On this page we are assembling material for an ethnozoological study of monkeys in Mesoamerican cultures.  We would love your input here.

Monkeys in Maya Culture

Monkeys feature prominently in human creation stories of the Maya.  The Howler Monkey and the Spider Monkey are key characters in the Popol Vuh.  Their “younger brothers” were the Hero Twins.  Still today this story can be found in community dances in Mexico (Chiapas and Tabasco), and in Guatemala.

Monkeys also have associations with joking and frivolity, as well as with death and the underworld.  (In Mesoamerica, in general, these are not in conflict as they are in European heritage.)

  • For more on these themes, see Rosana Raquel Romero de Barajas, “The Maya Monkey,” published on line by the Mesoamérica Foundation

Finally, monkeys in Maya art are found engaged in all kinds of human acts, although they also have a divine character.  They are seen to be patrons of the arts, especially for scuptors and writers. They also have associations with music.

  • For more on these themes, see “Howler Monkey Gods,” in Wikipedia.
  • Also, isit Justin Kerr’s Maya Vase Data Base and do a search for “monkey” — scroll and review the images.  You have permission to copy the images into PowerPoints for educational purposes.

Monkeys in Nahua Culture

The monkey is the 11th-day sign in the calendar, associated with the arts (according to the same howler monkey article).  The name for this day was ozomatli in Nahuatl, and the ozomatli was a companion spirit (nahual, or nahualli) of the Aztec god Xochipilli (associated with music and dance). Monkeys, more broadly therefore, have an association with fun and games. [Source: Mexicolore.]