Monthly Archives: April 2014

Mayan Oral Tradition: A Testimonial to Enduring Voices

Mayan Enduring Voices through Verbal Art

That the Mayas oral tradition has persisted for nearly two millennia is a true testament to Mayan enduring voices over time. These memories form a record of ritual Maya practices and reflect thought and cultural values. These enduring voices provide an ancient archive to Maya life. The preservation of these enduring voices will help insure the preservation and continued cultivation of enduring voices within the younger generation of Mayas.

Radio has the potential to impact change and language revitalization as it is the one medium that binds Maya communities together. All strata of society listen regularly in Guatemala, as well as in Belize.

So, let us imagine… the impact… if you will… if Maya legends could be heard on the radio… enduring voices reaching hundreds or thousands of homes… accessing and connecting with children and their parents…. together… reminiscent of a time when people gathered together to hear a shaman, priest, or elder of the community convey narrative wisdom, teachings, and rituals practiced by their ancestors.

The Cultural Vitality mission is focused on keeping Mayan language and culture alive so that this and future Mayan generations will continue to thrive.

The stellar Enduring Voices Project is focused on the world’s endangered languages. As we continue to focus on language preservation, so too, must we continue to focus on cultural preservation.

  • Endangered languages lead to endangered culturesMaya shamanMaya shaman
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Q’eqchi’ Maya Storytelling Program

Q’eqchi’ Maya Storytelling Radio Program in Belize

When I first spoke with Aurelio Sho, Manager of Ak’ Kutan Radio, located at Tumul K’in Learning Center in Blue Creek, Belize, I asked (rather tentatively) if he might be interested in a Q’eqchi’ Maya Storytelling Program for his community radio broadcast. His reaction was an immediate, “yes!” He told me  how his father, a traditional Maya, would always tell him Maya legends and how he had been working with the one elder in the Toledo community who still narrates stories. He used to come in regularly to the station to narrate Q’eqchi’ legends, but he no longer comes in because it is too far a journey after working on his farm all day. Aurelio asked if I could send him a Q’eqchi’ story. I did. And that is how our collaboration began. After a few weeks, he wrote to me and said, “Everyone loves the story. Please send more!” After sending one story a month for five months, I realized that I needed to visit Belize and meet Aurelio in person and experience first-hand the impact that he was accomplishing through his Q’eqchi’ Maya Storytelling Program on the radio.

Now, in collaboration with Ak’ Kutan Radio, I am thrilled to announce that the complete Berinstein (2013) Q’eqchi Mayan Narrative collection is being produced on his weekly Q’eqchi Maya Storytelling Program. One of the most popular legends is the story about “The Dance of the Deer” because the dance is known throughout all parts of Belize and is still practiced widely in Guatemala, as well as Belize.

Indigenous-led community radio storytelling programs are able to revitalize language and culture through engagement in oral literature. When  Mayas narrate and broadcast folktales, legends, and other speech genres on their community-based radio stations; memories are rejuvenated and it encourages community participation in the restoration of customs and traditions. It also transmits a shared voice, a shared cultural identity. In this way, Q’eqchi’ Maya storytelling is being revitalized in Belize. And now, because Ak’ Kutan has just received a new transmitter that can broadcast 1000 watts (compared to the former 100 watt transmitter), the station  is reaching 97 % of Southern Belize. They are also reaching the southern communities in the Stann Creek District which is equivalent to approximately 30,000 radio listeners.

On this video of Maya Day, a celebration hosted by Tumul K’in,  the Mayas celebrate their cultural identity and perform traditional Mayan customs, including “The Dance of the Deer.” The deer dancers are fully adorned and the marimba music can be heard in this portrayal of a ritual dance on the video.

Maya Day, Tumul K’in Belize. Click the link to play the video clip.

Tumul K'in, Maya Educational Center, Belize
Tumul K’in, Maya Educational Center, Belize
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Mayan Chirimia and Drum


Maya Fiestas: an Expression of Mayan Chirimia and Drum Music, Marimba, Dance, and Cultural Identity

While doing my fieldwork in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, in 1978, I recorded  Mayan chirimia and drum music during the Pabaank Festival as I walked alongside the procession of Maya musicians.

Traditional Mayan chirimia and drum performance
Traditional Mayan chirimia and drum performance

While marimba music is well-known and practiced widely  during local fiestas, the Mayan chirimia and drum is not as well-known and it is rarely practiced today. The pre-Hispanic Mayan chirimia and drum music is very traditional and it is performed during religious processions, as in the Pabaank Festival which honors the local patron saint in Cobán.

The repetitious melody, often hypnotic in nature, is quite unique and varies from one region to another. This double-reed instrument of the shawm family is made of wood. Its length can vary, but it is usually 10 – 12 inches long. It has seven note holes and does not have a thumb hole. There are three tuning holes, one which coincides with the position of the seventh note hole and the other two on the reverse side, on the same level as the seventh hole. There are two ornamental bands on the instrument, one above the note holes and the other positioned between the sixth and seventh note holes.

Mayan chirimia musical instrument
Mayan chirimia musical instrument

I hope you enjoy listening to this short excerpt of the Mayan chirimia and drum music being played during the Pabaank Festival (recorded in 1978 in Cobán).

This musical tradition is passed from generation-to-generation and can be traced back to the pre-Columbian practice of accompanying religious ceremonies and processions with drums, flutes, and whistles, as depicted  in the Bonampak mural.

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Q’eqchi’ Maya Students Illustrate the Dance of the Deer

Tumul K’in Community Radio Class

Tumul K'in class illustrated the Dance of the Deer legend
Tumul K’in Q’eqchi’ and Mopan Maya students listened to the 1978 Q’eqchi’ recording of “The Dance of the Deer” told by Francisco Choco’oj Paau of Cobán, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. While everyone in the class was familiar with the “Deer Dance,” no one had heard the legend.

While visiting the intercultural Maya educational center at Tumul K’in in Blue Creek, Toledo District, Belize, the students in Aurelio Sho’s class on community radio and cultural identity listened to the original Q’eqchi’ recording of “The Dance of the Deer,” Laj Xajol Kej (from the Berinstein 2013 narrative collection), and then everyone in the  class, including the instructor, Aurelio Sho (in orange shirt) illustrated the story.

Tumul K'in class illustrated the Dance of the Deer legend
The Deer Dancer, drawn by Aurelio Sho, Tumul K’in instructor and Ak’ Kutan Community Radio Manager

Before the students began to illustrate the legend, the first question asked was, “Can we have a copy of the book?” At this time, they do not own any books. Imagine being the co-author of the first book you ever owned! That is the goal. Each book will list all of the artists in the class and it will include a CD of the narration, as well as the marimba music that is played during the Deer Dance performance. In this way, parents and grandparents can listen to the collection, while their children begin to read it.

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Mayan Cultural Vitality FB Page

Mayan Cultural Vitality

Visit the new Cultural Vitality Facebook Page to support Mayan cultural revitalization and promote Mayan cultural vitality!

Please “like” us (and share with your friends) to help support Mayan cultural vitality. With enough “likes,” we can launch a kickstarter fundraising campaign to fund the publication and distribution of bilingual Q’eqchi’- Spanish  book collections in Guatemala with a companion CD. We also hope to disseminate  bilingual Q’eqchi’- English CD/book collections in Belize. The folktale collections will be illustrated with photographs and with an assortment of original student artwork illustrated by the Maya students at Tumul K’in Intercultural Education Center in Belize.

As the stories are played and heard on CDs in the home and broadcast on community radio, we hope that many memories are restored; that the elders and other narrators will be inspired to tell more stories; and that the younger generation will be encouraged to preserve this oral tradition, so that Mayan cultural vitality, Mayan languages, Mayan customs, and Mayan culture will continue to thrive.

Every “like” helps us to support Mayan cultural vitality.

Thank you!!!

3 deer dancersDeer Dancers performing the “Dance of the Deer”


With your support we have surpassed our goal of 500 likes! It has been one month and we are now at 649 likes! Our next goal is 750, then 1,000! Thank you to our fans and supporters!!!!

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