The Mayan rituals for planting corn are passed down from generation-to-generation. A Maya farmer will undoubtedly tell you that he plants corn the way his father taught him. The preparation can be elaborate. Some times, it may take a few days to prepare. Many farmers and neighbors gather and work together.
This narrative was told to me in Q’eqchi’ by Carlota Yalibat in 1978, while in Cobán, Guatemala. When you listen to the video, you will hear Carlota’s soft voice. You will also hear her recipe for the soup that must be prepared. Most importantly, what is conveyed is how important it is to respect nature, to respect the ways of our ancestors, to burn one’s incense, to say one’s prayers, and to ask for permission before planting your seeds or picking your corn so that you may yield a healthy and plentiful crop.
In the translation of this text, Carlota mentions that the farmer must go to the center of the cleared field and and plant the seeds in the form of a “cross”. The true significance of this stems from the cosmological reference to the four astrological points: East – West and North -South. Once putting the seeds in these four points, it does indeed form the shape of a “cross.” The origin of the practice, according to Victor Cal, a Maya educator at Tumul K’in, is related to the Maya calendar and relates to the four directions and their corresponding relationship to the elements needed to produce a good crop, e.g. East- fire, West- earth, North- air/wind, and South- water.
Sometimes, traditions are practiced over and over, “because it is the way it has always been done; it is the way of our father, and our father’s father; and it is how we were taught.” The reason behind the symbolism however, may sometimes be obscured as religious symbols, like crosses, become more prevalent in the (modern)culture.
Enjoy the translation and video about “How to Plant Corn,” narrated by Carlota Yalibat in Q’eqchi’.
Q’eqchi’ Mayan Language Revitalization: Preserving Indigenous Legends on the Radio
Excerpt from the Cultural Survival Quarterly
May 13, 2014
“Francisco Choco’oj Paau, a Q’eqchi’ Maya storyteller from Cobán, Guatemala, then in his late fifties, would take his time to prepare to tell a story. He would say his prayers; he would burn his (copal) incense. That’s because, these weren’t just stories, they were ancient Mayan legends; legends that had been passed down from generation-to-generation; told in a precise way; told in the same way; for hundreds, possibly thousands of years. Each legend holds a custom, tradition, or particular insight into Maya beliefs and culture. Each legend also holds a moral about Maya life…”
To promote Q’eqchi’ Mayan language revitalization through verbal art, Aurelio Sho, of Radio Ak’ Kutan in Belize, broadcasts Q’eqchi’ legends on a weekly storytelling program. The folktales from the Alta Verapaz region of Guatemala, narrated by Francisco Choco’oj Paau in 1978, are now being heard throughout the Toledo district of Belize. These legends about “The Buzzard and the Snake,” “The Snakes of Senahu,” “The Hunter,” “How to Cure a Toothache,” “The Dance of the Deer,” and in particular, “The Hills and the Corn,” are inspiring a young Q’eqchi’ generation to respect Mother Earth and to be grateful for her natural resources, while simultaneously rekindling ancient memories for their parents and grandparents, many of whom immigrated from Guatemala.
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 shaman
Q’eqchi’ Maya Storytelling Radio Program in Belize
When I first spoke with Aurelio Sho, Manager of Ak’ Kutan Radio, located at Tumul K’inLearning 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’ KutanRadio, 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.
While visiting the intercultural Maya educational center at Tumul K’inin 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.
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.