Decipherment of the Short Side Mojarra Stela

By

Clyde A. Winters

The newly discovered column of this text published in July 1997. The new side text column on the Mojarra stela provides interesting information about the Olmec people. This column of Epi-Olmec text was published by J.. Justeson and Terrence Kaufman, "A newly discovered column in the Hieroglyphic text on La Mojarra stela 1: A test of the epi-Olmec Decipherment", Science, 277 (11 July 1997) pp.207-210. In this article Justeson and Kaufman, claim that decipherment of this text proves their decipherment of epi-Olmec using Mije-Sokean. This claim is false. This text was written in the Olmec language, which is a variety of the Mande group of languages.

They claim that the text reads as follows:

" Behold, there/he was for 12 years a [title]

And then a garment got folded

He [uttered]

--the stones thathe set in order were thus symbols,?kingly ones

What I chopped has been planted and harvested well

(A) shape-shifter(s) appeared divinely in his body(p.208)".

 

 There are three problems with the Justenson and Kaufman's decipherments of

Epi-Olmec: 1) there is no clear evidence of Zoque speakers in Olmec areas

3200 years ago, 2) there is no such thing as a "pre-Proto-Soquean/Zoquean

language, 3)there is an absence of a Zoque substratum in the Mayan languages.

First of all ,Justenson and Kaufman in their 1997 article claim that they

read the Epi-Olmec inscriptions using "pre-Proto-Zoquean".

This is impossible ,a "Pre-Proto" language refers to the internal reconstruction of vowel

patterns, not entire words. Linguists can reconstruct a pre-proto language ,

but this language is only related to internal developments within the target

 

language. Secondly, Justenson and Kaufman base their claim of a Zoque origin

 

for the Olmec language on the presence of a few Zoque speakers around mount

Tuxtla, this is a false principle. Justeson and Kaufman manitain that the

Olmec people spoke a Otomanguean language.

The Otomanguean family include Zapotec, Mixtec and Otomi to name a few. The

hypothesis that the Olmec spoke an Otomanguean language is not supported by

the contemporary spatial distribution of the languages spoken in the

Tabasco/Veracruz area.

Thomas Lee in R.J. Sharer and D. C. Grove (Eds.), Regional Perspectives on the Olmecs, New

York: Cambridge University Press noted that "...closely Mixe, Zoque and Popoluca

 

languages arespoken in numerous villages in a mixed manner having little or no apparent

 

semblance of linguistic or spatial unity. The general assumption made by the

 

few investigators who have considered the situation, is that the modern

linguistic pattern is a result of the disruption of an Old homogeneous

language group by more powerful neighbors or invaders....(p.223)."

If this linguistic evidence is correct, many of the languages in the Otomanguean

family are spoken by people who may have only recently settled in the Olmec

heartland, and may not reflect the people that invented the culture we call

Olmecs today. This makes it very unlikely that Mixe was spoken on the Gulf

3200 years ago.

Finally, the Justenson and Kaufman hypothesis is not supported by the evidence for the

 

origin of the Mayan term for writing. The Mayan term for writing is not related to Zoque. Mayan

tradition make it clear that they got writing from another Meso-American group. Landa noted that

the Yucatec Maya claimed that they got writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu from

Nonoulco . Xiu is not the name for the Zoque.

Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from

the Cholan and Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is

probably not derived from Mixe-Zoque. If the Maya had got writing from the

Mixe-Zoque, the term for writing would Probably be found in a Mixe-Zoque

language.

Mayan tradition make it clear that they got writing from another

Meso-American group. Landa noted that the Yucatec Maya claimed that they got

writing from a group of foreigners called Tutul Xiu from Nonoulco . Xiu is not the name for the

 

Zoque.

Brown has suggested that the Mayan term c'ib' diffused from the Cholan and

Yucatecan Maya to the other Mayan speakers. This term is probably derived from

Manding *Se'be which is analogous to *c'ib'.

 

1. Mayan Terms for Writing

Figure 1. Mayan Terms for Writing

Yucatec c'i:b' Chorti c'ihb'a Mam c'i:b'at

Lacandon c'ib' Chol c'hb'an Teco c'i:b'a

Itza c'ib' Chontal c'ib' Ixil c'ib'

 

Mopan c'ib' Tzeltalan c'ib'

Proto-Term for write *c'ib'

The Mayan /c/ is often pronounced like the hard Spanish /c/ and has a /s/

sound. Brown (1991) argues that *c'ihb may be the ancient Mayan term for

writing but, it can not be Proto-Mayan because writing did not exist among

the Maya until 600 B.C. This was 1500 years after the break up of the

Proto-Maya .

The Olmecs probably spoke an Manding language (Winters, 1979, 1997). This

view is supported by the Manding substratum in the Otomi (Winters, 1979), and

Mayan languages (Wiener, Africa and the Discovery of America, 1920-22 ).

The Mayan term for writing is derived from the Manding term *se'be. Below

are the various terms for writing used by the Manding/Mande people for

writing.

Manding Term for Writing

Malinke se'be Serere safe

Bambara se'be Susu se'be

Dioula se'we' Samo se'be

Sarakole safa W. Malinke safa

Proto-Term for writing *se'be , *saf

 

The fact that there is no evidence that 1)the Zoque were in ancient Olmec

land 3200 years ago, 2)there is no Zoque substrate language in Mayan, and 3)

there is no such thing as "pre-Proto-Zoque" falsifies Justenson and Kaufman

hypothesis. What evidence supports a Mande origin for the Olmec writing.

First, the name for writing in Maya is analogous to the writing used by Mande

speaking people in the Sahara and West Africa as first noted by Leo Wiener,

in Africa and the discovery of America (volume 3, pp.269-271), in his

discussion of the Tuxtla statuette. Secondly, the LaVenta celts from

offering #4 are inscribed with Olmec characters.These inscriptions come from

an archaeological excavation. The fact that they are analogous to some of the

inscriptions on the Tuxtla statuette and also agree with the Vai syllabary

(see: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/8919/decip1.html) is further

support for the Mande origin of Olmec script. Finally, there is a

Malinke-Bambara substratum in the Mayan languages, and also Otomi, which is a

member of the Otomangue family of languages which includes Zoque ( see my web

page on this subject at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Academy/8919).

Moreover, the Mayan term for writing has affinity to the Malinke-Bambara term

for writing. This is significant, because if writing had been passed on from

the Maya to the Olmec by strangers and the word for writing is analogous to

 

the Mande term for writing writing probably was taught the Maya, by the Mande

speaking people.

The fact that there is no evidence that 1)the Zoque were in the

ancient Olmec land 3200 years ago, 2)there is no Zoque substrate language in

Mayan, and 3) there is no such thing as "pre-Proto-Zoque" falsifies Justenson

 

and Kaufman hypothesis.

To summarize this section ,we note that the absence of any evidence for Zoque being spoken

in Olmecland 3200 years ago, and the impossibility of a Pre-Proto-Soquean/Zoquean language

falsifies the Justenson and Kaufman decipherment of Epi-Olmec. The fact that the Mayans claim

that they obtained writing from strangers, and the presence of Mayan terms for writing that are

analogous to the Malinke-Bambara term for writing support a Mande origin for

the Olmec writing. This along with identical writing systems used among the

Olmec and the Mande speaking people, along with engraved artifacts from Olmec

sites depicting these scripts all support and African origin for the Olmec

writing. It should not be forgotten that whereas Zoque lacks a substrata in

the Mayan languages, Malinke-Bambara is a substratum in Quiche and Yucatec

two Mayan languages which were written in Mayan inscriptions. Also, Malinke

is a substratum language in Otomi, which is a member of the Otomanguean

Family of languages to which Zoque belongs. This linguistic evidence suggest

that Malinke-Bambara was probably spoken in Olmecland, and the Mayan and

Otomanguean speakers lexicalized some Malinke-Bambara terms during a period

of extensive bilingualism in ancient times.

These new inscriptions come from a badly weathered and eroded hieroglyphic column. They were found in November 1995 on the side of Stela 1 from La Mojarra a riverine site in southern Veracruz.

The personages recorded in the Mojarra and Tuxtla statuette are not the same. A Governor Tutu

is recorded in the Tuxtla statuette. The text of the Mojarra Stela is about a King Yo Pe.

This is a picture of King Yo Pe form the Mojarra Stela

 

The Mojarra inscriptions are compound Olmec signs. Compound Olmec signs are signs which are made up of more than one syllabic sign.

We read the signs in this text from top to bottom, outside inside. For example, the first Olmec sign reading the Mojarra short side text from top to bottom is made up of three signs(The Mojarra Side Inscription). The box figure means Po, the three vertical lines inside the box equal t or se , and the line separating the three vertical lines is the Olmec pronoun i. Thus this sign can be read either as Po i t "Thou Righteous King " ; or " Po i se " You have realized purity".

In these inscriptions I have translated the word kyu 'hemiphere drum' as hemispheric tomb. I have translated kyu/tyu as hemisphere tomb, because although this term means hemisphere drum today I believe that in Proto-Manding times this term was used to describe the hemispheric tombs built to entomb Olmec kings. This view is supported by the fact that in many Olmec inscriptions Olmec words for habitation are often associated with the use of kyu (see lines 13 and 14).

Below is a transliteration of the the 30 "signs" in the Short Side or B side of the Mojarra stela.

1. Po i t

Thou (art a) righteous King.

2. I po su ba su

Thou (art) pure. Offer libations to this unique Ba

3. Se gyo

(of) the Se gyo.

4. Po tu Po/ Po da tu Po

The pure grand refuge is smooth

5. ???????

6. Po ku tu

Pure cleansing this refuge

Po gbe tu tu

The santified King and his refuge

7. Po ni tu fa

The pure principal of life is in possession of this abode

8. Ba su

The Ba is vigorous

9. Pe kyu

Prodigious tomb

10. ??????

11. Yo Pe

King Yo Pe

12. Po i tu

Pure (is) thine refuge

13. Se ni gyo t to nde

[Yo Pe's] Principal of life to realize no vice

(in this) good abode/habitation on terrain near the water

14. Pe kyu

The prodigious tomb

15. Ni tu la

The soul of the King sleeps

or

Ni gyu la

The soul, and spiritual tranquility (is) established

16. Yo be

The vital spirit (has ) been put to bed

17. Po

(In) Purity

18. Yo ngbe Bi

The soul is pure righteousness of the great ancestor

19. Yo Pe

20. Po su

The pure libation

21. Lu kyu lu kyu

Hold upright this hemispheric tomb.

Hold upright this hemispheric tomb.

22. Be ta gyu

[It] exist in a unique state of spiritual tranquility

23. Po i tu

Pure is thine refuge

24. Yo Pe

25. Po tu

Righteous King

26. Po i ku tu

Thou head the government is pure

27. Ta ki ku gyo ta kye ba gba da

Ta Ki "[This] sacre raising of a star [Yo Pe]

Ku gyo "[is] the summit of righteousness

Ta kye ba "This man [is] great

gba da "[he] glows at this moment

 

" [Yo Pe] is a raising star. [He is] the summit

of righteousness. This man [Yo Pe] is great. [He]

glows [like a shinning star] at this moment."

28. Da

At this moment

29. Po yo ta fa ta

The pure image of the race and mystic order is full of propriety"

30. Yo Pe Po yo ta fa ta Yo Pe

"The pure image of the race and mystic order, full of

propriety [is] Yo Pe."

 

In summary, Justeson and Kaufman's translation of this text using Mije-Sokean (Zoquean) fails

to convey the richness of Olmec prose and the deep love and respect that the Olmec gave their

kings. Whereas these scholars translate the new inscriptions as follows:

" Behold, there/he was for 12 years a [title]

And then a garment got folded

He [uttered]

-the stones that he set in order were thus symbols,?kingly ones

What I chopped has been planted and harvested well

(A) shape-shifter(s) appeared divinely in his body(p.208)".

 

This decipherment by Justeson and Kaufman does not prove that the Mojarra stela is written in Zoquean. The authors translating this inscription admit they still can not read the entire document using pre-proto-Sokean to interpret the alleged epi-Olmec logograms. This translation constrast sharply with my decipherment of the new Mojarra text.

Justeson and Kaufman believe that this long inscription is about "folded garments" , and a dignitary chopping crops while a "shapeshifter" appears in "his body". My decipherment, on the otherhand, based on the authentic language of the Olmecs indicates that the Mojarra Stela was a funerary text, acknowledging the potent mystical power of the Olmec King Yo Pe.


Other Afrocentric Links by C.A. Winters

 

 

 

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