Life in 1542

Life in 1542 Semi-Quick Facts

By Robert W. Munson

Cabrillo National Monument Historian


  1. A Sailor’s Life
  2. Cabrillo’s Crews
  3. The Food Issued To Each Man Each Day Of The Voyage
  4. Hidalgo
  5. Were There Horses On Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Expedition In 1542?
  6. Status Symbols In 1542
  7. Clothing Of An Average Woman In Spanish Colonial New World 1530-40
  8. Santiago De Los Caballeros De Guatemala En Almolongo
  9. Religious Santiago De Los Caballeros, Guatemala 1542
  10. Syncretism: The Amalgamation Of The Traditional Mayan Religion And Roman Catholicism Santiago De Los Caballeros, Guatemala 1542

  1. A Sailor’s Life:

When did they wake up? When the paje (page or ship’s boy) at the sandglass chanted the “Buenas Dias” prayer, basically just before sunrise.

What meals did they eat during the day? Breakfast, lunch, dinner

When did they eat these meals? Sunrise, noon, sunset

Where did they obtain water? From barrels in the hold.

Where was food prepared? On the fogon; the brick cookstove located aft, under the sterncastle (alcazar). It was available on a first come first served basis, during daylight hours. The stove would not be lit during rough weather.

Where was food served? On wood trenchers while seated on a cloth spread on the deck.

Who prepared their food? One of the ship’s pajes. Sometimes there was an actual cook.
Cooks were generally old sailors no longer able to carry out the duties of a sailor. It was considered a demeaning job and a deadly insult was, “Your beard smells of fogon smoke.”

On what was the food served? Wood trenchers

On what did they eat their meals? A tablecloth on the deck

What did they eat for breakfast? galeta (ships’ biscuit/hardtack), menestra (horsebeans and garbanzos), cazon (salt fish, usually dogshark), salt pork

What did they eat for lunch? The same as breakfast, with maybe some rice added

What did they eat for dinner? The same as lunch but not as much

What was their favorite alcoholic drink? Wine (Rum won’t be invented for another hundred years)

What was their favorite non-alcoholic drink? Water (preferably fresh)

Where did they usually eat their meals? On deck

What were their usual foods? galeta, menestra, and salt fish

What were their favorite foods? Fresh water, onions, soft bread

What foods were their special treats? Fresh food of any kind, at-sea fresh fish caught by the crew, two ounces of cheese on Sundays and Tuesdays

  1. Cabrillo’s Crews:

The following are estimates of the crew make-up of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s three ships in 1542. These are based on the Reglamento of 1522 regarding complement requirements stipulated by the Crown for ships in Nueva España and the Carrera de las Indias. These are also based on data and parameters established by Harry Kelsey in his book Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

San Salvador (also known as the Juan Rodriguez or the Capitana)
A proto-galleon, estimate approximately 100 souls embarked.

CapitanProcurador (Royal agent/ a lawyer)
Maestre (Sailing Master)Escribero del Procurador
Piloto (Pilot or Navigator)Chronista (Chronicler)
Contramaestre (Boatswain)Sacerdote (Priest)
Guardian (Boatswain’s Mate)Fray (Fraile, a Lay Brother)
Cirujano/barbero (Surgeon/Barber)About 25 Soldados (Soldiers)
Despensero (Supply Officer)About 24 Esclavos (Slaves) (Black & Indian)
Tonelero (Cooper)Escafandrista (diver, usually Indian slave)
Calafate (Caulker)Possibly some gentlemen & merchants
Carpintero (Carpenter)The presence of Llovidos (female stowaways) cannot be verified.
Escribero (Scribe, a secretary)
Escribiente (Scrivener, record keeper)
15 Marineros (Seamen) (one would be a qualified Lombardero or gunner)
8 Grumetes (Apprentice Seamen)
3 Pajes (Pages, ship’s boys)
38 crew55 supernumeraries (not including gentlemen, merchants, servants and Llovidos)
Total of 93

Authorized                4 bombardetas (large iron cannons) with 36 balls each (144 balls)

Ordnance:                 16 bercos (swivels) with 72 balls each (1142 balls)

8 arquebuz (muskets) with lead and mold

2 hundredweight of gunpowder

10 ballestas (crossbows) with a total of 96 quarrels

48 jabalinas (javelins)

8 quarter pikes

20 rodelos (bucklers)

La Victoria (named after Santa Maria de la Victoria, the seaman’s shrine in the Triana district of Seville). She was also occasionally known as Figuero, Alvar Nunez, Anton Hernandez, and Santa Maria de Buena Esperanza, the patron saint of sailors). She was a nao gruesa, although she’s sometimes referred to as a carrack. Estimate 50 to 60 souls embarked.

CapitanAbout 12 Soldados (soldiers)
Maestre (Sailing Master)About 12 Esclavos (slaves) (Black & Indian)
Piloto (Pilot or Navigator)Escafandrista (diver, usually an Indian slave)
Contramaestre (Boatswain)Sacerdote (Priest) ?
Despensero (Supply Officer)
Tonelero (Cooper)
Calafate (Caulker)
Carpintero (Carpenter)
12 Marineros (Seamen) (one would be a qualified Lombardero or gunner)
6 Grumetes (Apprentice Seamen)
3 Pajes (Pages, ship’s boys)
Total 55

Authorized Ordnance:

12 bercos (72 balls each)
5 arquebuz (muskets)
8 ballestas (crossbows)
40 jabalinas (javelins)
5 quarter pikes
16 rodelos (bucklers)

San Miguel
She was probably a bergantina, fragata, or chalupa

Maestre (Sailing Master)About 10 oarsmen. These would be Esclavos (Slaves, Black or Indian) and/or sailors undergoing punishment
Piloto (Pilot or Navigator)
5 Marineros (Seamen)
3 Grumetes (Apprentice Seamen)
1 Paje (Page, ship’s boy)
11 crew10 superumeraries
Total 21

Authorized  Ordnance:  

In European waters  Bergantinas traditionally carried a Lombard (cannon) in the bow. In the interest of seaworthiness in an expedition going into a rough and unknown sea, San Miguel probably did not carry a Lombard in the bow and also did not cut a gunport for it in the bow.

6 bercos (swivels) 72 balls each. 432 balls.

2 arquebuz (muskets)

4 ballestas (crossbows)

18 jabalinas (javelins)

2 quarter pikes

7 rodelos (bucklers)

  1. The Food Issued To Each Man Each Day Of The Voyage:

Breakfast served at sunrise and consists of:
7 ounces of galeta (ships’ biscuit/hardtack),
2 ½ oz. (70 grams) of menestra (horsebeans and garbanzos),
2 ½ oz. (70 grams) of cazon (salt fish, usually dogshark) or 3 ½ oz.(100 grams) of salt pork.

Lunch is the meal at noon:
7 ounces of galeta (ships’ biscuit/hardtack),
2 ½ oz. (70 grams) of menestra (horsebeans and garbanzos),
2 ½ oz.(70 grams) of cazon (salt fish, usually dogshark) or 3 ½ oz.(100 grams) of salt pork.
Rice may be substituted for menestra.

Dinner is served at sunset:
3.5 ounces of galeta (ships ‘biscuit/hardtack) from brown flour,
1 ¼ oz. (35 grams) of menestra,
1 ¼ oz. (35 grams) of cazon (salt fish) or 1 ¾ oz. (50 grams) of salt meat.

One liter of wine and one liter of water is issued each day.

As a special treat, the captain could authorize two ounces of cheese issued every Sunday and Tuesday.

Water for cooking and washing is available self-serve by the bucket load alongside the ship.

As the Pacific Ocean was thought to be less than a thousand leagues wide (2200 miles), they expected a short, easy trip to China. They did not think scurvy would be a problem as they would be following the coast all the way allowing the crew to forage periodically for lemon grass, wild onions and other fresh vegetables and fruit during shore excursions for fresh water. For those with no stomach for lemon grass and wild onions, bottled sauerkraut was available but had to be purchased by the individual.

Galleta or ships’ biscuit (known in modern times as hardtack) was the staple. The word biscuit comes from the Latin bis (twice), and coctus (cooked). The name refers to the fact that it was unleavened bread subjected to a double process in cooking to render it virtually indestructible. In essence it was made of wallpaper glue: flour, salt and water. The most common way of eating it was to soak it in water or wine to soften it. Frequently it would be cooked as a stew with the salt fish/meat and beans. If you had salt pork to fry, the biscuit could be softened by pouring the liquid fat over it.

The salt meat was usually dogshark, although saltpork was sometimes substituted for it two or three days per week. In the Atlantic cod or sardines added some variety to the salt fish, but these were not available in the Pacific. It all depended on how good at negotiating the ship’s supply purchases the despensero (ship’s supply officer) was (and how much of the ship’s budget he quietly pocketed for himself).

Fresh food, especially chickens, pigs, goats and sometimes even cattle, would be embarked for slaughter during the voyage, but these took up valuable cargo space and needed food themselves. Onions were the most prized vegetables.

Officers and passengers could supplement the onboard fare with purchases of preserved food of their own. This frequently took the form of sauerkraut and dried fruit. Quince, figs and raisins were the most popular fruits. These items not only added variety but also to some degree staved off scurvy. The anti-scorbutic effects of citrus juice had not been discovered, but the Spanish did know that lemon grass, onions, and sauerkraut did slow the advance of scurvy.

The crew frequently supplemented their preserved diet by catching fresh fish.

All in all, the daily ration provided adequate nutrition, bulk and between 3500-4200 calories per person per day. As long as the ration was fully issued it was adequate for the work being done. Proteins made up about 13 percent of the ration, which is within the levels recommended by the World Health Organization for a balanced diet. The main food deficiency was the vitamins provided by fresh fruit and vegetables. In the Atlantic scurvy was not a serious problem. Scurvy takes approximately six weeks to develop and landfalls, even crossing the Atlantic, rarely exceeded 30 days. In the vast distances of the Pacific scurvy became a real killer, which could decimate crews and on occasion wipe out an entire crew. The problem was not solved until the 1700s.

Surprisingly, the real deficiency in the menu above was water. One liter of water was totally inadequate for an adult male, and the wine supplement did not help. An average man eating 3500 calories needs two to three liters of water, especially working hard in tropic climes where a man can sweat a liter in an hour. This was not helped by eating food with a high salt content. The problem with water is that it takes up valuable storage space in a small ship. By cutting back on the water storage, ship masters could increase cargo capacity. Thus, the sailor was not so much continuously hungry as he was continuously thirsty.

Any delays in a voyage, such as calms, storms or contrary winds, could quickly put the crew on half rations of both food and water. Then there was always the problem of barrels leaking and food being rotten when purchased, going rotten or being eaten by vermin. Although a nice tasty vermin could replace salt meat with fresh, it was limited in quantity and full of bones.

So, welcome aboard, enjoy the voyage, and buen provecho!

  1. Hidalgo:

An Hidalgo was a member of the Spanish, non-titled, nobility. They were exempt from paying taxes, but did not necessarily own real property. They were the lower ranking gentry. They were “gentlemen” soldiers.

The hidalguia had its origins in the professional fighting men of the Reconquista, the wars driving the Moslem Moors out of the Iberian Peninsula. These men became known as Hidalgos in the 12th century, and the term referred to any man of sufficient means to provide himself with armor and horse. One of the key points of being an Hidalgo was to consider manual labor as contrary to his honor. Peasants need not apply.

There were three types of Hidalgo: Hidalgo de Sangre, Solariego, or Bragueta.
The Hidalgo de Sangre (by virtue of blood lineage) were men whose family had been Hidalgos for so long they could not say how or when they obtained that status.

The Hidalgo de Solariego (ancestral) merely had to verify that all four of their grandparents were Hidalgos.

The Hidalgo de Bragueta (“fly”) were a sub class of Hidalgo, being men who were entered on the Padrone List because they had produced seven adult sons in legal matrimony all of whom were trained fighting men. Or, in rare cases, the crown could order a man’s name entered on the Padrone of Hidalgos as a recognition of exceptionally meritorious service. The sons of an Hidalgo de Bragueta did not inherit the title.

As surnames evolved in the first centuries of the second millennium, hidalgos adopted the use of the particle de in their surnames in order to distinguish what was still a true patronymic through the addition of their place or city of origin. It is the same as the German von, both of which mean “of”. Thus the legendary El Cid combined his patronymic Diaz “son of Diego” with his family’s hometown: Vivar, to become Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar. Bernal Diaz del Castillo is another example.

By the early 19th century the Hidalgo as a social class had entirely disappeared.

An Hidalgo was not necessarily a landowner. He was considered to be a man who owed loyalty and service to the Crown. As such he had to maintain weapons and armor and to be on call for service as needed. A horseman was expected to also maintain his horse.

An Hidalgo was also expected, by law, to maintain a “Casa Poblada”. This physical structure was supposed to contain his “mucha familia”, the bigger the more prestige a man commanded. The Casa Poblada was to provide food, clothing and shelter for not only the Hidalgo’s extended family, but for servants, distantly related individuals, friends who had fallen on hard times, children born by Indian wives as well as Spanish wives, poor relatives, impoverished gentlemen, military aides, maiden ladies (either orphans, or children of other comrades), protégés, friends, Indian servants, and slaves. When the oldest son married, his wife and children were expected to live at home and he would some day inherit the Casa Poblada with all its prestige and responsibilities.

  1. Were There Horses On Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s Expedition In 1542?

In an exhibit at the Park we show a horse embarked in the San Salvador. This element was incorporated based on one document written 18 years after the fact.

We cannot prove their presence on the expedition, even though there is no mention of horses in any of the records of the voyage. This can be excused by the fact we have none of the original logs, journals or other records from the voyage itself. The best we have is a second-hand transcription of notes compiled by Urdanetta from JRC’s Relacion, two reports by unknown authors (possibly Fray Julian de Lescanso, and Lazarro de Cardenas), and the reports prepared by the two pilots of the expedition (Ferrer and Barredo). The “journal” prepared by Juan Leon exists also in only a second-hand transcription. All surviving materials show traces of errors, and multiple and often contradictory sources. But none of them mention horses. The transcription of Juan Leon’s report is in Patronato 20 in the Archive of the Indies. Depositions are in Justicia 290. Bits and pieces show up in various documents as late as 1559 as part of the petition of Juan Rodriquez Cabrillo (JRC’s son) to the crown for recognition and restitution of the services of his father. It is this petition, in 1560, that provides the only reference to horses, it is in Justicia 290 Fol.45. Kelsey quotes it on page 112. It should be remembered that JRC’s son was only six when his father sailed. He probably would not have been put at risk in the brutally unhealthy climate in Iztapa and probably never saw the ship or its lading. He might have seen family records, but in all likelihood he was “padding the bill” in his petition to the Crown. Such padding was a common tactic of petitioners for crown favors, since the Crown would invariably cut the amount requested drastically, if they honored the petition at all.

Kelsey notes that the San Salvador could accommodate 10 horses. This is true if they are the only cargo, such as on the voyage to Peru when San Salvador and La Victoria disappeared. However, on a years long voyage of exploration, seeking trade, they could not lose that much cargo and supply space. The rule of thumb here is: every horse with it’s stall and feed uses up 8% of the lower-deck storage space plus 4% of the water stored in the bilge. The math to arrive at these figures is listed below and is based on figures derived from Doug Scott, the marine architect of the San Salvador Project, and the known needs of a horse in such transport. The normal load for a ship transporting horses across the Atlantic, a voyage of five weeks landfall to landfall and two months total, was two or three horses. The mortality rate on horses in this relatively short, easy voyage was 50%. Columbus’ second expedition in 1493, to establish the settlement of La Isabella with 1200 settlers, had only 20 horses. There were a total of 17 ships, which works out to 1.178 horses per ship.

There could be no guarantee that they could get the horses ashore often enough for proper exercise and fresh air. The Spanish were very horse-oriented and no Spanish horseman would allow his horse to be kept in a stall less than 8 by 8 feet. The bigger problem of the stall was that the overhead on the lower deck was 6′ 1” over the keel and only 5′ 7” at side of the hull. This gave a horse no room to toss its head, as they do reflexively. In such a move the first thing to hit the overhead was the horse’s poll, the soft spot between the ears where the spine meets the skull. A short hard hit to the poll can be fatal. This is why horsemen for centuries have gone to great lengths to protect this spot.

They would have had to carry an incredible amount of grain, preferably oats, to which they would have to be accustomed after grazing in the highlands, and they would have to bulk up before sailing. A horse needs 12-20 pounds of grain, roughly a cubic foot, a day and an all grain diet leads to diarrhea. A horse in a static situation needs to be fed every two hours to keep the bowels moving. They would not take hay as it molds too easily. When the grain ran out, could they acclimate back to whatever graze might have been available? They would need 12-15 gallons of water per day. That equals the daily water ration of 28 men in a 16th century Spanish ship, and fully one quarter of all the humans in San Salvador. How would the crew feel about that?

A sling would have to be loose, to stabilize the horse in rough weather, but the sling must not be weight supporting as the hooves need to be weight bearing to keep blood circulating. A stall-bound horse after two months will need three to four weeks to get back in running condition.

September 6, 2011 telephone call with Harry Kelsey, author of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo:

He stated he did not believe JRC had any horses on the China expedition. He has read the original Justicia of Salazar’s 1547 deposition in the Archive of the Indies in Seville. It refers to the transport of horses for Alvarado’s 1541 expedition to the Mixton Rebellion in Jalisco, not the expedition to China. This was a much shorter voyage with a definite tactical objective. He noted that the petition of JRC’s son was for recognition and restitution of all of JRC’s service, not just the China expedition. He had, after all, lost a couple of ships in the bargain when Alvarado took the first San Salvador to Peru. Mr. Kelsey expressed his regret that he did not make that clear in his definitive work. He is sending me a copy of the Justicia.

Therefore, it is my firm conviction, and I use this in my interpretative activities, despite what I feel is an inaccurate depiction in the Park display, that there were no horses on the Cabrillo expedition.

The difficulty and risks to horses on such an expedition would not be worth it.

  1. Status Symbols In 1542:

It has been said that history is the study of the psychology of society. This is why Cabrillo National Monument concentrates on concepts and understanding. We have found the best way to approach these is the human touch – people.

One important element of society is status and its expression. One of the most common status symbols is clothing and adornment. The individual with a big SUV isn’t driving it as much as he is wearing it. It is more than just a tool to get from point A to point B, the driver is deeply involved in the vehicle, and he is involved in it on a variety of social levels. Status symbols change. The analogy of comparing a 2007 SUV with a 1540s horse is not accurate; the 1540 status symbol par excellence was social position, of which the ultimate public expressions were pearls and spices. In a frontier environment such as Guatemala in 1542, many of the trappings of status (fancy home, furniture, art, china, glassware, silver etc.) were impossible to come by, but everybody still needed clothes. Clothes became the status symbol.

The ultimate expression of status belonged in the realm of the women who held the society together while the men were still out trying to learn about it and control it.

When a girl reached her eighth birthday in the Spanish culture, she was given a new outfit of clothes similar to her mother’s dresses, and would be expected to dress as a woman for the rest of her life. Since she would probably be married by age 14 or 15, eight was a reasonable age for her to start learning to be a proper Spanish lady.

Both men and women wore identical underclothes in this period. It was a single garment – the camisa. Basically an oversized white nightgown, the woman’s was ankle-length, whereas the man’s was about knee length. The camisa indeed served as a nightgown for both men and women, and provided a sweat and body oil barrier under clothing to protect the more expensive elements of a wardrobe. The large billowing sleeves closed with drawstrings, as well as the neckline, making it adjustable for seasons or occasions. In the home, a woman would seldom wear anything but her camisa, perhaps adding another garment only for warmth or messy work.

In the tightly controlled confines of Inquisition-era Spain, a woman would never think of leaving her house without being fully dressed. The only exception was the washing of clothes in a river, when all males were banished from the area. The first item of formal clothing to be put on was a great source of pride to the Spanish, as it was their invention; an invention that we still see today in bridal dresses – the hoop skirt. Properly called a verdugado, it gave skirts a smooth cone shape, and was wildly adopted all over Europe within years of its appearance in Spain. Reed or cane provided the rings of support. In England it became the farthingale, and in America the crinoline hoop skirt – worn here until 1870. But it survives yet as an elegant addition in bridal dresses.

Usually the next garment was a petticoat or fustan of quilted cotton, again dependent on weather and the exact style of the dress. One of the most favored and cheapest forms of armor for the Spanish was the escuapiel, a vest or jacket of light canvas quilted with raw cotton, which was surprisingly effective as protection. The women in this society routinely made escuapiels, as they were experienced quilters. The quilted petticoat was thus a cheap garment for a woman’s wardrobe.

The next layer added to the ensemble would be the underskirt or zagalejo. This might be simply a panel on the front of the petticoat area, a full skirt with better material on the front area, or a full skirt of identical fabric. This was intended to only show in the front between the intentional gap of the overskirt (falda), which was put on next. Rather like a theatre curtain drawn slightly back, the overskirt was often of contrasting material that purposely exposed the underskirt as a front panel.

The body is finished with the addition of the cuerpo, or bodice, above the waist. The 16th century equivalent of the t-shirt or blouse, the cuerpo also incorporated support for the bust, as no such separate undergarment yet existed. To accomplish this, bodices were made with boning or stays – a vertical stiffening of the garment with reed, cane or possibly whale baleen to produce a smooth straight bodice front as well as uplift for the bust. The cuerpo signaled one of the most fundamental status signs for a woman – how it was laced. By wearing a back-lacing bodice, a lady was signaling to one and all that she did not dress herself; in fact it was impossible to do so. It told everyone that she was able to afford a servant to help her dress and undress. A front-lacing bodice told society that a woman was so poor that out of necessity, she must dress herself.

The cuerpo sleeves could be styled and fashioned in a number of ways. They might be fully sewn into the body of the bodice with an open underseam to allow them to be tied back in hot weather. Sleeves were also popularly tied onto the bodice around the armhole, with colorful ties called points. This would allow switching to a different pair of sleeves at will, and complete removal allowed relief in the heat.

In this most Catholic country, no proper Spanish woman would ever be seen in public without her head covered. A wide variety of styles were used, and it appears that many of the headwear fashions were used in many European countries, regardless of their origin. In the early 1500s, the French Hood, worn by Catherine of Aragon when she went to England to marry Prince Arthur and later his brother, Henry VIII, was exceedingly popular, as was the English Gabled Hood. Both hats had many variants and survived for many years in various forms.

There were sumptuary laws that dictated what each class of person in Spanish society was allowed to wear. Metal fibers in cloth, decorations, trim, jewels, and pearls were all carefully restricted to higher classes to protect their status and standing in society. Our girl’s dress is that of a lesser noble child as shown by its gold metallic trim on the bodice, underskirt and gabled hood. It’s rich fabrics of heavy velvet and brocade also signal her standing to the audience. By comparison, the presenters and another volunteer are clothed in middle class attire.

7. Clothing Of An Average Woman In Spanish Colonial New World 1530-40:


FustanPetticoat – normally two unless worn with bumroll and farthingale.
AbarcaSandal of leather
SandaliaSandal of rope
AlpargataSandal of yucca or hemp

If a lady could afford it she would add:

Caderas PostizasBumroll
Zagalejo or FaldrillaUnderskirt with decorative front panel.
ZapatasSlippers, high-heel shoes, platform shoes,
 leather boots, wood shoes
MonjilCloak with sleeves
Ropawork dress

Lace was not really available. Trims were not really very common, but embroidery was. Popular (and available) colors were: Spanish gold, Spanish red, Forest green, Pea green, Dark blue, Mulberry, Brown. Black would not become a popular color until later, in the reign of Felipe II.

Spanish women, even natives and colonials, always dressed properly. It was considered better to wear worn clothing of your class than to dress below your class. A woman would go into debt in order to dress her class. Worn clothing would be given as gifts to women of lower classes.

Camisa: gathered at the neck or squared, with embroidery around edge at the neck.
The arm set of the sleeve must be pleated; the wrist cuff would have a ruff trim like a man’s with ties, plus embroidery matching collar. The bottom ten inches of a woman’s chemise would likewise be embroidered in linen white or Spanish period colors. The embroidery could be anything from sturdy to fine, depending on the woman’s status.

Fustan: normally plain, with solid color hem band matching the bodice. Waist with pleated skirt, drawstring or hook and eye is appropriate. Linen, wool or linsey-wool. Quilted version is worn in winter for warmth. If trim is added it should be in wide stripes horizontal to the hem or follow the lines of the bodice. Wide five-inch ribbon on bottom folded over the hem edge to protect the skirt edge from wear and tear and dirt, of value for resale or letting down skirt.
Falda: skirt, gathered at waist with drawstring or tie. Usually open in front to show Petticoat or Underskirt.

Cuerpo: Spanish style i.e.: squared neck with point in front at waist. Fits over the petticoat waistbands. Back lacing only acceptable style for a woman with any pretension to style and class. Back lacing showed you could afford to have help getting dressed. Lower class women (really lower) would have to use front lacing. NO “spring” or gaps. Boning is a MUST. At this time tabs were not widely used. If used they would go under the petticoats to keep the skirts in place. Linen, wool, linsey-wool. Trim could be embroidery, grosgrain ribbon or Gimp. NO gold trims.
Verdugado: hoop skirt. Usually worn only when out and about (church, market, fiesta, visiting) or entertaining.
Caderas Postizas: bum roll. Worn even when working (note the grape pickers in the 16th century Flemish “Book of Hours”)
Zagalejo or Faldrilla: underskirt. Sometimes called an over petticoat. Same as Fustan only with a panel or decorative stripes following the line of the bodice down the front to be seen through the front gap of the skirt.
Mangas: tie on to the “eyes” hidden under the armhole area. Sleeves did not have to match the bodice or outfit, as a common gift among women were pairs of sleeves. Sleeves would be worn even in hot weather as a symbol of status. Linen, wool, or linsey-wool.
Velo: head cloth, white or period Spanish colors. Square 54” in sheer scrim or cotton, tied, use different color braid to trim or accent. Embroidered on corners and edges was popular.
Mantua or Manto: circle cloak of wool or linsey-wool with hood (with pointed tassel).
Monjil: a cloak with sleeves.
Ropa: loose smock skirt, about knee length with large arm and neck openings, belted at the waist. Worn over regular clothes when doing messy work.
Delantal: full length over head, no sides. White or natural color. Heavy-duty knubby linen or canvas. Protects clothes from work soiling and fire damage.
Zapatas: footgear: Slippers, clogs, high heel shoes, platform shoes, leather boots like a Wellington. Wood for rainy, muddy conditions.
Abarca: Sandal of leather

Sandalia: Sandal of rope

Alpargata: Sandal of yucca or hemp

Calcetas: stockings. Knee high, plain although they could be embroidered.
Cintura: belt. Of leather with period buckle. May have various things hung from it such as a pouch, sheath work/eating knife, sewing kit/needle case, scissors, etc.
Faltriquera: pouch
Joyas: most women had earrings, frequently hoops, but a wide variety of period styles. Crucifixes on a ribbon or chain were popular. Rings were very expensive and thus only the well to do or wealthy would have them, and stones would not be faceted. A woman could wear up to eight rings at a time if she could afford them. There were no diamonds, although crystal was popular. The most sought after, and prized, gem was the pearl.

8. Santiago De Los Caballeros De Guatemala En Almolongo:

Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala: Santiago is the second town to be named Santiago de los Caballeros. The first was an army base established by Pedro de Alvarado on the Cakchiquel Indian site of Iximche in 1524. It was described as being a collection of “shacks made of brush and straw”. In 1527 it was moved to a new site in the Almolongo Valley. The Almolongo Santiago is the one in which our interpretive people lived. In our time it has been in existence only 14 years. It is the Spanish colonial version of an Old West boomtown (think Tombstone, Deadwood or Bodie). It is the era of “personalismo”, which makes machismo look like a wimp. It is this cavalier attitude about who is boss that will worry the Crown into establishing the most restrictive bureaucracy in history, starting with the New Laws in 1542 and ending with the Laws of Colonization of 1609.

Guatemala, like other parts of colonial Spanish America, was essentially a kingdom under the personal rule of the monarch of Castile.

For the most part, the first two decades (1524-42) of Spain’s presence in Guatemala was governed in a haphazard, personalist, and tumultuous manner. The government prior to the first arrival of crown officers in 1542 was unstable and dominated by the Adelantado, Pedro de Alvarado, or in his absence, his four brothers. Personal rivalries, the absence of royal institutions, widespread violence and difficulties with the Maya continued until the destruction of our Santiago (today’s Ciudad Vieja) in September 1541. In the 18 years Pedro de Alvarado was officially governor he actually was in Guatemala approximately eight years. He was physically in Santiago 1530-34, 11 months in 1536, and finally for nine months in 1539-40. Although Alvarado tried to be a good governor, by temperament he was not constituted to be an administrator. He went to Peru, made two trips to Spain, and attacked Ecuador and Honduras. At the time of his death in August 1541 in the Mixton War, his brother-in-law Francisco de la Cueva had been the interim governor for nearly a year. With all of Alvarado’s comings and goings, between 1524 and 1541 there were 19 changes of government. His wife Beatriz de la Cueva was appointed governor by the Cabildo on September 9, 1541. She was killed two days later when Santiago was destroyed. Yet despite all the decentralized authority and instability Alvarado did establish one enduring institution, the Cabildo, the formalized town government. Any way you look at it, Santiago was a rapidly growing and dynamic society, a crossroads with streams of people, soldiers, and pack trains passing through.

Although Santiago is arranged around the traditional central plaza, has a stone church, a stone city hall (where the Cabildo meets), and a stone Palacio del Adelantado, the church is the only multi-story building in town. Most buildings are adobe or wattle and daub, whitewashed, with wood or thatch roofs. Conversion to stone and tile buildings is moving forward, but they are not the norm. A standard city lot 150 by 300 feet was called a solar.
This is still a frontier and there are still free Mayan cities (tinamit) to the east in the Peten Mountains resisting Spanish intrusion. The Maya also frequently raid the Spanish hinterland. Encomiendas and Labradores exist in areas as far away as the Panchoy Valley in an effort to block Mayan raiders and prevent them from attacking the immediate areas around Santiago.

The overall objective of Spanish policy was to convert the Indians to Catholicism and incorporate them into the society. In 1512 the Crown issued the Laws of Burgos, which in 32 articles laid the foundation of colonial policy. In 1542 the New Laws were promulgated which signaled the beginning of the end of the wild frontier form of government. Four days of torrential rains, combined with an earthquake and the collapse of the caldera of the Volcan de Agua on September 11, 1541 destroyed our town. In February 1542 the Cabildo will vote to move the city to a place with no volcanoes nearby. The place they select is in the Panchoy Valley and just happens to border the Encomienda of Don Pedro de Alvarado. It is this third city, established in Feb.1542, destroyed by earthquake in 1773, which is known today as Antigua. The name Santiago died with Antigua, the new capital being named prosaically Guatemala City. No trace of our Santiago survives, even as an archaeological site. Cabrillo’s expedition sailed from Iztapa in June 1542.

The population of Santiago in 1529 was between 100 and 200 vecinos (adult male Spanish citizens) for a total Spanish/Meztiso population of around 600. There were approximately 600 Indian allies (predominately Tlaxcalans, some Mixtec and Zapotec). How many slaves were in the district is open to question, but the most commonly accepted figure is around a thousand. All the enslaved people were Indigenous Guatemalans except for about 15 black moors (North African prisoners of war) brought from Spain. All 15 were owned by Don Pedro de Alvarado. In 1533 a slave cost 2 Pesos (900 Maravedis). By1543 inflation had increased the cost to 56-60 Pesos (about 26,000 Maravedis). Much of this was the rampant inflation that was beginning to set in. Also, this was when black slaves started to be imported. Black slaves were a status symbol that would affect the price.

Average life expectancy at birth is around 35 to 40 years. However, this reflects a child mortality rate of 50%. For some reason age 10 seems to be a magic point at which your life expectancy increases by 50%. The fact still remains that only one in four births will live to age 19. For females the most dangerous decade is their thirties. If a woman lives to about 40 her life expectancy jumps to around 60 years. A lot of this is subject to nutrition; the wealthier eat better and survive better. However, sanitation is non-existent in Santiago and disease of epidemic proportions is a very real threat.

1532-34 there was an epidemic of Sarampion (measles) in Santiago.
1536 there was a famine in the Santiago area.
1545 gucumatz (Spanish name) cocoliztli (Nahuat name): an epidemic that wiped out half the population of all races in Central America. This appears to have been pulmonary or bubonic plague.

Literacy is restricted to the Spanish and there will be no formal education in Santiago until 1552.

Baptismal records don’t appear in Guatemala until 1577.

There is no formal representation of the Crown in Guatemala. There is no Audiencia (crown officers appointed to govern). The first crown officer will arrive in 1542. The only semblance of a governing body is the Cabildo.

Climate: Santiago is in the Highlands. In the winter it is cool at night, but frost is rare and snow does not occur here. Even in the summer the temperatures rarely go above 78 degrees. There is almost always a breeze of from 3 to 8 mph. The dry season is December through March. The wet season is from June to October when it rains virtually every day, usually in the afternoons. Mornings and nights are usually clear. There is 200 inches of rain per year.

Commerce: Small purchases are taken care of by barter or the local medium of exchange–the cacao bean. There is virtually no coinage in Santiago, but when a copper Maravedi does show up it is worth about 2 ½ cacao beans. The shortage of cash means most business is done on credit. The Notarios do a brisk business recording transactions and witnessing transfers of debt. IOUs (Censos in Spanish) are almost a form of local paper money; you can pay off one debt with the IOUs owed you by someone else, or use IOUs as collateral. Virtually everyone in Santiago is in debt to someone. There are no roads in Guatemala, just mule trails. Straight, European style roads were not appropriate for Guatemalan terrain. All cargo is carried by mules or tememes (“two legged beast of burden”). Although the only official Atlantic port-of-entry for Mexico and Guatemala is Vera Cruz, a lot of trade is being landed at Puerto Caballo (now Puerto Cortez, Honduras).

The port of Iztapa, where the Pacific ships are built, is due south of our Santiago. It is 51 miles by the Michatoya River, which can be navigated once it drops off the plateau in the vicinity of Esquintla. From there it is 26 miles to Iztapa.

Agriculture: The soil in Guatemala is very rich and farmers raised three crops per year. Every vegetable you can think of is grown here (except potatoes), along with the staples of corn, beans, and squash.

Topography: Santiago lies in a valley with volcanoes on three sides. To the west are Acatenago and Volcan de Fuego. Volcan de Fuego has always had fire and smoke at the top, but never erupts. Hanupu to the south “erupted” with a violent earthquake September 11, 1541 during a heavy rainstorm. The earthquake and a massive mud slide destroyed Santiago. Hundreds of Spaniards and 600 Indios (mostly enslaved people) were lost. The Tlaxcalans suffered surprisingly little loss. It is possible that the Tlaxcalans, being originally from an area with active volcanoes, had a better understanding of what they could do and took effective precautions.

By 1537 the area north of Santiago and the Panchoy Valley, which the Maya called the Tezulutan (The Place of Never Ending War), was named by the Spanish the Tierra de Guerra (the Land of War). The name recognized that the area included the Quiche, Kakchiquel, Tsutujil, and Mam federations and the smaller city-state tribes of the Jacaltec, Chuj, Popoluca, Xinca, Kanjobal, Ixil, Aguatec, Uspantec, Kekchi, Chol, Chorti, Pocomam and Poconchi all constantly fighting each other for dominance and tribute, with a tangled web of shifting alliances. The Tierra de Guerra extended to the Usumacinta River and the Mayan heartland in the El Peten Mountains and lowlands. The El Peten is northern Guatemala today and extending into Belize. Although nominally conquered and at peace, the Tierra in 1541 still hosts unconquered Mayan raiders in tiny hamlets (Amag) of less than a half dozen huts, supported by the fortified Mayan towns in the El Peten. El Peten “mountain” is actually a large, extensively eroded limestone plateau about 700 feet high. Its erosion patterns make access difficult and defense easy. The lowland Peten is characterized by rivers and lakes. All of El Peten abounds in tropical rainforests, as does the Tierra de Guerra.

The fortified Mayan towns in El Peten are actually fortified “civic centers” known as Tinamit. Each Tinamit contains at least one pyramid, nowhere near as grand as the classic Mayan sites but still impressive. They also contained housing for the ruling elite warrior priests, a ball court and the artisans. The peasant farmers are scattered all over the place outside the town defenses. The Tinimit rely extensively on natural defensive positions on mountaintops, steep narrow promontories, lakes or fast moving rivers. There are often significant walls and fortifications especially protecting the entryways and vulnerable areas. Entries are usually not capable of being attacked by horsemen. Utitlan and Iximche in the Tierra de Guerra are good examples which Alvarado himself noted were “very strong and not to be taken by force of arms.” The last of these Tinamit was the island city of Nohoch in the El Peten, which was not captured until 1685. Today it is the community of Flores in Lake Peten.

There were over a dozen different languages spoken in Santiago in the 1530s: Spanish, Latin, Nahuat (Tlaxcalan, Mixtec & Zapotec dialects), Popoluca, Popoti, Zulumeno, Ixil, Quiche, Kekchi, Poconchi, Chorti, Pocomam, Cakchiquel, Zutujil, and the ancient pre-Toltec language Mam.

The conquest of the Cuchumatan Highlands to the north and west of the Tierra de Guerra took place from 1525 to 1530. It involved seven major battles with Mayan armies averaging about 5000 warriors each. In addition there were too many skirmishes and ambushes to count. In every battle but one, horses (cavalry) proved to be the decisive element. The one expedition without any cavalry support was a brutal defeat of the Spanish force, which was virtually annihilated. Even as late as 1540 there were still a couple of independent holdout fortified cities, “tinamit”, to be taken.

The Spanish weren’t impressed by the Cuchumatan as it was too high (up to 12,000 feet), too rugged, and too cold to be of much use. For example, farmers in the Cuchumatan Highlands could only raise one crop per year as opposed to the farmers in the Almolongo Valley who could raise three crops per year. Military operations were primarily interested in stopping the raids by the Maya and capturing slaves. The Holy Order of the Mercedarians were the only ones interested in actually establishing a Christian foothold in the area. They met with only limited success in our time.

For more information see: Guatemala in the Spanish Colonial Period by Oakah L. Jones, Jr., University of Oklahoma Press, 1994.

9. Religious Santiago De Los Caballeros, Guatemala 1542:

“If we had to choose a single, irreducible idea underlying Spanish colonialism in the New World, it would undoubtedly be the propagation of the Catholic Faith.” Adrian C. Van Oss, Catholic Colonialism: parish history of Guatemala, 1524-182. 1986.

Despite the obvious material desires which drove the Conquistadors, the fact remains that these men believed in their God and his Divine Mandate to a degree difficult for 21st century people to conceive. When the holy men they relied on proved, on occasion, to suffer human frailties, the rank and file of the population were both shocked and angered at what they regarded as betrayal of a holy trust. On the whole, most of the religious men in 16th century New Spain sincerely believed in their ideal and did their best to implement it, often facing incredible danger and odds.

Before her death in 1504 Queen Isabella of Castile, a devout Catholic who took her responsibilities as queen and Catholic very seriously, formally declared that any Indians who accepted the Catholic faith and her dominion over them were free vassals with the same rights as Europeans. Only those Indians that renounced God could be enslaved. As the Pope had established the Spanish crowns as possessing the right and duty of Royal Patronage, she delegated vicepatronato (the civil authority over the church’s temporal affairs) to royal agencies and officials in the Americas. The secular clergy, from archbishops down to novices of the holy orders were to deal only with spiritual affairs of the church. This organization was carried into Guatemala with the invasion force in 1524.

As a point of definition, in the 16th century the church revolved around two hierarchies: the priesthood and the holy orders, both of which answered to the pope. The priesthood was intended to minister to the religious needs of established Christian communities. Priests served their parish, bishops their diocese and on up the ladder. The holy orders were congregated by men (and women in analogous orders) under a set of rules established by various great spiritual leaders, usually saints. The rules outlined a way of life dedicated to serving God and bringing his light to the benighted. Virtually all orders took vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity so they would not be distracted from their intention to serve God. The holy orders were the evangelical arm of the church. Its friars (fray) were fully ordained as priests, able to consecrate the host and say mass.
In 1535 the only clergy in Santiago were Bishop Francisco Maroquin and Father Juan Godinez.

Although the various religious orders had been working in Guatemala since 1529 they did not really appear in Santiago until the mid-1530s.

The Mercedarian Order (white cassocks) established themselves in Santiago in 1536 with four friars.

The Dominican Order (white cassocks) established themselves in Santiago in 1539 with 11 friars under Fray Luis Cancer.

The Franciscan Order established itself in Santiago in 1540 with six friars. The above constituted the entire religious establishment in Santiago in 1540.

The Augustinians (black cassocks) arrived in Mexico in 1533 and in Peru in 1551, but did not establish themselves in Guatemala until 1610.

In the 1530s there were 40 recorded Encomiendas plus the 19 Encomiendas belonging to Pedro de Alvarado in the Santiago area, with an average non-pureblood Spanish population of 185 each. Twenty nine percent of the Encomienda tribute went to the clergy (the bishop and priests), and none to the religious orders. The true clergy in Santiago during the decade did not exceed Bishop Maroquin and four priests. Don Pedro de Alvarado (the Adelantado of Guatemala) was usually off pursuing his own interests, thus Bishop Maroquin became Alvarado’s right-hand man. As such, the bishop had so much power he was secretly referred to as “el Facineros” (the evil one). Only 27% of the tribute produced by an Encomienda went to the Encomendero himself. Thus it appears the Crown was not getting its 20%, but actually closer to 44%, although it’s possible the officers of the Audiencia (the provincial court) only gave the Crown its 20%. (In fairness to Bishop Maroquin, it should be noted that after Alvarado, who had made him Bishop, was killed in 1541, he reformed himself and became a very devoted and respected religious leader who worked tirelessly for the good of the Indians).

Officially the Crown received taxes and tribute (taxes were paid in money, tribute was paid in goods or services). For some reason taxes and tribute were computed in Tostones; one Toston equaling 4 Reales, a coin never available in Guatemala. The church normally received tithes (10% of all produce or products) but somehow the pureblood Indians of Guatemala were exempt from tithing. So the church took the value of the tithes out in donations of work service. Often times the Encomendero was convinced to build a church for his encomienda by making its floor the family burial plot for the local Encomendero. Building a church was officially the legal responsibility of the Encomendero, usually using the “work service” (free labor) of his Encomienda. He was expected to provide the materials for the church and to provide a “donation” for the support of a priest. The donation was two chickens or a dozen eggs per day per priest, one Fanega (1 ½ bushels) of corn per week and “the service of a woman to grind and bake for him daily and a daily ration of feed for the priest’s burro and a man to care for the burro if he has one.” The priest was supposed to raise his own vegetables. It was not unknown for a son of an Encomendero to enter the priesthood in order for him to be assigned to his father’s encomienda as Cappelan and thus keep his salary in the family.

The religious were not to charge for baptisms, confirmations, marriages or funerals/funeral masses, but a donation was expected. Indians had to pay to be baptized.
Later if they could not remember the name of the priest who performed the rite, they had to pay for another baptism. They made a point of remembering the second priest’s name.
Individuals convicted of a secular misdemeanor were taken to the priest who would lock them in the community picota (pillory and/or stocks). How long the victim would remain immobilized in the wooden frame was entirely at the priest’s discretion, considering the nature of the infraction. The idea was this provided the blessing of sanctity to any punishment. The concept was to punish the body so the soul could be cleansed. The priest could elect to lecture the miscreant, berate him, point out the seriousness of his crime, or just leave him alone to spend the time in contemplation of the evil he had done.

The Maya converts referred to Confradias and Hermanidads as Chac patan (literally “work service”, i.e. free labor). A Cofradia was a lay sisterhood that cleaned the church, sponsored at least one mass/month, and prepared the Guachival or festival of the patron saint of the church. The Crown was committed to providing to each church a “crucifix, paten & chalice, bell, sacramental wine and 50,000 Maravedis for the priest”. The Papal Bull of 1508, the Universalis Ecclesiae, gave the crown of Castile, and thus Imperial Spain, the exclusive right to grant or withhold permission to build a church in the New World, and claim all church income to be Royal Property as Perpetual Patron in the New World.

By 1537 the area north of Santiago and the Panchoy Valley, which the Mayan called the Tezulutan (The Place of Never Ending War), was named by the Spanish the Tierra de Guerra (the Land of War). The name recognized that the area included the Quiche, Kakchiquel, Tsutujil, and Mam federations and the smaller city-state tribes of the Jacaltec, Chuj, Popoluca, Xinca, Kanjobal, Ixil, Aguatec, Uspantec, Kekchi, Chol, Chorti, Pocomam and Poconchi, all constantly fighting each other for dominance and tribute with a tangled web of shifting alliances. The Tierra de Guerra extended to the Usumacinta River and the Mayan heartland in the El Peten Mountains and lowlands. The El Peten is northern Guatemala today. Although nominally conquered and at peace, the Tierra de Guerra still hosted unconquered Mayan raiders in tiny hamlets (Amag) of less than a half dozen huts, supported by the fortified Mayan towns in the El Peten.

The fortified Mayan towns in El Peten are actually fortified “civic centers” known as Tinamit. Each Tinamit contains a small pyramid, housing for the ruling elite priest warriors, and the artisans. The peasant farmers are scattered all over the place outside the town defenses. The Tinamit rely extensively on natural defensive positions on mountaintops, steep narrow promontories, lakes or fast moving rivers. Although there are often significant walls and fortifications, these usually cover entryways and vulnerable areas. Entries are usually not capable of being attacked by horsemen. Utitlan and Iximche in the Tierra de Guerra are good examples which Alvarado himself noted were “very strong, and not to be taken by force of arms”. The last of these Tinamit was the island city of Nohoch in the El Peten, which was not captured until 1685. (Today it is the community of Flores in Lake Peten).

The Franciscans quickly realized that friars going alone or in pairs into the Tierra de Guerra, while putting your life in God’s hands, allowed you to approach the people who would be put on their guard by an invading army. How many anonymous martyrs to the Holy Faith there were is unrecorded. They learned that if they could speak the Indian language and make a sincere convert of the Cacique, his people would readily fall into line peacefully. The operative word here was sincere, as deserters were frequent. The Franciscans made contact in an extensive reconnaissance of the area but it was left to the Dominicans to establish 10 settlements (in religious terms a “doctrina of 30 families”) in this manner. The Mercedarians were not so much an evangelizing order as they were dedicated to alleviating suffering and so occupied only six settlements, these being ones neither the Franciscans nor the Dominicans wanted, because they were in such miserable locations (too cold in the Cuchumatan Highlands which range up to 12,000 feet, or too hot and mosquito ridden in the tropics.). The average life span of a friar in Guatemala was 39. A friar sent to a tropic doctrina invariably measured his remaining life span in months, not years.

The Franciscans also realized the way to make the Mass more amenable to the Indian converts was by allowing them to play the music and do the dances originally performed before the pyramid (often the one on which the church or first chapel was built). Many of the sincere converts did so on the basis that the Christ on the Cross was merely a newly revealed god of the traditional pantheon that was now represented by the appropriate saints. After all, copal incense had been burned to both the old gods and Jesus. The religious expression was often sincere, merely using the Spanish saint names for the old gods whose names would gradually be lost over the decades. Altars in churches frequently took the form of miniature pyramids rather than the traditional table shape, the crucifix usually being alongside rather than behind it. At harvest time a blood sacrifice still has to be made in the Cuchumatan highlands, although now it is an animal. Clay flutes are still played in the fields to keep the corn happy as it grows.

Exactly how much understanding of Christian belief the settlements really had is open to question. For example, the Trinity was perceived, especially in art, as three distinct individuals rather than the manifestation of a single entity. Holy Mary or Santa Maria was spoken more as a magical incantation than with any understanding of her significance. The personage of Mary as the mother of Christ was a totally separate issue. The image of Santiago (Saint James, patron saint of Spain) as a horseman brandishing a bloody sword over dark skinned moors was evidence of a cruel deity, especially for men who had faced such horsemen in battle.

A dozen different languages were spoken in Santiago in the 1530s: Spanish, Nahuat (Tlaxcalan, Mixtec, & Zapotec dialects), at least seven dialects of Mayan (including Quiche, Kakchiquel, Kekchi, Poconchi), and the ancient original language known as Mam.

10. Syncretism: The Amalgamation Of The Traditional Mayan Religion And Roman Catholicism Santiago De Los Caballeros, Guatemala 1542:

The Guatemala Maya were referred to by their base language stock: Quiche, also called K’iche’.

The Maya are and were an exceedingly religious people. Everything was imbued with a spirit force. The prime essence of their religion was the concept of an all-pervasive duality. Nothing positive can exist without an equal negative: man/woman, life/death, dark/light, yin/yang. Even the gods had a duality. Gucumatz, the most beloved and benevolent god, had a corresponding dark side; the epidemic plague brought by the Spanish was called Gucumatz as it was the fulfillment of the prophecy of judgment that would be brought by the servants of Gucumatz upon his return over the oceans to the east. There was even a god of duality. The essential in all this was balance, equilibrium. Without equilibrium even a good can become a negative.

For the Quiche Maya (Guatemala) the supreme god was more of an all-pervasive “Great Spirit” who did not directly involve itself in the affairs of humans. It appears to have been a given force and had no distinct name. If this spirit had to be named it was called Hunab-Ku “Great but remote and impersonal Spirit”. It was the equilibrium of this force that gods and people worked together to maintain.

To the Guatemala Mayans, Gucumatz was the sky god and a primal creator (i.e. the Quiche version of the Aztec Quetzalcoatl). He was the bringer of wind, clouds, thunder and storms. His temples were also observatories for monitoring the stars and celestial events such as solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, phases of the moon, and astrology. He was equated with the Morning Star. He had a brother, Huracan, who was the other primal creator god. The two brothers were also called “The Hero Twins”. They had two younger brothers, the monkey gods, who were the patrons of domestic arts and sedentary professions. This is because they refused to move down out of the Great World Tree when human kind was created. Apparently, once creation was completed, the brothers turned the whole thing over to Tohil, the fire god, to manage. Tohil was both male and female, having breasts, vagina, penis and testicles, otherwise quite human. The primary messengers of Tohil were the moon god Itzama and his consort the moon goddess Ixchel. Itzama was patron of creative art. Ixchel was patron of mothers and children from conception to birth. Tz’ibajal-imul (Writing Rabbit) was either a manifestation of Ixchel or her child who was a lesser god, and patron of scribes. Writing Rabbit is usually shown as a rabbit, sitting on its hind legs and tail, holding a codex in his front paws. He wears a headband to hold his pens as human scribes do, and his ears are erect. The dark patches on the moon are Writing Rabbit’s shadow. The vulture god was the protector of kings, and decided when a king should lose in battle and become a sacrifice.

Chac was the rain god. While Gucumatz was the most revered god, Chac was by far the most important. Gucumatz provided wind, clouds and thunder, but if Chac did not fill them with rain, they were nothing but storms, which sometimes were a bad thing. Rain is the blood of the gods given to enrich the earth.

The earth as we know it is the connecting point between the 13 levels of Heaven and the nine levels of Hell. The Great Cave at Mictlan is the passage way to Xibalba, the Nine Levels of the Underworld. This is no longer considered a mythic place, the cave has been found, with Mayan inscriptions, and matching the Mayan description. Likewise the Great World Tree is the passage way to the Thirteen Levels of the Heavens. The Great World Tree is a species Ceiba Bomax. There are five sacred directions and colors: North (white), South (red), East (yellow), West (black), and Center.

The gods do not cause catastrophes or disasters, or even hold them off. It is the failure of humans to work with the gods to maintain balance in the universe.

The great creation story of the Maya is incredibly long, complex and frequently contradictory.

Shamans came in all sorts of variety, some good, some evil, some with greater powers than others, both male and female. The highest class was the jaguar shaman. Some shamans were attached to a specific temple while others free-lanced. Most shamans tended to specialize in specific brands of spirit forces. A temple shaman carried an honored title, Chilam, and were highly respected.

Hallucinogenic substances were widely used by shamans. They were derived from the toxins found in the head bumps of certain types of toads, morning glory seeds, peyote and various forms of mushrooms. They could be eaten, drunk, burned and the smoke inhaled, or introduced quickly and powerfully into the bloodstream through the use of enemas or deeply seated suppositories. Being directly put in contact with the colon, the drug lost none of its potency through the digestive track. The one drawback was, if the dose was too large it could be fatal.

Examples of Syncretic transition:
Throughout the Mayan world there are stories that parallel similar stories in the Christian Bible. For example they include a great flood like Noah’s, and the story of Xochiquetzal, the flower goddess, is an exact version of Eve being expelled from The Great Tree/Garden of Eden for eating the forbidden fruit. The stories do not appear to be grafted on after Spanish exposure, but appear to pre-date the Conquest. Today’s Day of the Dead celebration is a tradition definitely dating to pre-conquest times.

Other examples:
Medicine (magic) bundles = Catholic Holy Relics (like pieces of the true cross, a bone of a saint, etc.)
“Great Spirit” Hunab Ku if you have to name it = The Holy Spirit
Gucumatz = Quetzalcoatl (Aztec) = Kukulkan (Maya) = Jesus (Spanish) the feathered serpent and the Morning Star were his manifestations.
Hurucan primal creator with his brother Qucumatz = Saint Barbara (the female manifestation of the god)
Chac – the rain god = John the Baptist
Tohil – the fire god = Saint Lorenzo
Ixchebelyax (god of the visual arts) = Saint Luke
Ek Cuah (the god of merchants) = Saint Nicholas
Ek Ahau (god of travelers) = Saint Antonio
Yam Caax – The Maize god = Saint Isidor
Ah-puch (god of archers) = Saint Sebastian
Hobnil (the god of beekeepers) = Saint Ambrose

And, if you can’t find the appropriate saint for your god, or god for your saint, there’s always the Yumbalamob (Yumbalam singular) who are generic spirits of everything that doesn’t have a god or a saint. They’re more than guardian angels as they are job specific.

Then there’s also the bargain basement patrons: The Three Brothers: Yantho, Usukun, & Uyitzin which translates as “The Good, The Bad and The Indifferent”. There’s also Mahucatah (translates as “Not Right Now”) the god of procrastination? (I’m not making this up).

Roys, Ralph L. The Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel, Carnegie Institution, Washington DC, 1933.
Van Oss, Adrian C. Catholic Colonialism: parish history of Guatemala, 1524-1821. 1986.

Last revised 18-Aug-22