Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tutul Xiu: Original name of the Olmecs

According to the Yucatec Maya, the Tutul Xiu, a group of foreigners from Zuiva, in Nonoualco territory taught the Yucatec how to read and write (Stross, 1982). The fact that the foreigners brought the Maya writing and other secret knowledge that was transmitted by hereditary clans or specialists would explain why the Maya had institutions where branches of this knowledge could be taught.

Stross (1982) believes that the Mixe-Zoquean speakers transmitted writing to the Maya, other scholars suggest the Toltecs. Although the Toltecs may have conquered the Maya I seriously doubt that this nomadic group gave secret language to the Maya since they appear in Mexico a 1000 years after the Mayan people employed writing to record their history.

Epigraphic evidence make it clear that the Mayan people received writing from the Olmec. This is supported by the bilingual Olmec-Mayan bricks found at Comalcalco,Mexico.It is interesting to note that the people who taught the Maya writing originated at Zuyua or Zuiva made it necessary for the Maya to set up centers of learning where elites could study this writing system and the arts. This resulted from the fact that a class of skilled scribes were necessary to record business transactions and inscribe Mayan monuments and artifacts.

Landa mentions the fact that the heads of Mayan towns had to know a secret language(s) due to periodic interrogations (examinations?) of the chiefs. These interrogations determined if a chief was fit to remain head of a Mayan town (Roys,1967).

In the Chilam Balam of Chummayel , Zuiva is spelt Zuyua . This text declares that the “head chiefs” of a town were periodically examined in the language of the Zuyua.

The language of Zuyua was suppose to have been understood by the Mayan elites. Scholars are not sure about the meaning of the mysterious term zuyua. But it has affinity to Olmec terms. The actual sound value of /z/ in zuyua is /s/.

The Olmec people spoke a Mande language closely related to Malinke-Bambara. If we compare zuyua, with Olmec su-yu-a and zuiva and su-i-wa we find interesting meanings that suggest that zuyua was probably a secret code known only by the Chiefs., rather than a placename.

Su-yu-a can be translated as the “Shaper of Life”, while Su-i-wa means “The Shaper of Good” or “The Thing which hurries your welfare”.

These translations of su-i-wa and su-yu-a , because they are associated with leadership, and the role of both secular and religious leaders made them semantically appropriate terms to interpret zuyua or zuiva, since a priest or head chief is a shaper of the welfare of his people it was only natural that this group of specialists probably had to know secret terms and symbols to manifest their great power.

This makes it clear that the Tutul Xiu or “The Xis who are very good supporters of the Order” who came from Zuiva in Nonoualco were Mande speaking Olmec scholars who passed on writing and a leadership association to the Maya, when they entered Yucatan.

Universities such as Comalcalco, were constructed to ensure the traiing of Mayan elites to become Zuyua and support the needs of Mayan government and religion.


Roys,R.L. (1967). The Book of Chilam Balam Chumayel. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Steede,N. (1984). Preliminary Catalogue of the Comalcalco Bricks. Cardenas, Tabasco: Centro de Investigacion Pre-Colombina.

Stross,B. (1982). Maya Hieroglyphic writing and Mixe-Zoquean, Anthropological Linguistics 24 (1): 73-134.

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