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Two Yucatecan Mayan Ritual Chants
(published in Mexicon in September, 1982)

In the western culture we think of ritual as being something which has a set formula which is written down or memorized and which is to be "religiously" followed when being performed. It now seems apparent that for the Mayan H-Menoob (shamans) this is not the case as can be seen in the bee chants which follow. While it has come to my attention that there are a couple of H-Menoob who do read from books when performing rituals, this is certainly an exception to the normal practice of the H-Men performing ad lib.

From various conversations I have had with people in Yucatán (H-Menoob and people with strong interest in the tradition which the H-Menoob represent) I feel it can be said that there are certain ideas and themes which should or must be incorporated within any given type of ritual (santiguar - a curing ceremony, cħa chac - a rain ceremony, u hanlil col - a thanksgiving ceremony, etc.), but other than that there is no set criteria which must be met.

Indeed, the rituals of the H-Menoob for the most part seem to be very personal. By that I mean that such things as the names of the people sponsoring and involved in the ritual, the place where the ritual is taking place, and the day and even the hour are frequently included in the ritual itself. While such personalization is not included in either of the following chants, perhaps because both of them were performed for anthropologists, the cantor Don Felipe normally does included such personalization.

The two chants presented here are chants by Don Felipe Paz of Tecoh, Yucatán, México, recorded on tape by two different anthropologists about a decade apart. The first one was done for Carol Leonard in about 1964 with William Folan in attendance. The second chant was done for Malcolm Shuman in 1972. While obviously therefore neither chant represents "field conditions", since these are the only set of recorded chants done by the same H-Men for the same purpose available to me they were chosen in preference to other chants and complete ceremonies done in field conditions also available to me but not done for identical purposes.

In both instances Don Felipe explains in Spanish the purpose of the bee chant. Briefly stated, the bee hive has come under attack from various pests and diseases and the hive owner has failed in his efforts to ward off the attacks. The H-Men is called in to alleviate the situation. It is the job of the H-Men to call on the various spirits which will aid the bees to overcome the distressed situation. While no mention is made by Don Felipe in his discussions of other actions taken by either the H-Men or the hive owner, it should be noted that physical remedies as well as spiritual ones are taken also. (eg. if the xulab ants are attacking the hive then the appropriate steps are taken to make the hive inaccessible to the ants.)

For the bee chants presented here there are these following points which are common in both:

  1. certain deities must be called upon, namely colel cab, colel peten, colel holo, and colel ek tun;
  2. certain trees which have good flowers for bees are called upon to open their flowers to the bees;
  3. the deities called upon above should aid in keeping away the various pests which are destroying the bee hive.

Beyond these points there seems to be no set rule. The first chant is sung in it entirety. The second chant parallels the first in the sung part in the presentation of ideas, but then Don Felipe has added a chanted section which recapitulates the themes except that he leaves out the idea of keeping the pests away.

Just as the words in the sung parts are different, so too are the melodies. In still other examples of Don Felipe’s melodies (in a Cħa Chac - rain ceremony - for example) still other melodies are used. How a melody is arrived at is something which I have yet to learn.

Of the deities called upon here at least two are spirits associated with definite places:

X-Colebil Ek Tun (Lady Black Rock) is a site in the Progresso township lands a few kilometers northwest of the Hacienda San Ignacio which is situated on the road from Merida to Progresso. The site consists of several early classic or late early period platforms (visual observation by E. Wyllys Andrews V), the highest and most important of which is not over two meters high and roughly 20 meters square. To the southwest corner of the largest platform there is a plain unfaced stela roughly 20 cm thick, 1-1.5 m wide, and above the actual ground level about 2.5 m high (visual observation). This stela is the actual X-Colebil Ek Tun. The face of the stela is roughly north-south. Around the base of the stela is an altar of rock and rock rubble of about 2 m square and 70-80 cm high. The stela area is covered by a tin roof supported by four chacah trees which seem not to have any particular world direction as alignment. On the altar, particularly on the south side of the stela, there are various offerings including the remains of vigil candles, flowers (both real and plastic) and tin cans and tin lard cans (five gallon size) of various ages containing various types of offerings. One of these cans sometimes contains monetary offerings, but this cash may be used by a visitor in case of need!

The people of Kom Cħeen (five km south of X-Colebil Ek Tun) and the vicinity use the spirit of X-Colebil Ek Tun mainly as an aid for deer hunting since in part it is from this site northwards into the Koxol Ac (mosquito grass - savanna) that the deer hunting area begins. Most of the offerings (mainly candles) are offered without any prayers or chants, but it is mentioned that knowledge of the proper words would certainly enhance the offering. No use of the spirit of X-Colebil Ek Tun for aiding bees in Kom Cħeen has come to my attention.

It should be noted that the normal water level in this area is only 2 meters below ground level and that there are several small dzonots about the site. Some are covered over and seem to be sources for zuhuy ha (virgin water) for H-Menoob.

(For further information see Shuman, 1974; 303-305)

X-Colebil Hol (Lady Hole) as a site is a dzonot in the Calkini region. Since I have not seen it personally the following is a description from various local sources. The dzonot is a "large" one, meaning, I think, any dzonot over 3 meters across. The water is deep (over 5 meters?) and at the bottom on good days the actual stone image of X-Colebil Hol can be seen (imagined?). Some people of Kom Cħeen know of X-Colebil Hol, but no particular power has yet been described to me.

While most people who know of X-Colebil Hol have located her position as above, one idzat (H-Men apprentice) told me that she is a round stone column in the town forest of Dzilam Bravo.

The Transcriptions:

The following transcriptions were made only with the greatest difficulty. The chants are done at quite a rapid pace, and there seems to be a certain amount of sliding over words without fully forming them. The second chant in particular has given me great difficulty. I have played it to my wife, a native of Ticul, and to various neighbors of ours in Kom Cħeen. Despite these people’s help several things remain unclear. Interested persons may get a tape of these chants available either through MEXICON or myself to verify (or improve as the case may be) the readings presented here.

01 ti colel cab

tu bu, tu bu
cin yukul u vino u diosil in yumbil
05 ti tun u yikel colel cab
ti colel ek tun, ti colel chac
tu bu, tu bu, tu bu u vino dios yumbil
oxhun kin, oxhun akab
oxhuncabalac ca zuten c’ yikel bacan
10 le x-cichpam holmobil yum
tuux tun cin dzic u santo zuhuy vino
tu bel le colel cab, colel peten
tixnac uxnac zayo zayobil in yum
ti x-cichpam x-colel estranjera divina reina yum
15 cin ppoic u xikoob cin dzic muk u xikoob
ti lol tail
ti lol dzidzilche
ti lol catzimil
ti lol bacan chucmilo
20 ti lol zebalmilobil yum
tu bu, tu bu
cin yukul u vino dios yumbil in yum
tu bu, tu bu ci boc ci boc caanacnac
ci u toppol u loloob u cheob bacan
25 ti u montaniao in yum
ti x-cichpam x-colebil x-ppo balam
u ci ppocuba xunan in yum
utial nachcunzic bacan le yumen
le yikel le bacan le xulabe
30 utial u nachcunzic bacan le yumen
u yikel bacan le zakalo
utial u nachcunzic bacan le yikel
le yumen le cipchoho tohol be
utial u nachcunzic ziruhoob ti bacan le muchoob
35 u nachcunzic tulacal kinam xunanoob in yum
oxhun kin, oxhun akab
oxhuncabalac cu tal u zuten c’ yikel kuobil yum
yacotunen belae yumen ca tun ca yan tune cabe
ti colel cab colel peten
40 ti colel ek tun


50 ti colel cab

cilich maben in yumen
ti colel cab, colel ku, colel peten
oxhuncabalac cu tal u zuten c’ yikel le colel cab
55 x-cichpam colebil x-holo
ti colebil ku
ca talen bacan a cichcelmil
ti colel cab, colel peten
60 oxhuncabalac cu talo
bacan tuux ppenah ti u montaniao
tuux tun amal tu ca uil lolol
dzidzilche u lol
takan tail lol u lol, catzimil lol xan
65 tzancalac, tzancalac
tu bu u yukul u santa vino
tuux cu yukul le colel cab, colel peten, colel ku
colel ku, colel cab divina reina yumen
didivina sagrada tu pilixil yumen
70 tu yukala yumen
antes tune colel caben yumen mu kalo ti am xan
mu kalo tu kaan am mix dzudzaan chuchuptonilo
nachcuntic toholtic nachcuntic xan
le xulabobe mudz a lol ti le colel cabe yumil,
75 colel peten, colel ku
hunhulul talen tzancalac in yum
ti tuxnac uxnacxpil uxbil c’ yum hai
ti colel ek tun, colel peten, colel holo
80 ti colel cabobil yum
  ti noh cilich kaba dios tuxteex ti colel cab
ti colel peten,
85 ti kuil le caba tu chilcuntaltic colel ti xunan cab
ti bacan yan x-cilich bacab
he cu yemelo tuux talo divino xan
ti nohol lakin ik chikin ik nohol ik
ca zuten c’ yikeloob xan cu tal le colel cab uaye yum
90 ua ma thoxenen xan le hanalo cabo xan
dzidzilche tu kamilo xan
tuux cu toppol u cabilo xan
ti bacan dzidzilche xan yetel u cabilo xan catzim
tu cabilo xan x-tailo
95 tulacal u cabil montania
ci u boc ci u budz u hanal xan
tu c’ x-cichpam x-colebil x-holo xacuba x-cichcilicheex
teche x-cichpam holmo
texe x-cichpam colel cabeex
100 x-cichpam colel ek tun
a x-cichpamil ca tu tzentah tu zuhuy kuil cab
ti kuil peten
ti noh kab dios yumbil


Note: in making the following translations the Mayan texts were followed as closely as possible. This renders a rather tortured English text, but this seems at this stage preferable to giving a neatly translated text which would then make it difficult to follow the Mayan texts word for word.

01 To Lady Bee (1)

Tu bu, tu bu (2)
I drink the wine of gods my lord
05 to therefore the insects of the lady bee
to lady black rock (3), to lady rain
tu bu, tu bu, tu bu the wine of the lord god
oxhun (4) day, oxhun night
oxhuncabalac (4) then return our insects certainly
10 of the beautiful holmo (5) lord
where therefore I place the holy virgin wine
in the path of the lady bee, lady peten (6)
tixnac uxnac (7) spring of springs my lord
to the beautiful lady foreign divine queen lord
15 I wash her wings I give strength to her wings
to the flower of ruellia tuberosa
to the flower of ageratum intermedium
to the flower of acacia gaumeri
to the flower certainly of pithecolobium albicans
20 to the flower of zebalmilobil (8) lord
tu bu, tu bu
I drink the wine of god lord my lord
tu bu, tu bu sweet smell sweet smell skywards
anxiously open the flowers of the trees certainly
25 in the forest my lord
to the beautiful lady x-ppo balam (9)
she anxiously washes herself the lady my lord
so that he can certainly be kept away the lord
of the insects certainly of the xulab (10) ant
30 so that he can certainly be kept away the lord
of the insects certainly of the locust
so that they can certainly be kept away the insects
of the lord of the long tailed cuckoo straight away
so that the ziruhoob (11) can be moved off to the frogs
35 all the sick ladies are kept away my lord
oxhun day, oxhun night
oxhuncabalac they come returning our insects of the gods lord
love me today my lord so that then there will be therefore honey
to lady bee lady peten
40 to lady black rock

50 To Lady Bee (12)

Holy (13) mead my lord
to lady bee, lady god, lady peten
oxhuncabalac comes back our insects of the lady bee
55 beautiful lady holo
to lady god
love me
then come certainly your beautifulness
to lady bee, lady peten
60 oxhuncabalac it comes
certainly where it was procreated in the forest
where therefore always then there are flowers
ageratum intermedium its flower
ripe ruellia tuberosa flower its flower, acacia gaumeri its flower also
65 quickly returning, quickly returning
tu bu it drinks the holy wine
where drink the lady bee, lady peten, lady god
lady god, lady bee divine queen lord
divine sacred tu pilixil (14) lord
70 it drank lord
before therefore lady bee lord not be caught by spiders also
not be caught in the web of the spider nor sucked suckled
moved away straight away moved away also
to the xulab ants close your flower that lady bee lord,
75 lady peten, lady god
hinhulil (15)
hunhulul come I right back my lord
there sent uxnacxpil uxbil (16) our lord of the water
to lady black rock, lady peten, lady holo
80 to lady bees lord
  to the right holy (13) hand of god (17) send you to the lady bee
to lady peten
85 to the god of the bees bows down lady to the lady bee
to certainly where the holy (13) bacab is (18)
here it comes down where the divine comes also
to the south east wind west wind south wind
then return our insects also the lady bee comes here lord
90 if I don’t hand out also the food the honey also
ageratum intermedium they received also
where opens the flower also
to certainly ageratum intermedium also and the honey also of acacia gaumeri
the honey also of ruellia tuberosa
95 all the honey of the forest
sweet its smell sweet its vapor of the food also
to our beautiful lady holo kneeling down your beautifulnesses
you beautiful holmo
you beautiful lady bees
100    beautiful lady black rock
your beautifulness then nourishes the virgin god of honey
to the god peten
to the right hand of god lord


  1. recorded by Carol Leonard, 1964.
  1. seemingly a meaningless phrase, probably an imitation of the sound of the bees.
  1. see the note about X-Colelbil Ek Tun above in the introductory text.
  1. oxhun, the short form of oxlahun, means thirteen, but since the Mayan number system above five is almost completely unknown by the modern Mayans, this number as a number would not be understood. It has though retained its magical powers, and is used in that way here. Oxhuncabalac is composed of the number oxhun, the adverb cabal meaning down, and the suffix -ac indicating completed action.
  1. see the note about X-Colebil Hol above in the introductory text.
  1. Peten means the land of Yucatán.
  1. undetermined words.
  1. zebalmil is unknown to me. This could be Dze Balamil (little jaguar) but that would still be an unknown plant name.
  1. X-Ppo Balam gives lady wash jaguar. I have not heard anything about her.
  1. xulab is a stinging ant which also causes much damage to the bee hives, among other things.
  1. perhaps zil uoh, a small lizard, is meant.
  1. recorded by Malcolm Shuman, 1973.
  1. cilich is today a little used word in normal conversation, and many people don’t know the meaning of the word. It has been associated by some people with cichcelem (male beauty and goodness) and cichpam (female beauty and goodness) (both words are part of the normal modern vocabulary), and in fact there is a historical basis for this association as evidenced by some of the colonial dictionaries. In the Akademische Druck edition of the San Francisco dictionary for example there is the entry "cich; ciich; cilich; hach: cosa buena y santa, (son tambien superlativos). The word "holy" has been used here although there is reason to believe that in the minds of the user the correct word should be "wonderful", "beautiful", or something of that nature.
  1. undetermined words.
  1. sounds of the bees humming.
  1. undetermined words.
  1. there seems to be a confusion between "kab" (hand) and "kaba" (name) here. Both are quite frequent in rituals, but in connection with the word "dios" these are the two usual formulas:

    ich kaba dios mehenbil dios etc. (in the name of god, the son of god, etc.)

    tu noh kab dios (to the right hand of god)

    Since the word "noh" is at the beginning of this phrase I have assumed that "kab" and not "kaba" is meant. The alternative translation, i.e. translating the phrase as stands, would be "to the great holy (13) name of god send you to lady bee".

  1. bacab is given as representative or agent in the Motul Mayan-Spanish dictionary, but is evidently some sort of deity as well, as evidenced by "Ritual of the Bacabs". In an effort to gain information of the various deities mentioned in these chants as well as in others I have talked to various people including H-Menoob such as Don Antonio Hau of Teabo and Idzatoob such as Don Elutario (Last name not known to me) of Kom Cħeen about these deities, but on the whole I have only received the information that these things are "ikoob" (literally "winds" but here meaning "spirits") without any precise definition of who they really are and what their individual or collective powers are. It is interesting to note that the "x-" is added to "cilich", making this deity presumably a female.

Don Felipe Paz’s Death

Sometime between the date of the second recording and 1976 Don Felipe was killed by a neighbor in Tecoh with a shotgun. The neighbor was pardoned, so the story goes, because what he thought he was shooting was a cat which was prowling about on his kitchen’s roof in the evening. He contended that he had no way of knowing that the cat was in fact Don Felipe in the form of a uay miz (were-cat) until the animal transfigured itself in its death throws. (This material is second hand from various local sources. Malcolm Shuman has also received similar information.)

Sources Cited

Barrera Marín, Alfredo, et al.
1976 Nomenclatura Etnobotánica Maya, Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, México.
Barrera Vásquez, Alfredo, et al.
1980 Diccionario Maya Cordemex, Ediciones Cordemex, Mérida.
Motul Mayan-Spanish dictionary; ms, Gates reproduction.
Redfield, Robert, and Alfonso Villa Rojas
1934 Chan Kom, Washington D.C.
Roys, Ralph L.
1931 The Ethno-Botany of the Maya, Tulane University, Department of Middle American Research, New Orleans.
1965 Ritual of the Bacabs, Norman.
San Francisco, Diccionario de
1976 Ed. Oscar Michelon, Akademische Druck- und Verlagsanstalt Graz.
Shuman, Malcolm K.
1974 The Town Where Luck Fell: The Economics of Life in a Henequen Zone Pueblo, Ann Arbor (Xerox University Microfilms).

David Bolles

Other contributions by David Bolles

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