Thursday, August 24, 2017

Understanding Tulan and Bountiful – Part I

The Mayan 16th century Popol Wuj, or more common called the Popol Vuh (Book of the People) has been translated by numerous linguists over the years, and while most translations follow a general theme, they tend to vary considerably on individual words and understanding. The case of the words Tulan Siwan (Wuqub’ Pek Wuqub’ Siwan) are two of those words with various understanding and in that difference a considerable gap in comprehension has resulted, causing a difference in identifying where Lehi landed in the land “across the sea.” 
    While most accept that the first Tulan is Arabia, where Nephi built his ship, the second Tulan is questionable as being in Mesoamerica, since there is also a third and fourth Tulan mentioned, and a specific understanding of leaving Tulan in the West, not the East, before arriving in Mesoamerica. While this series does not attempt to show proof of those other Tulan locations, we certainly suggest a very different view than what has so far been presented by numerous linguists working within a Mesoamerican model.
While the Popol Vuh is often called “the Mayan Bible,” it is not regarded by the Maya as “the word of God” nor as sacred scripture but rather as an account of "the ancient word" and the understanding the Quiche had of cosmology and creation before the coming of Christianity. The Quiche referred to the book as an Ilb'al—an instrument of sight—and it was known as "The Book of the Mat" because of the woven mats the people would sit on to hear the work recited at the council house. In fact, one building at Copan, features stone lintels “woven” to look like such matting.
    In their work “Tulan and the Other Side of the Sea: Unraveling a Metaphorical Concept from Colonial Guatemalan Highland Sources,” Frauke Sachse, University of Bonn, and Allen J. Christenson, BYU, point out that the metaphoric language of the ancient Mayan linguistic patterns state clearly that it should “encourage us to rethink in particular our understanding and interpretation of the so-called Mesoamerican migration myths” (Mesoweb Publications; with translation of K’iche’ text by James L. Mondloch). They further state that “All of the major Colonial K’iche’an sources—the Popol Vuh, the Memorial de Sololá, the Título de Totonicapán and several others—are quite consistent in relating that the K’iche’an nations, or more precisely the mythological founder-fathers, origination from somewhere “across the sea.” It is quite clear from their work, that all translations show that these people arrived in the Guatemala (Mesoamerican) area from “across the lake, across the sea” from Tulan Siwan. Because the work of these linguists are Mesoamerican narratives, this is generally translated to mean Tulan in Arabia, where Nephite built his ship. But there is another, very critically important understanding of the location of this Tulan or Bountiful.
Mayan Creation Myth: Two Mayan gods creating the first humans with mud; but people had forgotten how they were made and could not remember any of the names of God
The Popol Vuh as the sacred book of the K’iche’ Maya that narrates the mythology of their origins, history, and traditions of their people was written in K'iche' (a Mayan language) by a Mayan author or authors between 1554 and 1558, using the Latin alphabet with Spanish orthography, or Spanish letters and spelling. It chronicles the creation of humankind, the actions of the gods, the origin and history of the K'iche' (formerly called Quiché) people, and the chronology of their kings down to 1550—it is basically the story of creation according to the Quiche Maya of the region known today as Guatemala, and an invaluable source of knowledge of ancient Mayan mythology and culture. Popol Vuh is translated as `The Council Book', The Book of the People' or, literally, `The Book of the Mat', and has been referred to as "The Mayan Bible," although this comparison is imprecise.    The K’iche’ had an advanced civilization in pre-Columbian times, with a high level of political and social organization. Archaeological remains show large population centers and a complex class structure. Written records of K’iche’ history and mythology are preserved in the Popol Vuh and in a number of other colonial documents and chronicles, written down in the K’ich’ language shortly after the conquest by the Spaniards in 1524.
Richard Hansen, an American archaeologist, with one of the two panels telling the Mayan creation as found in the Popol Vuh

In the text, it is described how the first mother-fathers, and thus humankind, were created in Paxil Cayal and how these people multiplied there “where the sun emerges,” before they decided to leave that place and move to a  mountain named Tulan Suywa (Tulan Zuyva), Wuquib’ Pek Wuqub’ Siwan (Vvcub Pec Vvcub Zivan), meaning “Seven Caves, Seven Canyons” to obtain their gods (Francisco Ximénez’s manuscript of the Popol Vuh (1700–15), found in Santo Tomás, The Newberry Library, Gift of Edward E. Ayer, 1911; a Britannica Publishing Partner).
    While the Popol Vuh first clearly distinguishes the “East” as one location and Tulan Suywa, Wuqub’ Pek Wuqub’ Siwan as another—Wuqub’ Pec Wuqub’ Siwan, is claimed to be an euphemism for the mythical city of origin for the K’iche’ nation and other Mesoamerican peoples (The Americas’ First Theologies, “Early Sources of Post-Contact Indigenous Religion,” Oxford University Press, Ed. By Gary Sparks, 2017, footnote, p235)
    On the other hand, a later passage refers to both places as a point of departure. However, the actual definition and meaning is not necessarily the same meaning as we will discuss later.
    As it states: “They came in crowds from the East. They were alike in the hides that they wore as coverings, for their dress was very poor. They had nothing of their own, but they were enchanted people in their essence when they came from Tulan Zuyva, the Seven Caves and the Seven Canyons, as they are called in the ancient account.”
    The question that has bothered interpreters, linguists, archaeologists and anthropologist over this Mesoamerican legend of Tulan is whether or not there were two Tulans or one, and if two, where were they? The first is commonly considered to be in Arabia, where Nephi built his ship. But what of the second, and was there a third? Or fourth?
Equally, the Título de Totonicapán—meaning Title of Totonicapán, and sometimes referred to as the Título de los Señores de Totonicapán ("Title of the Lords of Totonicapán") is the name given to a K’iche’ Language document written around 1554 in Guatemala and is one of the two most important surviving colonial period K'iche' language documents, together with the Popol Vuh, and came into the hands of Robert Carmack in 1973—merges Paxil and Tulan as the place of origin, and Karen Bassie-Sweet (Maya Sacred Geography and the Creator Deities, University Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1952, pp79-80), describes Paxil, as a mountain, and Cayala, a cave or grotto, from these areas emerged the original people. There was a discovery of corn at Paxil and Cayala, where a lightening god broke open the mountain or the stone with a bolt of lightning, under which the corn was hidden, and from which the gods made humans.
    But what of Tulan?
(See the next post, “Understanding Tulan and Bountiful  –  Part II,” for more information on the Popol Vuh and how it makes reference to Hagoth’s ship going north “to a land which is northward,” and the location of Tulan in the west)

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