In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Seven Tribes, Caves and Boats, Do these Mesoamerican Oral Histories Trace Back to the Book of Mormon?

In the Book of Mormon there are seven groups or tribes that formed with the original group that came from Jerusalem. The first mention of these tribes is 544BC when Lehi is acting as Jacob of old pronouncing blessings upon his entire household. These tribes or “ites” remained the central structure even after political collapse and the instatement of a tribal structure almost 700 years later (4 Nephi 1:37-38). In Jacob 1:13 it states,

Now the people which were not Lamanites were Nephites; nevertheless, they were called Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites, Zoramites, Lamanites, Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites.

Now within these seven tribes an important piece of their oral history was their genealogy This is made evident by the prophet Mormon who makes it known that he is a direct descendent of Lehi of old and a Nephite. There are many other evidences of the importance of genealogy or tribe relationship found in the pages of the Book of Mormon. The last reference to these tribes is in Mormon 1:8 about 322 AD as the final scenes of war were wrapping up between the Nephites and Lamanites.
According to Diane E. Wirth in her article “Seven Primordial Tribes” this genealogy continued to be important to Mesoamerican culture. Traditions passed orally from one generation to another spoke of seven primordial tribes who were their ancestors. These legends can be found in Mesoamerican stelae, murals, monuments, carvings and codices. Many Spanish clergy who recorded some of the oral history of the natives spoke of the seven tribes as well. One was Bernardo de Sahagun. He learned that they would also correlate caves and boats with these seven ancestral tribes. He suggested that these tribes crossed the waters in search of terrestrial paradise. He wrote:

Concerning the origin of these peoples, the report that old men [of central Mexico] give is that they came by sea…in some wooden boats...But it is conjectured by a report found among all these natives that they came from seven caves, and that these seven caves are the seven ships or galleys in which the first settlers of this land came…[Bernardino de Sahagun, Historia General de las Cosas de Nueva Espana, Introduccion al Pri Libro, Mexico, 1946, cited in Archaeology and the Book of Mormon, by Milton R. Hunter( Sa city: Deseret Book Company, 1972),44].

These seven ancestral groups could actually be speaking about the voyage of the Jaredites in the Book of Mormon. We know that the Jaredites traveled in 8 barges one being filled with fish according to Ether 2:2 this would leave 7 remaining barges. Dr. Jerry Ainsworth gives a speculative theory that according to the History of Mexico the seven families or tribes from the “Great Tower” came from Chicomoztoc, which means seven families in seven caves. He states that these people were the Jaredites and that they landed at Tampico Mexico which is a land that is commonly associated with the Olmec civilization which many LDS scholars assume is the Jaredite civilization. From here they sailed upstream on one of the seven rivers in the Tampico area to a mountain which he associated with Mt. Zerin in the Book of Mormon. From this mountain with all 8 barges and 7 families he fulfilled another commandment that may have been associated with the 8th barge full of fish. He was able to restock the fresh water fish on this continent. He was able to do this through his complete faith by moving Mt. Zerin to the Mexico continental divide because from that location it would be much easier to restock the rivers with the fish. To correlate with this theory he states there is a mountain range about fifty miles inland from the Gulf coast, where the Jaredites landed. In fact the History of Mexico states that these early inhabitants, upon landing at Tampico, took their boats up the Panuco River to a place called Altamera, (high lookout), which is about twenty miles up this river. This theory at least offers a reason for the eighth barge full of fish and for the brother of Jared to move Mt. Zerin which we know he did according to Ether 12:30. It also suggests that the seven tribes, caves, or boats referred to earlier may be speaking of the Jaredites rather than the seven groups that formed out of Lehi’s blessed posterity.

According to Frank Waters author of “Book of the Hopi”, the Hopi’s first lived in seven puesivi, or caves. From there they migrated northward, establishing their people and villages in accordance with the names of the “caves or womb-caverns” [Frank Waters, Mexico Mystique (Chicago: Swallow Press, 1975), 168-170]. The Hopi were once part of this great complex civilization but eventually migrated northward. There are still many traces of the pre-Columbian culture still within the Hopi today. They still practice many religious rituals observed by the Aztecs and state that the Mayans, Aztec, and Toltec’s are Hopi’s who failed to complete their fourfold migrations. I like Frank Waters believe this may be a case of the tail wagging the dog. The Popul Vuh, the Sacred Book of the Quiche’ Maya in Yucatan also states that the Maya ancestors originated in seven womb-caves or ravines, left Tulan Pa Civan, and crossed the sea on stones placed in a row-similar to the steppingstones by which the Hopis crossed the sea. The Codex Vaticanus, which pictures four previous “worlds,” and the Codes Telleriano-Remensis, containing a chronology of Aztec history from 1197 to 1592 A.D. both name the seven migrating clans and state that they originated from the seven caves in Aztlan.

As has been pointed out by Diane E Wirth, Dr. Jerry Ainsworth, and Frank Waters these traditions of seven families, tribes, boats and caves are deeply rooted in Pre-Columbian oral history but do they refer to the same long held traditions of seven lineages and boats and families in the Book of Mormon? All we can do is speculate but we do know that after the Book of Mormon times these oral traditions were commonly used among the natives for many centuries.

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