Updated: Jul 12
Yui chivo (why chibo) is the Yucatec Mayan word for shapeshifter. I stood in an art gallery looking at a painting of a local man who is a master potter. He was wearing a mask and was in the process of shifting into an animal form. The painting was captivating and a bit dark. It gave me chills.
A few months later I was in Uayma, a tiny Maya pueblo, standing in the pottery workshop of this very man. His family has made pottery in the old Maya way for at least 5 generations. The pieces are beautiful, a bit dark, and filled with very real magic. Max and I were there to take a class. We spent the first hour chatting with the son of the master potter. The son, Sergio, a master himself, would be our teacher. He shared the story of the pottery with us and gave us the opportunity to ask as many questions as we liked. I asked about the masks. There were four of them on the shelf in the gallery and of course the painting of the older man wearing one.
“Every mask has a story,” Sergio explained. I asked if they were in any way linked to the yui chivo. Just the use of this word made his eyes light up. He knew immediately that he could speak candidly with us. It’s a Mayan word and few know it.
“Yes, of course,” was the answer. I listened keenly to every word as he told us stories of shapeshifting in this tiny Maya pueblo. Here are two:
Years ago, back in the 1980’s, there was no electricity in Uayma. There were only narrow dirt roads and no cars. The town felt very remote as it took a very long time to walk to the nearest village, Valladolid. So, when a person needed to go to this town, he/she would change into animal form. In animal form the person was much stronger and faster and could easily run into town in 15 minutes. Of course, this tended to scare some people! In yui chivo form, the person would carry both animal and human characteristics. (This is the way the story was told to me).
After electricity and cars arrived to Uayma, people didn’t need to shapeshift so much. But some people still do, although it is usually to cause some sort of mischief.
Sergio’s grandfather once shot a yui chivo.
He was at home on his farm (milpa) in the early evening. There were loud sounds of an animal in the field. Farmer are very dependent on their crops as it is the way they feed themselves and an animal can destroy crops very quickly. Sergio’s grandfather had two dogs who were both barking loudly. He tied up the dogs and got his shotgun (they hunt for deer as a main part of their diet..this they still do). He went out into the field and shot the animal which started to make the wild distress noises of an injured animal. Then he released his dogs which chased the injured animal off the land.
The following day a member of the community was looking for alcohol (something difficult to find) in order to treat gunshot wounds. But the person would not go to the hospital because he didn’t want anyone to know what had happened!
Of course I still do not know the particular stories of the masks. And I am very curious about the painting of Sergio's father depicted as a yui chivo. But stories of shapeshifting are closely held and we were very fortunate to have Sergio share any of them with us. Today we return to the pottery workshop and I hope to be able to ask a few more questions. In the meantime, you can go HERE to read more about shapeshifting in a nearby town!