Updated: Sep 7, 2022
Imagine discovering a lost Mayan manuscript. It is written in both Spanish and Mayan and decorated with colorful drawings and glyphs. The edges of the pages are tattered, and the writing is faded, but within its covers lie herbal remedies, astrological forecasts, prayers, and prophecies. Would you hold it gently, tracing its faded lines in awe, wishing you could read its faded lines more clearly? I know I would!
Well, there is a tiny town in the center of the Yucatan Peninsula that may just be home to this very manuscript. Actually, it was the original home of this rare Mayan book. So, wouldn’t it would be wonderful if the lost part of it still remains there? Somewhere. Hiding!
I first learned about the 9 copies of the Chilam Balam a few years ago. Each one is a handwritten book. Although no-one knows for sure the history, it is believed that although they were written down in the 1700’s, after the Spanish conquest, the information in them is much older than that. They are all a bit different and yet also very similar to each other, copies, but not exact copies. Included in the texts are prophecies including a doomsday prophecy!
Over the years, portions of some of them have been found and preserved in museums and private collections. The one I am focusing on today is in the university library at Princeton. …a portion of it, that is.
Of the 141 original pages (folios), the location of only about 16 pages are known.
At least that is what archeologists believe.
For me, these stories unfold in mystical, mysterious ways—like breadcrumbs being left on a dark forest trail. I was in a church in a small town called Uyama. The paintings on the church ceiling were so whimsical—stars, suns, moons—all so very childlike and done in bright reds, yellows and blues. The reason I was there was because I dove down the wrong road several times and decided it must be a bread crumb, so I followed it. I stood gazing at the very unusual images knowing there was something important about them but having no idea what.
Months later, I came across a list of copies of the Chilam Balam. Each is named after the town (pueblo) it was found in. I was so surprised when I found an original had been discovered in Kaua, the cute little town we visit so often, so I googled it and found photographed images I could view online. Imagine how stunned I was to see the same type of whimsical childlike sun moon and stars painting in the manuscript as I did on the ceiling of that church!
A little more digging turned up the fact that the little village where the manuscript was found use to be PART of Uyama where the church is. Years ago, the town divided and is now 2 distinct villages.
So odd… I had been looking at the painting on a ceiling that I would eventually such similar paintings on the delicate pages of a very old book! (on-line of course)
Not long after, I was in Kaua, where the book was originally found, talking to a new friend who is both local and of Maya descent. I don’t even remember what the conversation was about, but almost out of the blue he informed me that his grandfather had a very, very, VERY old book in his house. Of course, his grandfather had long since passed away and this man had no idea what happened to the old book.
Now keep in mind that these homes are usually built at least partly of sticks, maybe some cement, and either a palm or tin roof (not exactly a good place to store ancient manuscripts). The new friend told me he would ask his uncle who now lived in the house if the old book had been thrown away…thrown away!!!!???
Time went by. No news. That usually means that nothing was found. Here, rather than call to tell you less than happy news, people will just avoid the question.
I put it in the back of my mind and turned my attention to seeing what else I might learn about this sacred book. So I printed out the pages that were online so that I might take a closer look at them. I was able to read a bit of the Spanish, but most of it was in Mayan, so I decided to take them to Francisco, our good friend/shaman who lives in the same village. Maybe he would be able to read the script or maybe someone he knew would be able to.
He was interested in the copies I brought him, but not as interested as I thought he would be. He called his daughter over to have a look since she is well verse in reading Mayan and she was able to read some of what was still legible. But in the discussion, they wanted to know why I only had part of the book.
I explained that archeologists had only been able to find part of it and the rest was missing.
This was incorrect according to Francisco who is an important member of his community and whose family has lived there for generations. He said the entire book was in the local library!!!!
First, I didn’t know they even had a library. Second, was he sure we were talking about the same thing?
This is one of those stories that you will have to wait to find out what happens next (sorry)! We just didn’t have time to go to the library that day. We were already running late and it looked like a storm was coming in. The continued exploration would have to wait.
I know for sure we are going back in late September, perhaps we will go sooner. I will try to get to the library and see what I can find. (sometimes these things are much harder to accomplish than you might imagine!)
Now imagine this: The book is indeed there, in its entirety, restored to its original location. There in full color and able to be preserved and read by the people whose great, great-grandparents wrote it. What secrets might it hold? What prophecies? What healing incantations and what herbal remedies?
I can’t wait to learn more! (I bet you can’t either!)
On pins and needles,