In The Cavity of a Rock

In The Cavity of a Rock
Father Lehi

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Captain Teancum vs Tecun Uman the Guatemalan National Hero

Captain Teancum slays Amalickiah
Most of us tend to have a few favorite people or stories when we read the scriptures and one of mine especially when I was a young man was that of Captain Teancum. To those who may or may not be familiar with Teancum’s story I will briefly share it. Teancum was a great military leader from the Book of Mormon in one of its books (The Book of Alma). Some of his major accomplishments include the stopping of the army of Nephite dissent splinter group known as the inhabitants of Morianton in which Teancum personally took the life of Morianton their leader and defeated his army taking prisoners and allowing those who took an oath of peace to return to their homes.

His next major accomplishment was the assassination of Amalickiah. Amalickiah was also a Nephite like Teancum but due to political turmoil and ulterior motives to obtain the judgment seat without success he
dissented and started a campaign to ascend to the throne of the Lamanite kingdom through secrecy and murder. Amalickiah’s plan proved to work with the Lamanites and before he knew it with a handful of murders and plots he became the king and waged war on the Nephites by stirring up the hearts of the Lamanites against them. Amalickiah proved to be a formidable opponent to the Nephite Captains (Moroni, Teancum, Lehi and others). At one point in the continuing battles Amalickiah was able to defeat and conquer seven Nephite cities before he ran into Teancum and his elite group of soldiers. After battling all day with Teancum’s forces Amalickiah’s army had been drive back and eventually pitched their tents and slept for the night because of fatigue in fighting all day. It was at this point that Teancum snuck into the Lamanite camp at night with his servant and used his javelin to pierce Amalickiah in the heart killing him immediately. Upon fleeing back to his camp without being noticed Teancum quickly prepared his army for battle with the Lamanites. The next morning the Lamanite army fled back to the city of Mulek for protection.

The last great accomplishment of Teancum was the assassination of Ammoron the brother of Amalickiah. Ammoron was determined to carry on his brother’s war. In frustration of battle Teancum was determined to attempt a similar assassination attempt on Ammoron’s life. He let himself over the city wall of Nephihah at night and crept into Ammoron’s tent and again used a javelin to attempt to pierce his heart this time the blow did not immediately kill and allowed him to cry out and awake his guards and servants. Teancum fled but the
servants were eventually able kill Teancum. His death was greatly mourned by Captain Moroni and Captain Lehi. As can be seen in the above summary Teancum could be one of the most courageous captains or military leaders of all time second to maybe Captain Moroni. It seems odd that such a national hero’s story would disappear with time with not trace of such accomplishments left through myth or traditional stories. Thanks to recent findings by Robert A. Pate, PhD and author of such books as “Mormon Names in Mayan Stone”, “Mormon Key to Maya Code” “Mapping the Book of Mormon “and “Mormon Footprint in Mesoamerica” we may have a traditional story highly influenced by non other than Captain Teancum.

Tecun Uman Guatemalan National
The legend of the Guatemalan national hero Tecun Uman (or Tecun Umam) states that he was the last great ruler or king of the K’iche (Quiche’) Maya people in the highlands of what is now Guatemala. According to
the Kaqchikel annals he was killed in battle with Spanish Conquistador Don Pedro de Alvarado while fighting at El Pinal on February 20th 1524. Tecun Uman is remembered for his bravery because he was fighting to protect his people. He was declared Guatemala’s national hero on March 22nd 1960. The legends say Tecún Umán entered battle adorned with precious quetzal feathers, and his nahual (animal spirit guide), also a quetzal bird, accompanied him during the battle. In the midst of the fray, both Alvarado and Tecún, warriors from worlds apart, met face to face, each with weapon in hand. Alvarado was clad in armor and mounted on his warhorse. As horses were not native to the Americas and peoples of Mesoamerica had no beasts of burden of their own, Tecún Umán assumed they were one being and killed Alvarado's horse. (While another version says he merely attacked the horse in an attempt to knock Alvarado down, having no prior illusion that both man and animal to be one and the same.) He quickly realized his error and turned for a second attack but Alvarado's spear pierced through his opponent's chest and into his heart. It was then his nahual, filled with grief, landed on the fallen hero's chest, staining its breast feathers red with blood, and thereafter died. From that day on, all male quetzals bear a scarlet breast and their song has not been heard since. Further, if one is to be placed in captivity, it would die, making the quetzal a symbol of liberty.

It is believed that "Tecún Umán" was more than likely not the ruler's name at all but may have functioned as a sort of title. The earliest recorded appearance of the name is in the Título K'oyoi in which he is referred to as "nima rajpop achij adelantado Tecum umam rey k'iche' don k'iq'ab'." Translated, this phrase means: "great captain-general Tecum, grandson of the K'iche' king Don K'iqab'." Therefore the word "uman" or
"umam" simply means "grandson of" and is not part of Tecún's name at all. It has been suggested that "umam" may have been a reference to his genealogy, or the name may have originally been derived from another title given to the hero, "q'uq'umam", meaning "ancient one of quetzal feathers". According to Dr. Pate,

“The legend of the national hero of Guatemala, Tecun Uman (also written Tecum Umam), is based in part on the history of Teancum. Even the name Te-cum is from Te-an-cum. In Quiché they refer to him as the “Lord of the Banners and Staffs”. Te-an-cum literally means “pole - up high - coat” or “coat up high on a pole”, as in “Title of Liberty.”

Tecun Uman on Guatemalan Currency
With this translation knowledge along with the traditional stories would it be reasonable to conclude that Tecun Uman could be a descendent of Captain Teancum? We know that it was a common occurance for the Maya to trace their ancestry to claim a position of leadership. With the designation of Uman added to his title meaning “grandson of” leads me to believe this may have some sort of genealogical reference. If we consider the traditional story of Tecun Uman defending his people along with Dr. Pates reference to the meaning of Teancum Quiche meaning “Pole-up high-coat” as in the Title of Liberty which was a coat which Captain Moroni tore and placed upon a pole as a standard to his people (which would include Teancum). On that coat it stated, “In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children”. This would be a likely correlation between the two. Last but not least we have the manner in which Tecum was killed. The legend states, “He quickly realized his error and turned for a second attack but Alvarado's spear pierced through his opponent's chest and into his heart”. This manner of death is the exact same manner in which Teancum killed is opponents Amalickiah and Ammoron, with a spear (or javelin) through the heart. As stated above Tecum Uman was more than likely not his name it was more or less a title or position that would have been given due to direct relation or due to the similarity of the legends of these two heroes. Either way it seems that the traditional story or title of Captain Teancum is held with high regard with the Guatemalan people even to the point of being handed down as a title to other great leaders (who may or may not have been related to him).


  1. Nice article, I'd noticed the similarities in the names but didn't know the meanings. I've been writing some screenplays based on Teancum and have featured his grandfather a bit to reflect that legend a little. Putting them together at the battle of Sidon and later in the 2nd screenplay at the defense of Bountiful. With Amalickiah he was in a tent and close, in my portrayal there is a struggle, still fits what Teancum would report but is better for cinema and the drama. With Ammoron Teancum casts the weapon so it's a bit different. I haven't written that far, (would be in a 3rd screenplay to get there) But Ammoron would be portrayed as nervous that such an attack might come so surround himself with men and be up and awake so the Javelin would be cast with a spear thrower from quite a distance Ammoron would hear it launched and see Teancum at a distance looking at him then it would hit. And the type of guy Ammoron was it would be nice. I do think that is what broke the Lamanites and lead to the defeat on the following day. Lamanites were superstitious and it would have freaked them out, esp Amalickiah's death on the first day of the year. I've been getting into the finals and semi-finals of some Hollywood screenwriting comps with them, they still need some tuning but they are seeing the potential.

    1. Thanks, I completely agree with the new year ceremonies that the death of Ammoron would have been seen as a bad oman. Keep up the good work on the screenplays! They sound interesting and I would love nothing more than an accurate portrayal of the story of Teancum on the silver screen.

  2. Seems to me that there is a fairly large amount of speculation in this article that is stated as fact, or some sort of empirical evidence.

    It really does not help when lds members ignore the scientific method, or sound logic, in an effort to support thier theories. This is why non-lds archaeologists have a hard time taking us seriously.

    The two men were separated by some 1600 yrs of history. Similar sounding names, where one is written as a surname with no scriptural hints as to it's meaning, and another problem to be a title more than a name; this is not evidence of anything.

    Except that some lds members are insufferable in thier insistence in correlating everything as being BoM proof.

    This was a well written article, but entirely without anything but pure speculation. It should be presented as such, rather it is presented as evidence of BoM to non-mormons, and proof of the meso American theory to those who know better.

    It is neither.