(Throughout the following post, please remember that in most Mesoamerican languages, the sound indicated by the letter “x” is actually “sh.”)
Xbalanque’s story, if you want the whole story, is very long, and it begins with his father and his uncle. These two, Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu, were very talented at the ball game, and very excited by the the game, and their own skill at it. Since the game involved running back and forth across a stone court and trying to get a stone ball through a stone hoop, it could get very noisy, and the gods who ruled in Xibalba, the spirit realm below our own, were not pleased at all the noise. They called the brothers down to their realm, and challenged them to a ballgame. But their ball had a blade on it, and they used it to cut off the heads of noisy surface dwellers, which is just what happened to Hun Hunahpu and Vucub Hunahpu. Since Hun Hunahpu was the elder of the two, the lords of Xibalba hung his head from a calabash tree as a trophy to celebrate their victory, and the return of peace and quiet to the lands above.
That should have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t. One of the lords of Xibalba had a daughter named Xquic, and one day she went to the calabash tree, looking for its fruit. As she reached up towards the tree, the head of Hun Hunahpu spat in her hand. From this, Xquic ended up pregnant. Ashamed of her condition, she fled from Xibalba, and went to the surface world, where she was taken in by Hun Hunahpu’s reluctant mother.
In due time, Xquic gave birth to twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque. These twins were not well regarded by their grandmother, or their cousins, who also lived with their grandmother. In fact their cousins — who were quite a few years older than they were — tormented them mercilessly. Eventually, the twins grew so fed up with this torment that they tricked their cousins into climbing a tree, which suddenly began to grow higher and higher, and then they told their cousins to take off their loincloths and tie them around their waists with the end trailing behind them. The twins claimed this would help their cousins climb down…and in a way it did, because as soon as they had done so, the loincloths became tails, and the cousins became monkeys. They were able to get down that way, but they couldn’t return to their homes and their lives.