Chilam Balam

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Chilam Balam

Chilam Balam, a Maya priestly class whose members' predictions form the basis for local historiography. Literally translated from Classical Yucatecan Maya, Chilam Balam means "spokesmen of the jaguar." The Books of Chilam Balam are a set of Yucatecan Maya documents that were compiled during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries covering events of the seventh to nineteenth centuries. Several types of documents have been titled Chilam Balam. The most widely recognized are fourteen manuscripts (twelve survive) that are named after the community of the Yucatán Peninsula of southern Mexico where they were found.

Although the term Chilam Balam implies priests who could foretell the future, only five of the books (those from Chan Kan, Chumayel, Kaua, Mani, and Tizimin) include prophetic texts. They are histories of the past and at the same time predictions of the future. These books are grounded in the belief that events occurring during certain periods of time will recur in particular future periods. Specifically, katuns, or cycles of 20 tuns (the 360-day Maya civil year), that end on days with the same name and coefficient will contain analogous events. In the books containing the prophetic texts, close attention is given to historical and calendrical accuracy; a reliable picture of what the future held was at stake.

Topics covered in the nonprophetic books include astrology, calendrics, and medicine. The Book of Chilam Balam of Nah contains the greatest amount of medical information, including descriptions of ailments, etiology, and various means of treatment.

The Chilam Balam of Chumayel, because of multiple translations, is the most widely known. The book reveals many details of everyday life including cuisine. It also offers a glimpse of the indigenous view of the Spanish: certain passages suggest that the Maya understood the arrival of Christianity as the fulfillment of calendrical predictions.

The Books of Chilam Balam have been and will continue to be important documents for understanding the present and future Maya of Yucatán.

See alsoAnnals of the Cakchiquels; Maya, The; Mayan Epigraphy; Popol Vuh.


Ralph L. Roys, trans. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel (1913).

Eugene R. Craine and Reginald C. Reindorp, The Codex Pérez and the Book of Chilam Balam of Mani (1979).

Munro S. Edmonson, trans. The Ancient Future of the Itza: The Book of Chilam Balam of Tizimin (1982).

Additional Bibliography

Alfredo Vásquez Barrera, Silvia Rendón, trans. El libro de los libros de Chilam Balam (1948).

Bolles, David. "Colonial Mayan Literature Sheds Light on the Mayan Calendar, the Solar-Agricultural Year, and Correlation Questions." Latin American Indian Literatures Journal 14, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 26-53.

González Ortega, Nelson. Relatos mágicos en cuestión: La cuestión de la palabra indígena, la escritura imperial y las narrativas totalizadoras y disidentes de Hispanoa-mérica. Madrid/Frankfurt: Iberoamericana/Vervuert; 2006.

Mercedes Garza, Miguel León Portilla. Literatura maya (1980).

                                        Matt Krystal