Howler Monkey Gods

The howler monkey god was a major deity of the arts, including music, and the patron of the artisans among the Classic Mayas, especially of the scribes and sculptors. The monkey patrons - often two of them - have been depicted on Classic vases in the act of writing books (while stereotypically holding an ink nap) and carving heads. Together, these two activities may have constituted a metaphor for the creation of mankind, with the book containing the birth signs, and the head the life principle or 'soul'.

Among the most famous Classic Period representations of the howler monkey god is the sculpture of a seated howler monkey writer found within the House of the Scribes in Copan. The two large statues shaking rattles which flank the 'Reviewing Stand' of temple 11 in the same city have been variously described as wind gods and comedians, but may actually represent howler monkeys in their quality of musicians. A ceramic incense burner modelled like a howler monkey scribe was recently found at Post-classic Mayapan.

At the time of the Spanish invasions, the howler monkeys continued to be venerated, although the role played by them in mythological narratives (as well as their names) diverged. Bartolomé de las Casas stated that in the Alta Verapaz, Hun-Ahan and Hun-Cheven were counted among the thirteen sons of the upper god, and were celebrated as cosmogonic creator deities. Among the Quiché Mayas, they were less positively valued: According to the Popol Vuh, Hun-Chowen and Hun-Batz 'One-Howler Monkey' clashed with the Maya Hero Twins, a conflict which led to their actual transformation into monkeys.

In the mantic calendar, Howler Monkey (Batz), corresponding to Spider Monkey (Ozomatli) in the Aztec system, denotes the 11th day, which is associated with the arts. In the Long Count (see Maya Calendar), the Howler Monkey can personify the day-unit, which connects him to the priestly art of calendrical reckoning and thus, to ritual and historical knowledge and to prophecy.


  • H.E.M. Braakhuis, Artificers of the Days. Functions of the Howler Monkey Gods among the Mayas. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 143-1 (1987): 25-53.
  • Michael Coe, Supernatural Patrons of Maya Scribes and Artists. In N. Hammond ed., Social Process in Maya Prehistory, pp. 327-347. Princeton University Press 1977.
  • Michael Coe and Justin Kerr, The Art of the Maya Scribe. London: Thames and Hudson 1997.
  • Susan Milbrath and Carlos Peraza, Mayapan's Scribe: A Link with Classic Maya Artists. Mexicon XXV (2003): 120-123.
  • Doreen Reents-Budet, Elite Maya Pottery and Artisans as Social Indicators, Archaeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association Vol. 8-1 (1998): 71-89.