When Now I want to tell you how the natural course of MesoAmerican history ground to a sudden and terrible halt, broken and forever transformed into one of the great shames of humanity. When the first Europeans (not counting the Vikings, some five centuries before) made land on a small island in the Caribbean, the resident Mesoamerican cultures were ascending in curves of splendor.  All of them, both the islanders and those on the mainland and isthmus that are the Caribbean basin I spoke of, before… that keeps the ocean current  warm from the African desert, from dissolving out into the Pacific Ocean… all these cultures were thriving and evolving.  There were different forms of social organization, from wide-flung empires to coexisting city-states, to tribes located on ancestral territories. 

They were nations of farmers and weavers and potters, artists and star-gazers and mathematicians, merchants and travelers and scribes; there were kings and queens and priests and, yes, warriors.  They had developed corn, or maize, the base of their food; chocolate, avocados, tomatoes, many types of squash, beans, peppers of varying firepower, amaranth, prickly pear, many different tree-fruits, some sweet and some sharp…

They worshipped the heavenly bodies and the forces of nature, considered themselves children of their mother the earth, and kept a strict and exact count of time, precise calendars with deep insight into the meanings of days.   

There have been some interested parties, way back when and still not long ago, who claimed the societies here had fallen into decadence.  This is absolutely false and has long been discarded from serious research.  Other claims included that the populace were not actually people, at least until they had been baptized; or that the “true” Mayas had disappeared mysteriously, having built and then abandoned their great stone cities in the jungles.  One of the more colorful assertions was that they were actually extraterrestrial in origin, which goes hand in hand with sureties that they were the ancient lost tribes of biblical mention, or lost Greeks, or lost Phoenicians, or anything rather than a legitimate people with history, identities and developing processes of their own.  Because how does one invade and murder and oppress a legitimate people, how can one seize their land and enslave them and erase their beliefs?

So death and destruction came to this great continent aboard three little ships, followed later by thousands more; and the amount of wealth pillaged and taken back to Europe is so vast that in modern financial terms there is not enough money circulating in the world to pay it back in fair restitution, with interests set at normal present figures.

But I digress.  The point is that the natural evolution of the world view, and the myths, of most Mesoamerican cultures vanished into the fires of the Christian conversion.  A very few literary works survived, two of them in my own Guatemala: one is a dance-drama commemorating a victorious military outcome and the other is our national book, although it belongs more precisely to the Maya-K’iche’ nation.

This wonderful work is called Popol Wuj, freely translatable as Book of the Council, and is composed of the origin myths, on one hand, and then the history/legend which tells of the coming of the K’iche’ people.  I would like to share with you the stories of how the world began and of all that happened before the creation of the people of corn.  

Even after five hundred years, we of mixed blood and heritage still cannot but feel like grateful guests, at best, because in spite of all the fire and sorrow, this land still belongs in trust to a living people. 

The lovely islands of the Caribbean suffered the impact of the European arrival, its beautiful people hunted to extinction.  Then the killers moved on to the mainland: until nothing was left of its kingdoms and their cities; only the land, and some slaves to work it.  Few people survived, they embraced the Christian faith in name and learned enough of the language to understand the orders given; but in the bare refuge of their homes, they kept the language alive and perhaps some memory of ancient times and gods and heroes.