Popol Vuh: Transcription in Quiché Mayan and Translation into Spanish


The Popol Vuh, which has been translated as Book of the Council, Book of the Community, Book of the People, and The Sacred Book, is the creation account of the K’iche’ or Quiché Mayan people of present-day Guatemala. Popol is also defined as “woven mat,” and vuh or vuj as “book.” The text weaves together Mayan stories concerning cosmologies, origins, traditions, and spiritual histories that explain the creation of the world, the origins and early migrations of Central American Indians, and their history and traditions, and that provide a chronology of the last Quiché kings and rulers. The text is considered by many Mayans as their equivalent of the Christian Bible and is held by them in deep reverence. The Newberry’s manuscript of the Popol Vuh is one of the most widely known and possibly the earliest surviving copy. It was transcribed between 1700 and 1715 in Chichicastenango, Guatemala, by the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez (1666–circa 1722). A linguist, Ximénez was interested in the native Quiché (or K’iche’) language. Some scholars believe that Ximénez’s copy was derived from an earlier version, probably prepared in the 16th century by a native speaker who had been taught Latin characters. The earlier forms of the text were codices or screenfolds with glyphs as aides-memoires. Screenfolds were long strips of bark paper, cotton, or leather that folded into accordion pleats, and glyphs were symbols that conveyed information nonverbally. Ximénez’s transcription uses Latin script to present the Quiché original and gives a side-by-side translation into Spanish. The text, which almost appears to be free verse, was clearly designed to be presented orally. Ximénez’s transcription of the Quiché is studded with corrections. It is possible that the text was recited, possibly by as many as three people, which would account for some of the repetition and strike-outs. The manuscript has a second text, "Escolios a la historia de el origen de los indios," consisting of six leaves at the end, containing Ximénez's comments on the history as well as fragments of a confession, and a concluding rhetorical address praising the Dominican Order, dated August 14, 1734, and signed "Echave."

Last updated: July 31, 2017