During his visit to Nojpeten in 1696, Fray Andrés de Avendaño reported observing the Itzá Maya worshipping a stone column called yax cheel cab (the first tree of the world). Though claiming to recognize the yax cheel cab from depictions in pre-Hispanic Maya codices, Avendaño notes that the Itzá “want it to be understood that they give homage to it because this is the tree of whose fruit our first father Adam ate.” As no known pre-Hispanic source uses the term yax cheel cab, how are we to interpret Avendaño's report? Based on iconographic as well as primary textual sources from the Postclassic through Colonial periods written in Maya and Spanish, we document the transformation of pre-Hispanic Maya tree symbolism in response to contemporaneous European Christian myth and cosmology. We argue that, though having roots in pre-Hispanic iconography and practices millennia deep, the yax cheel cab known from the documentary record is a colonial amalgam, a world tree at the center of a hybrid cosmology emerging over the course of over a century and a half from processes of direct as well as indirect dialogue between Mayas and Europeans.
Research Article|October 01 2010
Hybrid Cosmologies in Mesoamerica: A Reevaluation of the Yax Cheel Cab, a Maya World Tree
Ethnohistory (2010) 57 (4): 709-739.
Timothy W. Knowlton, Gabrielle Vail; Hybrid Cosmologies in Mesoamerica: A Reevaluation of the Yax Cheel Cab, a Maya World Tree. Ethnohistory 1 October 2010; 57 (4): 709–739. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2010-042
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