The Laughing Falcon, mentioned in the Popol Vuh Mayan mythology

It is understandable that with Xibalba, Hero Twins, owl messengers, demons, devils, and deities of Xibalba, that one would initially assume that everything in the Popol Vuh is mythology.

But as I take each insect (zompopos, leaf-carrying ants), slicer bats, and the Laughing Falcon, you quickly find out that most of the plants and animals featured or mentioned in the Popol Vuh not only exist, but they behave in the fields and forests precisely the way the Popol Vuh authors describe them.

For example, the Popol Vuh says that leaf-cutting ants harvest flowers. A bit unlikely? Yet after spending several years in areas throughout Guatemala and adjacent Copan Ruinas, Honduras, we found leaf-cutting ants cutting and carrying flowers. Even in Tikal we found leaf-cutting ants harvesting and carrying flowers. Here the zompopos were cutting up the impressive flowers of Pachira aquatica.

So now we wish to address another creature featured in the Popol Vuh, the Laughing Falcon.

The Saga of the Laughing Falcon in the Quiche version of the Popol Vuh

Here is a modern summary of the ancient Quiche myth section which mentions the Laughing Falcon. We use a translation by Tedlock, who spent many years of his life studying Quiche Mayan language and customs.


Although the only extant version of the Popol Vuh is from the Highlands of Quiche area of Guatemala, the origins are in the Lowlands. The first visual renditions of chapters of the Popol Vuh are in pre-classic stone stelae from Izapa (near Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico, a few minutes from the border with Guatemala). You also get scenes from the Popol Vuh at El Mirador (Peten, Guatemala) and in the murals of San Bartolo (also Peten).

So, although the extant version of the Popol Vuh features the mythical history of the gods and rulers of the Quiche Highlands, the Hero Twins and their adventures are mainly inherited from the Mayan Lowlands almost two thousand years before the Spanish found the Quiche Mayan version. Here is a good English translation (by Tedlock, who spent a lot of time working on the Popol Vuh heritage in the Quiche Highlands of Guatemala.


When Hunahpu and Xbalanque begin playing ball at the Great Abyss they disturb the lords of Xibalba, just like their father and uncle before them. Once again the lords send a summons, but this time the messengers go to Xmucane, telling her that the twins must present themselves in seven days. She sends a louse to relay the message to her grandsons, but the louse is swallowed by a toad, the toad by a snake, and the snake by a falcon.*(19) The falcon arrives over the ball court and the twins shoot him in the eye. They cure his eye with gum from their ball, which is why the laughing falcon now has a black patch around the eye. The falcon vomits the snake, who vomits the toad, who still has the louse in his mouth, and the louse recites the message, quoting what Xmucane told him when she quoted what the owls told her when they quoted what the lords of Xibalba told them to say.

Here is the more Quiche style text of the same chapter:

"My grandchild, perhaps you might like to take my message, to go where my grandchildren are, at the ball court," the louse was told, then he went as a message bearer:

"'A messenger has come to your grandmother,' you will say.

'"You are to come: 'In seven days they are to come,' say the messengers of Xibalba,"says your grandmother,' you will say," the louse was told. Then he went off, and he went in fits and starts, and sitting in the road was a boy named Tamazul, the toad.

"Where are you going?" said the toad to the louse.

"My word is contained*(253) in my belly. I'm going to the two boys," said the louse to Tamazul.

"Very well. But I notice you're not very fast," the louse was told by the toad.

"Wouldn't you like me to swallow you? You'll see, I'll run bent over*(254) this way, we'll arrive in a hurry."

"Very well," said the louse to the toad. After that, when he had been united with the toad,*(255) the toad hopped.

He went along now, but he didn't run. After that, the toad met a big snake named Zaquicaz: "Where are you going, Tamazul boy?" the toad was asked next by Zaquicaz.

"I'm a messenger. My word is in my belly," the toad next said to the snake.

"But I notice you're not fast. Listen to me, I'll get there in a hurry," said the snake to the toad.

"Get going," he was told, so then the toad was next swallowed by Zaquicaz. When snakes get their food today they swallow toads.

So the snake was running as he went, then the snake was met from overhead by a laughing falcon, a large bird.

The snake was swallowed up by the falcon, and then he arrived above the court.

When hawks get their food, they eat snakes in the mountains.

And when the falcon arrived he alighted on the rim of the ball court.

*(256) Hunahpu and Xbalanque were happy then, they were playing ball when the falcon arrived.

So then the falcon cried out: "Wak-ko! Wak-ko!"*(257) said the falcon as he cried.

"Who's crying out there? Come on! Our blowguns!" they said.

And they shot the falcon, landing their blowgun shot*(258) right in his eye.

Wobbling, he fell down and they went right there to grab him, then they asked him: "What are you after?" they said to the falcon.

"My word is contained in my belly.*(259) But heal my eye first, then I'll name it," said the falcon.

"Very well," they said. Next they took a bit of gum off the surface of the ball, then they put it on the eye of the falcon.

"Sorrel gum" was their name for it. As soon as it was treated by them, the vision of the falcon became good again., an early edition of Tedlock’s translation of the Popol Vuh, page 68

Tedlock clearly identifies the bird as the Laughing Falcon, based on the call of this bird. This identification is correct. The bird is common in many parts of Guatemala and adjacent countries of Mesoamerica (especially the Peten lowlands).

The Laughing Falcon eats primarily snakes, of dozens of different species, including venomous snakes.


First Posted November 2017

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