Page 15 - ChilamBalam
P. 15

As to the manuscript itself, the most probable conclusion from the information which 

we have is that after Don Juan Josef Hoil's death it passed into the hands of Don Diego 
and that he was the priest who sold the book to Diego BriceĢƒo in 1838.

Needless to say, the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel is difficult to translate, 

although the spelling is better on the whole than that of some of the other manuscripts. 

As Professor Tozzer has noted, many words are separated arbitrarily into syllables, the 
same word sometimes being divided in several different ways on the same page. Some 

passages are logically arranged in paragraphs, which is a great help, but many are not. 

There is little division of the text into sentences, and a capital letter rarely begins either 
a sentence or a proper name. Consequently it is necessary to establish a critical text 

before attempting a formal translation.

The greatest difficulty of all is found in the numerous obsolete words and phrases which 

occur. It has already been noted that the Chumayel is a compilation made from various 

earlier works, many of which were probably copied from still older books. This would 
account for an occasional corrupt text, which can often be rectified from parallel 

passages or similar stereotyped phrases occurring in the other writings. The meaning of 
obsolete words and phrases can be learned in three ways. They may be found in the 

older dictionaries which were written at a time when they were still in use; a more 

modern Maya expression or even a Spanish word is sometimes substituted in a parallel 
passage in another manuscript; and when other means fail, the use of the same word or 

expression in a number of different contexts will cast considerable light upon the 

meaning. Sometimes the Maya writer of a manuscript will even explain the significance 
of an obscure term which he thinks his readers might not understand. For an explanation 

of the many proper names found in the Chumayel, especially those of deities, we are 

obliged to rely largely on the Spanish source material such as Landa, the Relaciones de 
Yucatan, Cogolludo, Aguilar and Lizana. This information may be supplemented by the 

reports of such modern ethnological investigators as Tozzer, Redfield, Thompson and 
Gann. Many unfamiliar words not found in any Maya dictionary have turned out to be 

plant-names. These will be found in the Maya medical literature, and a great many of 

them have been identified by the botanists.

It has been suggested that a modern Maya Indian should be of great assistance in 

translating these old books, but none of the few efforts which have been made along this 
line of inquiry have had much success. The vocabulary of the average Indian is limited. 

Many words are now used with a changed meaning, and he is entirely too ready to

resort to a typical Volksetymologie to explain any word which has now passed out of 
current use. This is evident from the explanations made by natives to the botanists in the 

case of plant-names composed of obsolete words. The errors of such native derivations 

are amply demonstrated by the Sixteenth Century Motul dictionary, in which many of 
these old words are found. Up to the present a little has been done in this respect with 

the native Maya priests, or h-menob, some of whom can still recite a number of the old 
incantations. Such men would be likely to rely more on tradition than on their own 

improvised etymology. Dr. Redfield's elucidation of the puzzling name of Ah 

Muzencab, the bee-god, from the explanation of one of these native sorcerers is an 
example of the results which may be looked for from this line of inquiry. Needless to 

say, it is difficult to persuade these native priests to explain their rituals.


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