Popol Vuh

by

Dennis Tedlock

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Popol Vuh can help.

Popol Vuh: Part Four Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Not long before Xbalanque and Hunahpu ascend to the sky, Sovereign Plumed Serpent decides that dawn has come for humans. A fox, coyote, parrot, and a crow bring news that there's corn at a place called Split Place, and there, Sovereign Plumed Serpent discovers the staple foods. Then, Xmucane grinds the corn nine times and mixes it with grease and water to create blood and fat.
After Hunahpu and Xbalanque fully explored corn as a symbol for life, it now becomes life itself for the gods' human creations. The specific mentions of blood and fat indicate an understanding that food is what truly makes and fuels the human body and ties it to the earth.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The first four humans are named Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar. These men talk, listen, walk, and work. They're also handsome, and from the very start they understand everything perfectly. Further, they can see the entire world without moving. Sovereign Plumed Serpent encourages the men to walk around, and then the men praise Sovereign Plumed Serpent and Xmucane and thank the gods for creating them. However, Sovereign Plumed Serpent sees that there's a problem: he reasons that with the humans' understanding and sight, there's nothing to stop them from becoming divine. The gods then partially blind the humans so that they can only see things close to them. With this, the humans lose their ability to fully understand their world.
When the gods blind the first humans, it reveals what truly separates humans from the gods: the state of being human is a state of searching for meaning and understanding, while gods are all-knowing and understand everything in the world. This is reinforced by what the reader has already learned about the divine beings, particularly in regard to Hunahpu and Xbalanque. They knew everything and knew full well that they were going to be successful. This is, per the logic of the text, what made them divine.
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
Related Quotes
Next, Sovereign Plumed Serpent and Xmucane create wives for the first men. They make Red Sea Turtle for Jaguar Quitze; Prawn House for Jaguar Night; Water Hummingbird for Not Right Now; and Macaw House for Dark Jaguar. The narrator says that these four couples make up the root of the Mayan people. Soon, the humans multiply. Jaguar Quitze's descendants become the nine houses of the Cauec line; Jaguar Night's descendants develop into the nine houses of the Greathouse line; and Not Right Now's descendants form the four houses of the Lord Quichés. Other tribes also develop, though the narrator only lists the largest houses.
The Popol Vuh indicates that these four men and four women are actual historical figures. This recalls again One Hunahpu's assertion that through having children, a person can be remembered as they live on through their children. Here, the text offers proof that One Hunahpu was undoubtedly correct in his assessment. These people were recorded in the Popol Vuh because their descendants thought it was important to remember their ancestors.
Themes
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
All the people live in the east at first, and it soon becomes crowded. The people look to the sky, though dawn hasn't arrived yet. There are also tribes in the mountains, and those tribes are considered crazy. The first humans, however, praise Sovereign Plumed Serpent and fast often. Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar are great thinkers and are very devout, and they suggest that their families set out to find a god to call their own.
The first four men very much mimic their divine predecessors in their cleverness and in their devotion (though it's worth noting that devotion is different for gods and humans; while gods overwhelmingly must devote themselves to honoring their elders, humans must honor elders and the gods themselves).
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Get the entire Popol Vuh LitChart as a printable PDF.
Popol Vuh PDF
The families of Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar travel to a citadel called Seven Canyons. There, Jaguar Quitze's house is given the god Tohil; Jaguar Night's family is given the god Auilix; Not Right Now is given a god called Hacauitz; and Dark Jaguar receives a god called Middle of the Plain. These four gods are also distributed to other tribes. When the different families leave the citadel, they find that they all speak different languages and can no longer understand each other.
The fact that the languages begin to change after the families leave the place where they received individual gods suggests that though there's commonality in the language of worship when it comes to the greater gods like Sovereign Plumed Serpent and Xmucane, when the particulars of the worship differ, the language of worship necessarily changes as well.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Tohil is the first god to create fire. Jaguar Quitze and Jaguar Night thank the god for fire, and their families sit around it as the other tribes weather rain, cold, and hail. Soon, all four of the first men sit around the fire. The other cold people approach the four men to ask for some of their fire, but they find they cannot communicate now that their languages have changed. Suddenly, a dark figure appears before the other people. He's a messenger from Xibalba. He tells the tribes to ask Tohil directly for fire, and then disappears.
The text is unclear about who exactly the Xibalban figure is, but translators tend to agree that this is another iteration of Camazotz, the bat god. With this knowledge, it becomes clear that his counsel is probably not something the people should trust, as Hunahpu and Xbalanque declared that only "guilty and violent" people will worship or listen to the Xibalban gods.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
The people again approach the fire. They're so cold that they inappropriately covet the fire and want to steal it. They offer Jaguar Quitze metal in exchange for fire, but Jaguar Quitze addresses Tohil and asks the god what the people should give him in exchange for fire. Tohil insists that the people must agree to allow him to "suckle on their sides, under their arms." Jaguar Quitze relays this message, and the people agree and receive their fire. One group steals fire, and that group survives—but the ones who agreed to Tohil's terms meet their end. Tohil cuts them open and removes their hearts "on their sides, under their arms."
With this, the story insists that there are major consequences for listening to or following anyone from Xibalba or anyone that the Popol Vuh casts as villainous. The fact that the group who doesn't listen to the Xibalban messenger lives, even though they committed a supposed crime by stealing, reinforces this breakdown.
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
After this, Tohil speaks to Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar and tells them that it's time to leave this place. The god asks the men to give thanks, and so the men cry and sing. They camp along the road as they travel, and finally, they reach a mountain called Place of Advice. There, the four families address other tribes and give them their names. The first men and their wives observe a constant fast.
When considered alongside the importance of music during the divine parts of the story (as in "Hunahpu Monkey"), singing is here again shown to have divine origins and to be one way to demonstrate one's devotion. By naming other tribes, the first four men insure that those tribes will be remembered.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
A while later, Tohil speaks again to the first men and asks for them to give him, Auilix, and Hacauitz places to hide, since dawn is quickly approaching. The men pick up their gods and disperse. Jaguar Night takes Auilix to a canyon; Not Right Now takes Hacauitz to the top of a mountain, and Jaguar Quitze takes Tohil to a great forest. Then, the men wait at the top of the mountain named for Haucuitz for the sun to rise. The men cry and cry as they wait for the sun, and they wonder if they did something wrong.
Tohil's request suggests that there's a definite hierarchy among the gods: as Hunahpu and Xbalanque will become the sun and moon, his need to hide indicates that he's less powerful than the hero twins. It's also worth keeping in mind that the timeline of this story overlaps with Hunahpu and Xbalanque's time in Xibalba, reinforcing again that this is a conglomeration of many stories on many timelines.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Finally, Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar notice the "sun carrier" (the star Venus) rising in the sky. They unwrap their incense and burn it to give thanks. Finally, the sun rises, and all the animals cry out in joy. The humans kneel, and the earth suddenly dries out from the heat of the sun. At the same time, Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz turn to stone, along with several other icons of animals. The first men are overjoyed, and they build a citadel on the mountain. Then, the first men sing a song lamenting that they left their "brothers," other tribes, when they separated the first time.
When the sun rises, the story provides the reason for why some animals are active and vocal at dusk and dawn—it's a way for them to give thanks, and therefore to acknowledge their own divine origins. This also explains the qualities of the region where the Maya made their home, particularly since the fact that they lived in a desert impacted their way of life so much.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The first men go regularly before Tohil and Auilix to thank them for the dawn. However, they burn only resin and marigolds for them. One day, Tohil speaks and instructs the men to not tell the envious neighboring tribes about him. He explains that the tribes are growing and will soon begin hunting him and the other gods. To fix this, he tells the men to sacrifice birds and deer to him, and to use the deerskins to create bundles of skins. Then, when the tribes ask after Tohil, Tohil tells the men to offer them the bundles of deerskins. Finally, he tells them that the tribes must come to embrace Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz.
Tohil's instructions reintroduce the idea of sacrifice into the religious language of the Maya, while also reminding the reader of Hurricane's assertion that animals would be food for humans. More specifically, the fact that Tohil asks the men to sacrifice deer and birds recalls that those animals were once asked to be the guardians of the earth. Now, they get to reassume a guardian-like role, as it's their sacrifices that will lead to the men's victory.
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
The men immediately begin hunting birds and deer, and when they place the bloody meat on Tohil's stone, Tohil drinks the blood and speaks. Soon, Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar begin making the sounds of pumas and coyotes when they see people from the tribes, hoping to scare them. The tribes never suspect that they're being hunted. The men return to the gods' stones and spill their own blood, which turns the gods into real boys. Auilix, Tohil, and Hacauitz tell the men that they will win many victories.
Becoming real boys insures that Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz won't be forgotten by any means. It keeps them more fully in the forefront of their worshippers' minds, and having physical representations of the gods means that the tribes have what appears to be a more pressing foe than theoretical gods. When the first men begin to stalk the tribes, it shows them starting to lay a trap—evidence of heroism.
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
Related Quotes
With this, the first men begin hunting tribal people. When they kill them, they cut their bodies open for Tohil and Auilix, and then roll the heads into the road for the tribes to find. The tribes believe for a long time that this is the work of animals, but eventually realize that the followers of Tohil are to blame. They decide to follow the tracks to Tohil's followers, but they only find animal tracks and often, the weather takes a turn for the worse and washes the tracks away.
The serendipitous weather changes can be attributed to the righteousness of Tohil and his followers. Like the divine villains before, the tribes believe so strongly in their own right to victory that they're blinded to the truth. Essentially, the tribes are "magnifying themselves" just as Seven Macaw and One and Seven Death did.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
In their boy forms, Auilix, Tohil, and Hacauitz spend much of their time bathing in a river now known as Tohil's Bath. The tribes catch sight of the boys here and decide to try to defeat them directly. The tribes reason that since the gods present as adolescent boys, they should send two beautiful maidens. They settle on two of their daughters, Lust Woman and Wailing Woman, and the tribes instruct the daughters to give in to whatever the boy gods desire, or they'll be killed upon their return. They ask the daughters to bring back proof that the gods touched them.
By offering the name of the river, the writers of the Popol Vuh preserve this Mayan name for as long as the Popol Vuh remains. The tribes' plan suggests that they don't view the gods as superhuman, given that they plan to best them by appealing to human nature and attraction. This does, however, provide insight into how the tribes conceptualize humanity as being unquestionably interested in sex.
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Lust Woman and Wailing Woman make themselves look beautiful and then head to the river. They undress and wash laundry in the river and wait until Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz arrive. The gods barely look at the maidens, but they do ask what they're doing at the gods' river. Lust Woman and Wailing Woman explain that they were told to look upon the face of Tohil, and to bring back a sign that they truly saw the gods. The gods agree to send the maidens with tokens, and tell them to wait.
When the boy gods don't fall into the trap and barely acknowledge the beauty of the women, it reinforces their divinity—not acknowledging human desire sets them apart from humanity. Further, setting what’s presumably a trap for the maidens and using them to trick the tribes confirms their superior nature.
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Tohil, Auilix, and Hacauitz go to Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, and Not Right Now. The gods ask the men to decorate cloaks with their insignias. Jaguar Quitze inscribes a jaguar on his cloak; Jaguar Night draws an eagle; and Not Right Now draws swarms of yellow jackets and wasps. Then, the three men take the cloaks to the maidens and tell them to ask their lords to try the cloaks on.
This trap recalls the fate of Seven Macaw, as he was punished for adorning himself like a lord. As it did then, this suggests that being powerful and being a lord isn't a state one achieves by wearing beautiful cloaks or by adorning oneself with jewels; it has to do with humility, devotion, and innate power.
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
The tribes are thrilled when Lust Woman and Wailing Woman arrive with the cloaks. The tribal lords try on first the jaguar cloak and then the eagle cloak. When a lord puts on the third cloak, the yellow jackets and wasps come alive and begin stinging the lord. The tribal lords then reprimand the maidens, and the maidens become the first sex workers.
The narrative brings down the maidens and their future profession by casting them first as gullible (and linking them to villainy) and then by "othering" them (by insisting that the first sex workers were from these other, crazy tribes, and aren't descended from the perfect first men).
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
The tribes gather together and decide to invade and kill all of Tohil's followers. The numerous tribal warriors gather all their shields and weapons and plan to attack Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar on their mountain. The tribes decide to attack at night, but instead of marching, they all mysteriously fall asleep. As they sleep, their eyebrows and beards are inexplicably plucked out, and somehow all the metal from their clothing and weapons disappears as well. When the tribes wake up, they're confused as to how someone managed to steal so much metal, but they vow to put their fear aside and take back their metal.
By plucking the tribes' facial hair, the first four men and their followers send a clear message that, like Seven Macaw, the tribes' power came from what was on their faces—and that all of that is easily removed, power and all. This moment also reinforces the importance of metal to Mayan society, as it was very valuable and was accumulated by lords.
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
Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar make a plan. They build a fence around their citadel and then line the fence with wooden manikins. They dress the manikins and give them the stolen weapons from the tribes. Then, the men ask Tohil what will happen if they die. Tohil tells his followers to use wasps and yellow jackets, and the men place the insects in four large gourds and then arrange the gourds at the four corners of the citadel.
Using the manikins like this ties the motif of wood people and manikins together: it links the tribes again to Seven Macaw, who believed the wood people to be proper subjects, and it also links the tribes to One Death and Seven Death, who turned out to be ineffective tricksters using similar manikins. The four corners of the citadel reflect the language used throughout the text of "the four corners of the world."
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
When the tribes arrive and spy on the four men and their families, they're thrilled to see that the "army" isn't large—they don't realize that the army is only manikins. When they're ready, the tribes descend upon the citadel. Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar stand on the mountain and let their children watch the spectacle below. When the tribes get close to the citadel, the gourds open and the yellow jackets and wasps attack the tribes. The tribes tumble back down the mountain, and the men and their wives chase after the stunned tribes and kill them with sticks. Those that don't die ask for mercy, and the men agree to allow them to live as servants.
The ineffectiveness of the tribes is reinforced by the fact that even women can kill the tribal warriors. This does indicate once again that being male is preferred and considered more powerful within Mayan culture, given that being killed by a woman is conceptualized as an insult here. Then, the narrative offers the first instance of taking vassals and conceptualizing that act as something positive and deserved. This implies that unlike the Xibalban vassals, these vassals will help their new lords become great.
Themes
Origins, Customs, and the Mayan Culture Theme Icon
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Jaguar Quitze, Jaguar Night, Not Right Now, and Dark Jaguar know that they're going to die eventually, so they leave instructions with their sons. They explain that they're going to return to their own "tribal place," and tell their sons and wives to return to where they came from. Jaguar Quitze leaves his son the Bundle of Flames, a mysterious package, as a sign of his being. No one opens it to discover what it is, and after this, the first four men disappear. The remaining wives and sons burn offerings to the Bundle of Flames and treat it as a memorial to their fathers.
These first men's "deaths" reinforces their link to the divine: other men cannot know how they died because of how they were created, but the first four are allowed to retain some of their divine origins by dying in this way. The Bundle of Flames is an object that's the source of debate among scholars. Some believe it's a way to explain strange celestial phenomena, since it's a mystery even within the narrative itself.
Themes
Heroism vs. Villainy Theme Icon
Names, Power, and Memory Theme Icon
What It Means to be Human Theme Icon
Related Quotes