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An Introduction to Mythology

Page: 118

Vukub-Cakix, a name to be translated 'the great Macaw.' He seems to have been a primitive sun- or moon-god, but he offended the pantheon of Heaven by his overweening pride, which at last became so offensive to the gods that they resolved to destroy him. He had indeed a person to be proud of, for his teeth were of emerald and he shone resplendent with gold and silver. He had two sons, Zipacna and Cabrakan, who were earth-giants like the Titans of Greek myth. Like their father, they aroused the enmity of the gods, who dispatched to earth the heavenly brothers Hun-Apu and Xbalanque to bring about the downfall of these blasphemous boasters.

Vukub-Cakix noticed them alight in the tapal-tree, which he regarded as his own especial property. They began to pluck its fruit, and this so irritated him that he was about to attack them when Hun-Apu discharged a dart from a blowpipe at him, striking him in the mouth and causing him to topple to the earth from the tree into which he had climbed. He succeeded,[Pg 266] however, in tearing off Hun-Apu's arm, which he hung over his fire at home. This use of 'sympathetic magic,' of course, caused the hero-god great pain, so in order to recover the arm he begged the assistance of two magicians, probably the father- and mother-gods. These disguised themselves as physicians, and pretending that they desired to cure Vukub-Cakix, extracted his teeth. With the teeth his power departed from him and he died. The giant's wife had been basting Hun-Apu's arm at the fire, but seizing it the hero-god gave it to the magicians, who replaced it upon his shoulder. Zipacna and Cabrakan, who personified the earthquake, were next reduced. Four hundred young men (the stars) requested Zipacna to dig the foundations of a new house for them, intending to bury him alive while occupied in the task; but when they had erected their dwelling above him he reared his mighty bulk beneath it and shot them into Heaven, where they have since remained. Zipacna, however, tumbling down a ravine, was killed by Hun-Apu and Xbalanque by having a mountain thrown upon him. Cabrakan was next destroyed, partly by poison and partly by overstraining himself by throwing mountains at the instigation of the heavenly brothers.

The father- and mother-gods had two sons, Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu, who were much devoted to the game of ball, the national pastime of the peoples of Mexico and Central America. The noise they made while playing attracted the attention of the lords of the Underworld, who sent them a challenge to a game. The challenge was accepted, and Hunhun-Apu and his brother took their way to the grim territory of Xibalba, where they were received by its rulers Hun-Came and Vukub-Came. It would seem from what follows that the condition of affairs in Xibalba closely resembled those of some of the secret societies still in vogue among the Indians all over North America. The brothers were subjected to numerous tests, at all of which they failed, and they were then sacrificed by having their hearts torn out. Hunhun-Apu's head was placed among the branches of a tree from which calabashes sprouted in such a manner that the gory trophy could not be distinguished from the fruit. Although the inhabitants of Xibalba were forbidden[Pg 267] to approach the tree, Xquiq, daughter of one of its high officials, did so. By magical influence Hunhun-Apu became the father of her children, and when her father discovered her disgrace she was given up to the owls, the messengers of Xibalba, to be slain. She bribed them, and succeeded in escaping to the earth, where she sought out the dwelling of Xmucane, mother of Hunhun-Apu, and gave birth to Hun-Apu and Xbalanque, who overthrew Vukub-Cakix. These children were persecuted by two other sons of Hunhun-Apu, also living with their grandmother, but by magic they turned their tormentors into monkeys, and thus rid themselves of them. By the aid of a rat they discovered a set of implements for the ball game which had belonged to their father and uncle, and they engaged in the pastime. The lords of Xibalba, hearing them at play, once more sent a challenge, which was again accepted. But, more astute than their forbears, ere they reached the confines of Xibalba, Hun-Apu created from a hair on his leg a small insect called Xan. This, preceding the brothers, found the lords of Xibalba sitting among a number of wooden figures. It bit them, and when they spoke to one another concerning the insect's onslaught, the brothers discovered their names. When Hun-Apu and Xbalanque arrived they were thus enabled to salute each of the Xibalbans by his name, and they passed all the other tests successfully. They were shut up for the night in the House of Gloom with certain torches which they must keep alight all night, but they affixed red feathers to the torches, and thus cheated the Xibalbans. In the House of Bats, Camazotz, the chief of the bats, cut off the head of Hun-Apu, but a friendly tortoise passing by affixed itself to the body in place of the head. Xbalanque then played ball with the Xibalbans, and hit the ball close to the ring, whereupon a rabbit concealed near it leaped out and ran away. The Xibalbans, taking it for the ball, pursued it, and Xbalanque, observing Hun-Apu's head suspended in the ball court, hung up the tortoise in its place, and affixed Hun-Apu's head to his body and resuscitated him. The hero-gods then sacrificed themselves, but returned after a space of five days. Disguised as magicians, they performed many miracles, resurrecting people, burning houses and restoring them again, and so forth. Hun-Came[Pg 268] and Vukub-Came considered the resurrection trick so clever that they desired to have it performed upon themselves. The heroes sacrificed them, but did not revive them. This completed the subjugation of Xibalba, the people being reduced to a subservient condition. The aristocratic privilege of the ball game was withdrawn from them, and they were doomed to keep bees and make pots and perform suchlike ignoble work. Post-mortem honours were paid to Hunhun-Apu and Vukub-Hunapu, who became the sun and moon respectively, while the four hundred youths slain by Zipacna remained in Heaven as the stars.


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