Popol Vuh

by

Dennis Tedlock

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Popol Vuh: Part Three Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator raises a toast to the father of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and explains that the story will now give a partial account of his exploits. The twins’ father is One Hunahpu, brother of Seven Hunahpu. One and Seven Hunahpu are the children of Xmucane and Xpiyacoc, and One Hunahpu has two other sons, One Monkey and One Artisan, with his wife, Egret Woman. Seven Hunahpu remains single, but he is just as knowledgeable, good, and heroic as his brother and nephews. One and Seven Hunahpu teach One Monkey and One Artisan to be musicians, artists, craftsmen, and writers.
The fact that the text feels the need to make it clear that Seven Hunahpu is just as good of a god as One Hunahpu despite not being married indicates how important marriage and family are to the Mayan people. It suggests that to a Mayan reader, there would be the implication that Seven Hunahpu would be lesser because he's a bachelor.
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One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu spend their time throwing dice and playing a ball game, often with One Monkey and One Artisan. Their ball court is midway between the sky and Xibalba, the underworld. As such, the highest lords of the underworld, One Death and Seven Death, can hear the players stomping and yelling as they play. One and Seven Death speak with their lords and discuss that this noise is extremely disrespectful.
Little is known about the Mesoamerican ball game (including the actual name for it), but it's clear from Mayan artwork that it was both recreational and a religious or ceremonial activity. This explains why the game is such an important motif for the gods throughout the Popol Vuh: it explains its later shift to becoming ceremonial.
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There are a number of lesser lords under One Death and Seven Death. Scab Stripper and Blood Gatherer make people bleed, while the Demon of Pus and the Demon of Jaundice make people swell. Bone Scepter and Skull Scepter make people emaciated and then kill them. Demon of Filth and Demon of Woe make people die suddenly of fright, and Wing and Packstrap cause people to die suddenly in the road after vomiting blood. As these lords speak with One and Seven Death, they decide that they'd like to acquire One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu's gaming equipment to put an end to the noise.
With these underworld gods, the reader gets a sense of how the Mayan people sought to deal with the bad parts of their world that couldn't be explained without a modern understanding of disease. Notice too that it's people specifically that these lords target. That's another clue that the story is being told out of order, as it suggests that there are humans on earth at this point, even though the text hasn't revisited the idea of creating humans yet.
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One Death and Seven Death send their messenger owls to summon One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu to play ball in Xibalba. They instruct the messengers to flatter One and Seven Hunahpu and to ask them to bring their equipment, especially their ball. When the owl messengers arrive at the ball court, they repeat their message, naming all the lords of Xibalba as they do so. The owls offer to accompany One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu to Xibalba, but the brothers insist that they must tell Xmucane where they're going first. When they reach Xmucane's hut, they explain the situation and learn that Xpiyacoc has just died. Rather than take their ball, they tie it up in Xmucane's roof and promise to return to play again. They tell One Monkey and One Artisan to entertain their grandmother. Xmucane bursts into tears, and her sons assure her that they're not going to die.
One and Seven Hunahpu exhibit familial loyalty here by tasking One Monkey and One Artisan with caring for their grandmother while they're gone. This also cements the role of grandparents as important figures in Mayan culture, suggesting that a Mayan conception of family and community includes more than just the nuclear family. Though it's unclear exactly why One and Seven Hunahpu don't bring their ball, it can be read as another show of familial loyalty (in that it becomes a token of their promise to return).
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The owl messengers guide One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu down the road to Xibalba, which winds down a steep hill to the bottom of a canyon. They pass through a place called Scorpion Rapids, but none of the scorpions sting them. They also cross a river called Blood River and a river filled with pus, but they don't drink. Finally, they come to the Crossroads, which is where the downfall of One and Seven Hunahpu begins.
By naming the locations and landmarks in Xibalba after scorpions, blood, and pus, the text plays on a reader's previous knowledge that those things are evil as it begins to create a picture of the underworld. Essentially, it draws on a reader's knowledge and memory from outside the text to give the sinister places power.
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There are four roads—Red Road, Black Road, White Road, and Yellow Road—and Black Road speaks to One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu. It says that it's the lords’ road, but it's actually the Road of Xibalba. It leads One and Seven Hunahpu to the council place of the Xibalban lords. The narrator tells the reader that the "lords" seated there are actually just manikins, not the actual lords. One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu greet the manikin lords, and the real lords laugh and laugh, as this means that they'll triumph.
The idea that naming things is powerful is brought to the forefront here, as One and Seven Hunahpu's inability to name the Xibalban lords is what tells those lords that their guests won't make it out alive. Further, One and Seven Hunahpu are falling for tricks instead of tricking others, which marks them as less heroic in the grand scheme of things.
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Finally, One Death and Seven Death address their guests. They tell One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu that tomorrow they'll play ball, and they offer them a bench—but the bench is a burning hot rock. One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu sit anyway, burning themselves, and the lords and all the beings of Xibalba laugh at them again. Finally, One and Seven Death instruct One and Seven Hunahpu to enter a house called Dark House. Once they're in the house, the Xibalbans talk amongst themselves and decide to sacrifice their guests the next day. They decide to kill them with a ball that's actually a spherical knife, coated in crushed bone to make it smooth.
Notice that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu are trying to be good and polite guests by doing as their hosts ask them to. Because they're failing miserably at surviving their time in Xibalba, this begins to suggest to the reader that it's often more important to be on the lookout for tricks and to protect oneself from them than it is to just be a polite guest.
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Once One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu enter Dark House, a bearer brings them one lit torch and two lit cigars. The bearer tells One and Seven Hunahpu that they must return the torch and cigars in the morning, and they must look exactly as they do now. One and Seven Hunahpu let the torch and the cigars burn down, though, which brings about their defeat. The narrator explains that Xibalba is a place full of tests, though One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu don't even get to move on to the other test houses: Rattling House, which is filled with cold things; Jaguar House, filled with jaguars; Bat House, where bats are trapped inside; and finally, Razor House, a house filled with slashing blades.
Finishing the cigars and the torch points to a running motif of light versus dark and good versus evil: these objectively good characters plunge their immediate surroundings into darkness, which is aligned with villainous characters. This shows that it's exceptionally important for the characters to consistently work towards making sure there's light in the world that comes from a positive source (unlike Seven Macaw, for example).
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In the morning, when One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu are brought back before One Death and Seven Death, they explain that they finished the torch and the cigars. One and Seven Death declare that One and Seven Hunahpu will die and be sacrificed. They bury One and Seven Hunahpu at their ball court, though they cut off One Hunahpu's head first and put it in the fork of a tree by the road. Once his head is settled in the tree, the tree bears fruit. This tree is the calabash tree, and the narrator explains that it wouldn't have borne fruit if One Hunahpu's head hadn't been placed there.
Notice here that even though One and Seven Death are cast as villains, they still fall in line with the overarching emphasis on devotion (in this case, through sacrifice). This holds true even though it's unclear who or what exactly they're sacrificing the Hunahpus to; it still shows them devoting themselves to something. Symbolically, the fruit that comes from One Hunahpu's head foreshadows a rebirth of sorts.
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The tree's fruit amazes and troubles One Death and Seven Death. The fruit is so abundant, it's impossible to tell where One Hunahpu's head is. The Xibalbans decide that nobody should pick the fruit or go close to the tree, but a young maiden named Blood Moon soon breaks this rule. Her father, Blood Gatherer, tells her about the tree, and Blood Moon is curious. She wonders if the fruit is sweet, so she goes to the tree. Blood Moon reasons that the fruit shouldn't go to waste and decides to pick one, but One Hunahpu's head speaks to her. He tells her that she doesn't want the fruit, saying that the fruit is just bones, but Blood Moon insists she does want it.
When One Hunahpu insists that the fruit is just bones, he's setting a test of his own: the prolific fruit is evidence that the tree is linked to life, as fruit is both representative of reproduction in other beings, and is literally how some trees reproduce. When Blood Moon declines to listen to One Hunahpu, it shows that she sees and believes in the reproductive symbolism of the tree and is therefore herself aligned with creation, life, and light. Also note some parallels here with the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden—these two myths arose separately with thousands of miles (and also possibly years) between them, but both play on the idea of a young maiden being tempted to eat a “forbidden fruit.”
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One Hunahpu's head asks Blood Moon to stretch out her hand where he can see it. Then he spits in her hand, but when Blood Moon looks at her hand, she doesn't see anything. One Hunahpu explains that by spitting in her hand, he gave her a sign. He says that his head is just bone now, while flesh is what made him and other lords look like lords. One Hunahpu continues, saying that when a man dies, his sons are like his saliva: they go on living and make it so that the father doesn't truly disappear. He tells Blood Moon that by spitting in her hand, this will happen for him too. He instructs her to leave Xibalba and assures her that she won't die.
One Hunahpu's speech sheds light on the importance of family for the Mayan people: by having children, a person gets to live on through those children, and becomes immortal in a way. This idea will come to the forefront once the story moves into the human realm, as much of Part Five consists of listing these familial lines (and in doing so, keeping the memory of the forefathers alive). However, it’s also worth noting that this is a patriarchal society concerned primarily with fathers, not mothers; the text overwhelmingly gives fathers precedence and remembers very few women.
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With this, Blood Moon becomes pregnant with the twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque. After six months, Blood Gatherer finally notices that his daughter is pregnant. He's very angry, as he believes that her child is a bastard. When he speaks with the other lords of Xibalba, they suggest that if she won't tell him who the father is, that he should sacrifice her. Blood Gatherer agrees and goes home to question Blood Moon. Blood Moon insists that she's a virgin, but her father won't hear of it. He instructs the owl messengers to take her away, sacrifice her, and bring back her heart.
Again, Blood Gatherer's reaction to believing his daughter's child will be a bastard provides insight into Mayan familial structures and social mores, as it indicates that it's important to have children within a marriage. In Blood Moon's case, the text implies that she's saved from being considered a sullied woman because the father of her children is a god. This is also an example of a kind of “virgin birth,” a motif that reappears in the myths of several other cultures as well—particularly when connected to the birth of a hero.
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The owl messengers take Blood Moon by the hand and lead her away. Once they're well away, Blood Moon explains to the messengers that her child was conceived miraculously when she went to go look at One Hunahpu's head in the tree. She begs the messengers to not sacrifice her. The messengers are moved, and they wonder what they could bring back to approximate her heart. They explain that the lords want to personally examine her heart later.
The owl messengers' continued service to the Xibalban lords, even when they don't agree with the lords' rules, emphasizes the importance of service to one's superiors. However, by helping Blood Moon (which is construed as doing the right thing), the text also insists that it's more important to do what's right than to follow directions exactly.
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Blood Moon tells the owl messengers that from now on, their home won't be in Xibalba, and they'll no longer conduct sacrifices like this. She gathers sap from different trees and when the sap congeals, it looks very much like a heart with blood on it. Blood Moon blesses the owls, and they send her ahead on the path while they take the "heart" to the lords of Xibalba.
Blood Moon's sap will show up again later as resin that humans burn for the gods. With this, the story more organically offers the origin story of burning sap and resin and explains why it is that this custom exists. By naming the specific trees where she gathers the sap, the story also offers important information about those trees and their qualities.
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The lords of Xibalba greet the owl messengers and inquire about the success of the sacrifice. One Death inspects the dripping "heart," and then places it over the fire to dry. The aroma of the smoking blood is intoxicating and sweet, and all the lords stand around smelling it. The owl messengers return to Blood Moon and send her out of Xibalba through a hole in the earth, and the smoking heart blinds all the lords of Xibalba.
The fake heart itself becomes a very successful trick: it not only enables Blood Moon to escape, but also punishes all the Xibalban lords for not believing her story. This begins to foreshadow future instances in which the Xibalban lords aren't exceptional tricksters, or fall for the tricks of others.
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Blood Moon goes to Xmucane for help. She explains that she's Xmucane's daughter-in-law and is pregnant with her grandbabies. Wrought with grief, Xmucane insists that she has no grandchildren but One Monkey and One Artisan, and laments that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu died in Xibalba. Blood Moon tries again to explain that her unborn children are One Hunahpu's, and that One and Seven Hunahpu aren't truly dead: she says that they've come up with a way to “reveal the light,” and have done so by making Blood Moon pregnant.
By saying that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu have come up with a way to "reveal the light," the story continues to explore the association of light with good and dark with evil (especially the reader already knows that these children will go on to be overwhelmingly good and rid the world of evil). Further, insisting that One and Seven Hunahpu aren't truly dead ties into One Hunahpu's speech about how children keep their fathers alive.
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Xmucane shouts that she doesn't want Blood Moon, that Blood Moon's babies are bastards, and that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu are dead. When Blood Moon insists again, Xmucane sends her to gather a full net of corn ears. Blood Moon walks to One Monkey and One Artisan's garden, where she finds only one stalk of corn with only a few ears. She begins to cry that she'll never be able to accomplish Xmucane's task, but she calls upon the guardians of food. After she asks for help, Blood Moon pulls on the silk of the corn and the corn multiplies until she has enough to fill her net.
The way the corn multiplies here mirrors the way that Blood Moon herself became pregnant. Because of this association, the story continues to develop the idea that Blood Moon's pregnancy is divine and correct, and it remains that way even though others don't believe her. As a symbol of life, the corn multiplying references the life that will spring from Blood Moon's children, both the lives of the children themselves and those who will come after.
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When Blood Moon returns to Xmucane's hut, animals carry her full net for her. Xmucane is livid that Blood Moon apparently picked the entire garden and she rushes to the garden to inspect the damage. There, she sees the one corn stalk still standing, and the imprint of the net in the ground. Xmucane hurries back home and informs Blood Moon that she believes her now, and remarks that Blood Moon's children are already showing signs of genius.
The forward notes that the logic of this particular sign is based on the Mayan day names (net is the name of a day; therefore, Xmucane essentially sees the future in the net's imprint). Because the connection is apparent only for someone familiar with the Mayan calendar, the seeming strangeness of the sign stands as a reminder that this story was created by and for Mayan audiences using specifically Mayan logic.
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Not long after, Blood Moon gives birth very suddenly to Hunahpu and Xbalanque while she's in the mountains. When she brings the babies into the house they cry loudly, and Xmucane insists that Blood Moon take them outside. One Monkey and One Artisan place their baby brothers first on an anthill and then in some brambles, but the babies sleep soundly.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque sleep well in the anthill and in brambles, the story reinforces the twins' personal connection to the land and the need for humans to be similarly connected to and in tune with the natural world. Conversely, this also suggests that One Monkey and One Artisan lack that connection.
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The narrator explains that One Monkey and One Artisan want their brothers to die, as they're very jealous of Hunahpu and Xbalanque. One Monkey and One Artisan have spent their lives going to great pains to learn about the world and become skilled artisans, and as such, they know how events will turn out. Their jealousy, however, means they keep this knowledge to themselves.
Note how the text indicates that One Monkey and One Artisan aren't truly evil, as it consistently reminds the reader that they were great artists. This points to the importance of artistic pursuits in Mayan culture, as it's the brothers' connection to the arts that keeps them from being categorized as true villains.
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Xmucane, One Monkey, and One Artisan treat Xbalanque and Hunahpu horribly. They don't show them love or feed them. Hunahpu and Xbalanque take all of this in stride; they continue to shoot birds and bring them home, even though they never get to eat them. The narrator tells the reader that those two know their place.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque show this kind of humility and respect for their elders, the text reinforces the importance of adhering to hierarchy within the family unit. When the narrator condemns One Monkey and One Artisan's behavior, however, it does show that treating inferiors this way is unacceptable.
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One day, Hunahpu and Xbalanque return home without birds. Xmucane angrily demands to know why they didn't bring birds, and the boys explain that their birds got stuck in a tree and they need help from One Monkey and One Artisan to get them down. One Monkey and One Artisan agree and follow their brothers. As they walk, Hunahpu and Xbalanque whisper to each other that they're going to defeat their older brothers, since their brothers want them to die and disappear.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque's plan mirrors the Four Hundred Boys' plan to take down Zipacna. By aligning One Monkey and One Artisan with Zipacna (in that both villains agree to help when asked), the story again shows that characters don't have to be entirely evil to be villainous. Rather, their questionable intentions and their self-magnification is what makes them true villains.
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When the four brothers reach the tree, Hunahpu and Xbalanque begin shooting birds in the tree. None of the birds fall, so One Monkey and One Artisan agree to climb the tree and get the birds down. As they climb, the tree begins to grow. One Monkey and One Artisan desperately want to get down but can't figure out how, so they call down to Hunahpu and Xbalanque for help. Xbalanque tells them to take off their pants and tie them around their hips so they're able to move better. One Monkey and One Artisan oblige, and the ends of their pants turn immediately into tails. They turn into monkeys and swing through the trees, howling.
When the tree assists the twins by miraculously growing, the text once again shows that it's extremely important to connect with the natural world and see it as an asset, not as a danger (as One Monkey and One Artisan did when they tried to use the natural world to kill their brothers). Thus, turning One Monkey and One Artisan into monkeys sentences them to a life in this natural world and forces them to become a part of it on Hunahpu and Xbalanque's terms.
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Xbalanque and Hunahpu return to Xmucane's hut and tell her that their brothers have become "simply shameless," like animals. Xmucane is suspicious, but Xbalanque and Hunahpu assure her that she'll see One Monkey and One Artisan again. They explain that they're going to "test their brothers' destiny," but say that Xmucane absolutely cannot laugh. With this, Hunahpu and Xbalanque begin to play a song called "Hunahpu Monkey."
By giving the name of the song the twins play, the text provides the origin story for the song itself. This suggests in a wider context that some Mayan music is rooted in stories like this where the music itself had a purpose. Therefore, by playing the song in a contemporary setting, it would become a way to remember this story.
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When they hear the song, One Monkey and One Artisan come, dancing. When Xmucane sees her grandsons looking so ugly and silly, she laughs. This scares One Monkey and One Artisan, and they run away. Xbalanque and Hunahpu explain that they can only try to call One Monkey and One Artisan four times, and it won't work if Xmucane keeps laughing. They begin playing and again, Xmucane laughs when she sees One Monkey and One Artisan, who retreat. The third time, Xmucane controls her laughter until she sees her monkey grandsons puckering their lips and scratching themselves. At her laugh One Monkey and One Artisan retreat yet again. Hunahpu and Xbalanque play one more time, but their brothers don't come.
One Monkey and One Artisan become howler monkeys (and are sometimes referred to as howler monkey gods), which situates this as the origin story of howler monkeys in general. Again, by explaining the origins of the natural world around them, the Mayan people assign meaning and logic to the world so that they can more effectively be a part of it and properly care for it.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque tell Xmucane to not be sad, as she still has them as grandchildren. They explain that One Monkey and One Artisan will be remembered by their names, and will be prayed to by musicians and artisans. The narrator explains that One Monkey and One Artisan were punished for magnifying themselves and abusing their younger brothers. Regardless, they were talented artisans and did great things.
One Monkey and One Artisan are saved from disappearing because Hunahpu and Xbalanque insist that they'll remember their names. The text again reinforces a hierarchy within the natural world with animals at the bottom, which shows that good behavior is associated with humans while poor behavior is linked to animals.
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Now, Hunahpu and Xbalanque can begin their process of becoming truly great. They start by assuring Blood Moon and Xmucane that they'll take over the gardening duties. They pick up their tools and instruct Xmucane to bring them lunch at midday. When Xbalanque and Hunahpu reach the site for their garden, they stick their tools in the ground and the garden cultivates itself. Trees fall and brambles clear. Hunahpu and Xbalanque call a mourning dove and tell it to cry when Xmucane comes, as they're going to go shooting and leave their tools to their work.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque garden using magic, it suggests that they're taking over these tasks to perform a familial duty to their mother and grandmother rather than doing it out of an actual desire to garden. Their actions therefore indicate that though they're heroic gods, Hunahpu and Xbalanque aren't perfect. It humanizes them and makes them easier to identify with.
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When Xbalanque and Hunahpu hear the mourning dove, they race back to the garden and pick up their tools. One rubs dirt on his hands and face, and the other dumps wood chips on himself to create the illusion that they were actually working. When they get home that evening, Xbalanque and Hunahpu tell Xmucane that they're very tired. The next morning when the twins return to their garden, however, they find that the trees and bushes have reclaimed the land. The narrator tells the reader that all the animals put the land back to the way it was overnight.
Not even the hero twins are exempt from the consequences of cutting corners. Because the story has already established that events like this are logical consequences or are signs, it leads the reader to look for what the logic in this might be. At this point, it does suggest that the twins might not be as powerful and connected to the land as they thought they were, given that it is revolting against them.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque again allow their tools to work the land. They head home and tell Xmucane what happened, and inform her that they're going to keep watch overnight. They hide themselves in the underbrush and watch as the animals pour out of the forest and ask the trees and bushes to regrow. Xbalanque and Hunahpu creep towards the animals and finally reveal themselves. The puma and jaguar escape, but the boys grab and break off the tails of the deer and the rabbit.
The animals make it exceptionally clear that there are consequences of humans (or gods) cultivating the land; doing so directly affects the animals that once lived there. This reinforces the idea that there should be a sense of balance between humans, gods, and the natural world, and that humans should care for the land as much as they use the land for their own benefit.
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Incensed, Hunahpu and Xbalanque make a grab at the last animal to try to run away, the rat. They catch the rat and try to burn him over the fire, but they only succeed in burning the hair off of his tail. The rat yells at the boys that he won't die, and further, that gardening isn't the boys' job. He says that there's something else that the boys must do, and the rat promises to tell them if the boys give him food. The rat tells the boys that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu's gaming equipment is hidden in Xmucane's roof, and she doesn't want them to see it because she doesn't want the boys to know that the ball game was how their father died.
In reintroducing One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu's story into that of Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the story reinforces the interconnectedness of the world, and specifically of different generations. Now that the twins have more information about their ancestors, they'll be able to accomplish an appropriate task that connects them to their father and uncle instead of wasting their time in an ill-fated attempt at gardening.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque are thrilled to learn the truth about their father and uncle, and they give the rat corn, squash seeds, beans, and cacao. They tell the rat that all stored or wasted food is his for the taking. The rat asks what will happen if Xmucane sees him when they try to get the equipment down, and the boys insist that they'll trick their grandmother.
Again, the story provides a reader with an origin story for why rats eat what they do, while also suggesting that rats aren't always pests.
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When Hunahpu and Xbalanque get to Xmucane's house, they put the rat on the roof and he starts to chew through it to get the equipment. Then, the boys ask their grandmother to make them chili sauce. Xmucane grinds the chili and sets out broth for her grandsons. The boys then command Xmucane to fetch them water. She leaves with her water jug as Hunahpu and Xbalanque continue to eat, though the boys are actually watching the rat in the reflection of their chili. When they see the rat loosening the ball, Hunahpu and Xbalanque send a mosquito to puncture Xmucane's water jar. Xmucane tries, but she cannot plug the hole.
Though the rat is conceived as a messenger-type character in the Popol Vuh, this particular act of chewing down the equipment explains the origin of rats' less positive qualities. Again, this allows a Mayan reader to make sense of various parts of the world, and provides a humorous story to explain certain facts of life.
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Xbalanque and Hunahpu ask Blood Moon to go help Xmucane since she's taking so long, and as soon as she's gone, the rat lets the ball and the other gaming equipment fall. Then, the boys to go help Blood Moon and Xmucane. They quickly plug the hole in the water jar before leading their mother and grandmother home.
By finally coming to Xmucane's rescue, Hunahpu and Xbalanque retain their status as good, loyal grandsons. This shows them essentially atoning for a trick, which suggests that tricking someone isn't always bad for the “victim.”
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Now that they have the ball game equipment, Hunahpu and Xbalanque clear off the court and play by themselves. Just as before, the lords of Xibalba are quickly annoyed by the noise. One Death and Seven Death decide to summon these foolish ball players to play in Xibalba, and they tell the owl messengers to invite Hunahpu and Xbalanque to a game in seven days. The messengers travel directly to Xmucane's hut where they find only her, as the boys are away playing. They relay their message, and Xmucane agrees to pass it on.
The repetition in this part is certainly linked to the calendar aspects of the story—the human conception of time is made up of cycles that repeat, and this narrative repetition would signal the beginning of a new calendar cycle. For Hunahpu and Xbalanque, playing the ball game is a way to connect with a father and uncle that they never knew, but that nevertheless are important figures in their lives.
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Xmucane's heart is broken. She sobs that she's going to lose her grandsons, just as she lost her sons in Xibalba. As she cries, a louse crawls down and Xmucane picks it up. She asks the louse if it would take her message to Hunahpu and Xbalanque, and the louse agrees. As the louse scuttles in fits and starts, it comes across a toad named Tamazul. When the louse tells Tamazul that it has a message for Hunahpu and Xbalanque, Tamazul offers to swallow the louse and run to the ball court. The louse agrees.
Given the cyclical nature of the Popol Vuh, Xmucane's fears aren't unfounded—though she does seem unaware that her grandsons have already proven themselves to be far better tricksters than their father and uncle were, which signifies that they're more heroic and more likely to be successful as they follow in their father's footsteps.
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Rather than run like he promised he would, Tamazul hops leisurely in the direction of the ball court. Along the way, he meets a snake named Zaquicaz. When Tamazul explains that he carries a message for Hunahpu and Xbalanque, Zaquicaz offers to swallow him and carry him there. Tamazul agrees. As Zaquicaz slithers towards the ball court, a laughing falcon swoops down and eats the snake.
The animals' willingness to help (Tamazul's laziness aside) again reinforces Hunahpu and Xbalanque's close relationship with animals and the natural world. This sequence also goes through a food chain, once again rationalizing why the natural world is the way it is, and providing an entertaining story in the process.
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When the falcon arrives at the ball court, he settles at the edge. Hunahpu and Xbalanque pay him no notice, so the falcon cries to get their attention. The boys grab immediately for their blowguns and shoot the falcon in the eye. When they approach the falcon, they ask him what he's after. The falcon explains that he carries a message in his belly, but asks the boys to heal him first. Hunahpu and Xbalanque take some rubber off of their ball and put it on the falcon's eye, which heals it. The falcon promptly vomits up Zaquicaz, who then vomits Tamazul.
Shooting and then healing the falcon is likely the origin story for the falcon's distinctive markings. The process of delivering Xmucane’s message grows increasingly convoluted and humorous.
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When Hunahpu and Xbalanque ask Tamazul to tell them his message, he says that his message is in his stomach. He tries to vomit, but he only drools. Hunahpu and Xbalanque kick Tamazul, crush the bones in his hind end, and finally pry open his mouth. They discover that Tamazul never swallowed the louse—it was only stuck in his teeth. Because of this, and because Tamazul didn't run when he said he would, toads became lowly creatures and food for snakes.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque's violence against Tamazul is, presumably, what gives toads their wide mouths and particular body shape. Tamazul's fate offers up an example of what happens when someone doesn't keep their promises to the gods and serve them appropriately, an idea that will resurface once humans enter the picture later.
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Finally, Xbalanque and Hunahpu ask the louse to relay its message. The louse repeats the summons from One Death and Seven Death to come in seven days with equipment to play ball. He says too that Xmucane is distraught. Hunahpu and Xbalanque hurry to their grandmother. They tell Xmucane that they must obey the summons, but they'll leave her a signal. They each plant an ear of corn in the middle of Xmucane's house and explain that when it dries up, it means that they've died, and when it sprouts, it means they're alive. With this, they head for Xibalba.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque plant the signal corn for Xmucane, it establishes corn as a very literal symbol for life. Further, it stresses the importance of corn to the Mayan people—successful farming is what kept communities alive, while poor seasons caused them to suffer.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque step right over Blood River and Pus River and quickly reach the Crossroads. They understand that the Crossroads can be a trap, so they summon a mosquito and ask him to go ahead down Black Road and bite every Xibalban lord. The mosquito agrees. He first bites the two wooden manikins, which express no emotion at being bitten, and then moves on to the next seated lord, One Death. One Death yowls in pain, and the lord sitting next to him uses One Death's name when he asks what's wrong. The mosquito continues down the line of lords, and all the lords state their names as they're bitten. The narrator reveals that the mosquito wasn't really a mosquito: it was actually a hair that Hunahpu plucked from his own leg, and sent to listen to all the lords' names.
By going in with the understanding that everything in Xibalba has the potential to be a trap or a trick, Hunahpu and Xbalanque are already miles ahead of their father and uncle. In thinking this way, however, they also acknowledge the skill of One and Seven Death in setting these traps in the first place, which is a way to honor them and recognize that even if they're evil characters, they're still great thinkers and tricksters. It's also important to notice that Hunahpu and Xbalanque understand the importance of naming, as evidenced by sending the hair to listen to all the lords' names.
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After the hair listens to all the lords' names, Hunahpu and Xbalanque continue their journey until they reach the lords themselves. They tell the lords that the first two seated "lords" are actually manikins, and then they go on to greet each real lord by name. The lords ask Hunahpu and Xbalanque to sit on the bench, but the boys refuse, saying that the bench is actually a cooking slab. Annoyed, the lords send the boys into Dark House, figuring that the boys are as good as dead.
Here, acknowledging the lords' true identities makes it so that they have fewer ways to trick the twins. When Hunahpu and Xbalanque refuse to sit on the bench, it also indicates that they understand that self-preservation is more important than acting politely.
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One Death's messenger brings Hunahpu and Xbalanque a lit cigar each and one lit torch. He explains that the lords want them back in the morning, intact. The boys agree, but instead of burning the items, they put bright macaw feathers on the end of the torch and ask fireflies to sit at the tips of the cigars. The watching sentries believe that the torch and the cigars are lit, and they discuss amongst themselves that the Xibalbans' triumph is guaranteed.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque align themselves with goodness and light by keeping the cigars and torch "lit," even if it is just a trick. The bright macaw feathers that represented hubris for Seven Macaw are now used for a nobler purpose.
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In the morning, the lords are distraught. They recognize that there's something different about Hunahpu and Xbalanque, but One Death and Seven Death invite the boys to play ball anyway. The lords ask the boys to name where they came from, but Hunahpu and Xbalanque insist that they don't know their origins. The Xibalbans offer up their ball for the game, and Hunahpu and Xbalanque argue that they should use their ball instead. The Xibalbans insist that their ornate ball is just decorated, but the boys say that the ball is actually a skull. Finally, the boys agree to use the Xibalbans' ball. Hunahpu hits the ball first and the hidden dagger flies out of it.
This moment makes it very clear that there's a significant amount of power to be gained from naming something: The Xibalban lords aren't able to effectively counter Hunahpu and Xbalanque because they don't have all the information that would come with knowing their origins. When the twins insist that the ball is a skull, it hearkens back to One Hunahpu's monologue about death and regeneration: the ball is a symbol for death, as it has no "flesh" of rubber on the outside.
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Xbalanque and Hunahpu yell that the Xibalbans only want to kill them, and threaten to leave unless the Xibalbans play fair. One Death and Seven Death agree to use the boys' ball, and the conversation then turns to what the prize for the winners should be. The Xibalbans ask for four bowls of flower petals if they win, and the boys agree. After some play, the boys allow themselves to lose. The Xibalbans ask for their flower petals to be delivered by morning and then send the boys to Razor House.
In this instance, Hunahpu and Xbalanque achieve the upper hand simply by calling out the fact that One and Seven Death aren't playing fair. In this way, the story shows that naming actions works much the same way that naming people or places does. In the same vein, Hunahpu and Xbalanque have even more power because they don't admit that they're also playing tricks on the Xibalbans.
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In Razor House, Hunahpu and Xbalanque speak to the blades and tell them that animal flesh belongs to them. At this, all the blades stop slashing and stand points down. Then, the boys summon cutter ants to fetch flowers from One Death and Seven Death's garden. One Death and Seven Death had posted a sentry, a whippoorwill, at their garden to guard the flowers. The whippoorwill, however, only flies from tree to tree singing on account of its gaping mouth. It doesn't notice the ants stealing flowers and the birds' tails as well.
Once again, when the twins use their words and give the blades a purpose, they're able to take power for themselves and redirect the blades' dangerous power to a more acceptable target. This moment also offers the origins of several more animals in the Mayan world and gives their habits divine origins.
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Pages fetch Hunahpu and Xbalanque in the morning and ask that they bring the bowls of flowers. When the boys arrange the bowls at the lords' feet, the lords receive them with pained and sick looks. Afterwards, One Death and Seven Death summon the whippoorwill to ask how it allowed the flowers to be stolen. The whippoorwill insists it has no idea, but draws attention to its botched tail. After the lords scold the whippoorwill, they again play ball with Hunahpu and Xbalanque. The game is a tie, and they all agree to play again in the morning.
Hunahpu and Xbalanque are drawing on social conventions as they trick One Death and Seven Death: they know that cultural rules guiding politeness and hospitality are what keep the Xibalbans from killing them outright. This suggests that one can find safety in following these conventions when in a situation that's actually quite dangerous.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque are shown to Cold House, where they're supposed to die of cold. Instead, the boys simply shut out the cold and heat the house with their bodies. When the Xibalbans find the boys alive at dawn, they're amazed at the boys' power. They then show Hunahpu and Xbalanque to Jaguar House. Hunahpu and Xbalanque address the jaguars and say that they have something for them. The boys throw bones at the jaguars, and the jaguars pounce on the bones. The sentries see the jaguars fighting over bones and are pleased, as they believe that Hunahpu and Xbalanque are dead.
The experience in Cold House in particular is meant to indicate to the reader that Hunahpu and Xbalanque are divine beyond measure, given that they're simply able to defy the logic of Cold House and bend it to their will. Then, their experience in Jaguar House reinforces the twins' close relationship with nature, given that they're able to easily come to an agreement with a dangerous predator.
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In the morning, when Hunahpu and Xbalanque come out of Jaguar House unscathed, the Xibalbans are again in awe. The Xibalbans send the boys to a house filled with fire, but the boys don't die. They make the boys enter Bat House, which is filled with snatch-bats. Snatch-bats have snouts like knives and are deadly creatures. Hunahpu and Xbalanque spend the night in their blowgun to escape the bats. However, when the bats become silent, Xbalanque asks Hunahpu to check and see if it's dawn yet. When Hunahpu sticks his head out, a snatch-bat rips his head off. The narrator reveals that this was planned by the twins.
"Snatch-bat" can also be translated from the Quiché language as "death bat," and it refers to the actual Mayan bat god named Camazotz. Camazotz is associated with death, night, and sacrifice. When the narrator explains that Hunahpu's decapitation was planned, it suggests that it was a sacrifice of sorts: Hunahpu sacrifices some of his body in order to play a trick on the Xibalbans. As is the case in other parts of the story, a god losing a body part (even a head) doesn’t mean it’s gone forever.
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When Xbalanque realizes that Hunahpu isn't moving, he begins to cry. Hunahpu's head rolls in front of One Death and Seven Death, and all of Xibalba is thrilled at this victory. Xbalanque gathers himself and asks animals to bring him their food. The animals return with wood, leaves, and stones. The coati, however, rolls a squash before him, and Xbalanque uses this to create a head for Hunahpu. Hurricane descends from the sky to give this squash Hunahpu a brain and to help carve his face. Just before dawn, Xbalanque tells Hunahpu that during the ball game, he should lob threats at the Xibalbans and let Xbalanque play mostly alone. Then, Xbalanque calls a rabbit and tells him to sit next to the ball bags until a ball comes to him.
A coati is a raccoon-like animal, and this passage stands as another explanation for how the natural world works in a logical way. The fact that Hurricane helps Xbalanque create Hunahpu's new head stands as an indicator that one's brain (and by association, tricks, cleverness, etc.) can be obtained through divine assistance. In the human world, this would mean prayers and sacrifices.
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A bit later, in the court, One Death and Seven Death drop in Hunahpu's head, and Hunahpu shouts for them to use his head as a ball. The Xibalbans refuse, and set a regular ball into play. Xbalanque hits the ball and sends it bouncing out of the court, where it finally comes to rest by the ball bags. As instructed, the rabbit leaps away from the ball bags. The Xibalban lords pursue him, convinced he's a ball. With One Death and Seven Death distracted, Hunahpu retrieves his head and Xbalanque retrieves the rubber ball. He calls for One Death and Seven Death to come back and finish their game.
Here, One Death and Seven Death's gullibility mirrors the gullibility of Seven Macaw from Part Two. As it did then, this signals that One Death and Seven Death aren't going to be able to keep up their façade of having the upper hand for much longer. In turn, Hunahpu and Xbalanque's successful trick tells the reader that they're true heroes.
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One Death and Seven Death are confused when they return, but they resume the game regardless. Xbalanque punts the squash as though it's a ball, and as the squash wears out, it finally breaks and scatters seeds all over the court. The Xibalbans are perplexed, but they allow Xbalanque and Hunahpu to win.
Like corn, squash is another staple food. By using it as Hunahpu's head and later as a ball that signals victory, the Popol Vuh indicates that it occupies an important place in Mayan culture.
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After the game, Hunahpu and Xbalanque summon two seers, Xulu and Pacam. Hunahpu and Xbalanque realize that they must die, and they summon the seers to make plans for their deaths. The twins tell the seers that the Xibalbans will kill them in a stone oven. They tell the seers to pretend to argue over where to dump the bones afterwards, but to finally settle on dumping the bones in the river. They tell the seers to also suggest grinding up the bones like corn.
By suggesting that the seers grind up the bones like corn specifically, the text creates an even more pronounced link between these gods and the natural world, suggesting essentially that the natural world is very much divine. The river is important in this way too; practically, the presence of water means that people can water their crops and survive.
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As Hunahpu and Xbalanque predicted, the Xibalbans construct a great stone oven and then summon the twins, promising them a treat. Once the boys arrive, One Death attempts to engage the boys in a game of jumping over the oven, but Hunahpu and Xbalanque simply face each other, grab hands, and jump headfirst into the oven. All of Xibalba celebrates this apparent victory over the twins.
These divine instances of self-sacrifice lay the groundwork for the human sacrifices that take place later. By showing that these sacrifices bring good things and positive results, the text explains to a reader why sacrifices are necessary.
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One Death and Seven Death summon Xulu and Pacam, and the seers do as they were told and grind Hunahpu and Xbalanque's bones and scatter them in the river. Five days later, Hunahpu and Xbalanque reappear. They first look like catfish, but when they crawl out of the river they look like two vagabonds. The Xibalbans don't recognize them, but they admire the twins as they dance and perform tricks. The twins set fire to houses and then put them out; they sacrifice each other and miraculously come back to life.
The reader is aware that this is another iteration of Hunahpu and Xbalanque's ongoing trick on the Xibalbans, but the fantastical nature of this particular trick reinforces their divinity. By setting a precedent for their audience that sacrifice doesn't mean death, Hunahpu and Xbalanque lay the framework for how they can finally best One and Seven Death.
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One Death and Seven Death eventually hear about these entertainers and decide to summon them to perform. They send their owl messengers, but first Hunahpu and Xbalanque refuse. They insist that they'd embarrass themselves in front of such lords, but finally, the boys agree. When they arrive in front of the lords, Xbalanque and Hunahpu feign humility and pretend that they're orphans. When One and Seven Death try to discuss payment, the boys say they want nothing, but admit they're scared to perform. The lords reassure them and list the acts they'd like to see.
Once again, by withholding their true names, Hunahpu and Xbalanque keep the power of their names for themselves rather than sharing it with their adversaries. Further, because they know the names of One Death, Seven Death, and all the other Xibalban lords, Hunahpu and Xbalanque are at even more of an advantage.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque begin their dances and soon, all of Xibalba gathers to watch. One of the lords asks them to sacrifice his dog and bring it back to life, and the twins oblige. They then set fire to One Death's home while all the lords are in it, but they quickly put it out, so the lords don't burn. The lords are amazed and entranced, and they ask Hunahpu and Xbalanque to sacrifice a person. The twins cut out the heart of a person, hold it up for all to see, and then bring the person back to life. Finally, Xbalanque sacrifices Hunahpu, and when he brings Hunahpu back to life, the Xibalban lords are in a frenzy of amazement and happiness.
The fact that the reader knows that the performance is a trick doesn't detract from the fantastical nature of Hunahpu and Xbalanque's act. Rather, it only makes the twins seem even greater, especially since the act is setting up for a trick. When all the Xibalbans gather to watch, it mirrors gatherings that would happen in the real world and reinforces the importance of communal worship (even though the Xibalbans aren't aware that this is what's happening).
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One Death and Seven Death ask Hunahpu and Xbalanque to sacrifice them, and the twins agree. They sacrifice One Death first, and when he doesn't come back to life, Seven Death begins to cry. His vassals (servants) try to escape en masse, but the vassals only keep Seven Death himself from being able to escape. Hunahpu and Xbalanque then sacrifice Seven Death, and the vassals bow to the twins.
Here, the reader gets a brief look at how vassals function when their lord is characterized as undeserving: they bring about their lord's downfall instead of helping him. Again, this suggests that there are logical consequences for those who take power and don't deserve it.
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With this, Hunahpu and Xbalanque tell their names to the remaining Xibalbans. They say that they're the sons of One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, and they've returned to Xibalba to right their deaths. The twins inform the Xibalbans that they'll kill them, but the Xibalbans all kneel and beg for mercy. They tell the twins that One Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu are buried at the ball court, and with this information, Hunahpu and Xbalanque decide to not kill the Xibalbans. Instead, they tell them that their descendants won't be great, they will only receive insubstantial gifts, and only guilty and violent humans will worship them.
When Hunahpu and Xbalanque finally name their own names, it reinforces the power they now have over the lord-less Xibalbans. When the Xibalbans so quickly volunteer information that will help Hunahpu and Xbalanque, it shows again that One and Seven Death's reigns were undeserved.
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On earth, Xmucane cries in front of the dry ears of corn that signify her grandsons' deaths. Then she burns copal (a type of resin) before the ears, and they sprout and live. She names the ears “Middle of the House” because of where Hunahpu and Xbalanque planted them.
With this passage, the text goes back in time to explain what was happening at the same time that Hunahpu and Xbalanque were "dying" and coming back to life again. In doing so, it reinforces the importance of corn as a symbol of life and reminds the reader that history is comprised of many perspectives.
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Hunahpu and Xbalanque go to the ball court to put Seven Hunahpu back together. They ask their uncle to name all the parts of his face, but he can only list his mouth, nose, and eyes. Hunahpu and Xbalanque decide to leave Seven Hunahpu at the ball court, and tell him that people will pray to him and he'll be remembered. They tell him that they swept away all the pain and loss that the Xibalbans wrought on him. With this, Hunahpu and Xbalanque ascend to the sky to become the sun and the moon, and the Four Hundred Boys climb up as well to become the stars.
In the case of Seven Hunahpu, the fact that he cannot name himself and therefore doesn't know who he is condemns him to remaining dead. This ends the divine parts of the text with the insistence that a person must know who they are and where they came from in order to be truly alive. Essentially, it reinforces the importance of the Popol Vuh as a tool to teach Mayan people where they came from so that they can name themselves.
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