Illustration by Jorge Garibay

Since the beginning of their civilization, approximately 3,000 years ago, the Maya have related stories, legends and fables about mythical beings and the laws of nature. These tales are drawn either from both individual and collective experiences or imaginary ones. Today, they help us to understand a very different way of life and being, as well as allow us to enter one of history's most mysterious cultures. The following fable is by an unknown author and of unknown date. However, its location can be placed exactly in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and is called The Maya's Sadness.

One day, all the animals drew near to a Maya man and said to him:

—We do not like to see you so sad. Ask us for whatever you wish and you shall have it.

The man said:

—I want to be happy.

The owl responded:

—Who knows what happiness is? Ask us for something more concrete.

—Well then, continued the man, I want to have good sight.

The vulture replied:

—You shall have mine.

—I want to be strong.

The jaguar said:

—You shall be strong like me.

—I wish to be able to walk without tiring.

The deer replied:

—I will give you my legs.

—I want to be able to forecast the arrival of the rains.

The nightingale said:

—I will let you know with my song.

—I want to be astute.

And the fox said:

—I shall teach you.

—I long to be able to climb the trees.

The squirrel responded:

—I will give you my claws.

—I want to be able to see in the dark.

And the cat said:

—I will lend you my eyes.

—I want to be able to recognize medicinal plants.

And the serpent responded:

—Ah, this is my domain, because I know all the plants. I will mark them for you in the fields and woods.

Hearing the words of the snake, the man left. Then, the owl said to all the animals:

—Now the man knows much more and is able to do many things, but he will always be sad.

—Poor animals! Poor animals!

Taken from Tales and Legends of Ancient Yucatan by Ermilo Abreu Gómez, published by the Fondo de Cultura Económica, Mexico.