The result is splintering and pulverization for the men and women made of wood. Ending the first part of the story is the appearance of a being called Seven Macaw. There is no introduction of him, nor an explanation for his appearance; but it is clear that he is a vain, boastful creature who presents an immediate and striking contrast to the powerful beings who have attempted to create a humble, prayerful human race. The Hero Twins appear for the first time in the tale. Their names are Hunahpuh and Xbalanque.
Arguably, these are the main characters of Popol Vuh , though the sudden appearances, resurrections, and reincarnations of characters in this story constitute one of the subjects for students to investigate. Not to digress too much, but our Western tradition in literature has accustomed us to a more or less linear plot line, and the accommodations the reader must make to read this tale are among its peculiarities, and something students must resolve, when they analyze plot structure later in the unit. So, the twins decide that Seven Macaw is a threat to order, on account of his vanity and boastfulness.
They decide to kill him.
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They hit him in the jaw with a dart as he climbs a tree, but when he falls from the tree he fights with the boys, ripping Hunahpuh's arm off, and running home to mount the arm as a trophy, and to nurse his sore jaw. If students have read Beowulf, as many in twelfth grade have, the arm story is an interesting twist to the Anglo-Saxon hero's ripping the monster Grendel's arm off as a trophy.
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Invoking their grandparents for help—Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, from the first part of the tale—the twins pose as dentists of sorts, and fool Seven Macaw into having all his teeth pulled, as well as his eyes gouged out. His teeth and eyes had been the source of his boastfulness, inasmuch as their glitter and brightness allowed him to compare himself to the sun.
Having lost his luster, Seven Macaw is defeated , and he dies. The concept of defeat is a major literary theme in the Popol Vuh ; and some students may derive the "morals" of the stories from this recurrent idea. The twins, whose genesis is detailed in the next part, are divine entities, and their behavior throughout the tale blueprints a kind of moral code.
In this story, for example, the students might see that false pride is conduct not only distasteful to the Maya, but in their mythology at least, worthy of death. Also, violence in retribution is so frequent in the tale, that teens will surely be attracted to the Scary Movie motif. To conclude this part of the book, the twins continue their vengeance by destroying the sons of Seven Macaw, Zipacna and Earthquake, two more characters whose behavior is unacceptable.
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In the first case, Zipacna carries a log for boys who want to build a house. The boys conclude that anyone capable of carrying such a weight by himself is not to be trusted, so they trick Zipacna into going into a hole they have him dig for them, and they drop a log onto him. He survives by digging a side tunnel and collapsing the house of the boys, killing them. One mythical element here lies in the fact that the boys become stars in the sky.
But the Hero Twins are outraged at Zipacna's behavior, and they ask him to reach a crab for them to eat in a cave under a mountain.
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Once there, the twins cause the mountain to slide down on Zipacna, killing him and turning him into stone. The mythical element here is that Zipacna is known to the Maya as the deity who creates mountains. The whole family's having been defeated for their improper behavior supports the status of the twins as heroes. The idea of heroics is another theme developed in the story, and one which can be readily explored by students, namely asking what the characteristics of a hero might be, how we traditionally see heroes, and asking whether or not these two fit the category in our terms.
The third part of the Popol Vuh is by far the most extensive and complex of the 5 parts, but also the most engaging for kids. There is plenty of action—bloodletting, comedy, and competition. However, I think students whose team handles this part should be the type of student whose ability and motivation to stay with a longer, more complex text is already apparent.
The additional challenge of this reading is more related to its length than to its complexity, but there are plenty of students who are daunted easily by the challenge of a long assignment. In this part, there are many adventurous episodes involving the twins. The narrative structure is maybe best compared to the structure of a book like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , in that it has many of the qualities of a picaresque novel, both for the fact that it reads episodically, and that it involves heroes who are satiric, and who foil the plans of those in established positions of authority.
The heroes, of course, are the twins, Hunahpuh and Xbalanque, and the authority figures are the Lords of Xibalba, or the underworld—a set of particularly hateful and disgusting deities.
Before these stories get underway however, the reader is once again jolted out of the accustomed linear plot progression, and given the genealogy of the twins. In a nutshell, we are reintroduced to the grandmother and grandfather, Xpiyacoc and Xmucane, and their sons, One and Seven Hunahpu, who debuted in the first part of the story.
One and Seven Hunahpu are ball-players. The Ancient Maya played competitively with a real rubber ball on a court, pictures of which will be provided to students at an appropriate time. Their ball playing disturbs the Lords of Xibalba, who send a messenger to the upper world with an invitation for the boys to come for a pickup game, which they accept. What the evil lords want are the uniforms and gear of the brothers. Lacking cleverness, One and Seven Hunahpu enter the underworld and are tricked into a few torturous scenarios by the evil Xibalban lords.
Failing to negotiate their way through the last trick, the two brothers are killed by the Lords. One Hunahpu's head is removed and thrown into a tree, which immediately grows fruit. One interesting mythological feature here is that the calabash tree yields a fruit that looks like a human head, which the Maya would instantly have connected to their origin.
The Lords forbid anyone to touch the fruit of this tree—an interesting connection might be made for some students to the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden! One of the evil lords has a daughter named Blood Moon who talks to the skull of One Hunahpu. The skull spits into her hand and she becomes pregnant. Her father orders her killed, but she convinces the executioners to spare her.
She emerges in the upper world and seeks out her mother-in-law, who, after being convinced that Blood Moon is indeed carrying her son's children, takes her in. She gives birth to the Hero Twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. This genealogy given, the story picks up with the twins competing for attention with their half-brothers, One Monkey and One Artisan. The twins literally make monkeys out of their half-brothers, even though the younger boys try to rectify their mistake.
They become, in the mythology, prototypical tree monkeys. The boys trick their grandmother into leaving the house, so that they can get their hands on a ball and some ball playing "uniforms" which she had put out of reach, having lost two sons to ball playing already. At this point, the boys have to endure a series of tricks a few of which their father was subjected to; but they outwit the evil lords at every turn.
It becomes increasingly clear that cleverness is a highly-valued personality trait to the Maya. The boys learn the names of the evil Lords by using a mosquito emissary. Knowing their names upon entry to Xibalba gives them an advantage, and an initial power that their father failed to secure. This plot element has high relevance to high schoolers, if they read it as the triumph of youth over their parents—another theme that emerges in this tale. In the Bat House, one of the locales for the Lords' tricks, the twin Hunahpu makes a mortal mistake when he peeks out of his hiding place in his blowgun to see if dawn has come.
He literally loses his head on account of sloppy thinking. The Xibalbans believe they have won, take Hunahpu's head as a trophy, and look forward to defeating his brother in the planned grudge match. But clever Xbalanque summons a group of animals and asks them to bring their food to him.
The coati a kind of raccoon rolls a squash to Xbalanque, who fixes it onto his brother's body as a head. He warns his pumpkin-headed brother to avoid playing ball on the court, and instructs a rabbit to run after a ball he will kick out of the court, so that he can pull a switcheroo with his brother's head.
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He reattaches Hunahpu's head to his body, but their days are numbered. When the Lords return from the chase, they are furious at finding the boys whole again, and it becomes clear that the brothers will be killed. The boys consult two prophets, who are really Xipyacoc and Xmucane, their great grandparents in disguise, and arrange for the burned, crushed remains of the twins to be thrown into a river, where they are reconstituted. They return to Xibalba, when the evil lords learn of this magic, but they return unrecognized as the twins.
The boys entertain the Xibalbans with their magic, and ultimately trick them. They take turns killing each other as a magic feat, and then bring themselves back to life.