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Popol Vuh

Pre-Columbian Culture:

Few written texts of pre-Columbian cultures are still in existence, largely because most native American peoples were illiterate and thus their legends and traditions are transmitted orally.

Upon the arrival of the Spanish in America, these legends began to be written down and one of them, perhaps the most famous is the Popol Vuh or Book of the Community, integrating the traditions of the Maya.

The first text we have of the Popol Vuh is a transcription in the Quiche language with Latin characters written by an unknown author through Fray Francisco Ximénez. There are no earlier texts however some critics assume that "it would be a book of paintings to hieroglyphics that the priests interpreted for the people to keep alive knowledge of the origin of their race and the mysteries of their religion." (Delia Goetz).

Fray Francisco Ximénez saw the importance of this first document which, according to him, had remained hidden until 1701 by the Quiche Maya community, and thus decided to translate it into Castilian. The first translation was too literal and therefore was confusing, so it was re-translated and appeared for the second time in his "History of the Province of St. Vincent of Chiapa and Guatemala" (1722).

The text narrates from the creation of the world by the Gods, to the creation of men from corn, a basic element of Mesoamerican cultures, and how they conquer the world.

Currently there are doubts about the true authorship of the Popol Vuh. Many of the legends that are told are very similar to the Judeo-Christian and some critics think that was written by the Spanish to evangelize the natives. René Acuña agrees with this theory, since according to him `the Popol Vuh is a book designed and executed with Western concepts. His unit of composition is such that gives rise to postulate a single collection of narratives. And it seems that this has been a spontaneous self-taught native [...]>>.(Acuña, René (1998). Temas del Popol Vuh. México: UNAM, Instituto de Investigaciones Filológicas. Colección: Ediciones especiales, 10).

However, the Popol Vuh is still an important testimony from the colonial era, and has had a clear influence on all subsequent American novels.