Like other Mesoamerican people, the traditional Mayas recognize in their staple crop, maize, a vital force with which they strongly identify.
The discovery and opening of the Maize Mountain – the place where the corn seeds are hidden – is still one of the most popular of Maya tales. In the Classic period (200-900 AD), the maize deity shows aspects of a culture hero.
Female and male maize deities
In Mayan oral tradition, corn is usually personified as a woman – like rice in Southeast Asia, or wheat in ancient Greece and Rome.
The acquisition of this woman through bridal capture constitutes one of the basic Mayan myths. In contrast to this, the pre-Spanish Mayan aristocracy appears to have primarily conceived of maize as male.
The classic period distinguished two male forms: a foliated (leafy) maize god and a tonsured one. The foliated god is present in the so-called maize tree (Temple of the Foliated Cross, Palenque), its cobs being shaped like the deity’s head.
A male maize deity representing the foliated type and labeled God E is present in the three extant Maya books of undisputed authenticity.
Whereas the foliated maize god is a one-dimensional vegetation spirit, the tonsured maize god’s functions are much more diverse.
When performing ritually, the latter typically wears a netted jade skirt and a belt with a large spondylus shell covering the loins.
On stelae, it is a queen rather than a king that tends to represent the tonsured maize god. The queen thus appears as a maize goddess, in accordance with the Mayan narrative traditions mentioned above.
Late pre-classic and classic Mayan maize mythology
Many classic Mayan paintings, particularly those on vases, testify to the existence of rich mythology centered on the tonsured maize god.
The late pre-classic murals of San Bartolo demonstrate its great antiquity. Several theories, with varying degrees of ethnographic support, have been formulated to account for episodes such as the corn deity’s resurrection from a turtle, his canoe voyage, and his transformation into a cacao tree.
Popol Vuh twin myth extension
The tonsured maize god is often accompanied by the hero twins.
Following Karl Taube, many scholars (such as Michael D. Coe) believe that the resurrected tonsured maize god of the classic period corresponds to the father of the hero twins in the Popol Vuh called Hun-Hunahpu.
However, this generally accepted identification has also been contested.
Cosmological creation myth
Linda Schele’s emphasis on creation has led to a series of interconnected hypotheses all involving the cosmological centrality of the tonsured maize god (or “first father“), to wit: his establishment of the so-called “three-stone hearth” (assumed to represent a constellation); his raising of the world tree; his “dance of creation“; and his stance as an acrobat, which (more or less coinciding with representations of a crocodile tree) seems to evoke the central world tree.
The maize god’s presence in the San Bartolo arrangement of five world trees has been interpreted as his establishment of the world.
Another theory, formulated by Simon Martin, focuses on the tonsured maize god’s interaction with an aged jaguar deity of trade, God L.
This interaction is related to the hero’s transformation into a cacao tree conceived as a “trophy tree.” God L is assumed to have presided over the dry season dedicated to long-distance trade, warfare, and the cacao harvest, and the Tonsured Maize God over the wet season and the growth of the maize.
The onset of the two seasons is thought to be symbolized by the defeat of the maize deity and of God L, respectively.
Gulf Coast myth
In many scenes, an aquatic environment strongly comes to the fore, most famously in the maize deity’s resurrection from the carapace of a turtle that is floating on the waters.
Braakhuis pointed out that such an environment also characterizes an important maize myth shared by many ethnic groups (such as Huaxtecs, Totonacs, Nahuas, and Zoques) inhabiting Mexico’s Gulf Coast.
The fact that this myth focuses on a male, rather than a female maize deity, while at the same time establishing an intimate connection between the maize god and the turtle, is adduced in support of the idea that the classic Mayas once formed part of the same narrative tradition.
More, in particular, the Pre-Classic San Bartolo Mayan maize deity dancing with a turtle drum amidst aquatic deities may have a connection with a Zoque (Popoluca) version of the Gulf Coast maize myth.
Names and calendar functions
Several designations for the pre-Spanish maize god occur in the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel. They include ah mun (tender green shoot) and zac uac nal (white six new corn) or uac chuaac nal (six tall new corn).
In the wake of Schele, the tonsured maize god (hypothetically equated with Hun-Hunahpu) has often been nicknamed “first father.”
The classic name of the tonsured maize god, which usually includes the numeral “One“, is not known with certainty. Schele’s “Hun-Nal-Ye” used to be popular; more recently, “Ixim” (maize grains) and “Nal” (wet ear of corn) are being considered.
In a general sense, corn relates to the day Q’an (ripe or ripeness). The appearance of the tonsured maize god is connected to the base date of the Long Count, 4 Ahau 8 Cumku.
The head of the tonsured maize god serves to denote the number 1, that of the foliated maize god the number 8. The tonsured maize god is sometimes found associated with the lunar crescent and may, therefore, have played a role in the divisions of the lunar count; his head seems to occur in glyph C of the Lunar Series.
*This article was originally published at en.wikipedia.org.