Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cultural Revitalization: Cultural Vitality Mission

Mayan Cultural Revitalization Promoting Cultural Vitality through Verbal Art

Our mission: keeping language and culture alive

Immediate objective: the revitalization of Mayan language and culture through verbal art.

Goals to achieve Mayan Cultural Revitalization:

  • Collect Mayan oral histories, folklore and other speech genres to promote cultural revitalization
  • Document and translate the Mayan oral histories
  • Create a digital archive of the Mayan oral histories (with free access to all)
  • Broadcast Mayan folklore, legends, and oral histories on community-based Indigenous radio stations in Guatemala and Belize -in collaboration with Cultural Survival
  • Disseminate  recorded CDs of the narratives (for use in schools and libraries)
  • Disseminate illustrated bilingual books of the narratives (for use in schools and libraries)
  • Build community participation through radio theater, inviting participation to tell stories
  • Train Indigenous radio announcers to record and collect new oral histories from all generations in the community; encouraging male and female storytellers to participate.


Maya people, Guatemala
Maya people, Guatemala

Maya Culture Endangerment

There are many variables contributing to the endangerment of the Mayan oral tradition. First and foremost, the elders are dying and legends aren’t being passed down to the next generation. This means that the next generation won’t be able to continue to pass on the oral tradition to their children and their children’s children. For a culture to thrive, this is a necessity.  Another contributing factor is that the younger generation isn’t self-identifying with their native Mayan language. Maya parents (in Guatemala) are more and more frequently speaking in Spanish to their children rather than in their first language, in the hope that this will provide better opportunities for them to succeed in the world. These instincts are reinforced by the fact that “bilingual” education classes are taught in Spanish. Sadly, the message for “success” is to: speak Spanish; listen to Spanish radio stations; go to school and receive an education in Spanish; forsake one’s Mayan culture; forsake one’s Mayan first language; and often, forsake one’s traditional Mayan clothing.

The Cultural Vitality mission “to keep language and culture alive” is focused on developing an intervention through community radio. Our goal is to broadcast traditional Mayan narratives to reinvigorate the Mayan oral tradition and to promote Mayan cultural revitalization through verbal art.

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Mayan Arts and Culture: Bonampak Mural

Mayan arts and culture: musical instruments

Archeologists have uncovered drums, flutes, whistles, and trumpets indicating that music played an important role in pre-Columbian Mayan arts and culture. These instruments have also been attested in ancient Mayan texts and murals. In this Mayan mural, conch trumpet players are depicted playing for the city lords after a victorious war campaign.

MayanMusic_originalTo this day, the chirimia  and drums are played at traditional Maya folk festivals which celebrate Mayan arts and culture through musical performances and dances which include marimba musicians, as well.

Mayan arts and culture, marimba, chirimia and drum

Mayan chirimia and drum musicians
Mayan chirimia and drum

The wooden chirimia is a double-reed (oboe-like) instrument which looks very similar to the musical instruments  pictured in the Bonampak mural.

Mayan arts and culture: chirimia musical instrumentsMusical performances and rituals play a role in traditional Maya life contributing to our knowledge of Mayan arts and culture and to the development of Mayan music, over time.

Traditional Mayan chirimia and drum music may be heard on the audio file at the bottom of the Mayan chirimia and drum post.

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