Chilam Balam

Chilam Balam

The Mayan Chilam Balam books are named after Yucatec towns such as Chumayel, Mani, and Tizimin, and are usually collections of disparate texts in which Mayan and Spanish traditions have coalesced. The Yucatec Mayas ascribed these to a legendary author called Chilam Balam, a chilam being a priest who gives oracles. Some of the texts actually consist of oracles about the coming of the Spaniards to Yucatan while mentioning a chilam Balam as its first author. This authorship was traditionally extended to include all the disparate texts found within a particular manuscript.

The Chilam Balam texts treat chiefly of history (both pre-Spanish and colonial), calendrics, astrology and herbal medicine. Written in the Yucatec Maya language (in European script), the manuscripts stem from the 18th and 19th centuries, although many of the texts that found their way into these books date back to the time of the Spanish conquest. It is assumed that in the earliest books, the element of prophecy came to the fore more strongly.

Whereas the medical texts are quite matter-of-factual, the historical and astrological texts belong to esoteric lore. At various places in these texts, important bits of information about early mythology crop up. Apart from their intrinsic value, the historical texts (or chronicles) are particularly important since they have been cast in the framework of the native Maya calendar (although with adaptations to the European calendrical system) and contain ancient tun and katun predictions. Reconstructing Postclassic Yucatec history from these data has proven to be an arduous task.

Due to their often allusive, metaphorical nature and the archaic Yucatec used, the Chilam Balam texts offer a formidable challenge to translators. The quality of existing translations varies greatly, those of Barrera Vásquez & Rendón, Reifler Bricker & Miram, and Roys counting among the best.

References

and (translators), El Libro de los Libros de Chilam Balam. Traducción de sus textos paralelos. Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1948. (Many later editions.)
and (translators), An Encounter of Two Worlds: The Book of Chilam Balam of Kaua. New Orleans: Middle American Research Institute, Tulane University, 2002.
(translator), The (Chilam Balam) Book of Chumayel; The Counsel Book of the Yucatec Maya. California: Aegean Park Press, 1995.
, Maya Conquistador. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
(translator), The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

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