Vucub Caquix

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Vucub-Caquix[ pronunciation? ] (possibly meaning 'seven-Macaw') is the name of a bird demon defeated by the Hero Twins of a Kʼicheʼ-Mayan myth preserved in an 18th-century document, entitled ʼPopol Vuhʼ. The episode of the demon's defeat was already known in the Late Preclassic Period, before the year 200 AD. He was also the father of Zipacna, an underworld demon deity, and Cabrakan, the Earthquake God.

Kʼicheʼ are indigenous peoples of the Americas and are one of the Maya peoples. The Kʼicheʼ language is a Mesoamerican language in the Mayan language family. The highland Kʼicheʼ states in the pre-Columbian era are associated with the ancient Maya civilization, and reached the peak of their power and influence during the Mayan Postclassic period. The meaning of the word Kʼicheʼ is "many trees". The Nahuatl translation, Cuauhtēmallān "Place of the Many Trees (People)", is the origin of the word Guatemala. Quiché Department is also named for them. Rigoberta Menchú, an activist for indigenous rights who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, is perhaps the best-known Kʼicheʼ.

Popol Vuh literary works

Popol Vuh is a text recounting the mythology and history of the Kʼicheʼ people, one of the Maya peoples, who inhabit the Guatemalan Highlands northwest of present-day Guatemala City.


The Kʼicheʼ Tale

Vucub-Caquix is described as a powerful bird pretending to be the sun and moon of the twilight world in between the former creation and the present one. According to modern Kʼicheʼ, his name refers to the seven stars of the Big Dipper asterism. [1] The false sun-moon bird was shot out of his tree with a blowgun by Hun-Ahpu, one of the Maya Hero Twins, but still managed to sever the hero's arm. Finally, however, the demon was deprived of his teeth, his eyes, his riches, and his power. Together, the Twins were to become the true sun and moon of the present creation. The episode is only loosely connected to the main tale of the Twins, and is varied by other Mesoamerican hero myths. [2] It is also akin to certain scenes in Mayan art dating back to the 8th century and before.

Asterism (astronomy) pattern of stars recognized on Earths night sky

In observational astronomy, an asterism is a popularly-known pattern or group of stars that can be seen in the night sky. This colloquial definition makes it appear quite similar to a constellation, but they differ mostly in that a constellation is an officially recognized area of the sky, while an asterism is a visually obvious collection of stars and the lines used to mentally connect them; as such, asterisms do not have officially determined boundaries and are therefore a more general concept which may refer to any identified pattern of stars. This distinction between terms remains somewhat inconsistent, varying among published sources. An asterism may be understood as an informal group of stars within the area of an official or defunct former constellation. Some include stars from more than one constellation.

Maya Hero Twins Its stong and inteligents

The Maya Hero Twins are the central figures of a narrative included within the colonial Kʼicheʼ document called Popol Vuh, and constituting the oldest Maya myth to have been preserved in its entirety. Called Hunahpu and Xbalanque[ʃɓalaŋˈke] in the Kʼicheʼ language, the Twins have also been identified in the art of the Classic Mayas. The twins are often portrayed as complementary forces. The complementary pairings of life and death, sky and earth, day and night, sun and moon, among multiple others have been used to represent the twins. The duality that occurs between male and female is often seen in twin myths, as a male and female twin are conceptualized to be born to represent the two sides of a single entity.

The Twins Shooting Vucub-Caquix: Earlier Scenes

Man with mutilated arm holding a pole with perched bird demon, Izapa stela 25. Izapa stela25.jpg
Man with mutilated arm holding a pole with perched bird demon, Izapa stela 25.

The 16th-century Popol Vuh episode has been used for interpreting certain early stone monuments as well as Classic-period pottery scenes. References to the episode are already present on the Late Preclassic stela 25 from Izapa, near the Pacific coast, where a man with a mutilated arm looks upward towards a bird perched on a pole, and on a facade of the Copan ballcourt, where a war-serpent head inserted between the legs of a large bird holds the severed arm of Hunahpu. [3] The episode has also been connected to Izapa's stela 2, where two small figures assumed to be the Twin Heroes flank a large descending bird personifier (perhaps a royal ancestor).


Izapa is a very large pre-Columbian archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Chiapas; it is best known for its occupation during the Late Formative period. The site is situated on the Izapa River, a tributary of the Suchiate River, near the base of the volcano Tacaná, the sixth tallest mountain in Mexico.

As to the Classic Mayan scenes painted on pottery, they show Hun-Ahpu (or Hun-Ahau) aiming his blowgun at a steeply descending bird with the characteristics of the so-called 'Principal Bird Deity', an avian transformation of Itzamna. The solar affiliation of (Kinich Ahau) Itzamna is part of the argument for identifying the Popol Vuh and the Classic episode, since the upper god's solar aspect seems to reflect the claim to solar status voiced by Vucub-Caquix.

Itzamna deity

Itzamna was, in Maya mythology, the name of an upper god and creator deity thought to reside in the sky. Although little is known about him, scattered references are present in early-colonial Spanish reports (relaciones) and dictionaries. Twentieth-century Lacandon lore includes tales about a creator god who may be a late successor to him. In the pre-Spanish period, Itzamna, represented by the aged god D, was often depicted in books and in ceramic scenes derived from them.

Kinich Ahau 16th-century Yucatec name of the Maya sun god

Kinich Ahau is the 16th-century Yucatec name of the Maya sun god, designated as God G when referring to the codices. In the Classic period, God G is depicted as a middle-aged man with an aquiline nose, large square eyes, cross-eyed, and a filed incisor in the upper row of teeth. Usually, there is a k'in 'sun'-infix, sometimes in the very eyes. Among the southern Lacandons, Kinich Ahau continued to play a role in narrative well into the second half of the twentieth century.

Problems with the Vucub-Caquix Identifications

Leaving apart the representations on stone mentioned above, the identification of the Classic Mayan bird-shooting scenes on pottery with the shooting of Vucub-Caquix causes problems. [4] For one, the bird involved is usually the avian transformation of the creator god, Itzamna, and the concept of a generally venerated creator god seems to be at odds with the demonic nature of Vucub-Caquix. Secondly, the shooting of the Principal Bird Deity includes elements foreign to the Quichean tale. The bird is clearly not a macaw, and instead of being perched in a tree, it can even assume the (deceptive?) shape of a heron or cormorant-like bird seated on the waters. Thirdly, and more basically, there is no reason why the Twins, being bird-hunters, should not have been involved in more than one bird-shooting episode. As a matter of fact, at least one pottery scene has Hun-Ahpu shooting a vulture. Therefore, rather than referring to the Vucub-Caquix tale, the shooting of the Principal Bird Deity may well represent a now lost bird-shooting episode of Twin mythology. It seems clear that if a generalized Vucub-Caquix theory is to stand the test, important questions still need to be answered.


  1. Tedlock 1996:237, note to page 73
  2. Guernsey 2006: 112
  3. Guernsey 2006: 111-113, figs. 5.29 and 5.30
  4. cf. Bassie-Sweet 2008:140


Michael D. Coe is an American archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher and author. Primarily known for his research in the field of pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, Coe has also made extensive investigations across a variety of other archaeological sites in North and South America. He has also specialised in comparative studies of ancient tropical forest civilizations, such as those of Central America and Southeast Asia. He currently holds the chair of Charles J. MacCurdy Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, Yale University, and is Curator Emeritus of the Anthropology collection in the Peabody Museum of Natural History, where he had been Curator from 1968 to 1994.

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

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