An Introduction to Mythology
Page: 119The Popol Vuh further relates the mythical history of the Kiche tribes. Four men, Balam-quitze, Balam-agab, Mahucutah, and Iqibalam, were created by the gods, and the first three were the ancestors of the three Kiche divisions, Cavek-, Nihaib-, and Ahau-Kiches, the fourth being without descendants. These were not alone in the world, as the Yaqui, or Mexicans, also existed, and other cognate tribes dwelt to the east. The ancestors of the Kiches had been formed too perfectly by the gods, who, alarmed at their omniscience, cast a veil over their intellects. Wives were created for them, but they dwelt in darkness, without sunlight or the comforts of religion. Setting out on a wandering life, they came to Tulan-Zuiva, where each tribe received a special god to itself. The want of fire was felt, and the god Tohil, a thunder-deity, struck his flint-shod feet together and produced it as required. The other tribes requested the Kiches to give them fire, but a bat messenger from Xibalba advised them against acquiescence unless the recipients should consent to be united with their god "beneath their girdles and beneath their armpits." All agreed except the Kakchiquel, whose bat-god purloined the seeds of fire. The riddle-like condition portended that the tribes which consented should give up their hearts for sacrifice. A general migration followed, the Kiches as well as other tribes journeying to Guatemala, where on a mountain-side they sat down to await the dawn. The morning star swam into view, followed by the great luminary of day, and at sight of it the tribal gods were turned into stone. The original Kiche ancestors too withdrew in hermit-like seclusion from mankind,[Pg 269] being seen only at intervals in the wild places in converse with the gods. Human sacrifice was instituted, and wars with neighbouring peoples began to be waged. A great attack was made upon the Kiches, who dwelt in a settlement on the mountains surrounded by a stockade, the object evidently being to capture the Kiche gods; but the attack was repulsed with great loss to the invaders. The death day of the first Kiche men was now at hand, and calling the people together they sang the song with which they had first greeted the rising of the new-found sun. They then vanished, leaving behind them a bundle which was afterward known as the 'majesty enveloped,' and was probably of the same type as the medicine bundles of the North American Indians.
From this point the Popol Vuh begins to shade into history. The sons of the first men, desirous of wielding the power possessed by their fathers, set out on a pilgrimage to the east, to obtain the insignia of royalty. The Kiches became more civilized, stone-built cities were raised, and a definite political existence arose. A policy of conquest was embarked upon, and many of the neighbouring tribes were conquered and subjected to Kiche rule. What follows probably contains but little of the matter of myth, and we may conclude that for the most part it is traditional history.
As has been said, it would be difficult to over-estimate the importance to mythology in general, and to American myth in particular, of such a document as the Popol Vuh. When we can be sure of its aboriginal character, and that is not seldom, American myth has the greatest importance because of its isolated nature. When we first encounter it, it is untouched by European or Asiatic myth, and this makes it of the greatest value for comparison. If we can parallel an old-world myth with a well-authenticated American example, then we have proved the universal nature of the principles of mythic evolution. Everything relating to the Popol Vuh proves to the hilt its genuine aboriginal character; and this being so, it is of the greatest assistance to mythologists. Unfortunately, no adequate translation exists. The Kiche language in which it was written is most difficult, and for the[Pg 270] present we have to rely on the Spanish version of Ximenez and the French translation of the original by the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg. However, more than one translation is either meditated or in course of completion; and there is an abridgement in English by the present writer. An English translation of the whole appeared in an American magazine entitled The Word during 1906 and 1907, from the pen of Dr Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, but whether from the Spanish or original Kiche, I do not know. It is, moreover, couched in Scriptural language, and such a treatment assists the vulgar error that the Popol Vuh is merely a native travesty of portions of the Old Testament.
The red man of North America also has his epics. Charles Godfrey Leland, in the introduction to his book Kuloskap [or Glooscap] the Master, says: "Very few persons are aware that there has perished or is rapidly perishing among the Red Indians of North America far more poetry than was ever written by all the white inhabitants, and that this native verse is often of a very high order, for the Indian sagas, or legends, or traditions, were in fact all songs.... After I had published my legends, however, I was made aware by Louis Mitchell, a Passamaquoddy Indian, who had been in the Legislature of Maine, and had collected and written out for me, with strictest literalness, a great number of manuscripts, that there were in existence certain narratives and poems quite different in kind from anything which I possessed. Among the former was a history of the Passamaquoddy tribe, illustrated with numerous designs of the Birch-bark school of art, which I transferred to my friend the late Dr D. G. Brinton as its most appropriate possessor. Three of the poems Mitchell wrote out for me in exact, though often quite ungrammatical language, which was so close to the original that the metres betrayed themselves throughout. I regret that, though I had certainly acquired some knowledge of 'Indian,' it was, as a Passamaquoddy friend one day amiably observed, 'only baby Injun now, grow bigger some day like Mikumwess s'posin' you want to,' in[Pg 271] reference to a small goblin who is believed to have the power of increasing his stature at will. However, I with great care put the Mitchell Anglo-Algonkin into English metre, having been impressed, while at the work, with the exquisitely naive and fresh character of the original, which, while it often reminded me of Norse poetry, in many passages had strictly a life and beauty of its own." Leland tells how he began to correspond on the subject with Professor J. Dyneley Prince of Columbia University, translator of the celebrated Algonquin Wampum Record, recited annually in bygone days at the council of the tribes. He continues: "Few indeed and far between are those who ever suspected till of late years that every hill and dale in New England had its romantic legend, its beautiful poem, or its marvellous myth—the latter equal in conception and form to those of the Edda—or that a vast collection of these traditions still survives in perfect preservation among the few remaining Indians of New England and the North-east Coast, or the Wabano. This assertion is, I trust, verified by what is given in the Micmac tales by the late Rev. S. Rand, the collection made by Miss Abbey Alger, of Boston, and my own Algonquin Legends of New England, which I, sit venia, may mention was the first to appear of the series. And I venture to say from the deepest conviction that it will be no small occasion of astonishment and chagrin, a hundred years hence, when the last Algonkin Indian of the Wabano shall have passed away, that so few among our literary or cultured folk cared enough to collect this connected aboriginal literature."
The lore of the New England Indians centres chiefly round the figure of Kuloskap, or Glooscap, as good an example of Matthew Arnold's 'magnified non-natural man,' so beloved of Lang, as can well be imagined. A detailed account of this being and his adventures will be found in the volume of this series which deals with the North American Indians. His brother Malsum the Wolf probably typifies the power of evil. In the myths collected by Messrs Leland and Prince we first read of the birth of Glooscap and the death of Malsum the Wolf, his twin brother. Malsum, having slain his mother, desired also to slay Glooscap, but a supernatural power guarded[Pg 272] him, and Malsum's attempts were frustrated. He asked Glooscap several times what would slay him, but Glooscap invariably told him a falsehood, until at length, sitting by a stream, Glooscap muttered that a rush would cause his death. The beaver, hearing this, acquainted Malsum of the fact and asked as a reward to be provided with wings; but the Evil One, amused at his request, insulted him so outrageously that at last he betook himself to Glooscap, who, plucking a fern, sought Malsum, and having found him smote him with it so that he fell dead.