The Jungle Journal

mysteries and magic

  • Laura LaBrie

Story-Teller Tapes Finally Translated!


The transcripts of the voice recordings from our visit with Don Miguel, the village story keeper, are finally finished!


Last November we spent a day with the man who is the keeper of the history for a little pueblo in Yucatan. It was a fascinating day filled with narratives about Mayan history and culture, elemental beings like the alux, cenote dragons, Mayan gods and goddesses, shapeshifting creatures, Xibalaba which is the Mayan underworld and so much more!


I was in Heaven!


Don Miguel is an artist as well as the village story keeper and he used both stone and wood carvings to depict fantastic tales of the underbelly of the Mayan universe. With his permission, we were able to get voice recordings of much of what he said. He covered so much that I wanted to make sure I would be able to preserve the details. Most of the day was in Spanish and there was some Yucatac Maya thrown in (a very interesting language indeed!)



Over the last couple of weeks, we have been translating everything to English and creating transcripts. I am super excited to go back through everything and work on piecing some puzzles together and I really want to share some of it with you because it is fascinating.


Before I show you some excerpts from the transcripts, I want to explain a bit about the complications in the language. You will totally understand why I said I have been working on “piecing some puzzles together.”


The puzzle . . .

The original tapes are mostly in Spanish, but the speaker is not a native Spanish speaker. He is fully Maya and Mayan is his first language. The Mayan language is not at all like Spanish or English. It has no tenses (although they do seem to explain time well without the use of tenses). When asked when a person did something, they might say, “now, not now” and use a hand motion to show here first, and then behind. Time is circular, not linear. This has a huge effect on how they think and speak. When asked to explain time, a Yucataec Maya elder used a circle rather than a straight line to illustrate the concept. They also have no real word for yes or no. This translates into not using firm words or phrases, but rather fluid ones. When asked if they agree with you, they might say, “I hear you,” rather than implying that yes, they are agree or no, they don’t agree.

So, as you will see, the speaker talks in a rhythm that is unfamiliar to both Spanish and English speakers. This is not because he is not familiar with the Spanish language. It is because he THINKS differently. It becomes difficult to get to the heart of what he is trying to say. For example: near the end of the narrative here he says, “These are hunter myths” Then he follows that up with, “All of these exist.” So, is he saying that everything is a myth or that it is real? When asked follow-up questions, he was sure to explain that both are truth. They are myths AND they are real. To an English speaker the words “myth” and “real” are usually opposites. One thing cannot be both. This brings to light the duality of the Maya people. Everything is dual. Day and night, male and female, good and bad. All co-exsist and have their place. So, a myth is real, but it is also a myth.


This has been one of the most fascinating parts of our discoveries and explorations into the Maya Universe. Trying to understand how the modern Maya people think is such a cool process because it sheds light on their world view, which includes portals, supernatural beings, days that are gods, speaking to the elements, and the principle that both the material plane and the spiritual plane co-exist and are inseparable from each other, work with and impact each other. These people live in a magical world and it is a very real one.


So, here is an excerpt from one of the transcripts:

The hunters tell us what they see, what appears to them. For example, the serpent can become a deer. Sometimes they hunt the deer and it’s not a deer. Flies fall. Blood flows and the hunters follow the trail. And you can see this in a hole. They follow the blood trail and find a serpent, not a deer. It’s not poison. When you open up a deer, the green flies appear.

The serpent becomes the deer. And the air. Kasan, Ika. There ae people that kill a deer then check it out. Sometimes a stone or a worm comes out of the deer and that is a gift. Means you will hunt many deer, continuously. When you hunt 13 deer things change. Otherwise the air will hurt you.

If you don’t do what I tell, you need to go get a limpia to remove your problems.

There are people that take the worm from the dear and support it with their blood. Then you will always find a deer to hunt.

The worm is alive as long as the deer is alive. You will always hunt deer. These are hunter myths. All of these exist.


I am sure you felt a bit confused, as did we! Sometimes I feel like these conversations raise more questions than answers. But that is the journey, is it not?


Here is another excerpt:

There are different races of serpents. One can become a giant animal. A spell can be cast on a large serpent to take it to the water. It enters the underworld, under the ground. The bat is always under the ground. The jaguar is inside a cave.

Yum Balan takes care of you and these things don’t come out. If not the vultures can come out and eat your eyes. But because you are protected by these 4 people nothing bad happens. The 4 winds, the 4 seasons the 4 faces stop it.

The owl is said to mean death, a bad omen. Those birds get close or are sent as messengers. They are sent by the sorcerers. And also they also have a noble element.

The bats are under the tunnels. The skull is death. All is connected.


The serpent Don Miguel is referring to is a story we have been collecting information about for a couple of years now. He adds details we did not have before. Besides trying to understand the reason for the current story and the meaning and intention behind it, we are also looking for simple details to add to our overview of “The tale of the centoe serpent.”


For example, here we learn that:

1. There are different races of serpents

2. One can become a giant animal

3. A spell can be cast on it

4. The spell takes it to the water (we assume that is a cenote based on other stories we have heard, but we need to ask follow up questions to make sure)

5. It enters the underworld, the underground (that supports the water is in a cenote)

6. Yum Balam is a protector of people (he is the god of the wild places)

7. If Yum Balam did not protect you, the vultures would come out and eat your eyes. YIKES!

8. Yum Balam is then equated with a few other things. He is called “the 4 people”

9. The 4 people are 4 winds, 4 seasons, and 4 faces

10. The 4 winds, 4 seasons and 4 faces have power to stop it.


So, more questions need to be asked. On our next trip, we will go with a list of clarifying questions, which I sure will lead to some answers and yet more questions.


What an exciting adventure! We are learning so much along the way and I am so happy we can take you along for the ride!

More to come,

Laura

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