Edwin M. Woolley


Tulan Means Bountiful

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     In this age of intellectualism nourished by the computer, we hear of those who smile smugly and patronize the childlike believers of the Book of Mormon “fable.”  Some deny the historicity of these sacred scriptures by saying that there is simply no conclusive evidence, no real proof, no sign has yet been found saying, “Welcome to Zarahemla.” Such statements overlook or completely ignore the wealth of circumstantial evidence, whether it be historical, linguistic. or archaeological. Joseph Smith predicted our day of enlightenment when he said, “Surely Facts are Stubborn Things. It will be as it ever has been, the world will prove Joseph Smith a true prophet by circumstantial evidence…”1  Joseph makes reference not to conclusive evidence, but circumstantial evidence.  There is an impressive volume of supporting material for authenticity of the Book of Mormon and those who choose to ignore it, would most likely, ignore the “Welcome to Zarahemla” sign when it is discovered. The purpose of this work is not to catalog the massive amounts of supportive material offering evidence for the Book of Mormon, others have done a good job at that, instead let us explore just one linguistic connection that is profound in its implication, much like the proverbial sign, “Welcome to Zarahemla” would be.

     The linguistic connection has to do with the intriguing name, “Bountiful.” After a long and arduous journey from Jerusalem, down the borders of the Red Sea and then eastward across the southern tip of the world’s most barren desert wilderness, the empty quarter of the Arabian peninsula, Lehi’s party finally arrived at a beautiful, verdant land with vegetation and precious water. In stark contrast to the arid wasteland they had traversed over many years, this gorgeous area by the seashore must have been a beautiful sight indeed, and they “called the place Bountiful because of its much fruit and also wild honey.”2   Even today, anyone visiting the Middle East would soon realize how water, fertile soil, and vegetation would have been a rare and welcomed sight for these weary travelers.

Where was Bountiful?

     An impressive array of evidence has now been discovered at the old world proposed site of Bountiful on the southern coast of Oman. Warren and Michaela Aston were the first to suggest the intriguing sight of “Wadi Sayq” as a prime candidate for the old world Bountiful.3  They first reported on their exploratory fieldwork in a FARMS publication in 1991, and later shared their findings in their book, In the Footsteps of Lehi.4  A FARMS research team went to Oman in 1993 to examined the proposed location and then published a report on their findings and conclusions.5  

     “...In April (1993), a team of researchers examined the port area of Khor Kharfot...through which the Wadi Sayq enters the Indian Ocean on the southern coast of Oman, at the extreme western end near the border with Yemen. Their findings indicate that Khor Kharfot may be the site of Lehi’s Bountiful...Khor Kharfot and its environs have all the features mentioned in the Book of Mormon in connection with Old World Bountiful and has no features that would conflict with the Book of Mormon account. A survey of alternative sites in the Arabian peninsula has turned up no others that come as close to fitting the criteria for Bountiful. In this analysis, Khor Kharfot emerges as the most probable site for Lehi’s Bountiful.”

     In their description of Wadi Sayq the Astons write:  “The valley has its beginnings some sixteen miles inland amid rolling desert country averaging about 4,000 feet altitude north of Sarfait. The wadi soon becomes a well-defined and narrow (typically about 100 feet across) pathway through very steep limestone mountains, descending gradually to sea level as the coast is approached.”7  These statements are describing a ravine, which is a good explanation for Wadi Sayq as it works its way through the arid regions of the Arabian coastal peninsula and empties into the sea. 

This brings us to some fascinating parallels found in Maya historical documents. There are two separate recordings of the Quiche-Maya that make reference to their ancestors’ old world point of departure. These Quiche-Maya historical documents, The Title of the Lords of Totonicapan and the Popol Vuh, say that their ancestors’ old world point of departure was Civan-Tulan, or as it is rendered in English, “Bountiful-in-the Ravine.”8   The Maya-Cakchiquel, a close brother tribe of the Quiche-Maya also claim that their ancestors came from Tulan in the west.9

     In 1950, Elder Milton R. Hunter wrote that Tula or Tulan was Maya for “bountiful or abundance.10 The literal translation of Tula is, “place of reeds or land of abundance.”11   In support of Elder Hunter’s statement, the 1953 English translation of the Annals of the Cakchiquels by Recinos and Goetz said, “...that from the other side of the sea we came to the place called Tulan.12   The following year, Elder Hunter used the above quote by Recinos and Goetz in General Conference and announced to the Church as a whole that Tullan (variant spelling) could be interpreted as “Bountiful.”13  The import of this statement in 1954 was generally not appreciated by the LDS population at large. It has taken some time to sink in. Today we are beginning to realize the implications and starting to appreciate what Elder Hunter was excited about over four decades ago.    

     In the Summer of 1994 a friend and Book of Mormon scholar, Clate Mask, was doing some independent research in Guatemala when he made an exciting discovery as he happened upon a Maya document entitled, “Anales de Los Xahil de Los Indios Cakchiqueles,” which just happened to be the Spanish translation of the 1620 Maya-Cackchiquel manuscript.14   It is likely that this document or one like it, is the one Elder Hunter refers to in his writings. The Cakchiquel author recorded the oral traditions of origins that had come down through the Xahil family from the lips of their fathers and their grandfathers: “We came from the west, from the Lugar de la Abundancia from the other side of the sea.”15 Joseph’s statement previously quoted above now comes to mind, “Facts are stubborn things;” they continue to surface time and time again until they are recognized and generally accepted. 

     As we continue to examine this interesting linguistic connection, the implications are solidified in our understanding and evidence of Book of Mormon authenticity is strengthened. We learn from the Spanish translation that rather than retain the original Cakchiquel Tulan, the translators rendered it “Lugar de la Abundancia.” When Lehi’s party arrived at the seashore where they eventually built a ship, what did they name the place? “...And we called the place Bountiful, because of its much fruit.” In the 1992 Spanish Edition of the Book of Mormon, the line, “and we called the place Bountiful” is translated as “...y llamamos al lugar abundancia...”16

    Abundancia is defined as “abundance, opulence, fertility, plenty” in the Velazquez Dictionary.17 With all these sources considered, Elder Hunter and the Church translator seem to
be on solid ground in saying that Lehi’s party came from Bountiful (English), Abundancia (Spanish),
or Tulan (Maya). 

     The Astons and FARMS favor Wadi Sayq as the “most probable site for Lehi’s Bountiful.”  It is a location on the Arabian peninsula, south of the area of ancient Babylonia. At Bountiful, the Lehites planted seeds, raised crops, built a ship and set sail into the Indian Ocean. Interestingly, Hunter and Ferguson report that the Tulan (Bountiful)18 of the Quiche-Maya ancestors was also by Babylonia: “...our ancestors had come from the other side of the sea, from Civan-Tulan at the confines of Babylonia.”19

The Voyage

     It must have been difficult for them to leave Tulan, this choice area described as “abundance or bountiful” and launch out into the unknown. The ancient historians among the Maya-Quiche wrote that the people, “...wept in their chants because of their departure from Tulan; their hearts mourned when they left Tulan.”20

     The Maya say that the ancients also called the west sea landing site in the New World Tulan. The Maya Cakchiquel historians of Guatemala wrote that “From the west we came to Tulan, from across the sea; and it was at Tulan where we arrived.”21 

     In 1950, Milton R. Hunter and Thomas Stuart Ferguson pointed out that some ancient Maya writings said that their ancestors came from Tulan (Bountiful) near Babylonia and that they landed in the Americas at Tulan and that “The Lord supplied the giron-gagal (director) and led the colony across the sea ‘...because they were the sons of Abraham and of Jacob.’ ”22

     Elder Robert E. Wells also mentioned the giron-gagal at the 1991 Sperry Symposium held at BYU:  “If Lehi brought the Liahona to the Americas, can we find any trace of such an instrument in the legends of the Lamanites before Columbus?...Well, almost...On page 157 of the book In Search of Cumorah, we read:  ‘The concept of a sacred ball was not unique to the Tarascan Indians; and the Guatemalan Quiche and Cakchiquel histories mention a sacred ball or rock in connection with their legend of migration across the sea...before leaving, the main leader was given a present by the god Nacxit. It was called the giron-gagal, or sacred bundle. Taking it with him, by miraculous balam-quitze, he was able to lead his  people across the sea.’23  In my years in South America, I heard of other similar legends. So perhaps there are signs remaining of an ancient spiritual compass.”24

     In another Maya-Cakchiquel document, Annals of the Xahils, the Chay Abah, we learn that the “obsidian stone,” speaks and tells them to go across the sea where they will find their hills and plains, their riches and their government. 25  The translator says that the real meaning of “obsidian stone” is “stone that speaks” or “oracle stone.” He calls the Chay Abah “obsidian stone” because the Quiche-Maya mistakenly called it that, and he decided to use “obsidian stone” to avoid confusion. 26

     This same account tells that their ancestor was referred to by the others as “our younger brother.”

     “Then we arrived at the border of the sea. All the warriors of the tribes met together at the border of the sea. Then the hearts of many were consumed in anguish. We can’t cross, and isn’t it said that we have to cross the sea, said all the warriors of the seven tribes.

‘Who will tell us how to cross the sea? Oh, our younger brother, you are our hope,’ they all said. We told them, “Go, oh, our older brothers. Yes, how are we going to cross this?” We all said. Then they all said, “have pity on us, oh our younger brother because we are spread along the seashore and can’t see [the promised] hills and plains. As soon as we went to sleep, we were defeated, we the two firstborn sons, we the hill tops, we the heads, we the first warriors of the seven tribes, oh my younger brother...don’t kill us.”27 

Seven Tribes or Seven Lineages

     The traditional teaching that they descended from seven tribes or lineages is nearly universal with the various Maya tribes of Mesoamerica.

     The Book of Mormon also speaks of the seven tribes or lineages among the descendants of father Lehi. In 1975 the New Era had an article by Dr. Ross Christensen explaining that there were not just two groups descended from Lehi, but seven. “These lineages are listed in three different places in the Nephite record and they are always given in precisely the same order. They appear a fourth time in the Doctrine and Covenants.”28 

     Nephites, Jacobites, Josephites and Zoramites (known collectively as Nephites) and Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites (known collectively as Lamanites) are the seven tribes. These are found in Jacob 1:13 (about 543 B.C.), 4 Nephi 36-38 (231 A.D.), Mormon 1:8 (323 A.D.), and in D&C 3:16-18 (1828 A.D.).  Christensen continues his comments in the 1975 New Era: “The time range covers most of the 1,000 years of Nephite history, suggesting that the seven lineages were a stable feature among the posterity of Lehi. Notice also that the Lord still recognized their existence some 1,400 years later in the present dispensation.” Research by John L. Sorenson, John A. Tvedtnes, and John W. Welch indicates that this seven tribes concept stems from Lehi himself: “Now it has been discovered that the origin of this stable societal structure can be traced back to the words of Lehi himself...One of the many enduring legacies of Lehi’s last will and testament appears to be the organization of his descendants into seven tribes...Lehi spoke first to Zoram (2 Nephi 1:30-32), second to Jacob (2 Nephi 4:10), and seventh to Nephi and Sam together (2 Nephi 4:11)...the sevenfold division of the people was an important feature of Nephite civilization. It may even have set a pattern for other Nephite organizations.  After all, Alma established ‘seven churches in the land of Zarahemla’ (Mosiah 25:23), and traditions claim that ancient Mesoamericans sprang from seven ‘caves’ or lineages.”29 Christensen concludes by saying: “We don’t know exactly where the seven lineages are...but they exist somewhere because the Lord promised in 1828 to bring them to a knowledge of the Savior.”30

     Returning to the original concept of Tulan and connecting dots that link the old and new world, there is additional corroborating data from another pre-conquest Quiche-Maya source that links the seven tribes and their landing site in Mesoamerica at Tulan:  “...The Xahil family, one of the royal lines of the Quiches of the highlands of Guatemala, left an account in the Maya tongue entitled Annals of the Xahil.  It is stated therein:  ‘We were brought forth, coming we were begotten by our mothers and our fathers, as they say...They say that the seven tribes arrived first at Tullan, and we the warriors followed, having taken up the tributes of all the seven tribes when the gate of Tullan was opened.’ ”31

     It is observed that the Xahila record likewise indicates a departure from an old world “Tullan” (Bountiful) and the settlement of seven tribes in a principal homeland, “Tulan,” in the new world. 32 (Note: Tulan sometimes appears with two l’s instead of one. It is a common trait in the Maya language to find variant spellings of one word.)

     There is a hint in this account that their landing site at Tullan was in the vicinity of Guatemala: “...It would be noted that the Xahila account indicates that the seven tribes, whose center was Tullan, were required to pay tribute to the Quiche warriors of the Guatemala highlands.”33

     In 1991, an interesting bit of archaeological evidence from the site of Bilbao, Guatemala (about 50 miles down the coast from Abaj Takalik and 85 miles from Izapa), appeared in an article by Dr. Bruce W. Warren.34   The bottom-right area of monument 21 portrays the “seven lineages” theme with a depiction of the birth or emergence of the seven tribes. The seven name-glyphs are inside the U-shaped element which, in Mesoamerican art, is considered the symbol of the womb.35

     Diane Wirth points out that:  “The central figure of this illustrated story in stone is, significantly, not of so-called Indian stock; his features are those of a Caucasian. Tied to his leg is an umbilical-type serpent rope which shows, in symbolic language, an ancestral tie-or bond—to the personage portrayed as a small head. This head which is one of seven, in a U-shaped enclosure that may represent a boat...water is seen spewing from a hole in the side of the vessel, almost certainly depicting the ancestral womb from whence these tribes emerge.”

    “In Mesoamerican art the U-shaped element is regarded as the symbol of the womb, and consequently represents not only birth but the place of emergence...the U-shaped element…containing the seven heads, has a spongy-looking texture composing the sides of this design and is representative of a mother’s womb...Four of the heads within the womb/boat enclosure are no doubt portrayed with symbols identifying their lineage. A flint knife and a bat are two examples. According to Zelia Nuttall, the flint knife, or Tecpatl, was the symbol used to represent the supreme pontiff of one of the seven tribes.”36

     Dr. Warren has suggested that the seven tribes were separated by the birth-water glyph with three tribes on the left and four tribes on the right-hand side. One of the name-glyphs identifying a tribal chief is the flint knife, or Tecpatl. He has singled out this section of the monument and observed: “The highlighted portions illustrate seven tribes or lineages.  The word for flint in Hebrew is Zoram.”37

     If the flint glyph “Zoram” is one tribal head. Could the other three glyphs possibly represent Nephi, Jacob and Joseph? One of the other three glyphs on the right side is a bat glyph.  Diane Wirth informs us: “Ixtlilxochitl, a Chichimec king, claimed he was born in the Cave of a Bat. The Cakchiquel Maya were also descended from the tribe of the bat; it was their tribal totem. The symbol is said to have been the tribal emblem in Chiapas (Mexico) from ages past.”38

    The seven tribes in the Book of Mormon were divided on almost every issue before they ever arrived in the Promised Land. For example, while crossing the sea, it was Laman, Lemuel and the sons of Ishmael and their families who bound Nephi with cords (1 Nephi 18:11-17). A Maya tribe in highland Guatemala seems to be saying that they weren’t descended from the rebellious three tribes. In an address by Elder Milton R. Hunter in General Conference, November 1954, we read the following quote from the Annals of the Cakchiquels: “I shall write the stories of our first fathers and grandfathers...that from the other side of the sea we came to the place called Tulan (Bountiful)...Thus, then we were four families who arrived at Tulan, we the Cakciquel people, our sons! So they told us.”39

The Lehi-Seven Lineage Stone Connection Strengthens the Case for Tulan

      Dr. Bruce Warren mentions that there is a “death head” motif on the chest of the central figure on Monument 21 that is also found on Stela five at Izapa.40   The father figure has an ancestral tie to the seven lineages. If the three tribes on the left possibly represent Lamanites, Lemuelites and Ishmaelites, is the umbilical cord connected to his firstborn, Laman?

     Monument 21 is 800 years newer than Stela five at Izapa, and not nearly so weathered. It was also a far superior drawing, and the death head or skull on the chest of the central figure appears to be a pendant suspended from a larger ornamental pendant above it. These pendants seem to be part of his elaborate headdress. Both monuments have a jawbone glyph that is a prominent part of the depiction. On Stela five the jawbone name glyph lehi is being held over an aged bent over man figure. (Lehi is the Hebrew name for jawbone. The origin of the name dates back to the biblical account of Samson killing 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass. The valley where this occurred was called lehi or jawbone.) Wells Jakeman suggests that this identifies the old gentleman as Lehi the father of the Seven Tribes.  Since the skull or jawbone appears on the seven lineage stone (Monument 21), and the fact that the jawbone was so prominent on this particular stone, it seems to imply that the sculpture was deliberately emphasizing the jawbone, or lehi. It makes sense on a monument that is noted for tracking lineage that the name of the original founder would be a part of the message of the monument.


     In recording information about their people and where they came from, the Maya left us clues that connect them with the saga of the Book of Mormon. These connections are clear and undisputable. We have noted, for instance, the startling fact that in their histories, the Maya used the word Tulan which meant abundance or bountiful to describe the place of their ancestors’ departure from the old world. The Book of Mormon also calls the place they left from on their voyage to the new world Bountiful. The travelers brought that name (bountiful) with them and continued to use it to identify places in their promised land until one of the major divisions of their home land bore the name Bountiful.  In modern Mesoamerica one need only look at a map to see the remnants of this root word Tulan, still being used today. There are many Tulans or Tulas still in this land, locations designated as a place of abundance or simply bountiful.

     The tradition that these native people of Central America came from the old world near Babylonia is a profound correlation as well. Learning more about the Maya language and the stone monuments uncovers additional information about their beginnings that link them to Book of Mormon names and characters. This is impressive circumstantial evidence supporting the historicity of the Book of Mormon and, when added to the growing volume of like material being proposed by LDS researchers, the accumulating mountain of evidence in support of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon is very compelling.   

     The travelers pushed off into the vast unknown leaving behind their precious Tulan, the land with much fruit and honey and with divine guidance they landed upon the shores of their new promised land. They planted all their seeds “which we had brought from the land of Jerusalem. And it came to pass that they did grow exceedingly; wherefore, we were blessed in abundance.” (1 Nephi 18:24)   The new land also was (Tulan) a place of much fruit and honey, a bountiful land, a land of abundance. The name stuck and they continued by tradition throughout their history to name some of their most productive and blessed areas after their beloved old world place of departure, bountiful.



1. Original Quote: Times and Seasons, September 15, 1842, vol. 3, p. 921-922. Also quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 266-267. 

2. 1 Nephi 17:5

3. Aston, Warren P. and Michaela J. And We Called the Place Bountiful: The End of Lehi’s Arabian Journey. Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1991.

4. Aston, Warren P. and Michaela K. In the Footsteps of Lehi: New Evidence for Lehi’s Journey Across Arabia to Bountiful. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co., 1994. 

5. “FARMS Led Expedition Examines Likely Candidate for Lehi’s Old-World Bountiful” Insights, no. 5. Provo, Utah: FARMS, Sept. 1993: p. 1. 

6. Ibid, pp. 1-3 

7. Aston, Warren P. and Michaela J. And We Called the Place Bountiful: The End of Lehi’s Arabian Journey. Provo, Utah FARMS 1991: p. 12. 

8. Hunter, Milton R. and Thomas Stuart Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, Oakland, Ca. Kolob Book Co., 1940: pp. 81, 84. 

9. Asturias, Miguel Angel and J. M. Gonzalez de Mendoza (translators) “Anales De Los Xahil de Los Indios Cakchiqueles.” Guatemala City, Guatemala: The National Press. 1934: p. 10, 11.

10. Hunter 1950: p. 149 

11. Allen, Joseph L. Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon. Orem, Utah: SA Publishing, p. 150.

12. Recinos, Adrian and Delia Goetz. The Annals of the Cakchiqueles. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1953: p. 43-44. 

13. Hunter, Milton R. “Book of Mormon Evidences.” Improvement Era, December 1954: p. 914 

14. Personal conversation, Clate Mask, CES Symposium, August 1996. 

15. Asturias and Mendoza, 1934: p.10 

16. 1 Nephi 17:6 

17. Velazquez, Dictionary of Spanish and English Languages. 1900: p. 5. 

18. Hunter and Ferguson, 1950: p. 149. 

19. Ibid, p. 64. 

20. Popol Vuh. Translated by Adrian Recinos from Quiche to Spanish and into English by Delia Goetz and Sylvanus G. Morley. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press. 1950: p. 181 

21. Warren, Bruce W. and Thomas Stuart Ferguson. The Messiah in Ancient America. Provo, Utah: Book of Mormon Research Foundation. 1987: p. 286.

22. Hunter and Ferguson, 1950: p. 66. 

23. Recinos 1950:216 see p. 15 of 1991 Sperry Symposium. 

24. Wells, Elder Robert E. Doctrines of the Book of Mormon, 1991 Sperry Symposium, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co. 1992: pp. 3-4. 

25.  Asturias and Mendoza, 1937: p. 12. 

26. Ibid, p. 10. 

27. Ibid, pp. 15, 19. 

28. Christensen, Ross T. “The Seven Lineages of Lehi,” The New Era, May 1975: p. 40. 

29. Sorenson, John L., John A. Tvedtnes and John W. Welch, Seven Tribes: An Aspect of Lehi’s Legacy Re-exploring the Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Co, and Provo, Utah: FARMS 1992: pp. 93-95.

30. Christensen, 1975: p. 41. 

31. Hunter and Ferguson, 1950: p. 87. 

32. Ibid, p. 87. Emphasis added. 

33. Warren, Bruce W. “Stela 5: Nephite or Lamanite?” The Book of Mormon Archaeological Digest. No. 1, Fall 1991: p. 12. 

34. Ibid, 1991: p. 12. 

35. Wirth, Diane E., A Challenge to the Critics - Scholarly Evidences of the Book of Mormon, Salt Lake City, Utah: Horizon Publishing. 1986: p. 127 

36. Wirth, 1986: pp. 126-129.

37. Warren, 1991: p. 8. 

38. Wirth, 1986: p. 129. 

39. Hunter, 1954: p. 916. Emphasis added. 

40. Warren, 1991: p. 12.


Woolley, Edwin M.