Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mayan Universities and the Olmecs

The Mayan people had Universities where they taught students their history, culture and civilization generally. Landa wrote in Yucatan before and after the Conquest:

"The people of Yucatan were as attentive to matters of religion as of government, and had a High Priest whom they called Ahkin May , or also Ahaucan May , meaning the Priest May, or the High Priest May. He was held in great reverence by the chiefs, and had no allotment of Indians for himself, the chiefs making presents to him in addition to the offerings, and all the local priests sending him contributions. He was succeeded in office by his sons or nearest kin. In him lay the key to their sciences, to which they most devoted themselves, giving counsel to the chiefs and answering their inquiries. With the matter of sacrifices he rarely took part, except on it festivals or business of much moment. He and his disciples appointed priests for the towns, examining them in their sciences and ceremonies; put in their charge the affairs of their office, and the setting of a goodp. "13see:

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 (Tozzer,1941 , p.28). 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 Colcomalco,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/. 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 suiwa 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 Colcalmalco, were constructed to ensure the traiing of Mayan elites to become Zuyua and support the needs of Mayan government and religion.

References: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.

1 comment:

Ross S Marshall said...

Wow, I have a copy of the Colcomalco bricks bilingual Olmec-Mayan research of the Mexico meuseum. Anyone interesyed in copies?? Ross
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