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A Folk Tale from the Yucatan


Little boy Tilim was watching his grandmother Chich make a pair of bowls out of a dried jicara(gourd). The fruit was cut in half and hollowed out. Little Tilim, sitting cross-legged on the floor, helped his grandmother polish the dried gourd to a fine luster. When the bowls were finished, Grandmother Chich began preparing lunch.
First, she ground fresh corn into meal, rolling the kernels under a stone pestle. She formed the mixture into little balls which were slapped back and forth between her hands until they were big and round and flat as a blotter. Dropping them on a hot clay tray over an open fire, the tortillas puffed up like balloons. She quickly turned them over, taking care not to burn her fingers (something little Tilim couldn't do-- he always burned his fingers when trying to turn the tortillas over). Once they were fully cooked, she placed the tortillas in one of the newly made bowls. They were ready to eat them with deer meat, cheese and sweet corn.
After lunch, little Tilim slipped out of the house, returning a short time later with a handful of beautiful white flowers called sac-nicte. "Look what I brought for the other new bowl," he exclaimed.
Grandmother Chich was pleased, "They are just as lovely as the princess Sac-Nicte which they are named after!"
"Oh, grandmother, please tell me the story about Princess Sac-Nicte!"
Grandmother Chich filled the second bowl with water and placed it in the center of the table. Arranging the flowers, she began telling little Tilim the story of Princess Sac-Nicte and why the flowers were named after her.
"Long ago there were three great cities in Yucatan, one of which was Mayapan. The king of Mayapan was Hunac-Cel, and he had a beautiful daughter named Sac-Nicte-- which means "White Flower." Sac-Nicte was so lovely that anyone who caught a glimpse of her was happy for many days afterwards.
Once, when the little princess was just five years old, she gave a jicara of fresh water to a poor and weary traveler. As she handed the bowl to him, she happened to look down. The water was so overjoyed to reflect her face that, to show its love, it made a beautiful white flower blossom on its surface. When she was ten, a wild snow-white dove sat on her shoulder and let her feed it. When she turned fifteen, her father promised her in marriage to the powerful Prince Ulil, from the city of Uxmal. But the young Princess Sac-Nicte was not in love with Ulil, her heart went with Prince Black Serpent, of Chichen-Itza.
Prince Black Serpent was a great and powerful leader, but he had not been a very good person. When he was seven years old, he had caught a butterfly and pulled it to pieces. That night he dreamed he was a serpent. When he was fourteen, he found a deer in a trap and killed it-- that night he dreamed he was a tiger. When he turned twenty-one years old he became prince of Chichen-Itza, and that very day he saw Princess Sac-Nicte for the first time.
He cried all that night, realizing how cruel he had been his entire life and knowing how good and sweet the princess was. He felt that he was not good enough to even look at her. The spirits were very troubled, they knew that Prince Ulil of Uxmal was not a good person either. When they saw Prince Black Serpent's hard heart soften and made sweet by his tears, they felt sorry for him. They knew that the little Princess Sac-Nicte would be happier with him.
One night, a little voice whispered in Prince Black Serpent's ear, "The white flower that you love is going to be picked by another. Will you let it be taken from you?"
The next evening a hunchbacked dwarf came to him as he was walking sorrowfully in the moonlight. The dwarf whispered something into Black Serpent's ear and disappeared-- no one but the prince knew that he had been there or what he had said.
During the following weeks, people from all parts of Yucatan began arriving in Uxmal for the great wedding of Princess Sac-Nicte and Prince Ulil. They came with gifts of gold, silver, jade, copper, and of wood and stone. A picture of Princess Sac-Nicte and Prince Ulil standing side by side was carved into the stone wall of the palace.
The festivities began with music, singing and dancing, but the young Princess Sac-Nicte was sad because the man she really loved was not at her wedding. She felt as though she had lost her heart.
On the third day of the celebrations was the wedding ceremony. Just as Princess Sac-Nicte was about to become Prince Ulil's wife, there came great shouts and Prince Black Serpent appeared with seventy warriors! He grabbed the little princess in his arms, and before anyone knew what was happening, he, Sac-Nicte and the warriors disappeared. Prince Ulil was astonished and furious. The wedding guests looked everywhere for Sac-Nicte, but to no avail. It was as though the earth had literally swallowed them up.
In fact, in a way it had! The spirits had created an underground tunnel from Chichen-Itza to Uxmal for Prince Black Serpent and his warriors. It was through that tunnel they had reached Uxmal, and had returned to Chichen-Itza with the princess the same way. They covered the mouth of the passageway with vines and branches so no one could follow them. To this day people can still see the tunnel.
Prince Black Serpent and Sac-Nicte married in Chichen-Itza amidst great rejoicing. But in the middle of their happiness word came that Prince Ulil and the king of Mayapan were sending their armies to destroy Chichen-Itza. Prince Black Serpent wanted to fight them, but little Sac-Nitce had a better plan. So, the entire city packed their belongings and began a long march to the south. Princess Sac-Nicte cried a little about leaving her new home. Wherever one of her tears fell, a sac-nicte tree grew up-- which is why there are so many of these lovely white flowers around Chichen-Itza.
Prince Black Serpent, Sac-Nicte and their people created another great city, which they named Peten. They ruled it very wisely, and the people even were happier there than they had been in Chichen-Itza. When Prince Ulil and the King of Mayapan reached Chichen-Itza they found nothing but empty houses and sac-nicte trees. Even the birds had followed Princess Sac-Nicte to their new land. That is why Chichen-Itza was deserted long ago and left to the winds, rain and the sun."
Grandmother Chich smiled at little Tilim. "You see," she said, "if you always have a good heart you will bring happiness wherever you go. Even people who have done evil things, if they are sorry like Prince Black Serpent was, and stop doing them, can be happy too." Little Tilim snuggled close to his grandmother Chich, she always made him happy.