Segments in this Video

Forms of Pre-Hispanic Literature (02:16)


Pre-Hispanic literature takes form in dramas, songs, poems, dances, narratives, and discourses. Most extant works are oral records, as invaders destroyed physical artifacts.

Pre-Hispanic Codices: Essential to Latin American Identity (03:05)

Some written texts survived, among them the "Chilam Balam," which, along with other works, were collected in the 16th and 17th centuries. Friars and historians translated many of these pictorial codices.

Languages of Pre-Hispanic Texts (00:56)

Many of the most important texts were written in Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Mexican Empire before the arrival of the Spaniards. They were also composed in the Mayan family of languages.

Codices: Colorful Pre-Hispanic Texts (03:17)

Meso-America is today a treasure trove of tales, myths, and songs, many of which are found on stone inscriptions and monuments. Deer skins and tree bark were used to record texts called codices. This segment features a discussion of the Mayan calendar.

Meso-American Writing Systems (00:49)

Meso-Americans were adept at writing in its most elementary form, pictograms. The Mayans had a more developed systems of writing that used ideograms and phonetic symbols. Symbols are understood as whole words or logograms.

Oral Set Pieces: Generational Memorization and Recitation (03:37)

Codices were often accompanied by long oral set pieces memorized by young apprentices. These pieces were divided into songs, poems, stories, and discourses and were passed down through memorization and recitation.

Mayan Myths and Gods (05:43)

Creation myths and stories about gods abound in indigenous literature. Mayan religious festivities were "milestones in time," festivities and celebrations integral to Mayan history.

Mayan Historical Narratives (04:28)

Among the many mythical and historical stories of Meso-America, perhaps the most renown is the "Popul Vuh," the creation story, and the cultural history of the Quiche people. This segment features excerpts from the "Popul Vuh."

Proliferation of Mayan Writing (03:13)

A collection of books written in the Mayan language, the "Chilam Balam" purports to contain the secrets of the Mayan civilization. Mayan buildings are covered with writings, chronicles, and prophecies.

Andean Literature (04:56)

Incan literature promoted a single, propagandistic version of the past. Systemically eradicated by later invaders, Incan "quipus" recorded all of Incan history and culture. The "Runa yndio" contains the creative story marked by four stages.

Andean Literature: Songs, Recitations, and Drama (02:01)

In Quichua literature, the "Apu Ollantay" is a type of narrative song about the human condition. Other forms of literature include group recitations, drama, satirical fables, and stories about real Incan leaders and heroes killed by Spanish invaders.

Dominant Group Bias of Historical Narratives (02:17)

The history and social structures of the native peoples of America were neither simple nor peaceful before invaders from Europe arrived. Narrative accounts were not always true in every detail and tended to show leaders in the best light.

Spanish Invasion: Catastrophic Destruction of a Civilization (02:06)

The arrival of the Spanish was an experience unprecedented in the annals of the indigenous peoples of Central and South America. Much written history was destroyed by the invaders.

Indigenous Literature (02:02)

Despite their cultural devastation, the indigenous people used their literature to give voice to their struggles and to honor the courage of those who resisted. Five centuries later, their voices can still be heard in the "wanka," a lament for the worthy

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Pre-Columbian Literature

Part of the Series : Fire & Ink: The Legacy of Latin American Literature
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $149.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $224.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $149.95



The history and social structures of Latin America’s native peoples were neither simple nor peaceful before the arrival of Europeans. Wars were fought, empires were created and destroyed, and—as this program illustrates—narrative tapestries of fact and fiction were woven in the process. Underscoring the linguistic sophistication that flourished for thousands of years in the region, the program addresses the proliferation of Nahuatl and Quechua literature, the codices and quipu of Mayan and Incan societies, and other ancient forms of written and oral communication. Although mythical accounts—including the Popol Vuh, the Chilam Balam, the Apu Ollantay, and the Runa yndio—are analyzed on several levels, they are most notably linked with the agendas of pre-Columbian social hierarchies. An FFH&S/Tranquilo Coproduction. (45 minutes)

Length: 45 minutes

Item#: BVL35413

ISBN: 978-1-4213-7764-3

Copyright date: ©2008

Closed Captioned

Reviews & Awards

2008 Telly Award

Performance Rights

Prices include public performance rights.