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Title: Reports on the Maya Indians of Yucatan - vol. IX No. 3
Author: Mendez, Santiago, Hernandez, Francisco, Aguilar, Pedro Sanchez de, Cubas, Antonio García y
Language: English
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  No. 3












This series of INDIAN NOTES AND MONOGRAPHS is devoted primarily to the
publication of the results of studies by members of the staff of the
Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, and is uniform with
HISPANIC NOTES AND MONOGRAPHS, published by the Hispanic Society of
America, with which organization this Museum is in cordial coöperation.

Only the first ten volumes of INDIAN NOTES AND MONOGRAPHS are numbered.
The unnumbered parts may readily be determined by consulting the List of
Publications issued as one of the series.









  Preface                                                            139
  THE MAYA INDIANS OF YUCATAN IN 1861, by Santiago Mendez            143
      Customs                                                        143
      Women                                                          177
      Dress                                                          190
      Language                                                       192
      Stature, Physiognomy, Color                                    192
      Savage Tribes                                                  194
      Note by Antonio García y Cubas                                 196
    by Pedro Sanchez de Aguilar                                      202
    Report of Francisco Hernandez                                    209
  Glossary                                                           216
  Bibliography                                                       221
  Notes                                                              223


So little has been written in regard to the ethnology of the Maya
Indians of Yucatan, and especially concerning their beliefs, which
persist to the present time, that we publish here a translation of an
important and practically unknown account of this subject. This report
was printed in Mexico in 1870, but it is buried in a study by Antonio
García y Cubas entitled "Materiales para formar la Estadistica General
de la Republica Mexicana," in _Boletin de la Sociedad Mexicana de
Geografia y Estadistica_, segunda epoca, tomo II, pp. 352-388. It is
on pages 374-387, bears the date Mérida, October 24, 1861, and was
written by Santiago Mendez, who states that he was governor of Yucatan
during the years 1841-42. In connection with a study of this report,
so far as it relates to the beliefs of the Maya, it will be profitable
to consult the paper by Dr Daniel G. Brinton on The Folk-lore of
Yucatan, printed in the _Folk-Lore Journal_, London, vol. I, part
viii, 13 pp., August, 1883.

We have also had translated the notes on the superstitions of the
Indians of Yucatan contained in the work of Pedro Sanchez de Aguilar,
1639, published by the Museo Nacional of Mexico in 1892 (pp. 83-84),
and the report of Francisco Hernandez on the religious beliefs of the
Yucatan Indians, which was sent to Bartolomé de las Casas, evidently
while Bishop of Yucatan in 1545, and is given by him in chapter cxxiii
(pp. 328-330) of his Apologetica Historia de las Indias, a work which
did not appear in print until 1875-76, the first complete edition of
which was edited by M. Serrano y Sanz, and printed at Madrid in 1909.

The information contained in the Mendez report is strikingly similar
to that given by Bartolomé José Granado Baeza on Los Indios de
Yucatan, an account written in 1813 but not published until 1845,
when it appeared in the _Registro Yucateco_, tomo I, pp. 165-178. This
report of Baeza is one of the principal sources used by Brinton in his

The editor has incorporated a few Gbrief notes, and has prepared a
glossary of the Indian words and a short bibliography of the subject.




   _Report on the Customs, Labor, Language, Industry, Physiognomy,
   etc., of the Indians of Yucatan, made by the Agent of the
   Department of Public Works, who signs this report, in obedience
   to orders of February 6, 1861._


The character of the Indians of Yucatan is such that, were they to be
judged only by their customs and their habits, we would have to
qualify them as stupid and devoid of reason. It seems indifferent to
them to be in the shade or exposed to rain or to the scorching rays of
the sun, even though they could avoid it. It does not matter to them
whether they go dressed or naked. They never try to obtain commodities
they see other races enjoy, even though the trouble or sacrifice it
would cost to get them might be but small. In order to rest or to chat
with their companions they hardly ever sit down: they squat, it being
quite indifferent to them that they do it in a sun that scorches them
when they might perhaps have shade two steps from where they are.
Reward does not encourage them, nor does punishment admonish them; in
the first place, they think they deserve more,--perhaps because they
were always accustomed to be made use of,--and in the second case they
consider punishment as a kind of fatality from which it is quite
useless to try to deliver themselves: hence they do not reform. So
long as their hunger is stilled, it is quite indifferent to them
whether their meal is exquisite and varied, or whether it consists
only of tortillas and chile, devouring their food in either case with
astounding voracity. When they find themselves driven by utter
necessity, they will work in order to remedy it, but they never do so
with zeal or with the desire to improve their fortunes. They are so
improvident that they may squander in one day the earnings of a week,
in an exaggerated amount of dainties or in superstitious practices,
and above all by intoxicating themselves, leaving their families
without bread and clothing. Or, they remain idle until whatever they
earned by the sweat of their brow is gone. They cultivate a cornfield
and gather a good harvest from it, and even though they do not need to
do so, they will sell the corn with considerable loss in order to
squander the money in splendid repasts and superstitions, both of
which always go together. This harvest might insure the subsistence of
their family for a whole year, but their improvidence will reduce them
within a few days to having to sell themselves for work (peonage).

The love of the parents for their children, of the children for their
parents, and between husband and wife, is barely lukewarm, and not at
all passionate, if we are to judge from their absolute lack of signs
of sympathy, pity, or condolence. They contemplate dry-eyed and rather
indifferently the suffering of their nearest, and even their demise,
without allowing this to change their demeanor or letting it interfere
in the least with their general customs of life.

Although some of them can read and write, they use it very little,
either because they are very slow and clumsy in the exercise of both,
on account, no doubt, of the lack of practice, and also because there
is but little written in their own language.

Their children have usually no other education than that which they
receive from the curates, priests, choirmasters, and teachers of the
catechism, which education was formerly given to them at the church
doors or in the mansions of the large ranches and farms, and they were
compelled to assemble every morning from seven to eight to learn the
catechism. At the present day, as it is not possible to force the
parents to send their children to learn even this, there are but few
who learn at all, especially among the boys. When the writer of this
was governor of this state in the years 1841 and 1842, he succeeded in
establishing primary schools in almost all the villages, and although
averse to anything that looks or sounds like despotism, he authorized,
nevertheless, the mayors, justices of the peace, and chieftains
(_caciques_[1]) to use it in order to force parents to send their
children to the said schools. Unfortunately, in 1842 came the invasion
by the forces of general Santa Anna, and in the effort to resist them,
all the resources of the state were spent for many years in advance.
Then followed our own senseless revolutions and the almost general
uprising of these same Indians against the other native races,
consequently these schools passed out of existence without it having
been possible until this day to reëstablish them. Hence this remains
an unsolved problem and it is difficult to calculate the profit they
might have brought (once the tenacious and persistent opposition of
the Indians overcome), leaving them convinced of the advantages it
might mean to further their knowledge even in the manual labor they

Generally they train their children from a very early age to help in
their agricultural labor such as their forefathers did before the
conquest, or else they teach them light manual labor, such as weaving
little mats or matting in general, making small bags, baskets of all
kinds and sizes, leather bands such as are used by the native porters,
sacks, hammocks, ropes, to prepare henequen from agave fiber, to make
straw hats, and so forth. In some villages they are taught to make
common pottery, and in places near the coast they are shown how to
extract salt, to fish, and seamanship in general. It is very rare that
they are taught other arts and crafts or trades, with the exception
perhaps in cities or principal towns, where, especially when they
have been reared and educated in the households of white people, they
may become efficient in the art of quarrying stone, though quite
primitively, or they qualify as masons, shoemakers, tailors,
muleteers, drivers, and cowboys. They also provide the town with
firewood, charcoal, and fodder.

With regard to their marriage customs, there is little else to say
except that the daughter-in-law goes to live in the house of her
father-in-law, and the son-in-law goes to live with his wife's
parents, which is at present the most usual way, because an episcopal
edict had to be issued prohibiting the first-mentioned to avoid the
very frequent abuses committed on the bride by her father-in-law and
brothers-in-law. At a very early age young men marry, without
repugnance, women who are much older, widows, and even girls who have
children born out of wedlock. To remonstrances made by those who wish
to dissuade them in view of such conditions, they will reply, "Why
should I care? This happened before my time!" It is to be supposed
that conjugal fidelity is not regarded very scrupulously by such
couples. Their most common diseases depend largely on the seasons, and
recur regularly. During summer and fall, when fresh food is abundant,
the Indians are very immoderate in its use, consequently they suffer
from diarrhea and vomiting. In spring and summer they have
_tabardillo_, which is a burning fever, and dysentery, both of which
are caused by too much exposure to the hot sun; and in winter
obstinate constipation, colds, and affections of the throat and lungs.
Their curative methods consist merely of abstinence and of bleeding,
which they perform with a thorn or a fish-bone, and they cool their
blood by drinking sour _pozole_ or boiled lemonade, or else a
decoction of a plant called _xhantumbú_. They never use emetics nor

Ordinarily they eat two meals a day, one on rising and another in the
evening. If they go to work in the field, after having breakfasted on
tortillas and _atole_, they take with them a large lump of _pozole_
which they use as a refreshment at noon by diluting it in water. At
sunset they leave work, and, returning home, eat the second meal,
generally after having taken their bath. Their usual food consists of
boiled vegetables seasoned with salt, chile, and sometimes with the
juice of oranges (the sour orange is used for this) or of lemons. On
Sundays, if they are able to do so, they buy beef or pork; these are
the only days when they eat meat, except when they kill a wild bird or
a creature of the woods while hunting. Such meat they cook by baking
it in a special way in the earth, or else in _pib_. The very poor
among them live all the year round on tortillas and chile, and a
bowlful of _pozole_ or _atole_. Even the wealthiest content themselves
with only one dish. This does not interfere with their being big
eaters, nor devouring all they can get when it does not cost them

Their usual beverage is called _pitarrilia_, consisting of the bark of
a plant called _balché_ which they put in soak in fresh water and
honey and let it ferment. After fermentation it becomes strong enough
to be intoxicating. They are also very fond of liquor, and there are
very few among them who do not become intoxicated occasionally, at
least on Sundays.

Experience, and to a certain extent tradition, are their only guides
for telling the different seasons of the year; they have not the
slightest remembrance of their ancient calendar system. They are
accustomed to hear clocks strike where such exist, but otherwise,
simply from the course of the sun, moon, and stars, they are able to
regulate the hours of the day and night, more or less. They also know
when an eclipse of the moon is approaching, attributing this
phenomenon to an intention of the sun to destroy his satellite, and
they therefore are prepared to make a fearful racket with sticks,
_mitotes_, whistles or horns (_fotutos_[2]), shotguns, and other
instruments during the eclipse, believing that by so doing they can
avoid the catastrophe.

They sleep from early evening until four o'clock in the morning. Their
working hours, if it is at all necessary for them to go to work, last
from sunrise to sunset. If they are paid, they walk or travel at all
hours, even with a load.

There are a few among them who are trustworthy and faithful in their
contracts, and know how to keep their word and promises; but there is
a greater number who absolutely lack all of these virtues, with the
exception, perhaps, of the solemn promises they make to their saints,
in the fulfilment of which they are scrupulously punctual.

They lie easily and very frequently, although they are aware that lies
are prohibited. Generally they evade, whenever possible, a truthful
answer which is to the point and fully satisfies the question.

Their principal vices are lasciviousness among both sexes, and
drunkenness among the men. To do them justice though, we might as well
acknowledge that it is more than probable that if other races and
tribes had to live as they do, almost naked, in the complete liberty
and isolation of country places, all members of one family, males and
females, grownups and minors, the married and the single ones sleeping
together in those little huts without any, or at best, very scant,
knowledge of religion, of modesty and honor, without any fear of the
consequences of unchastity to the women, without any intellectual
enjoyment, reduced to the merest essentials--to satisfy hunger,
thirst, sleep, and the intercourse of the two sexes, might they not be
guilty of worse crimes?

They are generally accused of being inclined to theft, but as a rule
they steal small things of little value, and they are not known to
recur to violence or murder to satisfy this tendency.

The wealthy are free money-lenders to members of their own tribe and
even to those of a different stock, so long as they are satisfied they
are not going to be cheated.

As in almost all of the most populated part of the Yucatecan
peninsula, it is impossible to use the plow for tilling the fields;
labor is reduced to clearing the tropical growth by burning it in the
height of summer and sowing corn or vegetables when the rains
commence, to fencing in the fields and weeding them, etc. In order to
be able to cultivate at one time as much as possible of their
extensive lands, the wealthy Indians pay their day-laborers and
volunteers exceedingly well, either in money or in its equivalent in
provisions at a price below its actual market value, especially in
times of scarcity. They are guided in this by the rule, "This is sweat
of my brethren and it is not right that they should pay it too
dearly." If those workers are servants of some large ranch and live on
the place, they are called _Luneros_,[3] because they give their
master their day's work on Mondays in exchange for the land he gives
them to cultivate for themselves and for the water he allows them for
irrigation of their fields. If they do not, for one reason or another,
go to work on that day, he receives one real in silver instead. The
customary amount of work they really are compelled to do for their
master per year is twenty _mecates_ of clearing of untilled land and
another twenty of already previously tilled fields. Had the owner to
pay for hired labor, this would amount to 12 pesos, 4 reals. In
addition to this they have to give him two hours on Saturdays for what
they call _fagina_,[4] which means work around the house of any kind
their patron should order them to do. On some of the ranches the
obligatory field-work is reduced to half, but in this case they have
to pay their real for Mondays, and always have to do the Saturday's
_fagina_. Any other service or work they may be called on to do is
paid or put to their account. By _milpa roza_,[5] the first clearing
of a field by felling trees, cutting and burning undergrowth, etc., is
meant; while the _milpa caña_[6] is the clearing of fields that have
already been tilled the year before, where the cornstalks are to be
split and burnt in order to plant again.

Those who are employed as cowboys on stock-farms receive a fixed wage,
and are not subject to the Monday service nor to the usual field-work.
They have to look after the cattle and horses, and they have charge of
the draw-wells, the tanks, and drinking pools. They have to attend to
irrigation, weeding, and sowing of the truck gardens and orchards, and
in general to do all work performed on such ranches either for their
conservation and improvement or else in personal service to the owners
or for the advantage of its products. It is also their duty to rasp a
certain amount of henequen fiber from the agave each day. Their wage
is from eight to twelve reals per month and five _almudes_[7] of corn
per week. Yet neither this latter nor the salary are paid to him as
his earnings, but credited to his account against what he draws in
provisions or money, so that he actually is always indebted. This,
however, is the aim of the owners, in order to hold the man quite
secure, even though they know very well that, should the man die in
their service, they would lose that amount. They see to it, however,
that he never owes too much. This really constitutes a kind of slavery
(peonage) which the men try to avenge by serving as poorly as they
can, even to such masters as aim to make their lot easy and agreeable
by frequent gifts or bonuses.

As a rule the Yucatecan Indians are regarded as being meek, humble,
and not easily stirred to ire and cruelty, basing such an opinion on
the fact that the most customary punishment among them was a whipping
applied with moderation. This kind of punishment did not offend them,
if they were informed of the reason why it was meted out to them, nor
did they consider it degrading. This characteristic is still
noticeable among those who have remained submissive and attached to
the white people. It is quite different with those among them who have
had to suffer the cruel, atrocious, and protracted martyrdom inflicted
by the rebels. They are merciless to those who have fallen and still
fall into their power, not only those of other tribes, but even of
their own, in case they refuse to follow their tracks. They have no
pity on either age or sex.

The chieftains (_caçiques_) of today, as well as those who were in
office in the past, and the most prominent or wealthy Indians, live
just as simply as the rest, without the slightest variation. They all
are respected by their subordinates, whom they do not oppress to their
own advantage, nor do they demand any services from them without

The Indians are generally gay, light-hearted, gossipy, and fond of
tricks, in which they can display strength, agility, and adroitness.
They are also very fond of music and song, although not very gifted or
talented in the execution of the former especially. At their feasts
and dances, which usually are rather tumultuous and poorly organized,
they still use some of the old songs in their own language, to the
accompaniment of a little raucous flute, the carapace of a turtle
(_hicotea_), upon which they beat the time with a hart's horn, and of
the _mitote_ or _taukul_. The _mitote_[8] is a solid piece of wood of
cylindrical shape, one yard long and a third of a yard or a little
more in diameter, open at one side almost from one end to the other.
This opening is made for the purpose of hollowing out the piece of
wood until it is reduced to one inch or a little more in thickness. On
the opposite side of the mouth, or opening, they fasten two oblong
wings, which, starting at both ends, meet in the center and are
separated from one another by a serrated edge. In order to play this
instrument, they place it, mouth downward, on the ground, so that the
wings remain on the topmost side, and they hit them with two short
sticks whose points are covered with an elastic resin that makes them
jump, so as not to deaden or confound the sound, which is of such
resonance and force that it may be heard at a distance of two

Notwithstanding the fact that they regard death almost with
indifference, they are timid and cowardly. They never attack the enemy
unless they are far superior in number. Still, they are very astute or
cunning to plan ambushes and to take advantage of every occasion to
surprise their foes, and then fight with great advantage, always
accompanying the fighting with frightful shouting. They are generally
good marksmen, and they handle the machete[9] with admirable skill.
Whenever they see that they cannot resist the onslaught, they disperse
in the woods, but almost instantly come together again at a previously
designated meeting-place. They are very fleet of foot and good racers,
and of an almost incredible endurance for walking long distances, even
with a load of six to eight arrobas [150 to 200 pounds][10] on their
backs. They also can stand a long time without food or drink.

They do not excel in writing or in learning to write, although not a
few have studied the same length of time and the same subjects as
white men, but they are generally clownish and slow of understanding.
It happens very often that after they have been given a clear and
oft-repeated order, they will manage to execute it the wrong way, and
their memory is so short that, although they attend catechism daily
from the age of six or seven until they are twelve or fourteen years
of age, there are very many among them who have never been able either
to learn it or to commit it to memory. Those, however, who do not
evade those lessons and who furthermore attend the preaching of the
gospel in their own language, have obtained Catholic ideas about
eternity, the last judgment, the glory of God, purgatory, and hell.

As the climate of the peninsula is so hot that it exhausts our
physical strength and energy, as well as reduces the needs of man who
can live almost nude and in the open air and feed himself sparingly,
we cannot expect that the Indian should be particularly inclined to
work. We had the same experience among the other native races,
although perhaps their social standard may impose greater necessities.
A hut of six or seven yards in length by three or four in width, he
builds himself; its walls consist of rows of sticks (which sometimes
are covered with a coat of clay) and thatched with palm-leaves or
grass, with a door frequently made of reeds twined together. Two or
three roughly-woven hammocks of henequen, a machete, perchance a hoe,
perhaps a hatchet, and, very rarely, a poor shotgun, are all his
furniture. A _metate_ to grind his corn, an earthen pot to boil it,
another pot to cook the vegetables and the _atole_, a _comal_ or flat
earthenware plate to cook the corn-cakes or tortillas, a pitcher for
water, one or two _jicaras_ of _gúero_,[11] an equal number of gourds
cut in halves to make drinking vessels and for other purposes, are the
eating utensils. A roughly-made, circular stool of half a yard in
diameter and about as much in height, and which is used for shaping
the tortillas as well as for a table at which they eat their meals,
etc. Fifteen to twenty yards of cotton cloth for the man's clothes,
for the wife's, and for the children's, which costs a real per yard,
supposing the woman does not spin and weave this herself; two or three
coarse needles, a reel of cotton thread, a straw hat, sandals, a
handkerchief and a cotton belt; a large straw basket or hamper, a
_mecapal_, and a sack of henequen, complete the list. A trough in
which to wash clothes and to bathe themselves; a few pounds of corn
which he sows himself, as well as chile, beans, calabazas,[12]
_camote_ [sweet potatoes], and _jicama_,[13] a bunch of bananas, the
leaf of which is used to shape the tortillas, and perhaps a sour
orange. His wood he himself cuts in the forest for cooking his meals
and also for the fire which he keeps all night in the center of the
hut; and lastly a little salt. This is the entire inventory of the
necessaries of life an Indian family of Yucatan needs, and which
suffices even to the wealthy ones in the larger towns and principal
cities. A great many of them live even without some of the things
enumerated. They substitute for corn and vegetables (in case they
cannot have them either for not having sown or for having lost the
harvest), fruits, roots, and indigenous plants which grow wild all
over their country, and which are edible and nourishing. Shall we
still ask why the Yucatecan Indian is so indolent, when he has such
few and such modest necessities, all of which are so easy to obtain
even in the midst of the forests and at a great distance from any
other human habitation?

He instinctively hates the superiority of the white race, and even of
the mestizos, to whom institutions both of long ago and of the present
day, customs, greater civilization, and above all the allotment of
land, give so many advantages. His almost irresistible inclination
carries him into isolation, almost exile, in order to escape from the
torment of seeing them and from social duties. He retires where the
land is free, where he can till his field wherever he pleases. This
accounts for the often very small settlements of perhaps only a couple
of families in the thickets of the forests, provided they find a
spring or at least a watering place, even though they might have to
travel a considerable distance to provide themselves. But even those
who live in larger settlements, in towns of white people, will
invariably select the most retired spots in streets in the outskirts
(far away from the center of the town) where to build their huts.

This isolation in the big forests is the principal cause of his
becoming more and more brutish, and it grows with the facility which
those same isolated places afford him to satisfy the one and only
desire he has acquired--drunkenness. It is there he finds _balché_ and
wild honey to brew his _pitarrilla_. And there are ever some of his
own race or mestizos who bring him liquor in exchange for the little
corn he may have stored. He gives this up with an improvidence which
seems innate, though perhaps we might attribute it to ignorance.

The Indian never sees the crucifix or a simple cross or the image of
some saint displayed anywhere, without going to kneel before it in
reverent devotion, nor does he ever meet a priest without raising his
hat or hurrying to his side to kiss his hand. He spends half of his
earnings in devotional offerings which in the end degenerate into
perfect orgies of religious fervor. And yet, in spite of all that, he
does not feel the slightest scruple to take as concubines his sisters
or even his own daughters.

He does not profess half as much love and devotion to God as he shows
toward the images of Saint Anthony of Padua or to the crucifix, both
of which are the only ornaments he has in his little hut. He enters a
church without bowing to the Holy Sacrament on the main altar, but he
goes and kneels before the cross or before Saint Anthony or Saint
Francis of Paula, or to any other image to which miracles are
ascribed, no matter how poorly executed or how defective such an image
might be. On rising from his prostrate position, he bends over to
kiss the altar, to touch its board with his cheeks or forehead, then
touches the image itself, if such is possible, at least with a twig of
some aromatic herb or a flower which he carries home as a relic,
paying it the utmost reverence. In addition to this he offers a
certain amount of money for candles which he lights before the image
of his saint at certain times; he pays for a determinate number of
"Salve Reginas" to be sung either in the church or during street
processions for his sake, and he offers prayers for the souls of
departed relatives.

He believes that the souls of the departed return to earth, and he
therefore marks with chalk the road from the cemetery to their former
abode, that they may not get lost.

He has just as deep-rooted a belief in witches and elves, and he is in
very great fear of witchcraft. It is impossible to eradicate from his
mind the idea that there are men who especially dedicate themselves to
inflict this dreadful art on others.

He fears and respects at the same time an ideal being whom he calls
_Balám_ and who, so he says, is the lord of the fields. They all are
therefore convinced that these fields cannot be tilled without danger
even to their lives if they do not offer him sacrifices before
beginning work, such as _horchata de maiz_ (orgeat), which they call
_sacá_; a stew made of corn and turkey, which they call _kool_; the
tortilla with beans, called _bulihuah_; pitarrilla, and fumes of copal
which they use instead of incense. It may safely be stated, therefore,
that they adore him like God, but they are always careful that the
white people do not see or notice this sacrificial offering for fear
of being considered as idolators.

_Alux_ they call certain apparitions which they believe to exist in
the ancient ruins and on the hills, and they say that as soon as it
grows dark in the evening these apparitions or ghosts commence to walk
around the houses, throwing stones, whistling to the dogs and lashing
them when they get near them, which leaves the poor beasts with a
cough that kills them. They pretend that these ghosts can run with
great speed, as well backward as forward; that they do not terrify
those who look at them. They are wont to enter into the houses to
annoy and tease people who are abed in their hammocks, not letting
them sleep. They assure us that on ranches where sugar-cane is grown,
and just as soon as the grinding machine for the cane is set up, they
will go and turn it or they will drive on the horse attached to it, to
make it trot around. They say these apparitions are of the size of a
little Indian boy of four or five, and that they appear naked, with
only a little hat on their heads. This belief is the cause of
incalculable loss to antiquarians on account of the almost daily
destruction of articles found in the ruins. The Indians will destroy
without pity or regard, notwithstanding they may be offered a good
price for them, all the images in clay and other objects found on the
hills or in subterranean passages, because they are convinced that
these objects are the ones that become alive at night and come out to
walk around. They attribute to the _alux_ or to their influence, all
the diseases they have, as they consider their touch malignant. They
say that if these apparitions find anyone asleep they will pass their
hands over his face so lightly that the sleeper does not even feel it,
but this causes him a fever which incapacitates him for a long time.

They also believe in the existence of the _Xtabay_, the _Huahuapach_,
and the _Xbolontharoch bokolhahoch_. The first of these apparitions or
ghosts may be seen, according to them, in the most isolated spots of a
village or settlement in the shape of a woman dressed as a mestizo,
combing her beautiful hair with the fruit of a plant they call _xaché
xtabay_. She runs away as soon as anyone approaches. She quickens or
retards her flight, either disappearing or allowing the one who
pursues her to reach her side. This latter is the case if the one who
pursues her is some amorous fellow who thinks her to be a beautiful
maiden. But as soon as he reaches and embraces her, he finds that he
holds in his arms a bundle filled with thorns, with legs as thin as
those of a turkey, and this gives him such a terrible shock that he
has fainting spells and high delirious fevers. The _Huahuapach_ is a
giant who may be seen at midnight in certain streets, and he is so
tall that an ordinary man barely reaches to his knees. He amuses
himself by blocking the traffic, opening his limbs and placing one
foot on either side of the street. Should anyone inadvertently try to
pass between his feet, he quickly brings his legs together and so
closely presses the throat of the poor victim that he finally chokes
him. The two other specters or ghosts confine themselves to repeating
during the night the noises that have been prevalent in the daytime,
and especially the noise made by the spindle-wheel the women use. The
other one makes a subterranean noise which sounds like the
chocolate-churner, but both these noises terrorize those who hear

There is no end of superstitions among the general mass of the
Indians, and the most customary form of fortune-telling is performed
by means of a piece of a certain crystal which they call _zaztun_,
which means a clear and transparent stone, and this enables them to
see hidden things and also to divine the cause of maladies. Those who
arrogate to themselves the title of a diviner are freely consulted,
and they receive presents and live a very easy and carefree life. By
means of their tricks and great cunning they make the simple and
ignorant Indians believe, when they are ill and go to consult them,
that through the _zaztun_ they (the sorcerers) have discovered that
some ill-intentioned enemy has bewitched them, and that in order to
discover the malicious spell, they will have to wake for three nights
with an abundant provision of pitarrilla, and aguardiente, food, and
lighted candles. Of course, during these three nights they give
themselves up to high living and immoderate drinking. While the
others, their patients if we may so call them, are sleeping, or off
their guard, they bury within the house or in its immediate vicinity a
little wax figure pierced by a thorn through that part of the body
where the complaint of their patient lies. When everybody is awake
after the last night of vigil, they start certain ceremonies with the
_zaztun_, and finally they go to the spot where they had buried the
figure and take it out within sight of everyone, making them believe
that that was the witchery. Then they start their treatment of the
patient with the first and any herbs they can find, and if by mere
chance these cure the ailment, they have naturally made for themselves
a great reputation among the ignorant.

They also perform a "healing" incantation by offering certain prayers
in which they mention the diseases and the different winds to the
influence of which they attribute them. They will repeat the Lord's
prayer over their patient, the Ave Maria, and the Creed, and sometimes
also the prayer to Saint Anthony which is included in the Mexican
prayer-book. On other occasions they will resort to the _kex_, which
means exchange, and consists in hanging around the house of their
patient certain food and drink for the _Yuncimil_, or Lord of Death,
and they believe that by so doing they are able to save, for the time
being, the life of the patient by barter.

To prevent bees from abandoning the hives and to make them bring home
ample honey, and also that their owners may be free from sickness,
they will hang in the beehives chocolate cups with _sacá_ or
_horchata_ of corn.

They also perform the _misa milpera_ (mass on the cornfield), which
they call _tich_, which means offering or sacrifice, and which is
celebrated in the following manner: On a barbecue or roast made with
little sticks of equal length they place a turkey, and the one who
officiates as priest opens the bird's beak and pours pitarrilla down
its throat. Then they kill it, and the assistants carry it off to
season it. In the meantime they have been cooking in the earth some
large loaves of corn-bread which they call _canlahuntaz_, which is
made of fourteen tortillas or broken bread filled with beans. When all
is well flavored and cooked, they place it on the barbecue with
several cups filled with pitarrilla. Now again the one acting the part
of priest begins to incense it with copal, invoking the Holy Trinity;
he repeats the Creed, and, taking some pitarrilla with a holy-water
sprinkler, he flings it to the four winds, invoking the four
_Pahahtunes_, lords or custodians of rain. He then returns to the
table, and, raising one of the jicaras aloft while those surrounding
him kneel, he places the jicara to each one's mouth for a sip. The
feast then proceeds and terminates by general eating and drinking,
most of all by the one who "officiated," who furthermore takes home
with him a goodly supply. They say that the red _Pahahtun_, who is
seated in the east, is Saint Dominick (_Santo Domingo_); the white one
in the north is Saint Gabriel; the black one in the west is Saint
James; the yellow _Pahahtun_, said to be female and called by them
_Xanleox_, is seated in the south, and is Mary Magdalen.

They very readily take their new-born babies to the baptismal font,
and they never refuse to bury their dead in the cemetery.


It is quite astounding how in this climate woman in general passes
very rapidly from childhood into womanhood, but this development is
still more remarkable in the case of the native Indian woman, prompted
no doubt by their mode of life and native customs. It is quite usual
to see a little Indian girl of three trot daily to the woods with her
parents to help cultivate the fields; very often her excursions extend
to neighboring villages, and she seems to make those trips of four and
even six leagues with the greatest ease, on foot; and after she has
reached five or six years, she even carries her little bundle tied on
her back.

They also journey day after day out into the fields in search of
firewood, small sticks perhaps not thicker than an inch or a little
more, which they call _moloch_. They search for the wood themselves;
they cut it and tie it with two reed or rattan rings, so that they can
carry it on their backs. Then they go for water in the morning and
again in the evening, having to draw it from wells forty and sixty
yards deep, in buckets made of tree-bark. After they have reached the
age of eleven or twelve years, they always present themselves for this
particular errand, as clean as possible. They take great care to be
well-washed and their hair carefully combed, almost as if they were
going for a pleasure walk or to some meeting. This is particularly the
case on the ranches and farms, and in almost all the villages where
they have to provide themselves with water from the communal wells.

Between the ages of six and eleven years the little Indian maiden
attends, either at the church door or, on big haciendas, in the main
building, to the teaching of our Christian religion. She goes there
with bare head and with her hair hanging loose over her shoulders.

All a mother teaches her daughters is how to cook, grind the corn, and
shape the tortillas; to make _atole_ and _pozole_; to wash
clothes,--and this very poorly,--at all events. Or rather the girls
learn all those things by themselves through mere observation and by
helping their mothers in their daily tasks. Some mothers, however,
will teach them to spin and weave their rough cotton cloth, to sew
their garments, and sometimes even to embroider in a very primitive

They are usually accompanied by a _criada_, or housemaid, who is a
kind of guardian angel and remains by their side wherever they go.
When they meet the man they love, they bow their heads and look down;
when speaking of their love, with the big toe of one foot they will
draw lines on the ground.

While they are within their homes they wear only a skirt or petticoat
of white cotton cloth, which covers them from the waist down to their
knees, and in this way they will also present themselves to visitors,
unless it is someone absolutely unknown to them, in which case they
cross their arms over their breasts to hide them from the stranger. If
one meets them in the fields or lies in wait for them over the walls
of unmortared stones, they hide immediately, apparently to run away
from the presence of a wayfarer, notwithstanding they are all
exceedingly curious, and the love of gossip is one of their main
characteristics. They are tender-hearted and desirous of pleasing, but
rather in an uncouth manner, in keeping with what little education
they have received. Anyone who asks them something in the name of God
is welcome to their compassion and to whatever they can afford to

Their bodily cleanliness almost borders on superstition, for they
consider a person who does not wash her body everyday as not quite
sane or reasonable. For their daily bath they heat a stone they call
_sintun_ in the fire, and when it is well heated they throw it into
the water they have prepared for their bath.

It is very seldom that they are happy in their love affairs, because
it is generally their parents who choose their husbands. After the
choice is once made, the parents of the prospective husband come to
ask for the girl's hand, and if accepted they present an offering of
two pesetas, which is known under the name of _pochat tancab_ or
_buhul_. One peseta is for the bride-to-be, the other for her mother.
From the day following this ceremony the bridegroom-elect has to
furnish daily a fagot of firewood to the house of his future
parents-in-law. On her wedding day the bride is dressed in a _hipil_
or loose garment over a petticoat or skirt, the border of which is
adorned with ribbons of deep purple; while another wide ribbon of the
same shade is tied around her hair. Her head is covered with a cloth
of white muslin. She also has to wear shoes, a rosary around her
neck, earrings and finger-rings with big cheap stones. All this jewelry
may be borrowed from someone. Once the religious ceremonies over, they
all proceed to the banquet, at which the newly married couple and
their godfathers (sponsors) are assigned a prominent place. If the
girl is not to continue living with her parents, she returns there,
nevertheless, and remains for eight days, after which time the
godparents come to get her and turn her over to her husband.

The husband is the recipient of all the attention and care of his
wife. She sews, she washes, and she grinds the corn and makes the
tortillas, the _pozole_, the _atole_, and all the rest of his food
with her own hands. She does all the work of her household; she has to
prepare his bath when he comes home from work in the evening. These
are her daily duties. In the evening, by the light of the home fire or
in the pale light of a tropical moon, she sews or mends his clothes
and hers and those of her children. Whenever the husband leaves home
to go on a journey to some neighboring town or hacienda, the wife has
to follow him; she is never allowed, however, to walk by his side, but
behind, in his footsteps so to speak. If this husband gets drunk,
which occurs rather frequently, and he should fall by the roadside, it
is the wife's duty to remain by his side and take care of him until he
is able to continue on his way. Neither the scorching sun, nor heavy
rains, nor thunderstorms, nor any other danger of the road has power
enough to take her away from his side.

Even the fact that a woman has just been delivered of a child does not
serve as an impediment to her going with the husband; she simply
carries the new-born baby with her, either in a piece of cloth on her
back or else mounted on one of her hips.

If the husband, for one reason or another, is called before a court of
justice, he appears accompanied by his wife, simply because it is her
duty to go with him and to act as his defender. She does this
wonderfully well; she speaks with such warmth and so fluently, with
such courage and enthusiasm, absolutely free from her usual bashful
shyness, that one cannot help but admire her. And this absolute
devotion on her part to the service of her consort does not weaken
even with the ill-treatment she receives at his hands in return, for
whenever he is intoxicated he treats her to a liberal whipping--he
beats her with his bare hands even, or with a stick.

Under such circumstances marital fidelity on the part of the women is
not, nor can it be, very deep-rooted, and frequently her seducers
triumph over her virtue. However, if the husband surprises them and
the woman succeeds in escaping him, he denounces her to the next court
of justice and demands that she be given a certain number of blows.
She invariably receives them quite resignedly, and after the ordeal
returns peacefully to her domestic duties. If the woman is the
offended one, she also goes before the judge and demands that her
rival be treated to the same punishment. Any sickness that might
befall them after this misadventure, they unfailingly attribute to
witchcraft instigated by their offenders. Witchcraft enjoys such wide
popularity among Indian women that there is hardly one among them who
cannot relate one and even many cases of the black art in her family.
To their minds superstition and credulity go hand in hand, and if one
tells them of some strange occurrence ascribed to enchantment, they
believe it as readily and as firmly as if it had happened to
themselves or as if they had witnessed it. And if one immediately
afterward asks them whether it is day or night, they will answer
doubtfully, even after having looked at the sun--so wrapped up in the
tale have they become.

They are very fond of dancing and of music, but they do not perform
the former either gracefully or freely, nor have they any variety or
art in its execution. They have no talent or gift for playing an
instrument either. They are wont to sing in their idle moments or
even while at work, but sadly and in a monotone.

The woman who finds herself pregnant works until the very last moment
before the child is born, and resumes her tasks immediately afterward,
as soon as the baby is attended to. They leave their children so much
to themselves, and give them so little care, that they are forever
creeping around on the floor in all the mire and dirt, and always
completely naked. A diaper and a tiny _hipil_ are all they get for the
first few days of their life. Around wrists and ankles they
occasionally will tie tiny cords made of blue cotton to protect them,
so they say, from epilepsy. Those who can afford to do so will hang a
little rosary of beads interspersed with wooden honey-berries around
their necks and put tiny earrings in their ears.

A pregnant Indian woman will not go outdoors during an eclipse, in
order to avoid her child being born with spots or ugly birthmarks on
its body; nor do they visit women who have just given birth to a
child, because it is their belief that the babies would become ill
with pains in their bowels.

As soon as the child is six months old they name a godfather and a
godmother for the ceremony of opening the baby's limbs for the first
time. To this end they set a table with some kind of pottage, and the
godfather makes nine rounds of the table, with the baby placed astride
one of his hips, which is the way in which it will be carried
thereafter by its mother. Then they place in the child's hands, if it
is a girl, a needle, a spindle, and the implements with which they
weave their cloth; if it is a boy, he is given a hatchet, a machete,
and other implements he is expected to use when grown up. These
godparents enjoy the same distinction as those at the christening.

The women do not care about knowing their own age, and they keep track
of the age of their children only until they have attained about six
or eight years; after that they forget it. Although they grow into
young manhood or womanhood very quickly, really old age comes late,
except in the appearance of the women, who at the age of thirty-five
look like women of forty-five.

Their most common diseases are pleurisy, intermittent fevers, and
jaundice, while fits, fainting spells, and hysterics are exceedingly

As a rule the women are abstemious, economical, and very hospitable.
They love work, and are fond of raising chickens and turkeys, which
they sell in order to enable them to buy what they most need, or else
they prepare such fowl for banquets, marriages, christenings, the day
of All Souls, or for the novenas which they celebrate for the Holy
Cross or the saint of their special devotion. They do not fancy all
manner of necessities, nor do they pretend to live on the work of
their husbands; rather they work constantly in order to dominate them,
and in this they succeed generally, at least to a certain degree. They
will upbraid them if they undertake anything without asking their
advice. They do not forget offenses they may have received until they
are avenged. In their old age they are liable to commit small
insignificant thefts, and they especially seem to like to become
mendicants, even though they do not need to be. They seem to do this
as a kind of compensation for what in their earlier days they may have
given to the poor.

Sentiments of gratitude do not last long. However, we must in this
case always except those who were reared in the homes of white people.
With few exceptions (when perhaps poor methods or little care in their
education, or perchance bad example and ill-treatment dominated),
these Indian girls are virtuous, assiduous, disinterested, and very
well-disposed toward all the different branches of service and ready
to learn whatever they are taught. They are modest, and are fond of
dressing themselves nicely and decently. They are so affectionate,
true, and grateful, that many a time they grow old in the service of
one family, and if this family meets with misfortune and perhaps
becomes impoverished, they will go to work outside to help support
them, of which I could mention many cases. Just the opposite happens
with the men, who, although they were educated in a white family from
early childhood, and many a time with the same care as the white
children, the cases are rare that they do not gradually drift apart,
become estranged, give themselves up to vice, and finally forget their
benefactors entirely.


The ordinary costume of the men consists of a shirt of white cotton
like ours, worn outside the white drawers of the same material, which
are wide and reach to the calf of the leg; a belt, white or in colors,
is worn around the waist under the shirt; a kerchief; a straw hat, and
sandals consisting of only soles which are adjusted to the foot by
cords of agave fiber, complete his costume. While at work in the field
they take all their clothes off and wear only a loin-cloth, which
they call _huit_, consisting of a piece of cotton cloth fastened
around the hips, the points passing between the thighs to be fastened
to the belt below the navel. From this belt hangs the sheathed machete
on the left side.

When they go out, the Indian women wear on their heads either a piece
of cotton cloth of about half a yard in width by two and a half yards
in length, the ends of which hang down the back, or else they tie a
red kerchief around the head, a very bright red being their favorite
color. A _hipil_ of cotton is fashioned like a wide sacque-coat, with
an opening in the center to put the head through, fitting around the
neck, having openings on the two sides for the arms. This _hipil_
reaches to about the calf of the leg, falling on a skirt or petticoat,
also of white cotton, three or four fingers longer. It is fastened
around the waist under the _hipil_, which falls loosely over it. The
hem of both the skirt and the _hipil_ are very often roughly
embroidered in blue or red thread. For traveling they wear sandals
like the men.


The Indians of Yucatan speak the Maya language, though somewhat
adulterated through contact with Spanish. Several Spanish expressions
have gradually crept into their idiom, especially in cities and
principal towns where the Indians are in almost constant intercourse
with whites and mestizos. Many among them can speak Spanish perfectly
well, but as a rule they avoid it, and will answer in Maya to those
who speak Spanish to them.


Generally speaking, the Indians of Yucatan are of about the same
stature as all intertropical races, of a round face, straight black
hair, rather coarse, not very pronounced eyebrows, very little beard
or none at all, a low narrow forehead, black and expressive eyes, a
somewhat flat nose, small but outstanding ears, protruding
cheekbones, a regular mouth with thin lips and beautiful teeth, a
stout neck, broad chest and shoulders, arms, thighs, and limbs of
robust and muscular build. Their hands and feet are small, and the
toes of their feet stand closer together than the heels. They have no
hair on their bodies except on the head. Their color is a
copper-brown, darkened through constant exposure to the sun,
especially as they go about almost totally naked. The color of the
women is therefore much lighter, and this is also the case with such
men as have been reared from childhood in homes of the white people.
Among the women there are some very pretty ones, slender in form, with
an airy but graceful carriage, and a very sweet voice; but the hard
work to which they are subjected from early childhood causes them to
lose their beauty at an early age. There are also some truly fine
types among the men.


Of real savage tribes there are none in Yucatan. After the greater
part of the peninsula, cities as well as villages, had been
reconquered from the possession of the Indians who had taken them
during their insurrection in 1847, which was general, the most
tenacious and unruly ones among them settled in the eastern part of
the peninsula, where they have built several towns, the principal one
being Chan-Santacruz. From these fastnessess they frequently sally
forth to attack and even to raze our absolutely defenseless villages.
These attacks cause frightful suffering not only to members of other
tribes and races, without regard to sex or age, but they are at times
even greater among those of their own race, who at one time or another
have either absolutely refused to join their ranks, or, after
following their lead for some time, have deserted, and returned to
live in peace among the white people.

Another and by far the most numerous band of those rebellious Indians
went to settle in the south of the peninsula, and by virtue of the
treaty they celebrated with General Vega have given up all
hostilities, although they remain in complete independence of national
as well as of state authorities, and in peaceful business intercourse
with this city (Mérida), and also with Campeche and other points in
close proximity to their abodes. Colonel Juan Sanchez Navarro drew a
map, which he presented, together with his report, before the
government of Yucatan on April 12 of the present year, on which map he
gives an approximate idea of the localities on the peninsula still
occupied by rebellious Indians who maintain a hostile attitude and
those who have agreed to peaceful intercourse. The first mentioned he
calls the eastern group, and the last named the southern one.

Mérida, _October 24th, 1861_.


After having written about several groups of aborigines who inhabit
the central part of the republic, I wish to extend these notes with
the aid of documents in my possession to the Indians of Tabasco and

The customs, habits, and inclinations of all those Indians in general
do not, with any certainty, evoke any hope for the improvement of
their race and their subsequent utility and usefulness to the nation.
The task I have set for myself is a very delicate one, and there may
exist a great many people who will attribute to lack of patriotism the
frank statement of many defects in our population; but I observe that
our nation is not moving toward its aggrandizement with the alacrity
and speed which the progressives among the authorities wish to see.
Therefore I consider it necessary to study and point out the defects.
I do not wish it to appear as if the conceptions expressed in these
lines were imputations of my own imagination, and I wish to state,
therefore, that whatever is said in this report is extracted from
official documents in my possession.

The aborigines living in the towns and villages of the district of
Jalpa, and the same may be said of the rest of the Indians of Tabasco,
despite their docility, prefer the wild, uncivilized life of the
mountains to the advantages of communal life, if by so doing they are
able to evade all public responsibilities and duties. They come
together only for their religious festivities, and on all such
occasions they are given to drunkenness and gluttony to such a degree
that they contract very serious diseases which in a great many cases
hasten their demise. With very few exceptions they live in complete
vagrancy, and they propagate without respecting any degree of blood
relationship. They insist on curing their diseases with all sorts of
roots and plants, which, however, mostly impair their health, causing
great mortality, especially among children. This may be regarded as
the principal cause why very few among their number reach the age of
fifty years.

The aborigines who inhabit the borders to the river Usumacinta and its
tributaries are for the greater part natives of Yucatan, and are like
all the rest of their kind, very fond of drinking. The Indians of
Tenosique, about forty years ago, were known as very honest and
trustworthy, but their intercourse with the rebels and emigrants from
Yucatan have demoralized them to a great extent.

These and other defects, with but a few honorable exceptions, are
revealed in the documents treating of the Indians of the district of
Comitan, state of Chiapas, which, however, I am not going to
enumerate, so as to avoid repetitions, and by so doing make this
article altogether too long.

All the above mentioned shows the decadence and general degeneration
of the aborigines, as compared with the very scant elements of
vitality and vigor that might help in the movement toward progress in
our republic. The same customs, the same reserve and diffidence which
characterized the Indian of colonial days is manifestly still his
today under the so-called protective laws of the republic, which
barely give him the title of citizen. Yet, as I have stated before, I
do not belong to those who despair of his ultimate civilization, and I
believe that the most efficacious means of effecting this is by
crossing his breed or race by way of colonization, introducing other
nations and elements to come in contact with him.

That this efficacious means of stopping the infinite defects which
retard, if they do not hinder, the natural progress of our nation, has
not been attained, to my idea, lies in the fact that so far no
protective laws have existed which, founded on prevision, afford
guaranties and procure work for colonists. There are no laws that fix
the boundaries of the immense stretches of waste-land within our
country, nor a careful study of climate, geology, and production.
There is not, to my knowledge, any report establishing the best
methods of making all our territory productive either through sales or
the renting of all lands that cannot be tilled by their original
owners. Our own elements, as we have tried to demonstrate in this
article, are either heterogeneous or too scarce and insufficient to
accomplish the task of carrying the nation onward on the road of
aggrandizement. Hence it is, according to my idea, colonization, and
colonization alone, that may serve as the final remedy for our
national ills.

If we had today laws such as I have had reference to, we would at this
very moment see European colonists arrive continually, attracted by
hopes of a splendid future which our fertile soil and our salubrious
climate offer to the industrious and enterprising man. Our population
would increase daily at the same pace with the United States of Brazil
and Buenos Aires, where European immigration forms an element of

It remains for our government to fix in the most decisive way the
answer to this question in the interest of the future of our country.

Mexico, _May 1st, 1870_.



MADRID, 1639


The abuses and superstitions in which those Indians of Yucatan believe
and the abuses which they cherish are mostly inherited from their
forebears, and are as numerous as they are varied in kind. I am
including in this report all I was able to investigate, so that they
may enable the curates to disapprove them publicly, and in their
sermons to reprimand the Indians on account of them.

They believe in dreams which they try to interpret to suit the

On hearing the cawing (or cackle) of a bird they call _kipxosi_, they
interpret it to mean poor success to whatever enterprise they are
engaged in at the time. They consider it as a bad omen or foreboding,
as the Spaniards do with the female fox or the cuckoo.

If, while the Indian is traveling, he stumbles over a big stone among
a pile which had been dug up to build or level a road, he venerates it
by placing on the top of it a little twig, brushing his knees with
another one in order not to get tired. This is a tradition of his

If he happens to be traveling near sunset, and he fears that he will
arrive late or even at night at the village he is bound for, he will
drive a stone into the first tree he finds, believing that this will
retard the setting of the sun. Another superstition to the same effect
is the pulling out of some of his eyelashes and blowing them toward
the sun. These are superstitions that came down to him by tradition
from his forebears.

During lunar eclipses they still believe in the tradition of their
forefathers to make their dogs howl or cry by pinching them either in
the body or ears, or else they will beat on boards, benches, and
doors. They say that the moon is dying, or that it is being bitten by
a certain kind of ant which they call _xubab_. Once, while at the
village of Yalcobá, I heard great noises during an eclipse of the moon
which occurred that night, and in my sermon the next day I tried to
make them understand the cause of the eclipse in their own language,
according to the interpretation from the Philosopher: "The lunar
eclipse is the interposing of the earth between the sun and the moon
with the sun on top and the moon in the shadow." With an orange to
represent the sphere of Sacrobosco, and two lit candles on either
side, I explained to them plainly and at sight what an eclipse really
was. They seemed astonished, and quite happy and smiling, cured of
their ignorance and that of their forefathers. I gave orders to their
chieftain (caçique) that he should punish in the future all those who
made a noise on such occasions.

They also call certain old Indian shamans when a woman is in labor,
and, with words of their former idolatry, he will enchant her and hear
her confession. They do the same with some other patients. I could not
find out all about this, for which I am very sorry.

There are some Indian medicine-men who, with similar enchantment, are
supposed to cure the bites or stings of snakes, especially of the
rattlesnakes, of which there are a great many here. The victims of
such bites are sometimes delirious, and often the flesh around the
wound will decay until they die. The remedy the wizards give them,
according to what I heard, is to make them eat human excrement or
drink the juice of lemons, or else they will take a domestic fowl and
place its beak on the wound, and have it suck in this way the poison
of the snakebite. The hen or chicken will of course die, and they
immediately replace it by another live one, and repeat that until all
the poison is absorbed.

When they build new houses, which occurs every ten or twelve years,
they will not inhabit nor even enter them unless the old wizard has
been brought even from a distance of one, two, or three leagues to
bless it or consecrate it with his stupid enchantment. This, however,
I have only heard, and I am now sorry never to have recorded it

They are fortune-tellers, and they perform this feat with a heap of
grained corn, counting always two and two grains, and if it comes out
in even numbers, the fortune-teller will continue counting one, two,
or three times over until it comes out uneven, bearing all the while
in mind the main facts or reason for which he had been called on to
tell the fortune, _vera gratia_. Once a girl ran away from home, and
her mother, like any true Indian woman would have done in a similar
case, immediately called one of those fortune-tellers, who drew lots
on all the different roads until the fortune told of or pointed to a
certain road the girl had taken and where she would be found. They
sent out to look for her and found her in the village to which that
road led. I punished that wizard, who was a native of a village at one
league from Valladolid, and while I examined him with patience and
slowly, I found that all the words he used in that so-called
fortune-telling, while he counted the grains of corn, were no more
than "Odd or even, odd or even" (_huylan nones, caylan pares_). He
could not even tell me whether those words were meant as an invocation
to Satan. In fact, he seemed not to know what they meant, for this
particular wizard was a very great simpleton, almost imbecile.

In this city of Mérida it is publicly known that there exist several
Indian sorceresses (witches), who by using certain words can open a
rosebud before it is time for its opening, which is given to the one
they wish to attract to their lascivious desire. They let him smell of
it, or they place it under his pillow; but should the person who gives
it to him smell its perfume, she is said invariably to lose her mind
for a long while, calling to the one she expected to inhale it, and in
whose name the rose was opened by the witch--a worthy matter which
serves as medicine as well as punishment, especially if it hits the
double mark. It has also been assured that the Indian women of this
city are wont to throw a certain enchantment into the chocolate which
is ready for their husbands to drink, and by it they become
bewildered. This I only heard however, and I could not vouchsafe its

I will also note here what I saw as a child, and that is that they
used to drown in a hole young puppies of a breed of dogs they raise as
pets as well as for food. These are a kind of dogs, with but little or
no hair at all, which they call _tzomes_.[14] It is an old Jewish
dogma of _cosher_. See the Apostle, _ut abstineant se a suffocatis_,
etc.--that they abstain from the food of animals dying by smothering
or any kind of natural death.



When our people discovered the kingdom of Yucatan they found crosses
there, and one cross in particular which was made of stone and mortar,
of a height of ten palms, and was erected in the center of a court or
enclosure, very prominent and fair, and crowned with battlements; it
stands alongside of a sumptuous temple and is very much frequented by a
great number of people. This is on the island of Cozumel, which lies
near the mainland of Yucatan. It is said that this cross was really
adored as the God of Water or Rain; as often as there was a drought they
went to sacrifice quail before it, as will be told later. When asked
whence or through whom they had first heard of that sign, they replied
that a very handsome man had once passed through their country and that
he left it with them, that they might always remember him by it. Others,
it is said, answered that it was because a man more resplendent than the
sun had died on that cross. This is referred to by Peter Martyr in
chapter I of his Fourth Decade.

I shall refer to another tale or report which is very unusual and new
regarding the Indies, and which until now has not been found in any
other part of them. As this kingdom, on account of its close proximity
to it, comes within the jurisdiction of my bishopric of Chiapa, on one
of my visits I disembarked and remained at a very healthy port. I met
there a clergyman, good, so it seemed, of mature age and honest, and
[one] who knew the language of the natives from having lived there
several years. As it was necessary for me to return to my episcopal
residence, I nominated him as my vicar, and ordered and entreated him
to travel inland and visit the Indians there and preach to them in a
certain way in which I instructed him. After a certain number of months
(I even believe it was one year), he wrote to me that on his trip he had
met a principal lord or chief, and that on inquiring of him concerning
his faith and the ancient belief all over his realm, he answered him
that they knew and believed in God who was in heaven; that that God was
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. That the Father is called by
them _Içona_,[15] and that he had created man and all things. The Son's
name was _Bacab_,[16] who was born from a maiden who had ever remained a
virgin, whose name was _Chibirias_,[17] and who is in heaven with God.
The Holy Ghost they called _Echuac_.[18] They say that _Içona_ means the
great Father. _Bacab_, who is the son, they say killed _Eopuco_,[19] and
flagellated him, crowning him with a crown of thorns, and placed him
with arms extended on a pole, not meaning that he should be nailed to
it, but tied (and in order to show him how, the chief extended his own
arms), where he finally died. He was dead for three days, but on the
third day he returned to life and went up to heaven, and he is there
with his Father. After this immediately came _Echuac_, which is the Holy
Ghost, and he filled the earth with all it needs. When asked what
_Bacab_ or _Bacabab_ meant, he said it meant the son of the great
Father, and that _Echuac_ meant merchant. And very good merchandise did
the Holy Ghost bring to this earth, for he filled men with all their
faculties, and divine and abundant graces. _Chibirias_ means mother of
the Son of the great Father. He added, furthermore, that at a certain
time all men would have to die, but he did not seem to know anything of
the resurrection of the flesh. When asked how they came to know all
these things, the chief replied that the lords taught their sons, and in
this manner it descended from one age to another. They also assert that
in olden times, long ago, there came to the land twenty men (he gave
the names of fifteen of them), but because they were very poorly
written, and furthermore as they do not have great importance for this
report, I do not copy them. Of the five others the vicar says he could
not obtain their names. The principal one was called _Cocolcan_,[20] and
they called this one the God of all kinds of fevers. Two of the others
are the Gods of fish, still another two the Gods of farms and homesteads
[landed properties], still another was the God of Lightning, etc. They
all wore long gowns or mantles, and sandals for their feet. They had
long beards, and wore nothing to cover their heads. These men ordained
that the people should go to confession and should fast, and some people
fasted on Fridays because on that day _Bacab_ had died. The name of this
day (Friday) is _Himis_,[21] and they honor it in their devotion on
account of the death of _Bacab_. The chiefs (caçiques) know all the
particulars of those things, but the common people believe only in the
three persons, _Içona_ and _Bacab_ and _Echuac_, and in _Chibirias_,
the mother of _Bacab_, and also [in] the mother of _Chibirias_ called
_Hischen_,[22] whom we consider to have been Saint Ann. All this above
stated is from information I have received in a letter from that
reverend father whose name is Francisco Hernandez, and I still have his
letter among my papers. He also stated that he took the said chief to a
Franciscan friar who lived near there, and that the caçique repeated all
he said before the friar, and they remained both greatly surprised at
it. If all those things just stated are true, it would seem that that
part of the land had been (long ago) informed about our Holy Faith, for
in no other part of the Indies have we ever found such news. It is true
that in Brazil, which belongs to the Portuguese, it was stated that
traces of the wanderings of Saint Thomas the Apostle had been
discovered, but such news could not very well fly over through the air,
and furthermore it is quite certain that the country and kingdom of
Yucatan give us more special and singular cases to ponder over, and of
far greater antiquity, if we think of the great, exquisite, and
admirable way the most ancient buildings are constructed, also of a
certain lettering in queer characters which are not found anywhere else.
Finally these are the secrets which only God knows.


   _Alux_, _h'lox_, or more fully _h'loxkatob_. According to Brinton
   the meaning is "the strong clay images." He writes in his paper,
   The Folk-lore of Yucatan, that "the derivation of this word is
   from _kat_, which, in the Diccionario Maya-Español del Convento
   de Motul (MS. of about 1580), is defined as 'la tierra y barro de
   las olleras,' but which Perez in his modern Maya dictionary
   translates 'ollas ó figuras de barro'; _ob_ is the plural
   termination; _lox_ is strong, or the strength of anything; _h'_
   or _ah_, as it is often written, is the rough breathing which in
   Maya indicates the masculine gender."

   _Atole._ Nahuan _atolli_, or _atlaolli_. Corn-meal gruel.

   _Balám._ Tiger or mountain-lion. The word was applied also to a
   class of priests and to kings as a title of distinction.

   _Balché._ A fermented liquor made from wild honey and the bark of
   a tree.

   _Buhul_, _buuhul_. A section of a stick of wood split lengthwise
   in the middle.

   _Bulihuah._ Tortillas made of corn-meal and beans. From _bul_ or
   _buul_, beans; _uah_, tortilla.

   _Caçique._ Antillean word meaning a lord or chief.

   _Camote._ Nahuan _camotl_, a kind of sweet-potato.

   _Canlahuntaz._ Large loaves of native bread. From _canlahun_,
   fourteen; _taz_, tiers, or layers.

   _Comal._ Nahuan _comalli_, clay griddle.

   _Hipil._ Nahuan _huipilli_, a woman's chemise.

   _Huahuapach, ua ua pach._ According to Brinton (op. cit.) it
   means giant crab.

   _Huit_, _uith_. Loin-cloth.

   _Jicara._ Nahuan _xicalli_, corrupted into _jicara_, a calabash.

   _Kex._ To barter or change; also used as a name for ex votos
   placed on altars.

   _Kipxosi_, _kipchoh_, _cipchoh_. "A diviner bird among the

   _Kool._ A dish prepared by cooking corn with chicken.

   _Mecapal._ Nahuan _mecapalli_, leathern band used over the
   forehead for carrying burdens.

   _Mecate._ Nahuan _mecatl_, rope or cord made of maguey fiber.

   _Metate._ Nahuan _metatl_, a stone on which corn is ground.

   _Milpa._ Nahuan _milli_, cultivated land; _pan_, a postposition.

   _Mitote._ Nahuan _mitotli_, a dance.

   _Moloch._ Brush-wood or kindling.

   _Pahatun_, _pah ah tun_. The four _pa ah tunes_, the lords of
   rains, are, according to Brinton, "identical with the winds, and
   the four cardinal points from which they blow.... The name
   _pahatun_ is of difficult derivation, but it probably means
   'stone, or pillar, set up or erected.'"

   _Pib._ An underground oven.

   _Pochat tancab._ According to the author of this report the
   phrase has the same signification as _buhul_: the offering made
   to a girl by a prospective bridegroom.

   The words seem to be: _poc_, to wash or rub; _hat_, numerical
   termination serving to count split-wood; _tancab_, outside the
   house, or in the patio.

   _Pozole._ Nahuan _pozolatl_, or _poçol atl_, a drink of cooked

   _Sacá_, _zacá_. Orgeat of corn; from _za_, corn gruel; _cá_, or
   _caa_, duplicative particle.

   _Sintun_, _zintun_. A heated stone for heating water for bathing
   purposes. From _zin_, to haul, girdle or encircle; _tun_, stone.

   _Taukul_, _tunkul_. A wooden drum.

   _Tich._ A mass celebrated in planted fields. See Brinton, op.

   _Xaché xtabay._ According to the author, the name of a plant. The
   first word, _xaché_, is evidently _xach_ or _xachah_, to comb.
   _Xtabay_ may be _x-_, a prefix, indicating feminine gender;
   _tabal_, to deceive.

   _Xanleox_, _x'kanleox_. From _x-_, prefix denoting feminine
   gender; _kan_, yellow; _lox_, to strike with the closed fist.
   Brinton simply gives "yellow goddess" as the equivalent.

   _Xbolonthahroch bokolhahoch_, _X bolon thoroch bokol_ (or
   _bookol_) _h'otoch_. From _x-_, prefix denoting feminine gender;
   _bolon_, nine; _thoroch_, sound of a spindle revolving in its
   shaft. Brinton says, "The name therefore signifies 'the female
   imp who magnifies the sound of the spindle." _Bokol_ or _bookol_,
   to stir; _h_ or _ah_, to indicate the rough breathing which in
   Maya denotes the masculine gender.

   _Xhantumbú_, _xkantumbub,_ or _xkantun bub_. A small plant used
   for medicinal purposes.

   _Xtabay._ See etymology under _xaché xtabay_.

   _Xulab._ Spelled by Sanchez de Aguilar _xubab_. An ant which
   attacks beehives.

   _Yuncimil_, _Yumcimil_. The God of Death; from _yum_, universal
   father or lord; _cimil_, death.

    _Zaztun._ A quartz crystal; from _zaz_, clear; _tun_, stone.



    BAEZA, BARTOLOMÉ JOSÉ GRANADO. Los Indios de Yucatan. Informe
    dado por el cura de Yaxcabá D. Bartolomé del Granado Baeza, en
    contestacion al interrogatorio de 36 preguntas, circulado por el
    ministerio de Ultrámar sobre el manejo, vida y costumbres de los
    Indios, que acompaño el Illmo. Sr. obispo á la deputacion
    provincial. _Registro Yucateco_, Mérida, tomo I, pp. 165-178.

         This account was written in Yaxcabá, April 1, 1813. It is one
         of the principal sources of information used by Brinton in his
         paper, The Folk-lore of Yucatan.

    G. C. El Indio Yucateco, carácter, costumbres y condicion de los
    Indios de Yucatan. _Registro Yucateco_, Mérida, tomo I, pp.

         This report is dated Mexico, December 30, 1843.


    CARRILLO, ESTANISLAO. Papeles sueltos de P. Carrillo. Fantasmas.
    _Registro Yucateco_, tomo IV, pp. 103-106.

         The material in this article was used by Brinton in his paper,
         op. cit.

    HERNANDEZ, JUAN JOSÉ. Costumbres de las Indias de Yucatan.
    _Registro Yucateco_, Mérida, tomo III, pp. 290, 298.

         This report is dated Mérida, April 24, 1846.


    CARRILLO, CRESCENCIO. Estudio historico sobre la raza indigena
    de Yucatan. Vera Cruz, 1865, 26 pp.


    BANCROFT, HUBERT HOWE. The native races of the Pacific states. 5
    volumes, San Francisco.

         In the several volumes of this work Bancroft has assembled most
         of the early accounts of the manners and customs of the Maya of
         Yucatan. He was unaware of the existence of the report by
         Mendez which forms the basis of our publication.


    BRINTON, DANIEL G. The Folk-lore of Yucatan. _Folk-Lore
    Journal_, London, vol. 1, part viii, pp. 1-13.

         This study is based largely on the report of Baeza, with
         additions from the article of Estanislao Carrillo, and
         manuscript notes of several other persons, notably those of
         Carl Hermann Berendt.

    CARRILLO Y ANCONA, CRESCENCIO. Historia de Welinna. Leyenda
    Yucateca. Segunda edición, Mérida, 52 pp.

         The first edition was printed in 1862.


    BRINTON, DANIEL G. A Primer of Mayan hieroglyphs. _Publications
    of the University of Pennsylvania, Series in Philology,
    Literature, and Archæology_, vol. III, no. 2.


    REJÓN GARCÍA, MANUEL. Supersticiones y leyendas Mayas. Mérida,


[1] For the meaning of this and of other Indian words, consult the

[2] _Fotuto_ is a musical instrument used by the Carib Indians and also
by the negroes of the Antilles.

[3] _Luneros_ are Monday-workers.

[4] _Fagina_--_faena_, manual labor.

[5] _Milpa roza_ is, literally, field cleared of underbrush and ready
for planting.

[6] _Milpa caña_, literally cane field.

[7] An _almud_ is a dry measure equivalent to twelve English bushels.
There seems to be an error in the quantity here.

[8] The author here seems to have confused the meaning of the word
_mitote_ (see glossary). In Yucatan the instrument he describes is
called _tunkul_.

[9] The _machete_ is the large knife which the Indian men of Yucatan
invariably carry with them.

[10] The _arroba_ is the Spanish measure of twenty-five pounds.

[11] We have been unable to find the meaning of the word _güero_.

[12] _Calabaza_ is the Spanish for pumpkin; but the Mexican pumpkin is
different from that raised in our latitudes.

[13] _Jicama_ seems to be a local word not in the dictionary.

[14] _Tzomes_, according to Sanchez de Aguilar, is the name applied to
hairless dogs. The common appellation is _kúkbil_, or _kikbil_. _Tzom_
in Maya means a horn, also a proboscis. The word _tzomes_ is close to
_tzimin_, pl. _tzimines_, the name of the tapir, which has an elongate
snout. Alonzo Poncé who was in Yucatan in 1588, speaks of tapirs being
called by the natives _tzimines_, and further states that they call
horses by the same name, a definition to be found in the Maya dictionary
of Pio Perez.

[15] The names to which we call attention in notes 15 to 22 represent,
with a single exception, in misspelled form, well-known Mayan deities.
It is interesting to note the early influence of the Spaniards on the
religious beliefs of the Maya, as evidenced by the interpretation given
to Father Hernandez by the old caçique. There is a curious mixture of
old and new in the account. Dr Seler has identified the various deities
spoken of, and a description of their attributes will be found in
Brinton's Primer of Mayan Hieroglyphs. Içona is _Itzamna_, chief of the
beneficent gods, the personification of the East. According to Brinton
the name means "the dew or moisture of the morning." Brinton writes, "He
was said to have been the creator of men, animals, and plants, and was
the founder of the culture of the Mayas. He was the first priest of
their religion, and invented writing and books."

[16] According to Brinton the _Bacabs_, or _Chacs_, were the offspring
of _Itzamna_ and his consort _Ix-Chel_ (spoken of by the caçique as

[17] _Chibirias_ is identified by Seler as _Ix-chebel-yax_, who,
according to Brinton, was "the inventress of painting and of colored
designs on woven stuffs."

[18] _Echuac_ is _Ek Chua_, said by Landa to be the god of the cacao
planters, hence, as cacao-beans were the medium of exchange, the god of
merchants, as here related. It is difficult to understand the confusion
by which this god has been interwoven in Christian beliefs as the Holy

[19] _Eopuco_ has been interpreted by Seler as_ Ah uoh puc_, or
_Ah-puch_, the God of Death, or God of Evil. Brinton believes that
"these words mean the Undoer, or Spoiler, apparently a euphemism to
avoid pronouncing a name of evil omen." In modern Maya he is plain _Yum
cimil_, lord of death.

[20] _Cocolcan_ is _Cuculcan_, or _Kukulcan_, the same as the Nahuan
_Quetzalcoatl_. _Kukulcan_ was the feathered or winged serpent god, a
deity of culture and kindliness.

[21] _Himis_ is _Imix_, the name of the first day of the twenty-day
month of the Maya calendar.

[22] _Hischen_ is _Ix-Chel_, the consort of _Itzamna_. Brinton states
that the word means "rainbow," and that the goddess was also known as
_Ix Kan Leom_, "the spider-web" which catches the dew of the morning.
Her children, according to Brinton, the _Bacabs_ or _Chacs_ were "four
mighty brethren, who were the gods of the four cardinal points, of the
winds which blow from them, of the rains these bring, of the thunder and
the lightning, and consequently of agriculture, the harvests, and food
supply. Their position in the ritual was of the first importance. To
each were assigned a particular color and a certain year and day in the

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