The Maya used the stars to help them keep track of time. They especially watched for the Morning Star, which we know is the planet Venus, but they associated with the god Hunahpu. When it rose in the early morning sky ahead its brother Xbalanque, the Sun, they knew it was time to plant their fields again because the gods would soon send rain. In this story, a young Maya boy wonders about the creation of the first humansand how the gods have been providing for his people ever since.
Aj Kun Aya crouches in the near silence of the darkness and stares towards the east. The acrid smell of smoke lingers on the heavy mist, left behind by the late evening showers of the night before. The forest is freshly burned. Beneath the moist ashes the dirt is black. Poking the earth with a dibble stick today would be easy, should the gods appoint today the moment to plant. He is awaiting the return of Hunahpu in the morning sky. If the god’s star appears, it will be the signal to sow the first of the year’s crop. But already the sky in the east is growing blue, and the screaming monkeys have awoken the birds. The god has not returned.
The boy rises, kicks a clump of the moist dirt with his toe. His father’s voice pierces the stillness.
“We will wait another day, Kun Awa. It is not yet time. The gods know better than we do the proper moment to plant.”
The pair moves silently toward the ring of unburned forest around the perimeter of the
family’s milpa. The rains have not started in earnest. There is still time to plant. The gods will not let the people starve.
Kun Aya, follows his father silently through the trees. The words of the ancient story the priest made the children memorize roll through Kun Aya’s mind. They show how important maize is to the gods and the people they created. Hunahpu will return.
Slowly, syllable by syllable, the story unfolds. In his minds eye Kun Aya imagines the skinny high priest, draped only in his loin cloth maxtlatl sitting on the raised platform in the center room of temple residence. The priest’s wrinkled face turned toward him. He seemed to speak directly to Kun Aya.
“When the great gods Itzamná, the Bearer and Begetter, and the Plumed Serpent finished creating the beautiful sky-earth and lake-sea, and had filled the forests and the valleys with animals and birds, and the lakes and the oceans with fish, they stepped back and listened. They waited for the creatures, the plants, the mountains, and the rivers to sing their praises, and give them sustenance. But they heard only silence from the mountains touching the sky, the endless babble of the rivers, the nonsensical chatter of the birds and the howling of the animals. These creations could not worship the gods. Who would harvest the maize, and mark the passage of the stars through the heavens?
Disappointed in their creation, the gods counsel one another. They decided to make people. So the gods gathered sturdy boughs from the forest and fashioned people out of wood. The gods gave their wooden people eyes to watch the stars, the sun, and the moon. They gave them arms and legs with which to plant. They gave them mouths and voices to sing of their creators’ goodness. And the people of wood walked about. They talked and they peopled the earth with their children. Their sons and daughters multiplied. But soon the gods noticed their creations’ empty hearts. They forgot their duty to the gods. They sang no songs of praise. They marked no days. They left the gods without food. The gods’ first attempt to create people failed.
Angry, the gods sent a great flood to destroy the people of wood. They set all the creatures of the earth against them. The dogs clawed their skin, and the birds pecked at their eyes. Even the grinding stones, the metates and manos, crushed their faces. They left no person alive.
And the days passed. The time of harvesting the maize approached. The gods knew they must hurry, for though they needed someone to worship them, and to praise their names, they were growing hungry.
Again the gods tried. They gathered up the rich dark clay that lay in the beds of the rivers and modeled people of clay. They set their creation down on the river bank, but the clay would not hold together. The creatures’ heads sagged. Their faces were ugly. Their flesh crumbled, and their limbs fell apart. Worst of all, the people made of clay had no voices to praise the gods. Their eyes could not see the gifts the gods provided for them. So the people of clay melted back into the river beds.
The gods wrung their hands, and rubbed their bellies as the dawn of the appointed day for harvesting approached and still there was no one to gather the maize. Their bellies grumbled.
The gods put their heads together once again and spoke in quiet voices. What kind of people could satisfy their needs? What kind of people would stand up strong, give praise to the gods for creation, and feed them?
Even as the gods whispered to one another, the coyote, the parrot, the fox, and the crow watched as the maize grew taller and plumper, nearing ripeness in the distant mountains at Paxal. The faithful animals gathered a few ripe kernels of corn and brought them to the gods. Then the gods knew what they had to do.
They ground the white and shaped it into bones. With ground yellow corn, they made flesh to cover the bones. The scooped clear cold water into their creations’ mouths and it became blood. They formed people of maize.
These people stood up strong and tall. They looked around, marveling at all that the gods had made. They watched the stars move through the sky, and they counted the days. With their songs they praised the gods. And they harvested the maize. The gods sat back. Soon their bellies would be full. Soon they could rest.”
In front of him Kua Aya’s father pauses. He stoops low and dips his hands into the flowing river. This is the water they will use to grow their maize once it is planted. Kun Aya drops to his knees and cups his hands. The water speeds past making his hands dance in the river. He drinks also and smiles. He imagines how the gods must have cupped their hands and poured water down the throats of the first maize people. How sweet that first drink must have tasted. Kun Aya smiles. How delicious the first maize harvest must have tasted to the hungry gods.