Animals who can light up their bodies at night, birds who sing like gods, and others who announce omens, are some of the legends, product of the imagination of the Maya, that have endured until today. Would you like to hear about them? Prepare yourself for a journey that will allow you to learn the language of the birds, the voices of the animals, and to be part of the stories of the Mayab.

For the Maya, natural-born observers of nature, it only took a moment of relaxing under a shady tree, carefully listening to the sounds of the wind… and mixing up a bit of reality with lots of imagination…to create unique stories that were told over and over, finally reaching our own ears.

Let start with the xkokolché (nightingale) legend, a bird that because of its opaque and ashen-colored plumage, was rejected and assigned the domestic labors at the house of the chacdzizib (cardinal), who stood out because of his beautiful red feathers. When the cardinal decided to learn to sing, his parents hired the Slate-colored solitaire as a teacher, without having great results. But in secret, from the kitchen, the xkokolché learned the lessons and each night she delighted the animals with her wonderful voice. One night, the mockingbird discovered the nightingale and decided to release her, and this is how she became the bird with the most beautiful voice in the Mayab. So if you hear a bird singing that absolutely delights you, it must surely be the xkokolché.

If you have spent a night in the countryside and have seen a spark of a light moving in the grass, it’s the cocay (firefly). Do you want to know the story about the origin of its light? A long time ago there was a beloved man who could heal the sicknesses of all who went to consult with him, just by rubbing a green stone. One day the stone was lost, so he gathered together the deer, the hare, the buzzard and the cocay to help him find it. With great concentration, the cocay searched patiently in every corner and every cave, while the hare ran around so quickly and the buzzard flew so high that they couldn’t find it. Instead, the deer found it, but his ambition made him swallow it so he could be the one to heal everybody. However, he couldn’t keep it down. Finally, the cocay found the stone and gave it back. The grateful healer showed him that he now he had a light that emanated from his body, representing his noble feelings and the brightness of his intelligence, that would stay with him always to guide him on his way. Beautiful!

Another mysterious bird that is always by himself and wanders among the towns is the tunkuluchú (owl). Respected by the other birds for his prudence and serenity, he was invited to a royal party. Under the effects of the balché (a mildly intoxicating beverage), he was harassed by a man who pulled out his feathers and pinched his feet, causing laughter and taunts from the other birds. Ashamed, he swore revenge. Taking advantage of his great sense of smell, ever since then he stands close to the places where he smells that someone is about to die, and sings in order to scare men. That’s why it is said that when the tunkuluchú sings, a man dies.

Maya legends that must have awakened your imagination! We are sure that you will now remember them whenever you see a nightingale, an owl or a firefly.

By Violeta H. Cantarell

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