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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


Among the occupations of the Indians were pottery and wood-working; they made much profit from forming idols of clay and wood, in doing which they fasted much and followed many rites. There were also physicians, or better named, sorcerers, who healed by use
of herbs and their superstitious practices. It was so also with all their other occupations.

Their favorite occupation was trading, whereby they brought in salt; also cloths
and slaves from Tabasco and Ulúa. In their bartering they used cacao and stone counters which they had for money, and with which they bought slaves and other fine and beautiful stones, such as the chiefs wore as jewels on festal occasions. They had also certain red shells for use as money and jewels for wearing; these they carried in network

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purses. In their markets they dealt in all the products of the country; they gave credit, borrowed and paid promptly and without usury.

The commonest occupation was agriculture, the raising of maize and the other seeds; these they kept in well-constructed places
and in granaries for sale in due time. Their mules and oxen were the people themselves. For each married man and his wife it was their custom to plant a space of 400 feet, which was called hun vinic [one man], a plot measured with a 20-foot rod, 20 in breadth and 20, in length.

The Indians have the excellent custom of helping each other in all their work. At the time of planting, those who have no people of their own to do it join together in bands of twenty, or more or less, and all labor together to complete the labor of each, all duly measured, and do not stop until all is finished. The lands today are in common, and whoever occupies a place first, holds it; they sow in different places, so that if the crop is short in one, another will make it up. When they work the land they do no more than gather the brush and burn it before sowing. From the middle of January to April they care for the land and then plant when the rains come. Then carrying a small sack on the shoulders they make a hole in the ground

Madrid Codex
Click to enlarge

The growing plant springs from the head of the god Itzamna. The plant, springing from the earth, withers and is revived. The Corn deity holds forth the growing plant, springing from the sign ik, or Breath, Life. (All the figures shown on this page are from the Madrid Codex, which has chiefly to do with farm ceremonies.)

Madrid Codex
Click to enlarge

Itzamná plants the tree in the earth. Itzamná drops the seed in the earth and animals attack it. Worms attack the Corn-god, seated on the earth. Birds of prey feed on the dying Corn-god (note the closed eye).

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with a stick, dropping in five or six grains, and covering them with the same stick. When it. rains, it is marvelous how they grow. In hunting also, they unite in bands of fifties, or more or less; the flesh of the deer they grill over rods to keep it from spoiling; then when they come back to the town they first make their presents to the chief and then distribute all as between friends. In fishing they do the same.

Madrid Codex
Click to enlarge

The Fire-dog, or heat rays from the sun, burns the growth, while the Corn-god, with arms bound, is dying. Next, Itzamná waters the growing maize, denoted by the kan-sign. The hunter ties up the deer.

In making visits the Indians always carry a gift, according to their quality, and the one visited returns the gifts with another. During these visits third persons present speak and listen attentively to those talking, having due regard for their rank; notwithstanding which all use the 'thou.' Those of less position must, however, in the course of the
conversation, repeat the title or dignity of the one higher in rank. They have the custom of assisting one who delivers a message by responding with a cadence of the voice, a sort of aspirate in the throat, as if to say 'it is well,' or 'be it so.' The women are brief in what they say, nor do they have the habit of negotiating on their own account, especially if poor; for this the chiefs scoffed at the friars for giving ear to poor and rich without distinction.

For offenses committed by one against another the chief of the town required satisfaction to be made by the town of the aggressor; if this was refused it became the occasion of more trouble. If they were of the same town they laid it before the judge as arbitrator, and he ordered satisfaction given; if the offender lacked the means for this, his parents or friends helped him out. The cases in which they were accustomed to require such amends were in instances of involuntary homicide, the suicide of either husband or wife on the other's account, the accidental burning of houses, lands of inheritance, hives or granaries. Other offenses committed with malice called for reparation through blood or blows.

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The Yucatecans
are very generous and hospitable; no one enters their houses without being offered food and drink, what drink they may have during the day, or food in the evening. If they have none, they seek it from a neighbor; if they unite together on the roads, all join in sharing even if they have little for their own need.

Next: XXIV. Method of Counting of the Yucatecans. Genealogies. Inheritances and Tutelage of the Orphans. The Succession of the Chiefs