This book is a work of accomplished and responsible scholarship, and a considerable contribution to Mayan studies, involving the translation and editing of the transcription of various Yucatecan documents by Don Juan Pío Pérez in Ticul in 1837, and the transcription of that made by Ermilo Solís Alcalá in Mérida in 1926 and published in 1949. The larger part of the manuscript has been identified as the Book of chilam Balam of Maní, and much of it is parallel to the content of the Books of Chumayel, Ixil, Kaua, and Tizimin. The editors have endeavored primarily to make the Spanish translations of Pío Pérez and Solís Alcalá available in English, and in that they have succeeded admirably. It is perhaps regrettable that the Mayan text is not confronted or published, but we are given extensive notes, competently drawn from the very scattered commentaries on the manuscript.
Inevitably, perhaps, in the task of secondary translation, there are flaws. Pío Pérez was a pioneer in the study of the documents, and Solís Alcalá is not always right in his attempts to elucidate them. There is a somewhat indiscriminate use of “authorities,” ranging from J. Eric S. Thompson, Ralph L. Roys, and Alfredo Barrera Vásquez to Charles Bowditch and Maude w. Makemson, and the handling of both Mayan linguistics and calendrics leaves much to be desired. Even where I believe the editors to be really wrongheaded, however, I find their suggestions thoughtful and interesting. Specialists may have to continue to resort to the original manuscripts, but there is enough meat here to merit slow munching by specialists, as well as by those nonspecialists who can profit from a clear and reasonable presentation of the esoteric world of Mayan prophecy. Arguments will certainly continue about the meaning of these very difficult texts, but an intelligent and accessible English version is more than welcome. And that is what we have here.
The content of the work is astrological, astronomical, prophetic, historical, folkloric, literary, linguistic, ethnographic, iconographic, and epigraphic. The illustrations are well done and useful, and there is a helpful index. None of the “contributors” to the volume—the editors, Eugene R. Craine and Reginald C. Reindorp, or their precursors, Pío Pérez and Solís Alcalá—has a clear enough appreciation of the Mayan tradition, literary, linguistic, and cosmological, to deal adequately with the multiple problems presented. There is no awareness, for example, of the way that Mayan thought collapsed the fall of Mayapán, the Spanish conquest, and late colonial history into a single framework, almost a single event. The result is that the present version of the Maní is a misleading guide to Mayan history. The ambiguities of the twenty-four-year katun constitute a solvable riddle, but it is not solved here.
In sum, Craine and Reindorp have produced a work of notable erudition and value. If it falls short of being definitive, that is by their choice. What they have attempted is both worthwhile and very difficult. They and the University of Oklahoma Press are to be congratulated.