3 Ajaw 2 Ch’en (September 10, 2020): Reading and Writing Tojol-ab’al: Ojer Maya’ Tz’iib’ in Las Margaritas, Chiapas

3 Ajaw 3 Ch’en: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

I write to you beneath the orange, smoke-filled skies of California as we all face the challenges of such a year as this, while also remembering the solemn events of 19 years ago. We are now all connected in our isolation, and we think of our Maya friends and family who continue to endure, despite the many challenges that they continue to face.

We look with hope to a brighter future, when much-needed rain quenches the fires, when we have overcome this global pandemic, and when humanity and this wounded world may one day return to health again. We look forward to that day, when we can finally reunite in person again, and when we might all help to build a better future for our children, and for the Maya students and communities that we serve. Meanwhile, we are currently investigating the possibilities of continuing our work online, and supporting the work of Maya teachers that may be able to carry out their work in a safe, online environment wherever possible, as so many of us around the world are now doing.

This month, we look back to last year, and a report from Hermelinda Gómez López and the ejido Bajucú in Las Margaritas, Chiapas, where she and her team worked to promote literacy in Tojol-ab’al language among a group of students by teaching Tojol-ab’al grammar along with the Maya syllabary. This is one of many similar such efforts which have taken place in Tojol-ab’al communities in Chiapas after the Pre-Congreso events in 2018, where there is a growing  enthusiasm among young people about learning the ancient Maya script and taking pride in their shared Maya heritage and ancestry.

We look forward to being able to work with our Maya colleagues in person next year, when it will be safe for students and teachers to be together again. Until then, we remain united in our shared hope for a better world, and we are inspired to overcome our current obstacles in creative and productive ways.

Thank you for all of your ongoing support. We wish you all health and strength in the days ahead.


Michael Grofe, President

Welcome and presentation of the workshop

The Workshop on Maya Hieroglyphic Writing

In order to strengthen the ancient Mayan script of our ancestors and for our youth to know and recognize it as part of the knowledge of our grandparents, we held the workshop entitled, “Introduction to Maya Ojer Tz’iib’ – Mayan Epigraphy” (“Maya Writing and Tojol-ab’al Literacy”) on March 5th and 6th in 2019 in the ejido Bajucú, municipality of Las Margaritas, Chiapas, Mexico.

This workshop was attended by a group of young enthusiasts from Telebachillerato No. 05, “Carlos A. Carrillo,” the ejido Bajucú, who showed interest and were available during the workshop times. Support came from QFB F. Hernán Martínez Flores, Director of the institution for the proper development of activities. It is also noteworthy that this workshop was possible thanks to the mini-grant funds awarded by Mayas for Ancient Mayan (MAM), which allowed the transfer and purchase of supplies for implementing the workshop.

Explanation of the Indigenous languages of Chiapas

On March 5, 2019, the workshop began by welcoming the participants and pointing out the purpose and the methodology of the work. Subsequently, a brief introduction of Maya epigraphy, with its history and origins, was given, emphasizing that before the arrival of the Spaniards, Mesoamerican Mayan writing was through glyphs and was represented by symbols that could be found on ceramics, wood carving, stone, bone, steles, and walls, and in codices (books). Participants were surprised and interested in this information.

Later, the topic of the grammar of the Tojol-ab’al language was addressed; its importance, the rules for its writing, alphabet and background in ancient Mayan writing were highlighted. The young people immediately did some exercises using the correct grammar of Tojol-ab’al, and their doubts were resolved.

Practice in the use of Tojol-ab’al grammar

On March 6th, the second day of the workshop, feedback of what was seen on the first day was given first. Immediately after, a comparison of the writing of our ancestors was made with the writing of today, stressing that we Mayan speakers understand its importance as the basis of our writing, so we should strengthen and value our knowledge of it, because it is part of our identity.

Afterwards, the Mayan writing system was unveiled, noting that it employs both logograms and phonetic signs to interpret the glyphs. The use of syllabary, its pronunciation, writing method, and the structure of the words were demonstrated. Also, the numbering system from 1 to 20 was shown.

After addressing these topics, participants did some individual exercises to put into practice the knowledge they had acquired, and then they trained in teams to form syllabic words with support from the syllabary.

Working in teams to form words with the support of the syllabary

Finally, they presented their work. They appreciated us teaching them this kind of knowledge, noting that they were unaware of Mayan writing before. They also noted that they were unaware of the correct use of the Tojol-ab’al grammar and commented that they found the workshop important, since they are speakers of the Tojol-ab’al language but do not know how to write it.

This workshop was successfully carried out thanks to the introductory reading and writing manual of the Tz’iib’ system provided in the Maya Epigraphy Pre-Congress workshop, “Introduction to the Operation and Use of the Tz’iib Ojeer Maya,” in November 2017 in the city of Comitán de Domínguez, Chiapas. This workshop was organized by the Tojol-ab’al Language Documentation Center (CDIT) through its teacher, K’anal Ajpub’ (María Bertha Sántiz Pérez) with support from the Universidad Intercultural de Chiapas (UNICH), in coordination with the Fundación Proyecto Francisco Marroquín (PLFM) and the Rafael Landívar University of Guatemala. Support and supplies were provided by a mini-grant from Mayan for Ancient Mayas (MAM), With help, I was able to carry out this workshop satisfactorily and without any setbacks.

Hermelinda Gómez López
Maya speaker of Tojol-ab’al



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