1 Ajaw 18 Yaxk’in (August 17, 2017): Tojolab’al Students revive Ancient Maya Writing

1 Ajaw 18 Yaxk’in. Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara.

Tojolab’al Students revive Ancient Maya Writing in las Margaritas, Chiapas

On this auspicious day, we celebrate the day 1 Ajaw, the namesake of the Hero Twin Hunahpu in the Popol Vuh, and the day commemorating the rebirth of Venus as Morning Star in the Dresden Codex Venus Table. Hunahpu willingly sacrificed himself in the fires of Xibalbá, and some say he became the sun itself, like the Central Mexican Nanahuatzin, who gives his light and his life so that all things can live—a true act of generosity. Some say he is akin to the self-sacrificing Quetzalcoatl, whose heart becomes the planet Venus, much as the planet itself appears to dive into the fiery sun in the evening sky, only to valiantly reappear several days later as the Morning Star.

While the reappearance of Venus in the morning took place back in March of this year, the brilliant planet is still visible as Morning Star on this day, and we are now just four days from a remarkable total solar eclipse—yet another focus of both the Dresden Venus Table, and the Lunar Table that follows it in that incredible Postclassic document, distilled from many generations of Maya observers. This sophisticated knowledge of astronomy, and the profound, symbolic stories which were used to instruct and educate on multiple levels, are examples of the rich cultural and scientific achievements of the Maya which deserve our deepest respect and recognition.

Knowledge of Maya writing and astronomy was almost completely destroyed by the fires of ignorance some 500 years ago, and for too long it has remained relatively untaught and uncelebrated in classrooms throughout the world—especially in classes of young Maya students. Thankfully, that is all starting to change. We at MAM uphold the importance of celebrating and disseminating the knowledge of the achievements of the Maya past, and helping Maya teachers who are passionately working with their students to help them learn the writing of their ancestors.

In the spirit of generosity, and celebration this month, we report back from the field from Tojolab’al students in las Margaritas, Chiapas with a report from K’anal Ajpub’ Santiz—who likewise takes her namesake from this day! Though this workshop took place almost one year ago, we are still catching up with receiving and publishing reports from some of the thirty mini-grants we have granted over the past year, and we hope to be able to publish as many of these reports as we can to acknowledge the excellent work of as many of our mini-grant recipients as possible.

Furthermore, K’anal Ajpub’ Santiz will be coordinating another pre-Congreso event that we are helping to support, scheduled to take place in Chiapas in September of this year. The purpose of this event will be to work with Chontal, Tzotzil, Tojolob’al, and Tz’eltal speakers who have not yet participated in the revitalization of the hieroglyphic script. If you would like to help contribute your support for events such as this, please visit our donation page where we have now initiated a monthly subscribership. We invite you to become a sustaining member of MAM, and we thank you for all of your generous support!


Ts’akatalex and Gracias de Corazon,

Michael J. Grofe, President

Photo No. 1.CEDECO, Saltillo Community, Municipality of  las Margaritas, Chiapas.

First and foremost, we again thank the MAM Foundation for continuing to pursue the objectives of promoting this knowledge through small scholarships, wherein it has been of great support for the realization of the activities of teaching of the Ojer Tz’iib’ (Ancient Writing).

As I have emphasized on several occasions, it is of great importance to make known these types of knowledge, since at present, because of the current system, our Maya brothers have been adopting other ideologies, ignoring the knowledge of our ancestors.

With these small workshops, we have seen the great interest of the speakers in continuing to struggle so that again, we begin to rescue what has long been hidden. As Maya speakers, it is an obligation to continue fostering, above all spreading this interest for the future to come. As an instructor, I feel motivated and grateful to be able to contribute my part, to continue to reap more fruits tomorrow, and also to witness the interest of the participants, at the moment of their learning these subjects, since many are not aware of the history of Mayan culture and much less of the Ojer Tz’iib’. Therefore, for young Tojolab’ales, this is something new and very interesting, and there have also been moments of great reflection to take up this knowledge again.

On August 27 and 28, 2016, activities were carried out, at the facilities of the Department of Capacity Development Center (CEDECO), located in the Satillo community, in the Municipality of las Margaritas, Chiapas, Mexico. Thank you also to the coordinator of this institution for his great kindness and collaboration to carry out the corresponding activities.

August 27

As a support material to be able to fulfill the objectives, it was necessary to use the booklet “Introductory Course for the Reading and Ancient Writing of the Ojer Tz’ib’” with the young Tojolab’al Mayas, supporting this with examples in Tojolab’al and in Spanish. With this strategy, we began the workshop so that they could understand and compare it with the ancient writing.

  1. We began with a short introduction about Mayan history in the past and present, the current location of Mayan cities, where the Mayan languages are located and the relationship with the Tojolab’al.
  2. Phonological system of the language of the inscriptions & 2.1 sounds of the current Mayan languages.
  3. The syllabary (the sounds of the Mayan signs).
  4. The sign that can be used, for the consonants of the current languages (q’, q and r).
  5. Double point function.
  6. Form of reading and writing.
  7. Word formation, why is the vowel reading omitted at the end of a syllable?
  8. word written in syllabic form.
  9. logograms that represent complete words.
  10. Logographs for Cardinal Points and colors.
  11. Numbers 1 to 20.
  12. Name of days.

Photo. No 2. Starting the workshop, with the presentation of each of the participants in the same way, showing the interest they have towards the workshop.

Photo No. 3. Demonstration of reading and writing.

Photo. No. 4. All very attentive taking note about the writing rules of the Maya system, making comparisons from the Tojol-ab’al.

Photo. No. 5. K’anal Ajpub ‘/ María Bertha Santiz Pérez, speaking about the Mayan numbers.

Photo No. 6. After all the theoretical explanation, teams were formed, to reflect the above, where each team had to explain, by means of examples, what was understood to be able to continue with the practice.

Photo. No. 7 Luis, goes on to write and explain the word formation and omission of the vowel, at the end of the syllable, with examples in Tojol-ab’al.

This ended the activity on the 27th, with group and individual participation.

August 28

It was a day to put into practice the theory from the first day, practicing Maya hieroglyphic writing, first exercising hands, writing and drawing words, from 2–9 syllables, with words of everyday use related to the space where the workshop took place, since we were surrounded by mother nature, flowers, animals, etc.

Photo. No. 8. Starting with the realization of exercises, deciphering, identification of words.

Photo. No. 9. Something innovative, that caught their attention, at the moment of practice, between them were to correct, or to show off what was learned.

Photo. No.10

Photo. No. 11. The young multilingual (Tseltal, Tojol-Ab’al, Spanish and English), exposing his work to the group.

Photo. No. 12. Presentation of the works.

Photo. No. 13

Photo. No. 14 Finalizing the workshop.

In this way, the above activities were carried out on August 27 and 28, in facilities of the Department of capacity development center (CEDECO), located in the Satillo Community, in the Municipality of las Margaritas, Chiapas, Mexico. With a total of 26 participants from different communities; Nuevo México, El Vergel, Saltillo, Venustiano Carranza, 20 de noviembre, El Vergelito, Hidalgo and las Margaritas.

K’anal Ajpub’/ María Bertha Santiz Pérez

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