Category: Global Myths

Chapter 12 Revenge of the Twins


Now here is the memory of the death of Junajpu and Xbalamke. This is their memory, their death as we will tell it. All that was forced on them, they survived; all the suffering, the torments they were subjected to. They did not die in the trials of Xibalba, nor were they defeated by the voracious animals that live there.

The twins sought out two soothsayers, readers of the future. They were called Xulu and Pak’am, both wise men.

“The Lords of Xibalba will ask for you after our death. Even now they are debating on why we have not yet died and why we have not been defeated, after passing through their torments, and that not even their animals could best us. In our hearts now we have seen the sign: the stone-ringed fire is their instrument for our death. And have not all the Xibalbans come together? However, we will not truly die. These are, then, our instructions for you, when they come to ask your advice on what to do with our remains after we burn to death. ‘What do you say, Xulu and Pak’am?’ they will ask you: ‘Would it be good to throw their bones into the ravine?’ ‘That is not a good idea, because they might come back to life,’ you will answer. ‘And if we hang them from a tree, would it be good?’ they will ask. ‘That would not be good, either, for you will see them there for days,’ you will say. They will ask then, a third time: ‘Is it the best we can do, throw their bones into the river?’ If they say this, you will answer: ‘That is the best way to dispose of them! And better still, crush their bones with a grindstone, like corn meal! We must grind them one by one, then throw the dust into the river, where the spring spills over and falls into a pool, then flows on through small mountains and great mountains.’ This is what you will say when they come to you for advice, what we have said.” Thus spoke young Junajpu and Xbalamke. They gave the seers these instructions, because they knew what had to be done.

Meanwhile the Xibalbans were preparing a great fire in a ring of stones, as if to cook the sweetened corn drink, fueling the fire with great branches of trees. The messengers came to the twins then, to escort them, the messengers of Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame.

“‘Bid them come! We would go to the children ourselves, but it is best if they come and see what we have cooked for them,’ say the Lords, children,” the messengers said.

“Very well!” they answered. They went quickly and came to the edge of the fire. Once there, the Lords tried to make them play.

“Let us leap over the sweet drink! Four times it must be done, jumping over it, one after the other, children,” Jun Kame said to them.

“Don’t try to trick us with that. Don’t we know about our death, Lords? Watch this!” the twins said. Then they stood face to face, extended their arms and leaped head-first into the fire. Thus, they both died together.

All the Xibalbans were happy, raising their voices and whistling. “We have defeated them! It was actually easy to make them give up!” they exclaimed. Then Xulu and Pak’am were sent for, the seers the twins had prepared, and they were asked where the bones should go. After the council, the Xibalbans ground the bones and went to throw them into the river. But the bone dust did not go far, it settled directly below the surface and turned back into the two beautiful young people. They regained their likeness and showed themselves once more.

They reappeared on the fifth day and people saw them on the riverbank. The Xibalbans thought they seemed like fish people, and went to seek them on the riverbanks. On the following day they appeared as two beggars, dressed in rags, covered in rags, hidden in rags. Nothing about them was impressive when they were seen by the Xibalbans.

And what they did now was different, only dances: the pujuy dance, the weasel dance, only the armadillo dance, only the centipede’s, only the dance on stilts; that was all they performed now. They also did great acts of magic, they burned a house down as if it were really on fire, and immediately returning it to how it had been. Many Xibalbans saw this and were amazed. Then the beggar dancers sacrificed themselves, one of them would die and remain as if dead. They killed each other, then right away came back to life. The Xibalbans were impressed as never before by what the twins did. All this they did was the beginning of the defeat of the Xibalbans.

News of their dances came quickly to the ears of the Lords Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame. “Who are these two beggars? Is it true their dances cause such enjoyment?” they asked.

“Their dances are truly beautiful. Everything they do!” answered the one who had brought the news. The Lords were seduced by the information, and ordered their messengers, their errand runners, to go call the beggars.

“‘Let them come and perform here, so we can see them, so we can wonder at them, and admire them!’ say the Lords. This you will say to them,” the Lords told the messengers, who went to the dancers and repeated the Lords’ words.

“We would not like that! Frankly, we are ashamed. Would it not be disgraceful for us to enter the house of the Lords? Look at us! Our appearance is very bad. Aren’t our eyes huge from hunger? Don’t you realize we are merely dancers? And our partners in poverty, what will we say to them when they are frustrated in their desire to see our dances and have joy in us? That we will not have from the Lords, so we don’t want to do it, messengers,” said Junajpu and Xbalamke.

But they were taken anyway, by force: with punishments, with suffering; in the worst way, they went. It was not easy to make them walk, they were beaten several times by the messengers sent to bring them, moving back and forth. And thus they came to the house of the Lords.

They came, then, before the Lords, and presented themselves with humility, bowing their heads upon entering; they humbled themselves, they bowed down, they prostrated themselves, so miserable in their rags; they truly seemed to be beggars. The Lords asked about their home and the people they came from, and about their mother and father.

“Where do you come from?” they asked.

“We have never known, Lord, we did not know our mother or our father. We were very small when they died,” was all they answered, revealing nothing.

“Very well! Show us what you do, so we can see. What do you want as payment?” the Lords asked.

“We want nothing! Truly, we are afraid,” they said to the Lords.

“Do not be afraid! Do not feel ashamed! Dance! First the dance where you sacrifice yourselves; then burn my house, do all that you know how to do. We want to see you, this was our desire when we sent for you, and since you are poor we will pay you,” the Lords said.

So the twins began their songs and their dances. Right away all the Xibalbans came, the crowd gathered. They danced all their dances: they danced the weasel dance, the pujuy dance, the armadillo dance. Then the Lord Jun Kame said:

“Sacrifice my dog, then revive him!” he said to them.

“Very well!” they said. They quickly sacrificed the dog, and then it came back to life. The dog was truly happy when it came back to life, and wagged its tail. Then the Lord said:

“Now burn down my house!” he said. When they burned down the house, all the Lords were inside but were not burned. In a moment they made it again as it was; barely for an instant was the house of Jun Kame consumed. This was much admired by all the Lords, as was all that the beggars danced. The Lords were truly enjoying themselves. Then the Lord Jun Kame said:

“Kill a person now! Sacrifice someone, but do not let them die!” he commanded.

“Very well!” the beggars answered. They grabbed a bystander suddenly and sacrificed him in an instant, raising up high the heart taken from this person, and exhibiting it before the Lords. This was a marvel to the liking of Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame.

Then they brought the person back to life. His heart overflowed with joy when he came back to life. The Lords were amazed.

“Now sacrifice yourselves! Let us see that. Truly, our hearts desire to see that dance!” said the Lords.

“Very well, Lord!” they answered. Young Junajpu was sacrificed, cut into pieces by Xbalamke. One by one his legs and arms were scattered; his head was separated and taken a certain distance away. His heart was extracted and placed dripping on leaves of corn.

This drove all the Lords of Xibalba into a frenzy. Only one of the beggars was still dancing: Xbalamke.

“Get up!” she said then. In an instant Junajpu was alive again, and both were overjoyed. The Lords were likewise joyful, as if they themselves were doing this. The hearts of Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame were enthralled, they felt as if they themselves were dancing.

Suddenly their hearts were filled with desire, anxious for the dances of young Junajpu and Xbalamke. And these words came from Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame:

“Now do the same with us! Sacrifice us!” they said. “Sacrifice us one by one, sacrifice us both!” said Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame to young Junajpu and Xbalamke.

“Very well! You will come back to life! Can there be a death for you? We only come here to entertain you, you are the lords of your vassals, of your children,” they said to the Lords.

The first one sacrificed was the head of the Lords, Jun Kame, called the Lord of Xibalba. Jun Kame was already dead when they took Wuqub Kame. But they were not brought back to life.

The Xibalbans fled when they saw the Lords dead. They were both sacrificed and their hearts were extracted, and thus they were punished.

When the first Lord was dead and they didn’t revive him, the other Lord humbled himself and wept before the dancers; he could not accept it, he did not understand it. “Have pity on me!” he said, when he realized what was happening.

All their vassals, their children, fled into a great crevice. They hid huddled in that great abyss, heaped up, then discovered countless ants swarming around them as if they were herding them out of there. They returned, and came to surrender. They humbled themselves, they came weeping.

And so were the Lords of Xibalba defeated, by prodigious feats, by the transformations the twins performed.

And only then did they reveal their true names and their nature before all the Xibalbans:

“Hear our names: we will say them! We will say also the names of our fathers. This is who we are: Junajpu and Xbalamke, by name. And our fathers, whom you murdered, were called Jun Junajpu and Wuqub Junajpu. We, then, have made you pay for the torment and suffering of our fathers! We also suffered all the torments you gave us. For that reason we will finish you all. We will kill you all! There is no one who can save you,” they said. 

Instantly all the Xibalbans humbled themselves and wept:

“Have mercy on us, Junajpu and Xbalamke! It is true that we did wrong against your fathers, as you say; they who are buried in the sacrificial place in the Pok ah’ Tok’ field,” they admitted.

“Very well, then! This is our word. Listen to what we say, all you of Xibalba: for your days will no longer be great, nor those of your descendants; neither will the offerings you receive be great. Nothing more than a bit of clotted blood, there will be no clean blood for any of you. Only old and useless pots and griddles, only unworthy junk; only, then, from the creatures of the wild, the creatures of the empty places will you eat. No daughter born into the light, nor son born into the light, will be yours. Only those who hate themselves will be yours, those who are guilty, that fight, that are sad, that berate themselves. Where there is fault, there you will enter! You will never again prey upon people at your pleasure. You will be summoned only over clotted blood!” This they said to all the Xibalbans. They began to disappear, then, they were no longer invoked or called upon.

However, not even their days in ancient times had been great. These people of before always sought conflict, their names were not truly divine, only their horrible faces were frightening. They caused enmities, they were traitors, they encouraged evil and discord. They were skillful at hiding their intentions, they were hypocrites, evil, tricksters, oppressors, thus they were called. The faces they showed were false, painted. And so was the loss of their greatness and power. Never again was their dominion vast. This, by the prowess of young Junajpu and Xbalamke.

Meanwhile, their grandmother and their mother wept and called upon them, before the cornstalks they left planted. The plants bloomed again, and then dried up again. This happened when they were burned in the fire. When the plants bloomed again, their grandmother performed a ceremony: she burned copal before the cornstalks, this in memory of her grandchildren. Joy came to the women’s hearts when the stalks bloomed a second time. Ixmukane blessed them and named them: Center of our House, she called one, Center of the Harvest, another; because they were planted, the stalks, in the middle of the house. Bed of Earth, she called them also, because they were planted in the flattened earth. And Living Stalks, she called them by name, because they bloomed and lived again.

These names Ixmukane gave the stalks Junajpu and Xbalamke had planted before leaving, so they would be remembered by their grandmother and their mother.

As for their fathers, who had died in times past, Jun Junajpu and Wuqub Junajpu, the twins were able to see their faces there in Xibalba. Their fathers spoke to them after they defeated the power of Xibalba.

This is what they did to repair their fathers: they went to collect their remains from the sacrificial place in the Pok ah’ Tok’ field, and reconstructed Wuqub Junajpu, but only his face came to life, and only barely. They asked him to name all his parts, but he could only mention his mouth, his nose, and his eyes. He was able to say very little. But even if he could no longer name his other parts, at least his voice was heard once more. Finally the twins had to accept leaving their fathers’ hearts there in the sacrificial place in the Pok ah’ Tok’ field.

“You will be invoked here. Thus it will be!” their children told them, comforting their hearts. “The first of everything will be for you, the first to be honored by the daughters born into the light, by the sons born into the light, will be you. Your names will not be forgotten. So be it!” they said to their fathers. “We have justly exacted payment for your death, your disappearance; the pain, the torment they gave you!”

This was, then, their message of parting, after defeating all the Xibalbans. They returned here to the surface, surrounded by light, and ascended to heaven: Junajpu was the Sun, and Xbalambke was the Moon. They settled themselves in the heavens, in the vault of heaven, and the entire face of the earth was at once illuminated.

Then came the true Dawn, with the true Light of Heaven.

And the four hundred boys killed by Sipakna arose, ascended and became their companions; stars of heaven, they became.

Chapter 13  The Making of the People of Corn.

When the time was near for the rising of the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, once again the Creators and Shapers came together, now with great decision. They spoke them, Alom, K’ajolom, Tz’aqol, Bitol, Tepew, Q’ukumatz. It is time, they said, dawn approaches, let the work be finished, let the faithful appear, for the sons and daughters born in the light, humanity, people across the face of the Earth.

The Creators and Shapers came together in council, sought, and debated, reflected and meditated, until the idea came clear and diaphanous.  They knew what was needed to make the human flesh.

The sun was soon to rise, the moon, the stars above, Tz’aqol, Bitol. Four animals brought the yellow ears and the white ears of corn from the place called Paxil; these four were the fox, the coyote, the parrot and the crow, and they led the Creators and Shapers back to that lovely, wonderful place. The Creators and Shapers were overjoyed to find this fragrant place of abundance flowing with yellow and white ears of corn, white and dark cacao, sapodillas, annonas, mombins, nances, sleep-sapotes, and honey.

So the yellow ears and the white ears of corn were ground together by Ixmukane the Grandmother of the Dawn and the Dusk, ground nine times to a paste, and then together with the water from the paste they shaped the arms and legs, the strength of humans; and they set the word upon them, their creation, and sent them out into the world.

The first four humans created were men.  Their names, Balam Ki’tze’, Balam Aq’ab, Majuk’utaj, and Ik’i Balam.  They were not begotten by men nor conceived by women, only molded, formed by the Creators and the Shapers.  When the work was done, the humans appeared: they spoke, and saw, and heard; they walked and they touched things.  They were very good people, and their manly faces were beautiful.  They could breathe and they could see, they could suddenly see so far as to take in all that was under Heaven.  When they looked, they saw instantly the vault of the Heavens and the face of the Earth.

Nothing obstructed their view, and they did not need to move in order to see things, they could see all from where they stood.  And great was their knowledge; they saw through the trees, the stones, the lakes, the sea, the mountains, the valleys.  They were, indeed, truly gifted.  And the Creators and the Shapers asked them: What do you feel? do you not see? do you not hear? is your speech not good, and your way of walking?  Are the mountains not clear, that you see, and the valleys?  Look again!

So they looked again, the four men, and then they said: Truly, twice and three times we thank you! because we have been created and we have been given our mouths and our faces.  We speak, we hear, we meditate, we move.  We feel very good, we have seen what is far and what is near; we have seen what is great and what is small, under Heaven and on the Earth.  Thanks to you, we have been created, we have been built, we have been shaped, we have come to be: you, our Grandmother, you, our Grandfather.

They quickly knew all there was, they saw the four corners and the four sides; the vault of Heaven, the face of the Earth.

But this did not sit well with the Creators and the Shapers.  This is not right, what our creatures, our creations have said: we understand all, what is great and what is small. This they have said.

And the Creators and Shapers went again into council, and debated what to do with their creation, so powerful they could themselves be gods.  Before they multiply and become many, we will limit their vision, so they see only a little of the face of the Earth. Let the seating be done and the dawn.

Instantly the nature of their creation was changed, the far vision of the first four men was fogged over by Uk’u’x Kaj as a breath upon a mirror, and they could see clearly only what was close by.  And so all their wisdom was lost, their knowledge, and this was the beginning, the origin, the creation of our first fathers.

And then the gods made in their thoughts the wives of the four men, and these women came to their husbands as in a dream.  Kaqa Palo Ja’ was the wife of Balam Ki’tze’, Chomi Ja’ was the wife of Balam Aq’ab, Tz’ununi Ja’ was the wife of Majuk’utaj, and Kak’ixa Ja’ was the wife of Iq’i Balam.  They were very beautiful, and their husbands’ hearts were happy because of them.  Thus the first men and women, together, awakened truly to life, and became mothers and fathers of all the k’iche’ people, great and small.




Chapter 11 Junajpu and Xbalanke – Second Journey to Xibalba



The twins took to the game of Pok ah’ Tok’ with a passion, and played long hours every day. They cleared the old playing field where their fathers had performed amazing feats of skill, and practiced daily. But soon enough the Lords of Xibalba heard them:

“Who is that, playing again above our heads? Have they no shame, jumping about up there? Do they not know that we killed Jun Junajpu and Wuqub Junajpu because they showed us no respect? Go call them!” said Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame.

The Lords sent for the messengers and told them: “This is what you must say, when you arrive there: ‘The Lords command them to come and play with us here, in seven days’ time.’ This you must say when you arrive there.”

The messengers took the wide road, the one that runs straight to the twins’ house, and they went right in where grandmother Ixmukane was. While the twins were playing Pok ah’ Tok’, the messengers from Xibalba arrived.

“They must truly come, say the Lords,” spoke the messengers from Xibalba, and they appointed a day for this to happen: “In seven days’ time we must see them there, playing,” they said to Ixmukane.

“Very well, messengers, I will send for them,” she said. The messengers left then, they went back to Xibalba. She was instantly distraught, grandmother Ixmukane.  

“Who will I send to call my grandchildren? And aren’t these the same messengers that came long ago, when their fathers were called away to their death?” said Ixmukane, weeping piteously alone in her house.

Then a louse fell right in front of her, she immediately grabbed it and put it on the palm of her hand. The louse wiggled as it walked.

“You, creature, maybe you want to run my errand, maybe I can send you: my grandchildren must be called in from the playing field,” she told the louse. “You will say to them when you arrive, ‘Messengers came just now to your grandmother from Xibalba, saying that in seven days’ time you must be there to play Pok ah’ Tok’.’ Your grandmother has ordered this to be said to you,” she instructed the louse to say when it went as a courier.

The louse went straight off, wiggling as it went. It chanced to pass by a young frog sitting on the side of the road. Tamasul was the frog’s name.

“Where are you going?” the frog asked the louse.

“I have a message inside, I’m going to where the twins are,” it said to Tamasul.

“Very good, but I can see you aren’t going very fast,” the frog told the louse, “Don’t you want me to swallow you? You’ll see that I go much faster, and we will get there sooner.”

“All right!” said the louse to the frog. And at that moment it was swallowed by the frog. The frog went on a good ways, but they didn’t really get very far. Then he met a big snake, Saqikas was her name.

“Where are you going, young Tamasul?” the frog was asked by the snake.

“I’m a messenger. I carry a message inside,” the frog answered.

“But you’re not in a hurry, from what I see. I would get there much faster,” the snake said. “Come in!” The frog was instantly swallowed by Saqikas. And that is how snakes acquired their food, and they swallow frogs to this day.  

Then the snake went on, much faster. But in turn, she was seen by Wak, a big bird, who swallowed her right up. Since then, hawks acquired their given food, and they eat snakes in the mountains.

Wak arrived at the edge of the playing field. He settled on the side of the Pok ah’ Tok’ field, where Junajpu and Xbalamke were playing very happily. Wak sang out his call:

“Wak k’o, wak k’o!”

“Who is calling? Let our blowpipes come,” the twins said. They quickly shot at Wak, hitting him in the eye with a pellet, and he came circling down to the ground. They ran to grab him, and asked him:

“Where do you come from?”

“I have a message inside, but first you must heal my eye and then I will tell you,” answered Wak.

“All right!” they said. They took a bit of rubber from the ball they were playing with, and put it in Wak’s eye. “Blood of sacrifice”, this is called. Wak’s sight was soon restored.

“Speak, then!” they said to Wak.

Right away he vomited the big snake.

“Speak!” they said to the snake.

“Very well,” she said, and vomited the frog.

“What is your errand? Speak up at once!” they told the frog in turn.

“I have a message inside,” answered the frog. Then he tried to vomit, but he vomited nothing, only filled his mouth with drool. He tried again, but vomited nothing. Then the twins went to beat him.

“You’re a liar,” they told him. They kicked his thighs and broke the bones in his hips. He tried again, but only saliva came out of his mouth. Then they tore the frog’s mouth, the twins tore it and looked inside the mouth and there was the louse stuck in between the frog’s teeth. It had stayed in the mouth, it wasn’t swallowed but only seemed to have been swallowed. Thus was the frog tricked. So it isn’t clear what the frogs’ given food is, and since it doesn’t move fast, it became the snakes’ food.

“Speak!” they said to the louse. Then it gave its message:

“Your grandmother sends word, young ones: ‘Go and call them. Messengers have come seeking you from Xibalba, sent by Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame. “In seven days they must come so we can play, they must bring their gear: ball, belts, arm bands and leather skirts. Here they will be taught a lesson!” say the Lords as they send their words.’ This is what your grandmother says, and for that reason I came. Sincerely this is what she says as she weeps and calls for you, and so I came.”

“Can this be true?” the twins asked themselves when they heard. They went back right away, they came to Ixmukane but only to tell her what must be done.

“We must go, dear grandmother, we only came to advise you. This is the sign of our word, which each of us will leave here. We are going to plant some corn stalks in the middle of our house, that is where we will plant them. It will be a sign of our death if they dry up. ‘Have they died, then?’ you will say if they wither. But when they bloom again, ‘They are alive!’ you will say, dear grandma; and you, mother dear, do not weep. This sign of our existence remains with you,” they said.

And so they did: Junajpu planted one stalk, the other was planted by Xbalamke. They planted them in the house, not up the mountain, not on moist soil but in dry soil; in the middle of the courtyard in their house, they left them planted.

They went away, then, each with their blowpipe, and went down to Xibalba. They ran quickly down some steps and came to a gully of clouded waters, where the birds called Molaj were gathered waiting for them. They passed, unharmed, and then over a river of putrid water and over a river of blood. These were all places where the children would be defeated, thought the Xibalbans; but they passed over on their blowpipes, and their feet did not even touch them.

They came then to the place of the crossroads, but they already knew of the four roads to Xibalba: a black road, a white road, a red road, a green road. They sent an animal, Xan was its name. It would collect information for them, they sent it with this instruction:

 “You will go and bite them one by one. First you will bite the one sitting in the first place, until you have bitten them all,” they said to Xan ”Your reward will be the sucking of blood from people on the roads.”

Xan went then down the black road, arriving directly behind the mannequins, the wooden figures that were seated in the first places and covered with ornaments; Xan stung the first one, but it didn’t speak.

Xan went on stinging and when it bit the second figure that was sitting there, it said nothing as well. Then it bit the third. The one sitting in the third place was Jun Kame.

“Ouch!” he said when he was stung. “Ouch!” said Jun Kame.

“What happened, Jun Kame?” said the one in the fourth place.

“Something bit me, I don’t know what…”

And the one sitting in the fourth place in line said also, “Ouch! Who bit me?”

“What happened to you, Wuqub Kame?” said Jun Kame from the third seat.

Then the one in the fifth place in line cried, “Something bit me, I don’t know what… Ouch! Ouch!”

And Wuqub Kame asked him, “What has stung you, Xikiripat?”

Then the one in the sixth seat was stung by Xan. “Ouch!”

“What is it, Kuchuma Kik’?” Xikiripat asked him.

“Something has stung me,” Kuchuma Kik’ answered.

Then the seventh one seated was stung. “Ouch!” he exclaimed.

“What happened, Ajal Puj?” Kuchuma Kik’ asked him.

“I don’t know, something has stung me,” he answered.

The one in the eighth seat was stung at that very instant, and he cried, “Ouch!” 

“What happened, Ajal Q’ana,” Ajal Puj asked him.

“Something stung me, I can’t tell what,” he answered.

Then the ninth seated in line was stung. “Ouch!” he exclaimed.

“What happened, Ch’amiya Baq?” Ajal Q’ana asked him.

“Something stung me, I don’t know what,” he answered.

Then the tenth one seated was stung. “Ouch!”

“What happened, Ch’amiya Jolom?” Ch’amiya Baq asked him.

“Something, I don’t know what, stung me,” he answered.

The eleventh seated in line was stung, and cried out.

“What happened, Xik?” Ch’amiya Jolom asked him.

“Something stung me, I don’t know what,” he answered.

Then the twelfth seated in line was stung. “Ouch!” he said.

“What happened, Patan?” Xik asked him.

“Something stung me, I don’t know what,” he answered.

Then the thirteenth seated in line was stung. “Ouch!”

“What happened, Kik’ Re?” asked Patan.

“Something stung me, I don’t know what,” he answered.

Right then the fourteenth seated in line was stung. “Ouch! I don’t know what stung me!” he said.

“Kik’ Rixk’aq?” Kik’ Re said his name.

And so they revealed their names, each other’s identities one by one. They made themselves known, named their names each by the one superior to him in rank, each named by the one seated at his side. Not one name was omitted, they all spoke their names when they were stung by Xan. But Xan was not a true mosquito, only a hair from Junajpu’s shin, which he sent to bite them and overhear all their names.

Thus prepared, the twins Junajpu and Xbalamke went on and arrived at the place where the Lords of Xibalba were waiting. “Greet the Lords,” a courtier instructed them, “the ones seated.”

The twins approached the first and second seats, took a look and said, “These are no Lords, they are just mannequins, just wooden figures.” They went on then to the third and fourth seats, and spoke their greetings to them and to all the rest: “Good day, Lord Jun Kame! Good day, Lord Wuqub Kame! Good day, Lord Xikiripat! Good day, Lord Kuchuma Kik’! Good day, Lord Ajal Puj! Good day, Lord Ajal Q’ana! Good day, Lord Ch’amiya Baq! Good day, Lord Ch’amiya Jolom! Good day, Lord Xik! Good day, Lord Patan! Good day, Lord Kik’ Re! Good day, Lord Kik’ Rixk’aq!” they said to each in turn.

All were identified, they said all the names; not a single one escaped them. The Lords were appalled. They never expected the twins to know their names.

“Sit down there!” the Lords told them, gesturing towards the stone bench for them to sit on; but they refused.

“That is no seat for us, that bench is nothing but a burning rock!” Junajpu and Xbalamke said. They were not defeated.

“Very well! Go, then, to that house,” the Lords said. The twins went right into the House of Darkness, and they were not defeated there, either. This was the first trial of Xibalba, the place where they were led to. Here would begin their defeat, thought the Xibalbans.

First, then, they entered the House of Darkness, and directly they were given a splinter of resinous wood. It was already burning when the messenger of Jun Kame brought it, as well as a cigar for each of them.

“This is your torch, says the Lord; but you must return it at dawn, along with the cigars, when the watchers come to collect them, so the Lord has said,” the messenger instructed.

“Very well!” the twins answered. But they did not keep the resinous wood alight, and only substituted the flames with macaw tail feathers which appeared to the watchers as burning wood. As for the cigars, they merely put fireflies on the tips and made them glow all night.

“We have defeated them!” said the watchers. But the resinous wood had not been consumed, it was returned just as it had been given. And the cigars had not even been lit, they were just as delivered, and thus were they returned to the Lords.

“Who are these children? Where have they come from? Who begot them, who gave them life? In truth, our hearts burn in rage because what they are doing to us is not right. They are different, their nature is other,” they said to themselves.

Then the Lords all sent for the twins. “Let us go and play, children,” they said to them. Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame questioned them. 

“Where have you come from? Tell us, at once, children,” the Xibalban Lords asked.

“Who knows where we come from! We don’t know,” they answered simply, revealing nothing.

“Very well, then! Let us play ball, children,” said the Xibalbans.

“Very well!” they answered.

“We will use our ball,” said the Xibalbans.

“No! We will use ours,” said the twins.

“Absolutely not! We will use ours,” said the Xibalbans.

“Very well, then!” the twins answered.

“So be it! This one is just decorated,” said the Xibalbans.

“Not decorated! We say it’s nothing but a skull,” the twins answered.

“That’s not so!” said the Xibalbans.

“Very well!” answered Junajpu.

The Xibalbans threw the ball, and it came straight to Junajpu’s girdle. But to the Xibalbans’ surprise, the white quartz razor leaped out of the ball and went bouncing, clattering down the playing field.

“What is this?” asked Junajpu and Xbalamke. If what you want is our death, you shouldn’t have invited us. Why did you send your messengers? Please excuse us, truly, we are going home,” said the twins.

What the Xibalbans had expected was for the twins to die right there, slashed by the quartz, defeated. But it didn’t happen that way. It was the Xibalbans who were defeated by the twins.

“Don’t go, children! We must play, and we will use your ball,” they pleaded.

“Very well!” the twins answered. They took out their ball, and put it on the playing field. Then there was a question regarding the winners’ trophy.

“What will our prize be?” asked the Xibalbans.

“You decide,” answered the twins.

“We will win four gourds of flowers,” said the Xibalbans.

“Very well! What sort of flowers?” the twins inquired.

“One gourd of red petals, one of white petals, one gourd of yellow petals, and one of large petals,” the Xibalbans recited.

“Very well!” answered the twins.

When they began to play, both teams seemed equally matched. The twins made many plays, but deliberately let themselves be beaten. The Xibalbans were very happy.

“We have done well, we have beaten them at the first game,” whispered one Xibalban Lord to another.

“Where will they go to get the flowers?” a third asked, smugly.

“Truly, tomorrow early you must bring us the flowers we have won,” the Xibalbans said aloud to Junajpu and Xbalamke.

“We will, and then we must play again,” the twins challenged. They were taken then to pass the night in the House of Sharp Crystals, the second trial of Xibalba.

The Lords’ intention was that they be shredded by the grinding and slashing shards. Their hearts desired these deaths, quickly.

But the twins didn’t die. They spoke to the screeching shards and instructed them. “Be still! Yours will be all kinds of animal meats.” And the shards moved no more and were quiet. The twins spent the night calmly in the House of Sharp Crystals and from there they summoned the ants.

“Leafcutter ants, warrior ants! Come, all of you. Go and fetch us flower petals, red, white, yellow, and some large ones, the prize which the Lords have won.”

“Very well!” all the ants replied as one, and went off to gather flowers from Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame’s own garden.

However, the Xibalban Lords had already warned the nightjars, keepers of their garden. “Can you guard our flowers? Do not let them be stolen, because we have defeated the children and where else could they acquire the prize we have won from them? No other place! So guard them for us during this one night.”


“Very well!” the keepers answered. But these poor guardians felt nothing, and spent their time singing on the branches of trees in the garden, hopping from one here to there, saying their names in song:

“Xpurpuweq, xpurpuweq!” one of them sang.

“Pujuy, pujuy!” said the one called Pujuy in its song.

The keepers of Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame’s garden never noticed the ants that came in to steal the treasure they were guarding. The ants circled and swarmed, carrying the flowers. Some ran up the plants and cut off the petals, others gathered them under the plants. Meanwhile, the keepers sang on. They didn’t even notice when their own tail feathers were cut, their wing feathers cut. It was a great gathering of flowers, cut, fallen, and collected. The four gourds were quickly filled and were ready at daybreak. 

Soon the messengers appeared and said to the twins, “The Lord Jun Kame orders for you to come, and bring at once what they have won.”

“Very well!” they answered. They took with them the flowers, they took the four gourds when they came before the Lords. Very fragrant flowers they brought.   

So the Xibalbans were defeated again: simple ants sent by the twins, one night alone was enough for them to fill the four gourds. So were all the Xibalbans chastised. The Lords’ faces paled when they saw the flowers, and they instantly sent for the keepers.

“Why did you let our flowers be stolen? These, our flowers. Look at them!” they said to the keepers.

“We didn’t notice, Lord, we didn’t even feel when they cut our tail feathers,” the birds answered. Right away their beaks were slashed off, as punishment for having allowed the theft of what they were guarding. And this is why Xpurpuweq and Pujuy have tiny beaks to this day.




The twins and the Xibalbans went down to the Pok ah’ Tok’ field but played only to a draw. When the game ended, the players agreed on a next one.

“At dawn, again,” the Xibalbans said.

“Very well!” answered the twins, “it shall be done.”

They entered then the House of Ice. The cold was unbearable, hail falling inside, the terrible House of Ice. But through the workings of the twins, through their prowess, the ice melted in an instant. The cold was extinguished. They didn’t die, they were alive when day came. The Xibalbans wanted them to die, but that did not happen; the twins were sound when dawn came. The couriers were already hanging there, waiting, and quickly left bearing the news.

“Why are they not yet dead?” said the Lord of Xibalba. They were all much amazed by what the children Junajpu and Xbalamke could do.

The following night they were pushed into the House of Jaguars, full of those huge spotted panthers, the House of Jaguars.

“You will not eat us! This is what belongs to you,” the twins said to the jaguars. They quickly tossed them a lot of bones and the cats began fighting over them.

“Are they done? Have their hearts been eaten?” wondered one of the watchers.

“They have finally been defeated, I hear their bones shattering,” said another.

Everyone was very happy about this, but the twins were not dead. They came out of the House of Jaguars early the next morning, fine as they were when they went in.

“What sort of people are these? Where do they come from?” asked all the Xibalbans.

Then they had to go into the fire, the House of Fire, where there was nothing inside but thick logs burning like kindling, endless fire. But the twins were not affected there, either, and were perfectly healthy when day came.

They had been expected to die quickly in any of the places they were sent to, but it didn’t turn out that way and the Xibalbans were devastated.

They finally delivered them into the House of Bats, a house full of large, deadly, ferocious flying animals. Their razor-toothed, pointed snouts were instruments of death, they annihilated anything that came before them, instantly. So when the twins went into that house, they were very careful and slept inside their blowpipes.

It wasn’t the bats in the house that took their head. A bat of death came down from above and defeated them, one of them. Though in truth it finally served to show who they really were, and the power they had access to.

All that night the bats were screeching, “Kilitz’ kilitz’!” They kept it up and kept it up, until suddenly the sound stopped. Not one of the bats was moving, then one came and perched on the end of the blowpipe.

Inside, Xbalamke said to her brother, “Junajpu, how much longer do you think it will be till daybreak?”

“Who knows how much longer!” he answered. “I’m going to see!”

Junajpu was anxious for the dawn, so he carefully rose up out of the blowpipe and showed his head. In an instant the bat of death sliced it off and his body lay there limp, decapitated.

“What happened? Hasn’t day come?” asked Xbalamke down below. But Junajpu didn’t move. “What happened? Have you gone, Junajpu? What have you done?”

But Junajpu only wheezed, and never moved.

Xbalamke cried in despair, “Oh, we are defeated!”

Jun Kame and Wuqub Kame ordered the head to be placed on the Pok ah’ Tok’ field, and all the Xibalbans came happily to ogle it and jeer.

Xbalamke, meanwhile, called all the animals: the coati, the wild boar, all the small animals and big animals. During the night, when it was still dark she asked each one, “What is the food each one of you eats? This is my command to you: bring me here whatever you eat!”

“Very well!” they said, and went off to bring a sample of their own. They all came back with their food, some only brought rotten things, some brought leaves from cornstalks, some only stones, others only earth. The small animals and the large ones all had endless kinds of foods, but none was satisfactory.

At last the coati, who had lingered behind, came down pushing something before him. It was a large pumpkin, which he rolled along with his snout.

“This will do very well!” cried Xbalamke, and took it to make a replacement for Junajpu’s head. Uk’u’x Kaj himself, Jun Raqan, descended to the House of Bats and right away they began to carve his eyes. The brain, so he could think, Uk’ux Kaj brought from Heaven. And although it was not easy to complete the face, it turned out very well. The skin took on a lovely appearance, and he came to speak.

By then dawn was coming, the horizon was tinting red.

“Grandfather, Grandfather, make it dark again!” Xbalamke and Uk’ux Kaj begged the deity of the dawn.

“Very well!” said the ancient one and spread soot across the sky. It went dark again, as if it were truly the night.

Four times more the grandfather painted the horizon with soot. People say now, “The possum is painting with soot,” when the horizon is tinted red and blue, in memory of this happening.

“Is it all right?” they asked Junajpu finally.

“Yes, it’s very good!” he answered, and began rolling his head as if it were truly real. Then they made their plans and agreed on certain points.

“Maybe you shouldn’t really play, just pretend; I will throw and block and kick and do everything,” Xbalamke told him. Then she called a hare to her side and instructed it: “You will wait there, in the middle of the tomato patch at the edge of the playing field, hidden from sight. When the ball bounces into the patch,” she continued, “you run out on the field right away; I will do the rest.” The hare acknowledged its instructions and waited out the rest of the night close by.

Dawn finally came, and there were the twins, in good health once again. When they came out to play, Junajpu’s head had already been placed above the marker of the Pok ah’ Tok’ field.

“We have won! You are finished! Give up! You are defeated!” the Xibalbans yelled at them.

Junajpu laughed and called out, “Throw that head down as a ball. It feels no pain, we will knock it about ourselves,” he said.

The Lords of Xibalba quickly threw the head, now a ball, and Xbalamke leapt out to intercept it. The ball hit directly against her girdle, she whirled and sent it out of the playing field. It bounced once, twice and reached the tomato patch; the hare came out instantly and went hopping away down the field, with the Xibalban players after it. A whole noisy mob jumped up and ran chasing the hare, in the end all the Xibalbans.

Right away the twins went to rescue Junajpu’s head from the tomato patch and put Xbalamke’s pumpkin dummy in its place.  Junajpu’s head was now his real head, and the twins were very happy.

Meanwhile, the Xibalbans were still out looking for the ball. The twins stepped from the tomato patch onto the playing field with the pumpkin-head ball and called to them: “Come back! We have found the ball, here it is!” They were bouncing it about when the Xibalbans returned.

“Where was it? How could we not see it at all?” they complained. The four began to play again, and the score was tied for both sides. Then Xbalamke aimed the pumpkin at a spot before the Lords, and it split open when it hit the ground. The pumpkin seeds flew out into the light there in front of them.

“What is this? Where did they get it? Who brought it to them?” asked the Xibalbans. And thus the Lords of Death were defeated by Junajpu and Xbalamke. The children were subjected to great trials, but did not die despite everything that was done to them.



Chapter 10 Children will be children


Junajpu and Xbalamke were also flutists and singers, and did many wondrous things while they lived with their mother and grandmother.  Little by little they began to show the ladies what they were capable of, what they really were.

The first thing they did was the incident with the milpa.  “We are going to plant the milpa, mother dear, grandmother dear,” they said.  “Don’t be sad, we are here, your young ones, instead of our older brothers.  We will work the milpa.”

The very next day the twins took their ax and their hoe and went to the fields, and they took their blowpipes as well.  As they were leaving the house, they asked their grandmother to take them lunch: “At noon, granny dear, please bring it.”

“Very well, my children,” answered Ixmukane.

But they truly did no work at all, because they just came to the field and sank the hoe into the ground, and the hoe began to work on its own.  The ax, too, they simply chopped one time into the tree trunk and it went on cutting branches and vines.  Piles of trees grew under the blade of one lone ax.

As for the hoe, it turned over the soil of acres.  The amount of brush and thorns the one hoe dug up, was beyond measure as it went on over hills and mountains.

Then Junajpu and Xbalamke instructed a bird, called Xmuqur.  They set him high on a tree stump and said: “Just keep an eye out for our grandmother, who is coming to bring us our lunch. You sing out when you see her coming, then we will grab the ax and the hoe.”

“Very well,” answered Xmuqur.

While their tools worked themselves, the twins spent the day hunting for birds with their blowpipes.  They didn’t work the milpa field at all.

But when Xmuqur sang out, they came back right away; Junajpu picked up the ax, Xbalamke took up the hoe.  They tied bands across their foreheads, Xbalamke rubbed dirt into her hands and face like a true laborer.  As for Junajpu, he sprinkled wood splinters over his head to seem like a real woodcutter.  So Ixmukane found them when she arrived with the food, and they all ate heartily.

They didn’t deserve to have their lunch brought to them, as they hadn’t worked a bit on the cornfield.

They went home and said: “We’re really tired, grandmother,” and rubbed their legs and stretched their arms while she was watching.  However, the following day they went back to the field and everything had returned to its previous wild condition, trees and vines standing, brush and thornbushes entwined.

The twins were angry, and wondered who could be playing tricks on them.

It was actually the animals who were doing this, animals large and small: the puma, the jaguar, the deer, the hare, the fox, the coyote, the boar, the raccoon; the little birds and big birds did it all, during the night.

So the twins had to do it all over again, or rather their tools did, plow the field and chop down the trees.  They pondered, as they watched the ax and the hoe at work.  “We should keep a watch all night on our milpa.  Whoever is doing this, we’ll catch them in the act,” they decided.  

They went home and told their mother and grandmother what had happened.  “Someone is playing tricks on us, mothers.  When we got there this morning, our milpa had turned back into meadow and forest.  So we’re going back now, we’ll hide and keep watch all night, because this is totally unfair, what they’re doing to us,” they said.

They got ready and went back to the field they had cleared of brush and trees.  They hid themselves and waited, and after a while the animals started coming together, all the animals large and small.

The heart of night was rising when the animals came, all of them speaking in their own languages, saying: “Rise up, trees!  Rise up, vines!”  The twins leaped out to grab the animals, who hid under the eaves of the trees and in the tangles of vines.

At the front were the puma and the jaguar, the twins tried to catch them but couldn’t.  Then the deer and the hare sped by, and the twins managed to grab their tails but the animals did not stop, and rather left their tails in the children’s hands.  And this is why the deer and the hare have such short tails.

The fox, the coyote, the boar and the raccoon didn’t allow themselves to be captured, either.  All the animals paraded past Junajpu and Xbalamke, whose hearts burned with fury because they couldn’t catch anyone.

Finally the last animal passed, jumping along.  They caught the mouse instantly and throttled him by the neck.  They put the poor beast to torment, strangling him, and then burned his tail over the fire.  Since then, the mouse has no hair on his tail, and his eyes seem to pop out of their sockets like when the twins were choking the life out of him.

“I am not meant to die by your hand!” the mouse squealed. “And it is not your place to be planting corn.  Over there, lies hidden what is meant for you.”

“What is meant for us?  Tell us, now,” Junajpu and Xbalamke said to the mouse.

“Why don’t you let me go?” said the mouse.  “I have a message inside me, and I will tell you right away, as soon as you give me some food.”

“We’ll give you your food afterwards, speak first,” they said.

“Very well!” the little mouse said.  “It is not your given work to till the land as farmers, but to take up your fathers’ implements for Pok ah’ Tok’ and to learn and master the game. Your fathers, Jun Junajpu and Wuqub Junajpu, so they were called, who died in Xibalba, left their playing gear tied up among the rafters of the house: their wide belts, their arm protectors, and their ball.  But your grandmother has never shown them to you because they are the reason your fathers died.”

“Is this really true?” the twins questioned the mouse closely.

Their hearts were bursting with joy when they heard the news about the playing gear and the game.  After the mouse had spoken his piece, the twins said: “This is your food that will be assigned to you forever: corn, pumpkin seeds, chile, beans, brown cacao and white.  This is for you!  If there is anything stored or left to waste, it is yours also.  Eat it!”

The mouse then had to help them retrieve the gear Jun Junajpu and Wuqub Junajpu had left hidden high in the rafters of the house, before departing for Xibalba.  But this had to be done in secrecy, because they knew it would cause their grandmother great sorrow, and their mother, worry. 

“What if your granny sees me, young ones?” the mouse worried.

“She won’t,” said the twins.  “We’ll handle her and our mother.  Listen closely: when we get to the house, we’re going to put you up on the wall so you can get to where the gear is hanging.  We will see you from inside, through the hole in the loft, when we look down at the broth in our bowls sitting at the table.”  The twins and the mouse went over the plan all night, and arrived home at midday.

They hid the mouse well.  Junajpu went straight into the house, Xbalamke went around the side and quickly slipped the mouse up into the wall, then went in and took her place at the table.  They asked their grandmother, “Will you please fill our bowls with red broth, granny dear?”  Ixmukane and Ixkik’ quickly took tomatoes and peppers and ground them into the broth, then filled two bowls and set them before the children.

The twins pretended to eat, but suddenly felt a great thirst and asked for water.  Ixmukane went to the jug, but the children had made the water evaporate and she found the jug empty.

“Oh, we are so thirsty,” they moaned, “please get us some water from the stream, granny.”

“Very well,” she said, and went out to the river.

The twins ate slowly, and they actually weren’t even hungry: it was just part of the plot.  Then they suddenly saw the reflection of the mouse in their bowls, where he was hiding behind the ball tied up in the rafters.  Once they saw him in the broth, they sent a Xan, a strong mosquito, to the place at the river where Ixmukane was drawing water.

The Xan with its piercing proboscis drilled a small hole in Ixmukane’s jug, and the water began to dribble out.  She tried to stop up the hole, to no avail.

Back at the house, the twins moved on with their strategy: “I wonder what’s keeping our granny,” said Junajpu.

“We’re dying of thirst, mother dear,” Xbalamke pleaded to Ixkik’ and added, “please get us some water.”  Ixkik’ looked at her children, wondering, and went out to the river.

Right away, the mouse gnawed through the ties and the ball fell through the hole in the loft floor, followed by the belts, the arm protectors, and the short leather skirts.  The twins, in a flash, picked up the playing gear and went to hide it in a spot on the road to the playing field.  Then they went to join their mother and grandmother at the river.

The two women were still there, confounded by the strange hole in the jug, trying to block it up.  The twins arrived, blowpipes on their shoulders, and said, “What happened to you?  We got tired of waiting and came to see.”

“Look at the jug,” Ixmukane said, “it won’t be plugged up.”

“Let’s see,” said the twins, and in an instant the hole was gone.

The whole family walked back home, Junajpu and Xbalamke prancing and clowning and playing herald to their mothers.

The twins, most enchanted with their gear, rewarded the mouse richly, declaring the many different and tasty things he would have as his food, forever.


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