The End of the World and Other Myths, Songs, Charms, and Chants by the Northern Lacandones of Naha'

Suzanne Cook

Native Literatures of the Americas and Indigenous World Literatures Series

504 pages
4 photos, 5 maps, 2 figures, 2 tables, 2 appendixes


August 2019


$70.00 Pre-order

About the Book

Xurt’an (the end of the world) showcases the rich storytelling traditions of the northern Lacandones of Naha’ through a collection of traditional narratives, songs, and ritual speech. Formerly isolated in the dense, tropical rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico, the Lacandon Maya constitute one of smallest language groups in the world. Although their language remains active and alive, their traditional culture was abandoned after the death of their religious and civic leader in 1996. Lacking the traditional contexts in which the culture was transmitted, the oral traditions are quickly being forgotten.

This collection includes creation myths that describe the cycle of destruction and renewal of the world, the structure of the universe, the realms of the gods and their intercessions in the affairs of their mortals, and the journey of the souls after death. Other traditional stories are non-mythic and fictive accounts involving talking animals, supernatural beings, and malevolent beings that stalk and devour hapless victims. In addition to traditional narratives, Xurt’an presents many songs that are claimed to have been received from the Lord of Maize, magical charms that invoke the forces of the natural world, invocations to the gods to heal and protect, and work songs of Lacandon women whose contribution to Lacandon culture has been hitherto overlooked by scholars. Women’s songs offer a rare glimpse into the other half of Lacandon society and the arduous, distaff work that sustained the religion. The compilation concludes with descriptions of rainbows, the Milky Way as ‘the white road of Our Lord,’ and an account of the solstices.

Transcribed and translated by a foremost linguist of the northern Lacandon language, the literary traditions of the Lacandones are finally accessible to English readers. The result is a masterful and authoritative collection of oral literature that will both entertain and provoke, while vividly testifying to the power of Lacandon Maya aesthetic expression.

Author Bio

Suzanne Cook is an adjunct professor of linguistics at the University of Victoria. She is a former project director and principal investigator of the Volkswagen Foundation–sponsored Lacandon Cultural Heritage Project and the author of The Forest of the Lacandon Maya: An Ethnobotanical Guide.


“This is a very valuable piece of work for folklorists and linguists and is a huge contribution to scholarship in this area. I applaud Cook for including oral traditions recorded from Lacandon women. Lacandon women are largely ignored in the Lacandon ethnographic literature and archaeology, and until now I know of no compilation of Lacandon women’s stories. This is an outstanding service to the field.”—R. Jon McGee, professor of anthropology at Texas State University

“You will be quickly drawn into this presentation of language texts contributed by skilled Mayan narrators working in multiple literary genres while covering topics ranging from the earthly to the cosmological. The author’s attention to detail is unparalleled. The scope and quality of the narratives will take your breath away.”—Barry Carlson, editor of Northwest Coast Texts: Stealing Light

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1. Lacandones
Religion and Cosmology
Chapter 2. Northern Lacandon Oral Literature
Lacandon Literary Style
Lacandon literary genres
Narrative structure
Transcription Conventions and Procedures
Chapter 3. Myths
Birth of the Gods
Hachäkyum and Akyant’o’ Create their People and Kisin Creates their Onen’
Hachäkyum makes the Ants and Snakes
Hachäkyum Makes the Sky
Ulu’ubir Ba’arka’an Umentik Petha’ ‘A Star Falls and Creates the Lagoon’
Hachäkyum yeter T’uup yeter Kisin ‘Hachäkyum and T’uup and the Devil’
Hachäkyum yeter T’uup yeter Chäk Xib ‘Hachäkyum and T’uup and Chäk Xib’
Xurt’an: Hachäkyum Uxatik Uche’ir Ukaar ‘The End of the World: Hachäkyum Cuts the Mortals’ Throats’
Äkiche’ex ‘Our Eyes’
Nacimiento ‘Birth’
Uyählehir Bah ‘The Mole Trapper’
Xurt’an uburur ‘The World ends with the Flood’
Äkyant’o’ No Permite Uxurt’an Äkyant’o’ Prevents the End of the World’
Ka’wäts’äk uho’or Barum yeter K’ak’ ‘The Two-headed Jaguar and the Lord of Fire’
Mensäbäk yeter Hach Winik Tukinsah ‘Mensäbäk and the Ancestor He Killed’
Kak’och yeter Uk’anir Hach Winik ‘Kak’och and his Human Assistant’
Ak’inchob Takes a Human Wife
Chapter 4. Popular Stories
Maya Kimin ‘The Mayan Death’
Chak Xok ‘The Sirens’
Nukuch Winik yeter uti’a’ar yeter Ahya’axche’ ‘The Ancestor, his Son, and the Ceiba Tree’
Ko’otir Ka’an ‘The Celestial Eagle’
Uyitber ‘He at the End of the Road’
Kak’och yeter Uyitber ‘Kak’och and the Yitber’
P’ikbir Ts’on yetel Kisin ‘The Rifle and the Devil’
’Ayim yetel Chem ‘The Crocodile and the Canoe’
AhSaay ‘The Leaf-cutter Ants’
Aht’uur yeter Balum ‘The Rabbit and the Jaguar’
Ch’ämäk yeter Balum ‘The Fox and the Jaguar’
Hachäkyum yeter ahBäb ‘Hachäkyum and the Toad’
Pek’ yeter ’Ayim ‘The Dog and the Crocodile’
How the Toucan Got his Red Beak
Chapter 5. Songs
Uk’aay Barum ‘Jaguar Song’
Uk’aay Box ‘Gourd Song’
Uk’aay Käkah ‘Cacao Song’
Uk’aay Käy ‘Fish Song’
Uk’aay ti' Huuch’ ‘Song for Grinding’
Uk’aay ti' K’uuch ‘Song for Spinning Thread’
Uk’aay Torok ‘Iguana Song’
Uk’ayir Ma’ax ‘Song of the Monkeys’
Uk’ayir Tok’ ‘Song of the Flint’
Uk’ayir Xux ‘Song of the Yellow Jacket Wasps’
Chapter 6. Ritual Speech: Invocations, Chants, and Charms
AhHooch’ ‘Hooch’’
Ahts’in ‘Manioc’
An Offering Chant during the Preparation of Balche’
Offering Under a Tree
Ut’anil Balche’ ‘The Secret of the Balche’’
Chapter 7. Descriptions of Meteorological and Astral Phenomena
’Äxp’äli’ ‘The Solstice’
Lu’um Kab ‘The Rainbow Gods’
Säkber Akyum ‘Our Lord’s White Road’
Appendix 1. Lacandon Onen, Ceremonial Names, and Distribution
Appendix 2. Gods and Men in Lacandon Mythology

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