Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Quichean Directionality

Accurate correlation of the Book of Mormon with the Mesoamerican map requires interpretation of the words "north, south, east and west." In order to justify his geography, John L.Sorenson had to skew the cardinal directions so his east coast cities are actually north northwest of his Zarahemla. The map below shows the Mezcalapa - Grijalva River in blue as it ran in early Book of Mormon times. As with all images on this blog, click to enlarge.
Five Book of Mormon Geonyms in the Sorenson Model
I find Sorenson's rhetoric on this point absurd. The blog articles "Water Fight on the River - Round Ten" and "Test #5 North South East and West" detail why I believe the ancient Jewish "east," Mesoamerican "east," Book of Mormon "east," Early Modern English "east," Jacksonian American English "east," and contemporary English "east" all orient to sunrise.

This article will explore directional cardinality as understood by the precontact Quiche of western highland Guatemala. My primary sources are two books by Dennis Tedlock, best known for his acclaimed translation of Popol Vuh.

The first is Rabinal Achi published by Oxford University Press in 2003.
2003 Tedlock Source
The second is Breath on the Mirror, paperback edition, published by University of New Mexico Press in 1997. The original hardcover edition was published by Harper in 1993.
1997 Tedlock Source
Tedlock distinguished himself as a Quichean specialist while serving on the English and Anthropology Faculties at SUNY Buffalo and as a visiting professor at other institutions including Harvard and UT Austin. He received his PhD in 1968 from Tulane. From 1994-98 he was coeditor of American Anthropologist.

Rabinal Achi is the only precontact Mayan theater extant. It is still performed in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz today. UNESCO recognized the dance drama in 2005 as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Breath on the Mirror, subtitled Mythic Voices and Visions of the Living Maya, is an ethnographic collection of stories gathered from priest-shamans and daykeepers in the K'iche' speaking Guatemalan highlands. Tedlock draws on his training in both anthropology and linguistics for erudite notes and commentary that relate the drama and stories to the ancient Quichean literary tradition, Maya archaeology, and highland Guatemalan geography.

Four important precontact Quichean texts have survived. All four are now available in excellent academic editions that take advantage of the knowledge explosion precipitated by Mayan decipherment. The four are:
Because its motifs were rendered on hundreds of stone, ceramic, wood and stucco surfaces from Yucatan to the Soconusco, the earliest dating to ca. 300 BC (Izapa stela 25), Popol Vuh is now generally recognized as the most important precontact Mesoamerican text extant. It shares a great deal of intertextual commonality with the other three Quichean works listed above.

This corpus of precontact Quichean literature is significant to Book of Mormon studies because all credible Mesoamerican geographical correlations (Sorenson 1985, 2013; Hauck 1988; Allen 1989, 2008; Turner 2004; Norman 2006; Magleby 2011) place the city and land of Nephi in highland Guatemala. Over 250 correspondences between these Quichean texts and the Book of Mormon have been identified to date. See the blog articles "Kaqchikel Chronicles," "Rabinal Achi." and Titulo de Totonicapan." This article about cardinal directionality in the Quiche worldview constitutes correspondence #209 r.

Rabinal Achi, aka Dance of the Trumpets, is performed on a square stage oriented to the four cardinal directions. Circular dances are performed at each of the four corners of the square. The play refers often to "four edges and four corners" (Rabinal pp. 106, 111) This is Tedlock's stage diagram (Rabinal p. 25).
Rabinal Achi Stage Oriented to the Four Cardinal Directions
When Cawek is executed at the end of the play, he faces west because the Maya associated sunset with death and descent into the underworld.

In Cawek's seventh speech he describes the Quiche lords assembled at Utatlan as "Gathered Cane Plants, Gathered Lakes, Gathered Canyons, Gathered Birds" (Rabinal p. 65). In Man of Rabinal's ninth speech he calls the same assemblage "Gathered Cane Plants, Gathered Canyons, Gathered Lakes, Gathered Honey, Gathered Birds" (Rabinal p. 76). Tedlock explains that these names are various symbols of the length and breadth of Quiche territory. In particular, he describes Kuchuma Cho "Gathered Lakes" as referring to the five sacred Quiche lakes, one at each of the four cardinal directions with a fifth at the center near Utatlan. Kuchuma Tz'ikin "Gathered Birds" refers to fowl that flock together at lakes and wetlands. Kuchuma Aj refers to cane plants that grow in bodies of water (Rabinal p. 260). For more information about the five sacred lakes located at the four sides and center of the Quiche world, Tedlock refers his readers to Breath on the Mirror (Rabinal p. 340).

Tedlock's diagram of the Quiche lake geography is a classic compass rose (Breath p. 88).
Layout of Quiche Sacred Lakes at Each of the Four Cardinal Directions
Tedlock then goes on to explain where each of these lakes is located on the modern map (Breath pp. 243,244). Chi'ul Landslide Place is between Nebaj and Cunen in Quiche. Tz'ujil Dripping Place is east of Joyabaj in Quiche. Panajachel Puppet Trees is on the north shore of Lake Atitlan in Solola. Socob Water Jar is due west of Momostenango in Totonicapan. The center lake, Lemoa' Mirror Water, is southeast of Santa Cruz del Quiche in Quiche. This map shows the five sacred lakes of the Quiche in context.
Five Sacred Quiche Lakes
In the precontact Quiche world, the four cardinal directions were the same ones we use today and their azimuths were plotted from the capital Utatlan at the center or heart of Quiche lands. In the Book of Mormon world we believe the four cardinal directions were the same ones we use today and their azimuths were plotted from the capital Zarahemla in the Sidon corridor at the center or heart of Nephite lands. The Nephite worldview included a body of water at each of the four cardinal directions Helaman 3:8.

For another concept of lakes at the four cardinal directions and the center, see the blog article "Light from L.A." point 6.

The Maya worldview included a sea in each of the four cardinal directions. This is how Daniel Finamore and Stephen D. Houston described this belief on page 15 of their 2010 Fiery Pool: the Maya and the Mythic Sea, Peabody Essex Museum and Yale University Press:
"Above and below, on all four sides, in their past and in their future, water, embodied primarily by the sea, was the defining feature of the Maya spiritual world and the inspiration for much of their finest art." For more on the four seas in each of the four cardinal directions, see the article "Smoking Gun."

In  the western Quiche town of Momostenango, Maya daykeepers continue to perform rituals at mountaintop shrines as their ancestors did before the Spanish invasion. Momostenango, which Tedlock calls "Altar Town," is surrounded by four sacred mountains oriented to each of the four cardinal directions. Quilaha is east, Socob west, Pipil north, and Tamancu south of Altar Town (Breath pp. 69, 84-85). This map shows the geography.
Four Sacred Mountains Surrounding Momostenango
Socob on the map above is the very same mountain as Water Jar on the map of Quiche lakes. Socob has some small pools near its summit. In K'iche' Socob means "water jar." Daykeepers break fired clay water jars and use the shards as holders to burn copal incense at shrines on certain propitious calendar days.

The ancient Quiche conceived of the four cardinal directions in the same way most civilizations on earth have done because their sun, moon, and morning star (Venus) all rose in the east and set in the west. As the sun came up over the eastern horizon, north was on its right hand and south on its left. The concept of four sides with four corners was foundational to the Quichean view of earth and sky (Breath p. 3).

The list of correspondences between precontact Quichean literature and the Book of Mormon continues with #210 t in the blog article "Titulo de Totonicapan."

Article last updated May 12, 2015.