Monday, March 26, 2012

What is the Meaning of the Name "Maya"

 The  Meaning of the Name “Maya.”

In his second voyage, Columbus heard vague rumors of a mainland westward from Jamaica and Cuba, at a distance of ten days’ journey in a canoe. Its inhabitants were said to be clothed, and the specimens of wax which were found among the Cubans must have been brought [10]from there, as they themselves did not know how to prepare it.
During his fourth voyage (1503-4), when he was exploring the Gulf southwest from Cuba, he picked up a canoe laden with cotton clothing variously dyed. The natives in it gave him to understand that they were merchants, and came from a land called Maia.
This is the first mention in history of the territory now called Yucatan, and of the race of the Mayas; for although a province of similar name was found in the western extremity of the island of Cuba, the similarity was accidental, as the evidence is conclusive that no colony of the Mayas was found on the Antilles. These islands were [11]peopled by a wholly different stock, the remnants of whose language prove them to have been the northern outposts of the Arawacks of Guiana, and allied to the great Tupi-Guaranay stem of South America.
Maya was the patrial name of the natives of Yucatan. It was the proper name of the northern portion of the peninsula. No single province bore it at the date of the Conquest, and probably it had been handed down as a generic term from the period, about a century before, when this whole district was united under one government.
The natives of all this region called themselves Maya uinic, Maya men, or ah Mayaa, those of Maya; their language was Maya than, the Maya speech; a native woman wasMaya cħuplal; and their ancient capital was Maya pan, the Maya [banner, for there of old was set up the standard of the nation, the elaborately worked banner of brilliant feathers, which, in peace and in war, marked the rallying point of the Confederacy.
We do not know where they drew the line from others speaking the same tongue. That it excluded the powerful tribe of the Itzas, as a recent historian thinks, seems to be refuted by the documents I bring forward in the present volume; that, on the other hand, it did not include the inhabitants of the southwestern coast appears to be indicated by the author of one of the oldest and most complete dictionaries of the language. Writing about 1580, when the traditions of descent were fresh, he draws a distinction between thelengua de Maya and the lengua de Campeche. The latter was a dialect varying very slightly from pure Maya, and I take it, this manner of indicat[13]ing the distinction points to a former political separation.
The name Maya is also found in the form Mayab, and this is asserted by various Yucatecan scholars of the present generation, as Pio Perez, Crescencio Carrillo, and Eligio Ancona, to be the correct ancient form, while the other is but a Spanish corruption.
But this will not bear examination. All the authorities, native as well as foreign, of the sixteenth century, write Maya. It is impossible to suppose that such laborious and earnest students as the author of the Dictionary of Motul, as the grammarian and lexicographer Gabriel de San Buenaventura, and as the educated natives whose writings I print in this volume, could all have fallen into such a capital blunder.
The explanation I have to offer is just the re[14]verse. The use of the terminal b in “Mayab” is probably a dialectic error, other examples of which can be quoted. Thus the writer of the Dictionary of Motul informs us that the form maab is sometimes used for the ordinary negative ma, no; but, he adds, it is a word of the lower classes, es palabra de gente comun. So I have little doubt but that Mayab is a vulgar form of the word, which may have gradually gained ground.
As at present used, the accent usually falls on the first syllable, Ma´ya, and the best old authorities affirm this as a rule; but it is a rule subject to exceptions, as at the end of a sentence and in certain dialects Dr. Berendt states that it is not infrequently heard as Ma´ya´ or even Maya´.
The meaning and derivation of the word have given rise to the usual number of nonsensical and far-fetched etymologies. The Greek, the Sanscrit, the ancient Coptic and the Hebrew have all been called in to interpret it. I shall refer to but a few of these profitless suggestions.
The Abbé Brasseur (de Bourbourg) quotes as the opinion of Don Ramon de Ordoñez, the author of a strange work on American archæ[15]ology, called History of the Heaven and the Earth, that Maya is but an abbreviation of the phrase ma ay ha, which, the Abbé adds, means word for word, non adest aqua, and was applied to the peninsula on account of the scarcity of water there.15-1
Unfortunately that phrase has no such, nor any, meaning in Maya; were it ma yan haa, it would have the sense he gives it; and further, as the Abbé himself remarked in a later work, it is not applicable to Yucatan, where, though rivers are scarce, wells and water abound. He therefore preferred to derive it from ma and ha, which he thought he could translate either “Mother of the Water,” or “Arm of the Land!”
The latest suggestion I have noticed is that of Eligio Ancona, who, claiming that Mayab is the correct form, and that this means “not numerous,” thinks that it was applied to the first native settlers of the land, on account of the paucity of their numbers!
All this seems like learned trifling. The name may belong to that ancient dialect from which are derived many of the names of the days and [16]months in the native calendar, and which, as an esoteric language, was in use among the Maya priests, as was also one among the Aztecs of Mexico. Instances of this, in fact, are very common among the American aborigines, and no doubt many words were thus preserved which could not be analyzed to their radicals through the popular tongue.
Or, if it is essential to find a meaning, why not accept the obvious signification of the name? Ma is the negative “no,” “not;” ya means rough, fatiguing, difficult, painful, dangerous. The compound maya is given in the Dictionary of Motul with the translations “not arduous nor severe; something easy and not difficult to do;” cosa no grave ni recia; cosa facil y no dificultosa de hacer. It was used adjectively as in the phrase, maya u chapahal, his sickness is not dangerous. So they might have spoken of the level and fertile land of Yucatan, abounding in fruit and game, that land to which we are told they delighted to give, as a favorite appellation, the term u luumil ceh, u luumil cutz, the land of the deer, the land of the wild turkey; of this land, I say, they might well have spoken as of one not fatiguing, not rough nor exhausting.