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A Glimpse Into Maya Worldview: Turtles and Corn

23 january 2023
3 min. de lectura

As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, I had the privilege of growing up alongside the Milpa’s crops. My grandpa and my dad grew corn for many years; so the cornfields and their harvest were very special to me during my childhood and teenage years. But it was only years later that I began to learn their deeper meaning. Let me tell you about it...  


The Popol Wuj (the book written by the K’iche’ Maya of Guatemala that tells the story of creation) says that - after making all the animals and plants - the gods tried their hand at creating human life. For their first attempt, they used clay, but it absorbed too much water and dissolved. After, the gods tried to use wood, but because these new humans did not worship the gods, they floated away with the first flood. It wasn’t until they used corn that human life was created successfully. Yucatán, like the whole Maya region, is the land of people made from corn, a sacred food.  


One of my favorite stories in this book is the one about the twins Hunahpú and Ixbalanqué that went down to Xibalbá to face the gods of the underworld. The gods were angry because the twins had been playing the ball game (Juego de la Pelota) on the earthly plane. After passing all kinds of tests and showcasing their gifts to the gods, they were able to revive their father: Hun Hunahpú. What I love about this story is that the god of corn came back to life by emerging from a turtle shell. In the image on the plate of Petén, Guatemala (600-800 bC), the Maya artists illustrated that story. Hunahpú (left) and Ixbalanqué (right) transformed into the sun and the moon after this event.  


When I learned of this, I started to tell the story in the Maya villages of southeastern Yucatán that neighbored the ranch I grew up in. They explained that, if you look closely when the corn seeds start to sprout, the earth forms a little bulge that resembles a turtle shell from where the stalk will emerge. What a beautiful world view! The people made of corn can plant it and even be witnesses of this tale that goes centuries back in time.  


The Milpa (corn, amaranth, beans, peppers, and squash) is where the most important foods for a complete nutrition are grown. Today more than ever, with everything that is happening, we need to defend and cultivate native corn varieties… and observe that beautiful moment in which the land becomes a turtle and life is born!  


The beautiful reproduction of the Petén plate that is pictured above was made by the artisan Patricia Martín Morales. If you would like to have your own, or see more of this local artist’s work, you can contact her directly:  


Taller de Artesanía Los Ceibos

Patricia Martín Morales

Muna, Yucatán, México

Cel. 9971 01 25 52

Cel. 9979 73 07 17  


Andrea Medina

Author: Andrea Medina

Born in Mérida and raised in the heart of the Peninsula, I consider myself a “yucaterca.” My childhood – without electronics, surrounded by nature and indigenous communities – made me sensible towards real, simple, genuine things and people. At age 7, I started a radio show with the XEPET “The Voice of the Maya” which allowed my imagination and creativity to develop and become my favorite space.

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