The tale of the Hero Twins is one of the main Maya myths. This is a Mayan legend part of Mesoamerican mythology and comprises tales of personified forces of nature, deities, and the two boys interacting. The myth dates back to the ancient Pre-Classic era and probably into archaic times. The main hero of the myth was the twin brothers whose names are embedded into the Maya calendar as day signs signifying their importance in Mesoamerican history.
The tale increased the understanding of the ball game within the Mayan culture. The Hero Twins were made rulers of the Earth by the gods of the sky. One of the twins was turned into the Moon while the other into the Sun.
The Legend of the Hero Twins
The story started with two boys named Hun Hunahpu and Seven Hunahpu, who used to play a ball game. The two brothers were very talented but they were also very noisy during the game. This agitated the gods of the Underworld who sought a plan to get rid of the brothers. They were called to Xibalba, Underworld, by the death Lords. The Lords tricked the brothers into a game and killed them when they lost it. Later they hanged the head of Hun Hunahpu from a tree as a trophy for their victory.
Soon, the tree sprouted massive fruits that attracted the attention of the goddess of Xibalba called Xquic. As she approached to pick the fruits, Hun Hunahpu’s head spat on her hand and impregnated her. Scared of the wrath of her father, she fled the Underworld and found refuge with her mother-in-law. Xquic gave birth to the twin brothers named Hunahpu and Xbalanque.
Just like their father and uncle, the Hero Twins were also very talented at the ball game. Once, they found a ball belonging to their father which was hidden by their grandmother. Sure enough, the duo picked it and started playing. They too were very noisy which angered the Death Lords and they send a messenger inviting them to the Underworld for a ball game. The Twins were well aware of what happened in the past and didn’t fall prey to the Lord’s tricks.
When the Twins visited the Underworld, the Lord’s put them through several magic tests, which they managed to pass. One of them was greeting the Lords when they met them. But the Lords disguised themselves among the wooden statues in order to confuse the twins. However, they used a mosquito to bite the gods, instantly recognizing them. The second task included surviving in the House of Darkness with a torch that should remain unburned till the morning. The twins knew what to do and as the darkness approached they adorned the torch with Macau feathers and fireflies brightening up the space.
In the morning when the Lords saw the torch unburned they were even more furious and challenged them to a ball game. But it wasn’t a simple ball game, instead, the wicked Lords had hidden a sharp blade inside the ball to kill the twins. The twins discovered it and said that they would only participate in the game if the Lords would play fair. Thus began the famous ball game, the twins played many rounds and manage to score a tie every time.
They also faced several supernatural games set by the Lords in order to kill them. They survived the House of Cold by lighting up a fire and survived the House of Jaguars by feeding bones to the beasts. But when they were sent to the House of Bats, a bat bit off Hunahpu’s head. Seeing the advantage, the Lords called for another round of ball game. They hanged Hunahpu’s head over the court. The second twin Xbalanque prayed to the animals and a small turtle bought him a Chilacayote Squash. Xbalanque carved the squash as it is like Hunahpu and replaced the head with the squash. With Hunahpu’s head back, the twins were again in power.
However, one thing was certain that even if they win the game, the Lords will eventually kill them. Thus when the Lords ordered them to enter the oven, the twins agreed. The twins died and their ashes were released into the river. This is where the master plan of the twins lay. There, the boys regenerated, becoming the first catfish and later the human boys. They were now even more stronger and has several divine powers like gods. One power included killing someone and bringing them back to life.
They soon appeared before the Lords disguised as two disheveled children. They performed magic and danced in front of the Gods. In the last, they did their final trick in which Xbalanque slashed Hunahpu’s head killing him, and then bringing him back to life. Impressed by the skills, the Lords asked them to perform the trick on themselves. Sure enough, the twins knew that this was their chance and they one by one killed all the Lords without bringing them back to life.
In the end, the surviving Lords asked for mercy and so the Hero twins spoke their curse. They demanded that Lords will have no sacrifices and control over the surface world. The sky gods impressed by the Twins made them the rulers of the Earth.
Through their bravery and quick thinking, the Hero Twins outwitted the lords of Xibalba and destroyed them. Some of the Maya rulers even claimed to be the descendent of the Hero Twins. Though the simple ball game holds no greater importance to the world, yet for the Mayan people, it held deep religious meaning, who saw it as the eternal battle of good versus evil.