The Hero Twins

Like their father and uncle, Hunahpu and Xbalanque made a lot of noise when they played pohatok. And like their father and uncle, one day they disturbed the Lords of Death down in Xibalba. As before, the lords called on the owl messengers to bring the new set of twins to their home in the underworld.

On their way to Xibalba, the boys had to travel over the same route their father and uncle had taken. They lowered themselves down the cliff, and passed across the rivers of spikes, blood, and pus. However, when they came to the four-way intersection, they avoided making the same mistake as their ancestors.

These twins had a plan. Hunahpu pulled a hair from his skin and turned it into a mosquito. They told the mosquito to fly on ahead and bite all the Lords of Death. The mosquito did as he was told. First, he bit the wooden mannequins that were dressed as the Lords of Death.

When the mannequins did not react, the mosquito knew they were not real people. So the mosquito looked further until he discovered the real death lords. Then he bit one after another.

As each death lord was bitten, he called out in pain. The Lord of Death standing closest to the one who had been bitten would call out the bitten lord’s name and ask him what the matter was.

For example, just after Pus Master was bitten, Blood Gatherer responded, “What is it, Pus Master?” Then, after Blood Gatherer was bitten, the death lord next to him asked, “What is it, Blood Gatherer?” This process continued throughout the entire line of the Lords of Death.

The twins paid careful attention to this ritual, and soon they knew the name of every single Lord of Death.

Therefore, when the boys arrived in the underworld throne room, they were able to greet each lord by his given name. They made sure to tell the lords that they would never greet wooden mannequins. The Lords of Death were impressed with the twins’ knowledge.

When Hunahpu and Xbalanque were instructed to take a seat on the hot stone slab that had burned their relatives, the twins knew better and refused. The Lords of Death were amazed that the twins knew all their tricks.

Now the Lords of Death began the most difficult challenges. The twins were given a series of dangerous tests. Each took place in a different room called a “house.” In the House of Gloom, Hunahpu and Xbalanque were given the same cigar and torch that their ancestors had received, and were told to keep both objects lit all night long.

The twins outsmarted the Lords of Death by placing a macaw’s red tail feathers on the torch and fireflies on the ends of the cigars. In the morning, when the lords checked the twins’ progress, they were stunned. The torch and cigars seemed as if they were still burning. The twins had passed the first challenge.

Next, they were sent to the House of Razors, which was filled with sharp knives. The knives were supposed to cut the boys into pieces, but the twins convinced the knives that their job was to cut only animals. The next challenge was the House of Jaguars, where they faced a room full of ferocious wild cats.

Hunahpu and Xbalanque distracted the jaguars by feeding them bones. Next, they survived the House of Cold and the House of Fire, where they were put to the test of severe temperatures.

One more test remained: The House of Bats. These flying rodents had knives instead of noses. To escape the bats, the twins hid inside a pair of hollow blowguns. All night long, they stayed inside their safe havens and heard the bats flying all around them.

But as the darkness began to fade, Hunahpu could no longer resist the temptation to peek out to see if dawn was breaking. Just as he stuck his head out of his blowgun, a vicious bat sliced it off, and it went rolling onto the underworld’s ball court. The Lords of Death cheered and celebrated what seemed to be a victory over one of the twins.

Now, Xbalanque had an idea. As dawn was approaching, he called on all the animals to bring him their favorite foods. The coati (KOH-ah-tee), which was similar to a raccoon, brought Xbalanque a round squash, which he placed atop his brother’s neck.

With great skill, Xbalanque then carved the squash so it resembled Hunahpu’s head and face. Miraculously, the squash became a working head for Hunahpu. Then the twins walked over to the netherworld ball court, where the death lords challenged them to a game of pohatok.

Before the game began, Hunahpu and Xbalanque asked a rabbit to hide in some nearby trees. When the game started, the twins saw that one of the Lords of Death was using Hunahpu’s real head as the ball. As Hunahpu’s head was bouncing around the court, Xbalanque batted it toward the trees where the rabbit was hiding.

The rabbit pounced from the trees and began hopping across the ball court. The death lords mistook the rabbit for the bouncing ball and chased after it. While they were gone, Xbalanque grabbed his brother’s real head and placed it back on his brother’s body. Then he took the squash and tossed it into play on the ball court.

As soon as the Lords of Death returned from chasing the rabbit, they tried kicking the squash, thinking it was Hunahpu’s head. The squash splattered open, its seeds spilling in all directions. With no ball, the Lords of Death had to concede defeat. Hunahpu and Xbalanque had won.

However, the story did not end there. The twins called on two prophets named Xulu (SHOO-loo) and Pacam (pah-KAM) to ask what they should do next. The prophets told the boys that although they had managed to survive all the tricks and games offered up by the Lords of Death, they were still destined to die. The prophets revealed that this outcome was all part of a grand plan.

The Lords of Death came up with one more test. This time, they built a fiery hot oven and challenged the boys to jump over it safely four times. By now, Hunahpu and Xbalanque knew what they must do.

They jumped headfirst into the fire, burning themselves to death. The Xibalbans happily took the boys’ bones from the fire, ground them into fine powder, and scattered the dust in a river.

Even in death, the Hero Twins were not out of miracles. Instead of floating away, their powdery bones sank to the river bottom. In five days, the boys came back to life as catfish. On the sixth day, they took on their previous human forms, but now they were dressed as vagrants who danced and performed magic tricks for a living.

Word of the performances of these two unknown vagabonds reached the Lords of Death, who announced that they wanted a special show just for them. So the Hero Twins danced and performed supernatural tricks in the palace of the Lords of Death.

One death lord asked the twins to sacrifice a dog and bring it back to life. They accomplished that trick easily. A second death lord asked them to do the same thing with a human.

Xbalanque cut off Hunahpu’s head, dug out his heart, then commanded him to stand up. He did so easily, and the Xibalbans were amazed. Then the Death Lords called for an even more daring trick. They begged to be sacrificed.

So Hunahpu and Xbalanque did as they were told. They sacrificed the two death lords. It was the same trick they had performed with the dog and with Hunahpu. However, this time they did not bring their victims back to life. The Lords of Death remained dead. The remaining Lords of Death were furious and demanded to know why this time the trick had not worked.

Then Hunahpu and Xbalanque stepped out of their disguises and addressed the lords: “We have avenged our father, One Hunahpu, and his brother, Seven Hunahpu, and now we will kill you.”

The rest of the Xibalbans begged for their lives. The twins made a deal. If the residents of Xibalba would tell them where their father and uncle were buried, there would be no more killing. The Xibalbans agreed to the proposal, and they were spared.

However, they would never be powerful again. With the information supplied by the Xibalbans, the Hero Twins located their father and uncle and brought them back to life. Hunahpu and Xbalanque assured their elders that they would always be respected and prayed to.

The twins had one last journey to make. They ascended to the heavens, where they took their places as the sun and the moon, lighting up the world for eternity. From then on, whenever the people looked up at the sky, they would remember the valor and ingeniousness of the Hero Twins.

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