Sak K’uk’

Pre-Columbian portrait of Sak K’uk’. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Sak Kuk – also spelled Zac Kuk and who name means ‘white quetzal’ – ruled Palenque from 612-615 and during these years was accepted as ruler independently in her own right. The emblem glyphs before her name only occasionally had the feminine ‘na’ prefix – which means ‘female’ or ‘mother’ – but more often had the traditionally male prefix, signifying her status as independent ruler.

She was the daughter (though some argue the granddaughter) of Yohl Ik’nal. She was married to Kan-Bahlum-Mo’ and together they had K’inich Janaab Pakal I and possibly Ajen Yohl Mat. Uniquely, her sons’ rights to the throne came through her line and not her husband’s, evidenced by the fact that he was never made king.

In 615, she became co-ruler with her son K’inich Janaab Pakal until her death in 640, but some historians argue she was a regent for him rather than a co-ruler. Sak Kuk’s unique position as female ruler was remembered by K’inich Janaab Pakal after her death when he commemorated her as Lady Beastie, which was the name of the first mother-goddess and mother of all the gods. Not only did this legitimise his own matrilineal claim to the throne, but it elevated Sak Kuk to divine status, which was highly unusual for the time.

Following the example of her predecessor Yohl Ik’nal, Sak Kuk is another example of strong female authority in Palenque.

Recommended Reading

Amanda Hardman, “Classic Maya Women Rulers in Monumental Art”, TOTEM 14 (2005-2006): 13-23

Erika A. Hewitt, “What’s in a Name: Gender, Power, and Classic Maya Women Rulers”, Ancient Mesoamerica 10.2 (1999): 251-262

Guida M. Jackson, Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide (Santa Barbara, USA: ABC-Clio, 1999)

Karen Bassie-Sweet, “Illustrated Genealogy: The Temple of the Inscriptions Sarcophagus at Palenque” (2019).

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