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The Popol Vuh, or Sacred Book of the ancient Quiché Maya, as it has been happily subtitled, is, beyond any shadow of doubt, the most distinguished example of native American literature that has survived the passing centuries.
The original redaction of this most precious fragment of ancient American learning is now lost; however, it seems first to have been reduced to writing (in characters of the Latin script), in the middle of the sixteenth century, from oral traditions then current among the Quiché, by some unknown but highly educated, not to say literary, member of that race.
This now lost original was again copied in the Quiché language, again in characters of the Latin script, at the end of the seventeenth century, by Father Francisco Ximénez, then parish priest of the village of Santo Tomás Chichicastenango in the highlands of Guatemala, directly from the original sixteenth-century manuscript which he had borrowed for the purpose from one of his Indian parishioners.
The Popol Vuh is, indeed, the Sacred Book of the Quiché Indians, a branch of the ancient Maya race, and contains an account of the cosmogony, mythology, traditions, and history of this native American people, who were the most powerful nation of the Guatemala highlands in pre-Conquest times. It is written in an exalted and elegant style, and is an epic of the most distinguished literary quality.
Indeed, the chance preservation of this manuscript only serves to emphasize the magnitude of the loss which the world has suffered in the almost total destruction of aboriginal American literature.
Museum of New Mexico
Santa Fé, June 22, 1948
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