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Popol Vuh: The Mayan spiritual and philosophical book that remained secret until 1701
First page of the Popol Vuh.
GUATEMALA CITY (AFP).- Before the creation of the Earth, there was only silence and darkness, only the sky and the sea until the deities Tepeu and Gucumatz created trees, animals and man -- so says the Mayan holy book.

The Popol Vuh is a spiritual and philosophical book that explains the creation of the world. Even today, it plays an important role in defining the identity of ethnic Mayas in Mexico and central America.

The "Book of Community" is a mix of religion, mythology, history, astrology, customs and legends.

"Then came the word, like a lightning bolt. It ripped through the sky, penetrated the waters, and fertilized the minds of the Earth-Water deities, Tepeu and Gucumatz," the book says.

Its precise origin remains a mystery. Historians believe it was first put down on paper in the Quiche language by Christianized Indians in the middle of the 16th century but the author of the original text is not known.

The text remained secret until 1701, when Spanish priest Francisco Ximenez produced a Spanish translation. That manuscript is currently in the Newberry library in Chicago.

On December 21, millions of Mayan descendants will flock to southern Mexico and central America to mark the end of a 5,200-year cycle on the Mayan "Long Count" calendar -- a celebration for most, but doomsday for some believers.

The Ximenez version of the Popol Vuh held by the Newberry is the oldest known version.

In Guatemala, where the book was declared a piece of intangible national cultural heritage in August, some lawmakers say they plan to press for the return of the manuscript.

They want to place the work on display in a museum in the indigenous town of Chichicastenango in the El Quiche department of western Guatemala.

hma/ga/sst


© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

Popol Vuh | Guatemala | "Book of Community" |


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