The Mayan Rabbit Scribe

I first learned about the Mayan Rabbit Scribe back in 2000 when my husband and I traveled to Guatemala to explore the ruins at Tikal. I had been to several various sites in the past, including Chichen-Itza, Tulum and Coba because I’ve been fascinated with the Mayan culture ever since I was a child. Perhaps I even manifested these Mayan temple journeys as a teenager while coloring in the drawings of a Mayan-Incan-Aztec coloring book I bought at a second-hand store.

The amount of information that you can find about the Mayan culture online or in your local library is nothing compared with the facts and lore you hear from the tour guides onsite.

While visiting Tikal, I learned that the Mayans had kept journals of their history and culture, called “codices” most of which were destroyed by order of a Spanish padre, Father Diego de Landa, in a great bonfire in a central Yucatan town called Mani. The padre believed that the books were the work of the devil and were preventing the Mayans from becoming truly civilized. By his order, anyone caught with a codex was summarily tortured and or killed. Only four codices (some of them partial) have survived.

For generations, as the stelas and other stone carvings of the Mayans disintegrated, no one could understand what the carvings meant, and an entire culture was about to be submerged by the tides of history until a few archaeologists figured out the mysteries of the glyphs.

I met a couple of archaeologists who had come to Tikal to photograph artifacts and carvings. They had dedicated their lives to understanding the Mayan way of life. One, by the name of Eleanor “Bunny” Coates, had been coming to Mayan sites for many years. She told me about the Rabbit Scribe.

I glommed right onto that entity, as I’m a writer myself, and I know what it is like to be the family documentarian. I know how important the writer is – although unsung – in any movie or video production you will ever happen to see. Without the writer, nothing gets written down! Without the writer, the memory of an event or series of events loses detail and soon fades into obscurity

The rabbit scribe first appears as part of a scene on a painted Classic Maya vase (circa 300 to 900 AD), that may have been used to serve a chocolate beverage. Scribes conducted the important business of recording important events for royalty using a phonetically-based hieroglyphic script. These rabbit scribes appeared on murals and vases usually writing on a fan-folding book, or “codex,” that was covered with jaguar-skin. Writing was very important to the Maya and they recorded important events on everything – walls, stairs, sculptures, ceramics, plates and stone.

Fortunately, the plan of Padre Diego de Landa to completely destroy the written history of the Classic Mayan culture, has been foiled by diligent archaeologists who have, over last several decades, been able to decipher many of the Mayan glyphs. Dr. David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin has been a prominent force in shining a light on the meaning and impact of Mayan culture, and continues to make inroads with his fascinating work.