What’s in a name?

Location: Santa Elena, Yucatan

No one knows what Santa Elena was called when the ancient Maya were building their stone temples here a thousand years ago.

But I spoke to Don Felix an 83 year old Maya elder.

He said that the name for the town 400 years ago was Tac-si-lee-lun-ka which meant town of low intelligence, and proceeded to tell the story of a man who got his hand caught in a jug, and rather than break the jug decided that the correct solution was to cut his hand off.

The anthropologist in me thinks that the town may have been called that, but this is a name given by enemies or rival towns. “What town is that?” “Oh, that is the town of the stupid people.”

Much like today if you ask a sports fan what is the name of their biggest rival, you may get a rather unflattering nickname for the team and their fans.

I doubt if the local people referred to themselves in such terms.

200 years ago it was known at the place of the fertile soils, (or central city) Noh Ca Cab.

Then came the caste war. Civil wars tend to be very brutal on the local level, and the Yucatan was no exception.

Warriors from the rival village of See-boo-che came to the town at night and set fire to the houses where the villagers were sleeping. When the villagers ran out of the house, they were shot, the men, the women and the children. Many of the villagers fled into the forest.

The warriors then burned the entire village.

The people of Noh Ca Cab then made a retaliatory raid on the village of See-boo-che, burning their houses and shooting their men, women and children.

When they returned to No Ca Cab they said we did not want this fight, we have had our revenge and we want no further part in this war.

The leader of the village said we must have a new name for ourselves.
We will call ourselves Santa (Holy. For we are a humble and holy people.) Ele (burned) Nah (houses). In other words the humble and holy people of the burned houses.

The people of See-boo-che relocated their village further away and said “We are the same people as Santa Elena”