Here are a few of the characters you will meet in Jaguar Sun:


Hanab Pakal is the hero of ""Place of Mirrors." I created this illustration by layering flesh and features over a photo of the jade mask that was found in his tomb. If the mask was meant to be a portrait, than this could be how he looked in the flesh." You can find out more about Hanab Pakal, on his own page.


Lady Zak Kuk, was the mother of Pakal. Zak means white and Kuk means quetzal, but the bird on her headdress as she is depicted on the side of Pakal's sarcophagus doesn't seem to be a quetzal, which has a short beak. I think that it is a heron – a white heron would be an egret. Another interpretation for Zak is resplendent. In "Place of Mirrors" I called Pakal's mother "Resplendent Egret."
Actually, from the looks of her, I don't think she was what I would consider resplendent. She appears to be suffering with a condition known as acromegaly, which would have made her quite intimidating to behold. She is shown here with a cacao plant behind her. The beans from this plant were used as money, so perhaps she was shown with this plant to indicate her wealth and position. Or maybe she had a reputation for dipping into the royal treasure trove for a cup of hot chocolate.
Zak Kuk was one of two women who actually ruled Palenque. The other was Zak Kuk's mother, Pakal's grandmother. Evidence of Zak Kuk's position as a ruler is in her head dress. The god we refer to as the Jester God, which was the patron of rulers, appears in her headdress (the blue figure). Her jade pectoral is decorated with the Maya symbol for Venus and she wears a pendant with an inscribed "T" - symbol for the god, Ik. She has a decorative piece of jade on her nose, which you'll also notice on carvings of Pakal. The blue mark beside her mouth is how the Maya indicated in their art that they are depicting a female. I'm not sure if the mark was actually a tattoo women wore, or if it was only used in art.
Zak Kuk was one powerful woman. She manipulated facts (and one might assume people, as well) to secure her son's divine right to rule, thus restoring her family's reign following a devastating defeat from a neighboring city. She held the ruling position herself, until her son was old enough to rule. We have Lady Zak Kuk to thank for just about everything we see at Palenque, since without her persistence, Pakal and his sons would not have had the opportunity to rule. But imagine what it must have been like for poor Ahpo Hel, Pakal's wife, to have this strong-willed and intimidating woman as a mother-in-law!


Kan Mo, was Pakal's father. This is how he is illustrated on the side of Pakal's tomb. I'll be writing more about him soon.


This is my illustration of Koh, a fictional character in "Place of Mirrors". As you can see from this picture, she was a flirt. She was looking out for number one - a Maya princess if ever there was one! She caused a lot of trouble in Jaguar Sun!

It's very interesting that now, 10 years after I wrote "Place of mirrors" there is some talk among archaeologists at the Palenque site that Pakal may have had a secondary wife...


Here's some information about Apho Hel and some of the other historical characters in "Place of Mirrors" that I compiled in response to a student's request for information about the wives of the ancient Maya rulers.

Apho Hel is the name of Hanab Pakal's primary wife. Hanab Pakal was the 11th Ruler of Palenque. He lived from 603AD to 683AD and his mother made him ruler when he was 12 years old.

Apho is a title of honor, and apparently Pakal gave his wife this title. We're not certain just what the honor was - some archaeologists think that Pakal made his wife a co-ruler. This would be very unusual, even though there had been 2 female rulers in Palenque prior to the reign of Pakal. Apparently there was a war when Pakal was very young and his uncle was ruler. His uncle may have been murdered, or he may have just died without an heir. We don't have a lot of details on this period. Pakal's mother, Lady Zak Kuk (White Quetzal) took charge and ran things until her son was old enough to rule - at 12 years old.

Lady Zak Kuk must have been quite an unusual woman to have seized control and secured her son's right to rule in such tumultuous times. From the carvings of her on Pakal's tomb, she might have had an affliction that causes one's face and hands to puff up. She was not only strong willed, but she probably looked pretty scary too.

Apho Hel must have had some time of it having Lady Zak Kuk as a mother-in-law! Especially when you consider that the most important thing Pakal's wife had to do was give birth to an heir. Imagine how Lady Zak Kuk must have felt when Pakal and Apho Hel had no children for the first nine years of heir marriage. Pakal could have taken a new wife and his mother probably encouraged him to do this many times. Poor Apho Hel must have endured a lot of abuse from her mother-in-law during those years. But Pakal must have truly loved her, because when she finally bore him a son, he proclaimed him as heir. Their first son's name was Chan Balam (Snake Jaguar or Little Jaguar, depending on how you translate "Chan").

Apho Hel bore at least one more son. His name has been translated differently in the past 20 years, but in my book I call him Yellow Knot (Kan Xul). Apparently Chan Balam did not have any sons, and when he died, Kan Xul became ruler. In my research, I realized that everywhere that Chan Balam is depicted in the carvings at Palenque, he has six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. This birth defect was probably seen by the Maya as a sign that Chan Balam was a god. But medically, this type of birth defect is sometimes an indication of an imbalance of the male hormone. It's very possible that Chan Balam didn't have any children because he wasn't interested in girls. The most beautiful temples and structures were built while Chan Balam was ruler of Palenque, so it is very likely that he focused his energy on building and creativity rather than war. I think that there's a strong possibility that Chan Balam was gay.

Imagine how Apho Hel must have worried about her handsome, sensitive son. Mothers notice things about their children before anyone else. She probably sensed that Chan Balam wasn't going to be a great warrior and she worried how he would lead his people if not by the thrill of victory in battle. But Chan Balam must have been a very good ruler because so much was accomplished during his reign. He was already an old man (by ancient standards) when his father died and he became ruler. Yet during his reign there was peace and prosperity and great accomplishments in Palenque. Sadly, his mother died long before he became ruler, and never got to see his success.

After his death, Chan Balam's younger brother became ruler. But Kan Xul was more of a warrior and during a war with Tonnina, he was captured and held prisoner for ten years before being sacrificed. Who ran things back at Palenque during this time? It doesn't appear that Kan Xul had a son either. I suspect that a son or grandson from a secondary wife of Pakal took charge and eventually had himself anointed ruler. But the prime of Palenque (and most of the great Maya cities in the southern highlands) was over. The great city built by Pakal and Chan Balam started to unravel, and by 800AD (200 years after Pakal's death), it was completely abandoned.

But back to Apho Hel. What was her life like, besides the responsibility of bearing sons? All Maya women, even today, get up at sunrise to make tortilla. Did the wife of the ruler do this too? My guess is that she did. Making tortilla is the very essence of being a Maya woman. The Maya believe that human beings (true people) were made of maize (corn) and blood. Before going to bed at night, a Maya woman takes a portion of ground maize (corn meal) and soaks it with lime and water. She would have ground the dried maize kernels earlier in the day, using a stone metate and mano. By morning this would have become a paste that she would work with her hands. She takes a small chunk and slaps it between her fingers until it is a thin pancake which she slips onto a hot griddle. Every Maya household cooks on the same type of griddle - a large flat stone propped above the fire on 3 stones. Even a "royal" wife would have performed this ritual everyday if she were a "respectable" Maya woman.

Weaving was probably something that every woman did - from peasant to queen. Maya women get ideas for the patterns in their weaving in their dreams. They also pass down the skills and patterns from mother to daughter. So you will see all the women from one community with similar patterns. They weave on a backstrap loom. Look at my Website to see what this kind of loom looks like. It's very portable and a woman can take her weaving project with her wherever she goes. So if she has a few minutes between things, maybe when her baby is taking a nap, she can just tie the end to a tree and slide it over her head and work on her weaving.

By the way, even today, Maya women usually carry their babies on their backs by tying a shawl in such a way that it holds them snuggly. Babies seem to really like this because any time I have been around Maya mothers, I can't recall ever hearing a baby cry.

The common Maya woman would also work in the fields, either in the small family garden, called a "milpa", or in the larger community farms. But I don't think the elite woman would have had to work in the milpa, although they may have tended flower gardens or overseen the upkeep of gardens in the public areas of the community.

When the Spanish invaded Mexico, they called the buildings in Maya ruins either temples or palaces. I don't think that the buildings they called palaces were actually lived in. They were not very comfortable compared to the simple Maya hut that is still used today. Maya huts have steep thatched roofs that keep the interior cool. The stone "palaces" can get very dank during the rainy season and I can't imagine anyone preferring them to the comfortable, airy hut. I think the "palaces" were really just administrative centers, and the royal families actually lived in thatched huts, albeit larger and better built than the ordinary Maya home. Maya families arrange their homes together to form a compound. Although most Maya today sleep in hammocks, the ancient Maya probably slept on mats. In the royal home there were probably layers of woven fabric and even animal fur on the mats.

In addition to these things that all Maya women would have done each day, the wife of the ruler would have had unique responsibilities. In a city near Palenque, called Yaxchilan, there are carvings that show the wife of the ruler helping him to prepare for going to war by handing him his Jaguar helmet. In another carving she is piercing her tongue and blood is dripping into a basket with paper strips in it. The next carving shows her looking up at a vision of a god. You need to understand the Maya belief that those of royal blood were required to make sacrifices to the gods, including their own blood. They would bleed onto paper strips that they would then burn so that the incense of their blood would be lifted up to the gods. In return, they would see visions of the gods that would tell them what to do or how things were going to happen I the future. If you fasted for days and then bled profusely, you'd see visions too. They probably took some kind of drugs as well, to dull the pain and bring on the hallucinations.

There would have been specific occasions when bloodletting was required, such as before going off to war, or before planting season, or when times were bad and the gods needed to be begged for rain, or in the case of Pakal and Apho Hel, to plead for the birth of a son. In my novel, I describe a ritual where Pakal's mother makes a blood sacrifice to beg the gods to give her a grandson.

READ MORE ABOUT IT
Place of Mirrors
by Jeeni Criscenzo
$21.95, Hardcover, July 1996
E-Mail to :jeeni@criscenzo.com
©Copyright 1997-2000 Jeeni Criscenzo