Category Archives: Music

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.

facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinby feather

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.

facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedinby feather