Over Distant Waters: Places of Origin and Creation in Colonial K'iche'an Sources

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Mesoamerican myths of origin typically involve the concept of migration. Colonial sources and modern oral traditions of Aztec, Maya and other Mesoamerican groups relate that the people made the journey into their current territory from a distant place of creation on a route that involved several stages of travel.

This paper will explore the concepts of origin places in Colonial K’iche’an text sources from Highland Guatemala. The accounts of origin places in the K’iche’an sources have thus far been interpreted literally, which led to various suppositions about the historical basis and actual geographical setting of these locations. Combining comparative ethnohistoric, ethnographic, and precolonial evidence from various types of sources, it will be argued that in the references to places and directions of origin historicity is subordinate to ideology. It can be shown that the concept of migration and origin has become an independent topos which on the one hand functions within the framework of Maya cosmology and relates to creation as the central paradigm of Maya mythology, and on the other hand acts as a principal means of legitimizing power by deriving authority from remote supreme centers.

The analysis will focus on the interpretation of the metaphor “on the other side of the sea” which can be demonstrated to refer to a place of creation, a concept which may have deep roots in the cultural memory of the Mesoamerican past and calls for a re-analysis of Mesoamerican migration myths.