Tag Archives: Mayan

Mayan Rituals: How to Plant Corn

Mayan Rituals

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’.

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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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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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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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