Robert Wald and Michael D. Carrasco
(The following is a modified excerpt from Rabbits, Gods, and Kings: The Interplay of Myth and History on the Regal Rabbit Vase, a paper presented at the Maya Meetings at the University of Texas at Austin, March 11-21, 2004)
In our investigation of the Temples of the Cross Group we have seen that K’ihnich Kan B’ahlam pursued a textual and iconographic program that focused not only on myth, but also on the his coming of age rites and ascension. The text and image of Temple 14 continues this subject to focus on a comparison between the first taking of the K’awiil scepter (uchamaw k’awiil) overseen by the deity Ix/Ju’n? Uh, on 9 Ik’ 10 Mol, and K'ihnich Kan B’ahlam’s taking of K’awiil on 9 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in (653 AD). These events were separated by almost a million years.
The scene of the central tablet of Temple XIV has been interpreted as depicting a posthumous event, which takes place exactly three 365-day years and one 260-day cycle after the death of Kan B’ahlam, or in AD 705 (cf. Schele 1988: 307-8; Lounsbury 1986: 250). At this time, Jupiter was located less than one degree past its second stationary point. During several other events in the life of Kan B’ahlam Jupiter was also positioned at this same point, a fact that seemed to lend credence to the theory that the scene represented a posthumous action.
However, Karen Bassie-Sweet has correctly, we believe, argued that the taking of K’awiil occurred 52 years earlier when Kan B’ahlam was approximately 18 years old. She calls this event a "lineage event" (1991: 223ff).
The taking of the K’awiil has also been called referred to as an heir-designation event by Linda Schele (Schele and Freidel 1990: 235-42) and others. Both terms reflect the idea that the taking of an effigy of the deity K’awiil seems to have been an important ritual and rite of passage for royal adolescents. The change in date proposed by Bassie only strengthens this idea.
While it is not immediately apparent, the first passage likely refers to an event that took place almost one million years before the dance pictured in the scene of the central tablet. The text states that, "[On] 9 Ik' 10 Mol the first K'awiil-taking happened. Lady (or One?) Moon oversaw it." However, the next event seems to have occurred in historical time just several years before the event illustrated on the panel. Although the text is partially eroded, a parallel text carved between the two central figures allows us to fill in the missing information. It states that, "[On] 13 Ok 18 Wo, the Big/house? White Bone Centipede, the companion spirit of K'awiil became nine-fold empowered. He [Kan B’ahlam] received or held the B'olon Okte' God. It happened at the White ? Place."
Note that the transitive verb uchamaw includesboth the subject and object in the form of dependent pronouns but as is sometimes the case, especially at Palenque, the explicit nominal subject or object is not always included in the same sentence. When both are present with transitive verbs, the nominal object normally comes first followed by the subject. That leaves us here with the question as to whether B’olon Okte' K'uh is the subject or object. Is he the one taking something or the one being taken by someone. We suggest the nominal subject is not explicitly stated here, but would have been recognized implicitly as the ruler K’ihnich Kan B’ahlam. So, the object received was B’olon Okte’ K'uh and the one who received it was Kan B’ahlam.
Or anyone who still might doubt this interpretation, the text in the inset also helps to clarify that B’olon Okte' K'uh did not directly perform the action but rather oversaw it. It states that, "On 13 Ok 18 Wo, the Big/House White Bone Centipede, the companion spirit of K'awiil, was nine-fold empowered. He oversaw it, the B'olon Okte' God. It happened in the North." Among many Mesoamerican peoples, including the Maya, white was the color associated with the direction north, so the reference to the White ? Place in the text of the column and the North in the inset text would seem to name the same general location. In this regard, it should be remembered that one of the names of the Temple of the Cross was the North House.
Despite the reference to the White Bone Big Chapaat event in the middle of the scene, we do not think that it is being pictured. Instead it is the next event, one that is highlighted in the narrative by means of the conjunction i serving as a discourse marker. The text reads i patlaj yax ch'am k'awiil, for “and then the first K'awiil taking/receiving was done." Then immediately, before any additional details are given, the narrative launches into a long distance number, the intention of which is to connect Kan B’ahlam's first (yax) k'awiil taking to one reported at the beginning of this text. It was 945,748 long count years “after it happened on 9 Ik' 10 Mol the first (natal) taking of K'awiil that he entered into the cave of the black center place on 9 Ajaw 3 K’ank’in." It is Kan B’ahlam's first taking of k'awiil in this cave that is pictured on this panel and it is purposely connected to the ancient taking of k'awiil overseen by Ixik Uh.
Yax is "first" in the sense of “green” and “young.” It is used for Kan B’ahlam's first taking of the K'awiil effigy. The word used for the ancient taking of K'awiil is "first" with different connotations. Instead, for example at Palenque, it is often used for the first in a series especially in the form nahtal. We believe that is the intent here. The first taking of K'awiil overseen by Ixik/Ju’n? Uh at the beginning of this inscription is viewed as the first of many. The other event, the taking of B’olon Okte’ K’uh, involves the empowering of the way (companion spirit) of K’awiil.
We think it is mentioned again next to the image of Kan B’ahlam’s taking of k’awiil because it is a required step in the ritual cycle leading up to the actual taking of K ’awiil. Kan B’ahlam takes K’awiil on 126.96.36.199.0 9 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in (November 18, 653) when he is about 18 years old. Today, this would be about the time in many societies that one might be entering a different stage in life, for example, in the U.S. one might be leaving home either to enter college or to get a job. The earlier event on this panel takes place on 188.8.131.52.10 13 Ok 18 Wo (April 8, 648) when Kan B’ahlam is almost 13 years old. It is an event that involves B’olon Okte' K’uh and the empowerment of the companion spirit of K'awiil. This is about the time that a child enters puberty and is in many societies, including our own, a moment marked by rite of passage rituals, such as Bar Mitzvahs or even the secular rite of entering highschool. Closer to the Classic Maya world, Fr. Bernardino de Sahagun’s working among the Mexica at the beginning of the Colonial period documents that when noble children were about six years old they were accompanied by pages to teach them good behavior and social graces. “And when he was already maybe ten, twelve, or thirteen years old, they placed him in the priests' house; he might be reared there, corrected, and instructed; that he might live an upright life. And when he was already fifteen years old, then he took up arms; or, reaching twenty years of age, then he went forth to war” (Florentine Codex Book 8: 71-71).