popol Vuh

by

Dennis Tedlock

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Popol Vuh: Part Five Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After a period of mourning, the sons remember that their fathers told them to return to the east. The sons, named Noble Two, Noble Acutec, and Noble Lord, travel east to a lord named Nacxit. Nacxit governs a large population, and he gives the sons the "signs of lordship." With these obtained, the sons then receive writing, and finally return home. Then, the sons gather all their families and tribes, and with their signs of lordship, they become true rulers.
It's important to note that the sons would've received hieroglyphic writing and with it, the ability to record things to remember people and events. This then provides some clues as to the origins of the early iterations of the Popol Vuh; these lords or their scribes possibly recorded it.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
After a time, Noble Two, Noble Acutec, and Noble Lord move again to a citadel called Thorny Place. There, their sons and daughters marry, and the three men die there. By this point, there are enough people that they begin to seek a place to found another citadel, and they move to Bearded Place. At the citadel, everything is calm and no one is evil. They begin to dance for the gods, and one tribe, the Ilocs, begins to plot to murder one of the Quiché lords. With this, war begins. Finally, the Quiché people subdue the Ilocs, taking some as slaves and sacrificing others. This is why the Quiché people began sacrificing people to their gods.
As with Tohil's Bath, naming the citadels in the text insures that certain figures and locations will be remembered. At this point in the narrative, after the acquisition of writing, the power of names becomes even more pronounced, as the names aren't just things that exist in the minds of gods or men. Instead, names can be recorded, drawn, carved, and painted so that they remain constantly in a format that can trigger someone's memory.
Themes
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
When the war ends, the Quiché people become truly great. They become even more devout, which only makes them more powerful in the eyes of lesser tribes. Eventually, they move to the citadel of Rotten Cane. By this time, five generations have passed since the first four men, and people begin building houses for themselves and their gods. Cities develop, which leads to jealousy and fights. Because of this, the three primary tribes separate into nine lineages, which stops the fighting. Finally, the narrator declares, the entire Mayan population can become great.
Here, by linking the success of this culture to the lords' devotion to the gods, the narrator creates an association between naming the gods (as the lords do through their devotion) and obtaining real power on earth. The text also acknowledges the difficulty of governing a vast and diverse group of people.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
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The narrator lists the titles given to the lords of the Cauecs, the lords of the Greathouses, the lords of Quiché, and the lords of Zaquic. The Quiché in particular flourish, and they decorate their citadels beautifully. The narrator notes that none of this splendor could've come about without the numerous vassals the lords took on. The narrative goes on to list several great Quiché lords.
By acknowledging the Cauecs, the Greathouses, and the Zaquics, the narrator makes it very clear that though the narrative is primarily about the Quiché lines, it's important to recognize the other Mayan lines and note that they were also very powerful.
Themes
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Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
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As the empire grows, the lords decide to appoint sentries to occupy the mountains and watch out for tribes who wish to make war. The sentries soon send back prisoners of war and other spoils, and the lords honor the sentries. Eventually, the lords decide to make the sentries lesser lords to honor them for their service. The narrator then lists the "houses of the gods": Tohil resides at the Great Monument of Tohil; Auilix resides in a building named after him; and Hacauitz also lives in a building that shares his name. The lords and their vassals burn offerings to the gods and offer tribute.
The sentries earn promotions by embodying the qualities of perfect humans as set out by the gods: they're devout, they care for the land (and the people who rule the land), and they multiply. This shows that though there are religious rewards for being properly Mayan (the protection of the gods), there are also rewards on earth for those who embody the Mayan ideal.
Themes
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
All the lords are geniuses and see everything clearly because they can read everything in the Council Book. They also fast regularly and do penance for the gods for days at a time. They don't sleep with their wives while they fast—they only pray—and in doing so, they help the Quiché people remain prosperous. Because of this, the lesser tribes offer jade, turquoise, and metal as tribute.
The narrator offers a counterpoint to Seven Macaw here: the lords earn their jewels and metal because they're devout, clever, and take care of their people. Again, the Council Book refers to the Popol Vuh itself, reminding the reader that the Popol Vuh is a text that teaches someone how to be properly Mayan.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
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The narrator goes on to list generations of lords descended from Jaguar Quitze. In the twelfth generation, two of the lords are tortured by the Castilian invaders, though two more generations follow after the Castilians arrive. Then, the narrator lists the lineages of the Greathouse line and the Quiché line. The narrator declares that this is enough about the Quiché people, because there's no longer a place to see them. The narrator explains that the original book still exists, though it's lost. However, this text contains everything one needs to know, and it was recorded at a place now called Santa Cruz.
The tragic assertion that there's no longer a place to see the Quiché people drives home how important the Popol Vuh is to the Mayan culture: with the disappearance of the book at the hands of the Castilians (who burned Mayan texts), the people themselves disappear because they no longer have access to their history. In this way, this transcription of the book stands as a way to remember Quiché history and retain Quiché identity, even under the destructive thumb of the Castilians.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
Related Quotes