Page 12 - ChilamBalam
P. 12

The chiefs and former priests were ordered to send their sons to the schools established 

by the Franciscan friars, where they were taught to read and write their own language in 
European letters. Although some of the more promising pupils were taught Spanish, 

there does not seem to have been any general policy of attempting to impose the 
language of the conquerors upon the Indians. In the first place such a scheme was 

plainly impracticable owing to the comparatively small number of Spaniards in Yucatan 

and, besides, many of the missionaries frankly admitted that they preferred the local 
officials of the villages in their charge not to know Spanish. This was probably in order 

that the latter should not complain too frequently of ecclesiastical discipline to the lay 

officials, who were sometimes at odds with the Franciscans. From a purely educational 
point of view the schools were a success, for after a time every village had its town 

clerk who could read and write, as well as many members of the more important native 

families; but the Spanish settlers complained in the latter part of the Sixteenth Century 
that many native schoolmasters and choir-masters were still practising idolatry in secret 

and that idols had even been found in the school-houses.

If such persons as these were not completely reformed, it is hardly surprising to find the 

successors of the former prophets and priests, the herb-doctors and sorcerers of colonial 
times, making use of this new and more convenient graphic system of the white man in 

the pursuit of their ancient

professions. After Landa's famous bonfire at Mani, it is needless to say that the 

surviving hieroglyphic manuscripts were kept concealed, although now and then one of 

them came to the notice of the Franciscans. Seventy years after the Conquest, Aguilar 
wrote that "in these they painted in colors the count of their years, the wars, epidemics, 

hurricanes inundations, famines and other events." It is remarkable that not a single one 

of these books is known to have survived in Yucatan at the present time, for as late as 
the close of the Seventeenth Century Avendão was quite familiar with them. In his 

account of the visit he made to the heathen Itź at Tayasal he writes: "At the instant that 
we landed and I saw the said column and mask, I came to recognize it since I had 

already read about it in their old papers and had seen it in their Anaht́s, which they use, 

which are books of barks of trees, polished and covered with lime, in which by painted 
figures and characters they have foretold their future events." This was Avendão's first 

visit to any of the heathen Maya, and he could only have seen such hieroglyphic books 

as still survived in northern Yucatan.

A comparison of these descriptions with the existing Books of Chilam Balam shows 

plainly that many portions of the latter are simply transcriptions of the old hieroglyphic 
manuscripts into European script. Aguilar mentions one of these early transcriptions 

which was written in a copy-book and contained an account of the creation of the world. 

He confiscated this book from a choir-master of the town of Sucopo. As time went on, 
the transcriptions gradually took the place of the older hieroglyphic books. Fewer 

people were now able to read the glyphs, and much as the clergy condemned the Books 
of Chilam Balam, they were not considered such prima facie evidence of the crime of 

idolatry as was anything written in hieroglyphics. Aguilar also tells us how in their 

assemblies the Indians read the fables and histories contained in the books. Some of the 
contents were chanted to the accompaniment of a drum; old songs were sung; and the 

dramatic representations, the names of which we find listed in the Motul dictionary, 

were enacted. Cogolludo later wrote of such meetings that "God knows what goes on 
there, and at the very least many of them end up in drunkenness."


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