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African, Olmecs, Pedra, Mayan, Writing, Pyramids, Schele

Mayan Writing

African Origin of the Mayan Writing. The major evidence for the African origin of the Olmecs comes from the writing of the Mayan people. As mentioned earlier most experts believe that the Mayan writing system came from the Olmecs (Soustelle, 1984). The evidence of African style writing among the Olmecs is evidence for Old World influence in Mexico.


The Olmecs probably founded writing in the Mexico. Schele and Freide (1990) have discussed the Olmec influence over the Maya. This agreed with Brainerd and Sharer's, The ancient Maya (1983, p.65) concept of colonial Olmec at Mayan sites.


Moreover, this view is supported by the appearance of jaguar stucco mask pyramids (probably built by the Olmecs) under Mayan pyramids e.g., Cerros Structure 5-C-2nd, Uxaxacatun pyramid and structure 5D-22 at Tikal. This would conform to Schele and Freidel's belief that the monumental structures of the Maya were derived from Olmec prototypes. An Olmec origin for many Pre Classic Maya sites, would explain the cover-up of the jaguar stucco mask pyramids with classic Maya pyramids at these sites.


It would also explain Schele and Freidel's (1990) claim that the first king of Palenque was the Olmec leader U-Kix-chan; and that the ancient Maya adopted many Olmec social institutions and Olmec symbolic imagery. B. Stross (1973) mentions the Mayan tradition for a foreign origin of Mayan writing. This idea is also confirmed by Mayan oral tradition (Tozzer, 1941), and C.H. Brown (1991) who claimed that writing did not exist among the Proto-Maya.


Terrence Kaufman has proposed that the Olmec spoke a Mexe-Zoquean speech and therefore the authors of Olmec writing were Mexe-Zoquean speakers. This view fails to match the epigraphic evidence. The Olmec people spoke a Manding (Malinke-Bambara) language and not Zoquean. There is a clear African substratum for the origin of writing among the Maya (Wiener, 1922). All the experts agree that the Olmec people gave the Maya people writing (Schele & Freidel, 1990; Soustelle, 1984). Mayanist also agree that the Proto-Maya term for writing was *c'ihb' or *c'ib'.

Mayan, Tutul, Xi, Manding, Mande, Shi, c'ib', Writing, Winters

Figure 1

The Mayan /c/ is often pronounced like the hard Spanish /c/ and has a /s/ sound. Brown (1991) argues that *c'ihb may be the ancient Mayan term for writing but, it can not be Proto-Mayan because writing did not exist among the Maya until 600 B.C. This was 1500 years after the break up of the Proto-Maya (Brown, 1991).


Landa's tradition concerning the origin of writing among the Maya supports the linguistic evidence (Tozzer, 1941). Landa noted that the Yucatec Maya claimed that they got writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu from Nonoulco (Tozzer, 1941). The Tutul Xi were probably Manding speaking Olmecs.


The term Tutul Xiu, can be translated using Manding as follows: Tutul, "Very good subjects of the Order". Xiu, "The Shi (/the race)". "The Shis (who) are very good Subjects of the cult-Order". The term Shi, is probably related to the Manding term Si, which was also used as an ethnonym. The Mayan term for writing is derived from the Manding term *se'be. In Figure 2., are the various terms for writing used by the Manding/Mande people for writing.

Figure 2

Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is probably derived from Manding *Se'be which is analogous to *c'ib'. This would explain the identification of the Olmec or Xi/Shi people as Manding speakers.There are also many cognate Mayan and Manding

terms (Wiener, 1920-22) .


The Decipherment of the Olmec Writing It is generally accepted that the decipherment of an unknown language/script requires 1) bilingual texts and/or 2) knowledge of the cognate language(s).


It has long been felt by many Meso-Americanist that the Olmec writing met non of these criteria because, no one knew exactly what language was spoken by the Olmec that appear suddenly at San Lorenzo and La Venta in Veracruz, around 1200 B.C.E. This was a false analogy. For over 50 years there has ben evidence that the Olmec people probably wrote their inscriptions in the Manding language (Winters, 1979,1997) and the Manding writing from North Africa called Libyco-Berber, was used to write the Olmec (Winters, 1979, 1997) and Mayan (Rafinesque, 1832) language.


To decipher an unknown script it is unnecessary to reconstruct the Proto-language of the authors of the target script. In both the major decipherments of ancient scripts, e.g., cuneiform and ancient Egyptian, contemporary languages in their synchronic states were used to gleam insight into the reading of dead languages. No one can deny, that it was Champolion's knowledge of Coptic, that led to his successful decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics.


La, Venta, Veracruz, Chile, Wiercinski, A, Leo, Wiener, Olmec, Writing, Language



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