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