A Thanksgiving Day Well Made: We Remember the Popol Vuh

Crawling down below Meauan Mountain, where ground meets sea level, the first grandson of America whispers a plot that will bury a bad god forever. The crawling insurrectionist is Hunahpu, Jr. and there on the whiteness of a giant pyramid stone at Mirador, Guatemala you can see the young genius at work, with the head of his father strapped tight to his sash.

If Hunahpu, Jr. does not get the words exactly right, if the crab that he conjures from flagstone and bromeliad does not obey precisely, then the arrogant clan of old gods will persist one day longer. Zipacna, who calls himself the mountain maker, will not be buried under the weight of his own prideful production. Hunahpu’s grandmother will have to mark the day wasted.

Because it falls now to the grandson to conquer the wicked gods in grandmother’s name, we watch this subterranean subterfuge through grandmother’s x-ray eyes. That dirty god Zipacna must be teased into submission and buried face up. Since this is the fifth time the good gods have experimented with the creation of humankind–if we count the chattering creatures, the mud people, the stick people, and the decapitated generation of Hunahpu, Sr.–we can see how grandmother is running out of options.

Of course we also know that Hunahpu Jr. is the star of a long and proud story that ends happily with our corn-fed existence above ground. Like some 2,300-year-old serial drama, the story of the Popol Vuh wraps around the base of the Mirador pyramid, its images of hope reflected across the surface of a memoried waterwork. Onward and upward the story unwinds, until life triumphs over death. The ball-game episodes would play well on ESPN.

CNN dramatizes this year’s archaeological sensation by raising a specter of suspicion. “Some say” that the Popol Vuh was never really handed down to us by Mayans. “They say” it could be a post-conquest corruption. True enough, Christian officials of Yucatan burned all the Mayan libraries during the 1570s. Why would they not attempt to displace Mayan memory with fraud? But there are all kinds of Christians making history, and the carving at Mirador seems to prove that the priest who made it his business to preserve the Popol Vuh circa 1701 wrote down authentic words.

Conflict and suspicion are good for a story and serve to sell the pictures that come with it. But in the case of the Popol Vuh there was no need to worry very much about the authenticity of its ancient genius. Raphael Girard after three decades of experience in the Mayan regions learned to see the Popol Vuh everywhere he looked. It is the classic text of America and its heart beats behind the life of native cultures up and down the Western Hemisphere. Corn, beans, tobacco, rubber balls, and spirits coming at you from six directions of every crossroads—don’t forget up and down.

In 1948 Girard argued that the Popol Vuh is like the Mayan encyclopedia of everything: astronomy, mathematics, zoology, agriculture, history, comprehensive sex education, and the ethics of The Hunahpu Code. Get on the bus tomorrow at 5:30 am and see the industrious man of America for yourself–hombre trabajador–still growing the world against sinister odds. On Thanksgiving we remember authentic words who refused to be forgotten. And we try to remember how to be grateful for them.

Based on the plants and animals named in the Popol Vuh, Girard argued in 1948 that the epic must have been composed along the Pacific Coast of Guatemala. In 2006 at La Blanca, archaeologist Michael Love unearthed a scooped-out four-leaf clover which he dated to 900-600 BCE. Old as the books of Moses, that clover basin would have been filled with water six feet across for ritual re-enactment of the first creation when Heart of Sky conferred with Plumed Serpent and conceived the possibility of an existence that could count the days and keep them well: grandmother’s Hunahpu.

Therefore, we mark Thanksgiving Day to re-bury the gods of arrogance under the very stuff they claim to control. We drink to underground genius that makes a day well made. Messages in stone unbury themselves to whisper spirits unconquered. We remember the Popol Vuh.

Greg Moses is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collective.. Read other articles by Greg, or visit Greg's website.

5 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Annie Ladysmith said on November 26th, 2009 at 11:49pm #

    Guy, i don’t know what your on, or what your on about but, you go down to Central America any thanksgiving you like and stay down there for freaking forever if you want, just leave the rest of us, or perhaps just me, out of it. If this has anything to do with that Mayan calendar, i’ll say one thing…Yeah, the world is going to be ending soon,EVERYONE KNOWS THAT, and we are THANKFUL for the knowledge.

  2. Mary said on November 27th, 2009 at 3:28am #

    This is from the priest of St Andrews Church in Austin, Texas, Jim Rigby. There is an MP3 of his sermon here

    The Challenges and Hope of a Realistic Look at Thanksgiving
    November 22: “You Are That One” .

    Unusual to find these words below coming out of the same state in which Bush resides. You don’t often hear the phrases ‘bloodied hands’, ‘cluster bombs’ and ‘depleted uranium’ in a sermon. Rigby says that we cannot shelter behind the belief that we are powerless to make change. Nor should we be hopeless.

    Thanksgiving Service of Atonement

    ‘Thanksgiving has become a problematic holiday for many of us. We want to appreciate the wonderful gifts of life, but the holiday is housed in a story that now requires us to be dishonest.

    In school, I was taught a view of history that assumed people of European descent were the center of a story that culminated in the founding of our country. In all those years of history classes, we did not hear directly from one slave or native person. That distorted view of history became the foundation from which I did politics. I just assumed that, in any conflict, we are good and they are bad. We want peace, they want to hurt us. We are basically honest, they can’t be trusted. I believed we are better than others because of the unexamined mountain of propaganda upon which I stood.

    A few decades ago this false innocence was shattered by a conversation
    with a visitor to our church who had worked for the CIA. He told me about the horrors of U.S. foreign policy. He talked about the routine slaughter of innocent civilians to protect the business interests of corporations over seas. I did not believe him. I thought he was crazy. Slowly and reluctantly I began to investigate for myself. What I discovered broke my heart.

    It is not possible to find truth today if we begin by refusing to let go of a lie about yesterday. The founding myth of the American empire is that
    Columbus discovered America. You cannot discover a country where people already live unless those people don’t count. By repeating that story every year we silence the victims of the American holocaust. If native people count, Columbus did not discover America. If native people count we cannot say that God gave us this land. If native people count, we cannot claim as blessings things that were actually seized by violence.

    I do not believe we should feel guilty about what our ancestors did to
    people centuries ago, but I do think we should be honest about what
    happened. And when we are honest about the past, it is very difficult not to see that we are doing many of the same things in the present. Guilt is the only non-pathological response to our relationship to the third world and actual political change is the only alternative to that guilt.

    It can be very difficult to wrestle with these issues when friends and family call us to the old stories. That is why on November 22, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, our worship will be a service of atonement to prepare us for the Thanksgiving season. Our goal is not to feel guilty, but to be honest. If we remember that God loves all people equally, we will also remember that children of God must humble themselves and bring justice to all people.

    Love ‘

    A Bit About Who We Are
    We are Presbyterian, yet our first allegiance is to Christ’s gospel of universal love.
    We are Christ centered, yet we respect and learn from all religions of love.
    We affirm the ancient symbols of our faith, yet we strive to speak a new language that includes all people and affirms the scientific discoveries of our day.
    We hope to teach children the stories of the Bible without sectarian dogma.
    We strive to be a close, nurturing community, yet we welcome all people into our midst.
    We wish to live in inner peace, yet hear God’s call to work for peace, and for universal human rights.
    We take faith seriously, yet believe the journey should be fun. We celebrate life in many artistic forms.

    I am not a Christian but I have never heard so much sense from a cleric.

  3. kalidas said on November 27th, 2009 at 8:21am #

    “Fall mountains,
    just don’t fall on me..”

  4. Annie Ladysmith said on November 28th, 2009 at 7:24am #

    TO MARY CUT and PASTE: this is just typical of the trite nonsence coming out of the false churches of today. Trying deperately to please all the races and political perspectives, they end up pleasing no-one, ESPECIALLY GOD.

    They are LYERS, they are not Christ centered but self-centered. There opinions are mealy-mouthed and of absolutely NO consequence, God the Elohim is planning to spit them out of his mouth.

    If you are in a ‘church’ like this, consider it ‘BABYLON’ and FLEE!

  5. Mary said on November 28th, 2009 at 9:56am #

    To Annie Cut the Capital Letters. You are so offensive on this site generally speaking. Shop shouting, correct your spelling, wash your mouth out and listen to the sermon. It will benefit you.