To the Maya the monkey is a divine creature --
Monkeys represent the sacred, the underworld and
a man of an earlier creation. The Maya adoration of the monkey is
based on the creation myths.
Long ago, men were made of wood. The wood people were punished by
being destroyed, and those few who managed to survive, became monkeys.
The gods refused to give up and then created a man made of maize (corn)
In one version of the Popol Vuh -- Hero Twins named
Hunahpu and Xbalanque were the Hero Twins. These Hero Twins had
an earlier set of brothers: a Howler Monkey and a Spider Monkey.
These older brothers were accomplished artists and
dancers. But they were also envious of their younger brothers, for
they knew that their younger brothers would become the Hero Twins.
One day the older brothers took their younger brothers
to hunt for birds with the intention of harming them. The older
brothers climbed a tree that (through magical powers) knew of the
evil intentions, The tree began to grow taller and taller, lifting
the older brothers closer to the heavens.
The tree grew so high up that the older brothers were
unable to climb down again. They loosened their clothes and tried
to climb down but their loincloths became tails and they were changed
into monkeys. The younger set of brothers ran to their grandmother.
When they brought her back to the scene, the older
brothers, now turned into a Howler Monkey and a Spider Monkey, began
to shake the limbs of the tree violently.
|When the Hero Twins began to play a flute
and beat a drum that the monkeys calmed down and began to dance. They
climbed down the tree and followed their younger brothers back home.
monkeys were so funny that the younger brothers and grandmother
laughed. Their feelings hurt at being laughed at, the monkeys ran
away to the forest to live high in the trees forever. Throughout
Maya villages in the highlands (Chiapas, Tabasco and Guatemala)
men dress up as monkeys to do funny dances and perform mischief.
Monkeys are often associated with the sacred and
the divine. Monkeys are shown on pottery in scenes of the underworld
Maya monkeys live high in the forest canopy, outside of Cancun and Cozumel, suspended between the earth
and the heavens. They can easily come and go between the ground
and the highest point of the rain forest.
In the Temple of the Inscriptions in Palenque, the
Sarcophagus Cover shows Pacal descending into the Underworld. On
his belt is an image of a monkey.
There are two kinds of monkeys common in the Mexico
Maya area: spider and howler.
The spider monkey, with wiry, long limbs is a joyous creature.
is capable of many expressions and his disposition is kind. The howler
monkey has less of an expression and its howls sound like someone crying.
One Spider Monkey may be associated more with laughter and pranks, life
and joy, while the Howler Monkey may be associated more with seriousness
and work and duty. Spider monkeys laugh. Howler monkeys cry.