7 Ajaw 3 K’ayab (February 17, 2021): NativeLang: Exploring the Revitalization of Mesoamerican Writing

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión español.

7 Ajaw 3 K’ayab: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara
NativeLang: “But are Mesoamerican glyphs still used today?”

It is hard to believe that it has almost been a year since the pandemic lockdown began for many of us. Since the college where I teach has shifted into an entirely online format, I’ve had the opportunity to explore and share many innovative web-based resources in my classes. In my linguistics class, I have been using several excellent animated videos from NativeLang, a YouTube channel created by linguist and animator Joshua Rudder. I highly recommend the many videos on his channel, and I greatly admire the thought and work he has put into these videos, and how effectively they communicate complex histories and ideas. This month, I would like to highlight one of his videos from last August, in which he explores the revitalization of Mesoamerican scripts, with a particular focus on Maya writing.

Featured in the video is a Tzotzil poem written and published in Maya script by our friend Martín Gómez Ramírez, the famous Stela of Iximché, written in Kaqchikel using an adapted Maya script. Also mentioned is the hieroglyphic version of the K’iche’ Popol Vuh, transcribed by Yan García and designed by Mario Hernández, as well as a discussion of the challenges of converting Maya glyphs into a Unicode text that is readable by computers.

This and other educational online resources have given me the idea that we might explore the commissioning and creation of similar online resources by Maya educators for Maya students. The pandemic continues to force us to consider new ways to continue our work, and given that we may be dealing with the challenges of restrictions on face-to-face classes for the foreseeable future this year, online learning promises to provide new opportunities for educational outreach for those who have the ability to connect to the internet.

Meanwhile, many of us still await our vaccinations, which are still not widely available in the United States, let alone in Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. May we all stay safe and healthy and get vaccinated soon so that we can once again gather together and see our friends and family to celebrate life and a better future.

Kolaval Tajmek, Matyox,  

Michael Grofe, President

Versión Español

7 Ajaw 3 K’ayab (17 de febrero, 2021): NativeLang: Explorando la Revitalización de la Escritura Mesoamericana

Es difícil creer que para muchos de nosotros ha pasado casi un año desde que comenzó el cierre de emergencia de la pandemia. Desde que el colegio en el que doy clases cambió a un formato completamente en línea, he tenido la oportunidad de explorar y compartir muchos recursos innovadores, basados en la web, en mis clases. En mi clase de lingüística, he estado usando varios excelentes videos animados de NativeLang, un canal de YouTube creado por el lingüista y animador Joshua Rudder. Recomiendo mucho los muchos videos de este canal, y admiro mucho el pensamiento y el trabajo que él ha puesto en estos videos y la eficacia con la que comunican historias e ideas complejas. Este mes, me gustaría destacar uno de sus videos del pasado mes de agosto, en el que explora la revitalización de las escrituras mesoamericanas, con un énfasis particular en la escritura maya. Siéntanse en libertad de cambiar los subtítulos a español usando los controles de configuración.

En el video aparece un poema tsotsil escrito y publicado en la escritura maya por nuestro amigo Martín Gómez Ramírez, así como también la famosa Estela de Iximché, escrita en Kaqchikel. También se menciona la versión jeroglífica del Popol Vuh, transcrito por Yan García y diseñado por Mario Hernández, así como una discusión sobre los desafíos que presenta la conversión de los glifos mayas a un texto Unicode que las computadoras sean capaces de leer.

Este y otros recursos educativos en línea me han dado la idea de que podríamos explorar el encargo y la creación de recursos en línea similares por parte de educadores mayas para estudiantes mayas. La pandemia continúa obligándonos a considerar nuevas formas de continuar nuestro trabajo, y dado que es posible que sigamos enfrentando los desafíos de las restricciones en las clases presenciales en el futuro previsible este año, el aprendizaje en línea promete brindar nuevas oportunidades para la educación al alcance de aquellos que tienen la posibilidad de conectarse a Internet.

Mientras tanto, muchos de nosotros seguimos esperando nuestras vacunas, que todavía no están ampliamente disponibles en los Estados Unidos, y mucho menos en Guatemala, México y Belice. ¡Ojalá todos podamos mantenernos seguros y saludables y podamos vacunarnos pronto para que podamos reunirnos una vez más y ver a nuestros amigos y familiares para celebrar la vida y un futuro mejor!

Kolaval Tajmek, Matyox, 

Michael Grofe, Presidente

6 Ajaw 3 Muwan (January 8, 2021): Of Cabbages and Kings: “Banana Republics” and the Past and Present Fragility of Democracy

Haz clic aquí para leer la versión español.

6 Ajaw 3 Muwan: Dibujo de Jorge Pérez de Lara

Of Cabbages and Kings: “Banana Republics” and the Past and Present Fragility of Democracy

La Gloriosa Victoria, Diego Rivera (1954) Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

Gobierno de Álvaro Colom, Guatemala 2008-2012 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

With a heavy heart, I write this to you in a time of grave national crisis in the United States, as yet unresolved, amidst the prolonged catastrophe of a global pandemic through which we all continue to suffer. A New Year is upon us in the Gregorian Calendar, with the promise of a vaccine, which some of my friends have already received but which is not yet widely available. In what will be a fraught two weeks of uncertainty, a new presidential administration comes to power in the United States. Though we lack any current reports to publish from the field, I had hoped to be able to simply wish all of us a happier and more hopeful year ahead, which I certainly wish for all of us, now more than ever. But I am feeling that now is not the time to remain silent regarding what is happening. Please forgive my departure from our usual topics in my turning to current events, but there is a thread that I feel needs to be explored that connects us to a lesser-known, shared history between the United States and Maya people which is often not discussed or acknowledged.

The attempted coup d’etat and the tragically deadly forced invasion of the U.S. Capitol Building on January 6th has been a shocking new experience for citizens of the United States, which prides itself as being the global beacon of democracy. This insurrection continues to be a painful, yet important reminder of the fragility of democracy itself, and it is important for us to recognize that this kind of event and its tragic aftermath is not unfamiliar to much of the rest of the world, particularly for our many Maya friends in Central America who are watching this from the outside and no doubt comparing it with their own painful histories of coups d’etats that have been much more deadly and organized than this one.

With great concern and without hesitation, world leaders and former U.S. Presidents alike have justifiably condemned the senseless violence on Wednesday, but I was particularly struck by one comment by former President George W. Bush, who wrote, “This is how election results are disputed in a banana republic — not our democratic republic” (Wamsley 2021).

The common moniker of a “banana republic” is often used to derogatorily characterize politically destabilized, so-called “third world” nations with rampant, anti-democratic corruption and class inequality, imagining that such things are only present outside the United States. As a linguist, I am interested in the usage and circulation of terms, and in the importance of understanding the origins of these terms. I think such a comment requires context and understanding of how the term “banana republic” itself originated, particularly because the intended usage can be unintentionally insulting to our friends in other nations, as it often overlooks the direct connections to the intentional destabilization of Central American governments ironically caused by powerful political and corporate interests in the United States. Likewise, it perpetuates the dangerous Eurocentric fiction of white supremacy, and it assumes an inferiority of these nations as being beneath the “first world,” which is both unfair and inaccurate. Such uses of this term overlook the responsibility our government bears in both causing and supporting these very anti-democratic political circumstances in other nations, as well as the parallels with our current tragic circumstances.

The term “banana republic” originated from the writing of O. Henry, the pen name of William Sydney Porter, who coined the term in his 1904 novel Cabbages and Kings (taken from the Lewis Carroll poem The Walrus and the Carpenter), about a fictitious Central American country called the Republic of Anchuria. This was based upon his own experiences in Honduras and his observations of the powerful fruit companies from the United States which had a profound impact on destabilizing Central American nations like Honduras and Guatemala for the purposes of their own profit through exporting the bountiful produce of these nations through exploiting cheap labor (Eschner 2017).

As we know from the well-documented history of Guatemala as detailed in Bitter Fruit: the Untold Story of the American Coup in Guatemala (Schlesinger & Kinser 1982, revised in 2005), the United States government was heavily involved with multiple dictators that favored the United Fruit Company (UFCO), culminating in the 1954 coup d’etat in Guatemala orchestrated and carried out by the CIA, which removed the democratically elected Jacobo Árbenz from power. Árbenz had instituted a popular policy of agrarian reform that sought to return unused land owned by the UFCO to poor farmers, many of which were Maya people who were forced to work as cheap labor in the fincas, the plantations owned by the UFCO.

Both the United States Secretary of State at the time, John Foster Dulles, and his brother, Allan Dulles, the Director of the CIA, had ties to the United Fruit Company, both having worked for the law firm which represented them. Because of these and other close ties, the UFCO successfully lobbied the U.S. Government under President Eisenhower to stage a coup through the CIA by playing into the fears of the Red Scare, inaccurately claiming that Árbenz was a communist. However, it was the United Fruit Company that was primarily concerned with its profits, which were greater than the GDP of Guatemala itself, and unjustly built on the backs of exploited people dispossessed from their traditional lands. The result was that Árbenz was forcibly deposed in 1954, leading to four decades of military dictatorships that were supported and armed by the United States government—ultimately leading to rampant human rights abuses and the genocide of tens of thousands of Maya people during the tragic and painful period that has become known as la Violencia.

In 1999, following the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords that ended the formal conflict in Guatemala, President Clinton finally issued an official apology to the Guatemalan government for the unjust involvement and support of dictatorships in Guatemala by the United States (Broder 1999). Here, in part, is Clinton’s apology:

“For the United States, it is important that I state clearly that support for military forces and intelligence units which engaged in violence and widespread repression was wrong, and the United States must not repeat that mistake…We must and will, instead, continue to support the peace and reconciliation process in Guatemala.”

While the United States prides itself on serving as an unshakeable example of democracy for the rest of the world, this sits uncomfortably for those who have been directly impacted by the decidedly anti-democratic actions our government has taken against other democratically elected governments when it has served corrupt interests of those in power. I do not intend for this to minimize the current crisis by casting aspersions on the problematic history of the United States and its history of anti-democratic practices. Rather, it is in my hope that we can all be better than this and that we can continue to learn from our mistakes.

It serves the greater good for us to understand the truth of our own history and how that history intersects with the history of our neighbors and friends among the Maya people we work with, who continue to bravely rebuild their lives and reconnect to a history that has been forcibly and repeatedly taken from them. I see the work we do as directly connected to taking some responsibility for reparations for what our nation has done, and I do hope we can return to that work as soon as possible this year.

I think it is worth remembering all of this in this current moment of crisis, and reflecting on the fragility of democracy itself, both at home and abroad, as well as reflecting on the devastating and dangerous consequences of attempting to overturn democratically elected governments based on falsehoods, selfishness, and greed. In this moment of national reckoning, I think it is important to acknowledge how easy it can be for selfish actors to abuse their power to manipulate and thwart the goals of democratic societies, particularly through the promotion of nationalist fictions of white supremacy, and it is of paramount importance in these moments to tell the truth about ourselves and about our shared past so that we do not repeat these mistakes. We are learning that we are all equal after all, and that we may yet live up to the promise of equality upon which our imperfect nation was built. We are equally vulnerable to anti-democratic abuses of power, just as we are not immune to a virus that has now taken over 375,000 lives in the United States, and nearly two million lives globally.

In the future, if we choose to use the term “banana republic” to describe another nation, or our own, I would hope that we use it with a more honest understanding where that term comes from, and I hereby invite all of us to learn its true meaning as connected to the history of the United States and its damaging, antidemocratic entanglements in other nations.

May we all have a safe, healthy New Year in pursuit of truth, happiness, and mutual understanding beyond our borders. May there especially be peace and healing in all of our nations in the coming weeks, months, and years to come. The time has come, and we’ve got work to do.

Yum Bo’otik, Sib’alaj Maltyox,

Michael Grofe, President

“La United Fruit Co.”

When the trumpet sounded
everything was prepared on earth,
and Jehovah gave the world
to Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, and other corporations.
The United Fruit Company
reserved for itself the most juicy
piece, the central coast of my world,
the delicate waist of America.

It rebaptized these countries
Banana Republics,
and over the sleeping dead,
over the unquiet heroes
who won greatness,
liberty, and banners,
it established comic opera:
it abolished free will,
gave out imperial crowns,

encouraged envy, attracted
the dictatorship of flies:
Trujillo flies, Tachos flies
Carias flies, Martinez flies,
Ubico flies, flies sticky with
submissive blood and marmalade,
drunken flies that buzz over
the tombs of the people,
circus flies, wise flies
expert at tyranny.

With the bloodthirsty flies
came the Fruit Company,
amassed coffee and fruit
in ships which put to sea like
overloaded trays with the treasures
from our sunken lands.

Meanwhile the Indians fall
into the sugared depths of the
harbors and are buried in the
morning mists;
a corpse rolls, a thing without
name, a discarded number,
a bunch of rotten fruit
thrown on the garbage heap.

~Pablo Neruda, Canto General (1950)

Versión Español

6 Ajaw 3 Muwan (8 de enero de 2021): De Coles y Reyes: Las “Repúblicas Bananeras” y la fragilidad pasada y presente de la democracia

Con gran pesar, escribo esto en un momento de grave crisis nacional en los Estados Unidos, aún sin resolver, en medio de la prolongada catástrofe de una pandemia mundial que todos seguimos sufriendo. Ha llegado un nuevo año en el calendario gregoriano, con la promesa de una vacuna que algunos de mis amigos ya han recibido, pero que todavía no están disponibles para todos. En lo que serán dos semanas de incertidumbre, una nueva administración presidencial llega al poder en Estados Unidos. Aunque carecemos de informes de campo actuales para publicar, esperaba poder simplemente desearnos a todos un año más feliz y esperanzador, lo que ciertamente deseo para todos, ahora más que nunca. Pero siento que ahora no es el momento de guardar silencio sobre lo que está sucediendo. Por favor, perdonen mi alejamiento de nuestros temas habituales al pasar a los eventos actuales, pero hay un hilo que creo que debe explorarse y que nos conecta con una historia compartida menos conocida entre los Estados Unidos y los mayas que a menudo no se discute o se reconoce.

El intento de golpe de estado y la invasión forzada y trágicamente mortal del edificio del Capitolio de los Estados Unidos el 6 de enero ha sido una experiencia nueva e impactante para los ciudadanos de los Estados Unidos, que se enorgullecen de ser el faro global de la democracia. Esta insurrección sigue siendo un recordatorio doloroso, pero importante, de la fragilidad de la democracia en sí, y es importante que reconozcamos que este tipo de eventos y sus trágicas secuelas no son desconocidos para gran parte del resto del mundo, en particular para nuestros amigos mayas en Centroamérica, quienes están viendo esto desde afuera y sin duda lo comparan con sus propias historias dolorosas de golpes de estado, que han sido mucho más mortíferos y organizados que este.

Con gran preocupación y sin dudarlo, los líderes mundiales y los ex presidentes de Estados Unidos por igual han condenado justificadamente la violencia sin sentido del miércoles, pero me llamó particularmente la atención un comentario del ex presidente George W. Bush, quien escribió: “Así es como se disputan los resultados de las elecciones en una república bananera, no en nuestra república democrática” (Wamsley 2021).

El apodo común de “república bananera” se usa a menudo para caracterizar despectivamente a las naciones políticamente desestabilizadas del llamado “tercer mundo”, con una corrupción desenfrenada y antidemocrática y gran desigualdad de clases, imaginando que tales cosas solo están presentes fuera de Estados Unidos. Como lingüista, me interesa el uso y la circulación de términos y la importancia de comprender el origen de estos términos. Creo que tal comentario requiere contexto y comprensión de cómo se originó el término “república bananera”, en particular porque el uso previsto puede ser un insulto involuntario para nuestros amigos en otras naciones, ya que a menudo pasa por alto las conexiones directas con la desestabilización intencional de los gobiernos centroaméricanos, causados ​​irónicamente por poderosos intereses políticos y corporativos en los Estados Unidos. Asimismo, perpetúa la peligrosa ficción eurocéntrica de la supremacía blanca y presupone una inferioridad de estas naciones como inferiores al “primer mundo”, lo cual es injusto e inexacto. Tales usos de este término pasan por alto la responsabilidad que tiene nuestro gobierno de causar y apoyar estas circunstancias políticas antidemocráticas en otras naciones, así como los paralelismos con nuestras trágicas circunstancias actuales.

El término “república bananera” se originó a partir de la escritura de O. Henry, el seudónimo de William Sydney Porter, quien acuñó el término en su novela de 1904 Cabbages and Kings (“Coles y Reyes”, tomado del poema de Lewis Carroll La Morsa y el Carpintero), sobre un país centroamericano ficticio llamado República de Anchuria. Esto se basó en sus propias experiencias en Honduras y sus observaciones de las poderosas empresas frutícolas de los Estados Unidos, que tuvieron un profundo impacto en la desestabilización de naciones centroamericanas como Honduras y Guatemala, buscando su propio beneficio mediante la exportación de la abundante producción de estas naciones, por medio de la explotación de mano de obra barata (Eschner 2017).

Como sabemos por la bien documentada historia de Guatemala, como se detalla en Bitter Fruit: la historia no contada del golpe estadounidense en Guatemala (Schlesinger & Kinser 1982, revisada en 2005), el gobierno de los Estados Unidos estuvo muy involucrado con múltiples dictadores que favorecían a la United Fruit Company (UFCO) y que culminó con el golpe de estado de 1954 en Guatemala, orquestado y llevado a cabo por la CIA, que sacó del poder al presidente electo democráticamente Jacobo Árbenz. Árbenz había instituido una política popular de reforma agraria que buscaba devolver las tierras en desuso propiedad de la UFCO a los agricultores pobres, muchos de los cuales pertenecían a grupos mayas, obligados a trabajar como mano de obra barata en las fincas y plantaciones propiedad de la UFCO.

Tanto el entonces secretario de Estado de los Estados Unidos, John Foster Dulles, como su hermano, Allan Dulles, director de la CIA, tenían vínculos con la United Fruit Company, y ambos habían trabajado para el bufete de abogados que los representaba. Debido a estos y otros lazos cercanos, la UFCO presionó con éxito al gobierno de los Estados Unidos bajo el presidente Eisenhower para que organizara un golpe de estado a través de la CIA, jugando con los temores de la llamada “Red Scare”, afirmando erróneamente que Árbenz era comunista. Sin embargo, la United Fruit Company se preocupaba principalmente por sus ganancias, que eran mayores que el PIB de la propia Guatemala, mismas que se habían construido injustamente sobre las espaldas de personas explotadas y desposeídas de sus tierras tradicionales. El resultado fue que Árbenz fue depuesto por la fuerza en 1954, lo que llevó a cuatro décadas de dictaduras militares que fueron apoyadas y armadas por el gobierno de los Estados Unidos, y que en última instancia condujo a abusos desenfrenados de los derechos humanos y al genocidio de decenas de miles de mayas durante el trágico y doloroso período que se ha dado a conocer como la Violencia.

En 1999, luego de la firma de los Acuerdos de Paz de 1996 que pusieron fin al conflicto formal en Guatemala, el presidente Clinton finalmente emitió una disculpa oficial al gobierno guatemalteco por la participación injusta y el apoyo a las dictaduras en Guatemala por parte de Estados Unidos (Broder 1999). Aquí, en parte, está la disculpa de Clinton:

“Para Estados Unidos, es importante que yo afirme claramente que el apoyo a las fuerzas militares y las unidades de inteligencia que participaron en la violencia y la represión generalizada fue equivocada y que Estados Unidos no debe repetir ese error… Debemos y seguiremos, en cambio, apoyando el proceso de paz y reconciliación en Guatemala.”

Si bien Estados Unidos se enorgullece de servir como un ejemplo inquebrantable de democracia para el resto del mundo, esto resulta incómodo para aquellos que han sido directamente afectados por las acciones decididamente antidemocráticas que nuestro gobierno ha tomado contra otros gobiernos elegidos democráticamente, cuando esto ha servido a los intereses corruptos de los que están en el poder. No pretendo que esto minimice la crisis actual arrojando calumnias sobre la problemática historia de Estados Unidos y su historia de prácticas antidemocráticas. Más bien, tengo la esperanza de que todos podamos ser mejores que esto y podamos seguir aprendiendo de nuestros errores.

Nos sirve para un bien mayor entender la verdad de nuestra propia historia y cómo esa historia se cruza con la historia de nuestros vecinos y amigos entre los mayas con los que trabajamos, quienes continúan reconstruyendo valientemente sus vidas y reconectándose con una historia que ha les ha sido arrebatada repetidamente por la fuerza. Veo el trabajo que hacemos como algo directamente relacionado con asumir alguna responsabilidad por las reparaciones de lo que ha hecho nuestra nación, esperando que podamos volver a ese trabajo lo antes posible este año.

Creo que vale la pena recordar todo esto en este momento de crisis actual, y reflexionar sobre la fragilidad de la democracia en sí, tanto en el país como en el exterior, así como reflexionar sobre las devastadoras y peligrosas consecuencias de intentar derrocar gobiernos elegidos democráticamente sobre la base de falsedades, egoísmo y codicia. En este momento de ajuste nacional de cuentas, creo que es importante reconocer lo fácil que puede ser para los actores egoístas abusar de su poder para manipular y frustrar los objetivos de las sociedades democráticas, particularmente a través de la promoción de las ficciones nacionalistas de la supremacía blanca. Es de suma importancia en estos momentos decir la verdad sobre nosotros mismos y sobre nuestro pasado compartido para no repetir estos errores. Estamos aprendiendo que todos somos iguales después de todo, y que aún podemos estar a la altura de la promesa de igualdad sobre la cual se construyó nuestra imperfecta nación. Somos igualmente vulnerables a los abusos de poder antidemocráticos, del mismo modo que tampoco somos inmunes a un virus que ahora ha cobrado más de 375.000 vidas en los Estados Unidos y casi dos millones de vidas en todo el mundo.

En el futuro, si elegimos usar el término “república bananera” para describir a otra nación o a la nuestra, espero que lo usemos con una comprensión más honesta sobre el origen de ese término, y por la presente los invito a todos a aprender su verdadero significado en relación con la historia de los Estados Unidos y sus enredos dañinos y antidemocráticos en otras naciones.

Deseo que todos tengamos un Año Nuevo seguro y saludable en la búsqueda de la verdad, la felicidad y el entendimiento mutuo más allá de nuestras fronteras. Que haya especialmente paz y reconciliación en todas nuestras naciones en las semanas, meses y años por venir. Ha llegado el momento y tenemos trabajo por hacer.

Yum Bo’otik, Sib’alaj Maltyox,

Michael Grofe, Presidente

“La United Fruit Co.”

Cuando sonó la trompeta,
estuvo todo preparado en la tierra,
y Jehova repartió el mundo
a Coca-Cola Inc., Anaconda,
Ford Motors, y otras entidades:
la Compañía Frutera Inc.
se reservó lo más jugoso,
la costa central de mi tierra,
la dulce cintura de América.

Bautizó de nuevo sus tierras
como “Repúblicas Bananas,”
y sobre los muertos dormidos,
sobre los héroes inquietos
que conquistaron la grandeza,
la libertad y las banderas,
estableció la ópera bufa:
enajenó los albedríos
regaló coronas de César,
desenvainó la envidia, atrajo
la dictadura de las moscas,
moscas Trujillos, moscas Tachos,
moscas Carías, moscas Martínez,
moscas Ubico, moscas húmedas
de sangre humilde y mermelada,
moscas borrachas que zumban
sobre las tumbas populares,
moscas de circo, sabias
moscas entendidas en tiranía.

Entre las moscas sanguinarias
la Frutera desembarca,
arrasando el café y las frutas,
en sus barcos que deslizaron
como bandejas el tesoro
de nuestras tierras sumergidas.

Mientras tanto, por los abismos
azucarados de los puertos,
caían indios sepultados
en el vapor de la mañana:
un cuerpo rueda, una cosa
sin nombre, un número caído,
un racimo de fruta muerta
derramada en el pudridero.

~ Pablo Neruda, Canto General (1950)

Week of Giving Tuesday

Dear Friends,

We are happy to share with you our latest blog. It highlights the work and art of Walter Paz Joj ─ “5 Ajaw 3 Mak (November 29, 2020): The Living Art of a Kaqchikel Maya Aj Tz’ib’ “. Here is the link: http://discovermam.org/2020/11/5-ajaw-3-mak-november-29-2020/ . Enjoy the beautiful artworks and Walter’s high-resolution photos. This workshop took place before the pandemic spread into Guatemala and Mexico.

We have had to temporarily suspend the workshops until next year, but we are planning ahead when we can once again begin granting funds to individuals for these classes. The monetary support that our Mayanist community has given to Mayas For Ancient Maya (MAM) enable us to continue to support our Maya colleagues in educating their indigenous communities through the organizing workshop grants like that granted to Walter, where the living Maya people are able to connect with their ancestors through the ancient hieroglyphs.

Also, great news regarding Giving Tuesday Week! We have an anonymous donor who wants to match dollar for dollar what others pitch in until this coming Saturday. In other words, if you contribute $100, the donor will match it with $100 and thus you are able to double your commitment. Here is the link where you can go to our secure website to donate: http://discovermam.org/support/.

Thank you so much,
MAM Executive Committee

5 Ajaw 3 Mak (November 29, 2020): Walter Paz Joj: The Living Art of a Kaqchikel Maya Aj Tz’ib’

5 Ajaw 3 Mak: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

Digital Illustration dedicated to Jun B’atz’ and Jun Chuwen, Mothers and Fathers of Maya art. Walter Paz Joj

Walter Paz Joj: The Living Art of a Kaqchikel Maya Aj Tz’ib’

For many of us, this Thanksgiving has been a holiday unlike any other in living memory, and it is a time for giving thanks for all that we have amidst a year of such sorrow and tragedy. So many of us celebrate in isolation this year, grateful for the lives of our loved ones, and grieving the loss of so many who have been taken from us. As we reported last month, the pandemic has taken a great toll on our Maya friends, many of whom have since been hit by two hurricanes in what is now a record year for so many storms. Jun Raqan, the one-legged Heart of Sky walks restlessly in circles on our warming planet. May the balance be restored, and may he be appeased after so much suffering. May the Maya people endure, as they always have.

I am profoundly grateful for the work our Maya friends have been doing to bring to life the ancient script, and it is our great honor this month to feature the work of Walter Paz Joj. Walter is a Kaqchikel artist and musician from Panajachel, Guatemala on the shores of Lake Atitlán, the place of emergence for many Highland Maya people. Walter has been involved in studying the Maya script for many years, having attended and taught at multiple workshops and Congresos. For those of you unacquainted with Walter’s incredible artwork, it becomes immediately apparent that his work conjures the greatest heights of Classic Maya artistry while making it forever new and alive, rich in color and imagery, heart and soul, and using both traditional and digital media in remarkably innovative ways.

Walter Paz Joj’s work has received increasingly wider recognition through his commissioned work that includes spectacular murals as well as published artwork for multiple conferences, including the Third International Congreso on Maya Hieroglyphic Writing: Ojer Maya’ Tz’ib’ in El Remate, Guatemala in 2016, where I had the good fortune to meet Walter for the first time, and where he taught the beginner’s workshop. As an emerging scholar and artist on the cutting edge of his field, Walter will be contributing an article on contemporary Maya writing in an upcoming edition of the journal The Mayanist:


Here, we present some of the work of Walter Paz Joj for your continued enjoyment, and to promote the astounding work of this modern Maya Aj Tz’ib’.

Sib’alaj Maltyox,

Michael Grofe, President
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4 Ajaw 3 Sak (October 20, 2020): Renewing the World, Hope for the Future: Reading and Writing the Ojeer Maya Tz’iib in Santa Cruz del Quiché

4 Ajaw 3 Sak: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

Juan Rodrigo Guarchaj introduces the Pre-Congreso Workshop

Today, the Cholq’ij returns to the day 4 Ajaw, the day on which the world was renewed. Today, we continue to hope for a better tomorrow, and it is hard to believe that it has been one full cycle of the Cholq’ij since this pandemic arrived, and our world has been forever changed. I have recently heard from our good friend and President of the PLFM, Ajpub’ Pablo García Ixmatá, about the tremendous challenges facing his community and many others like his at this moment, and the painful devastation that Maya communities are having to contend with this year, and I think it is important to share some of his words with you today. Many Maya communities have suffered with lack of adequate healthcare after a surge of cases this past summer, and a reported infection rate that has remained consistently high since then. I am heartbroken to learn that Ajpub’ has lost multiple friends and family to COVID-19. He writes:

Dear Friend,

Thank you very much for the communication, the truth is it has been a very hard year… Of the dead alone in my community, approximately 60 people have left us, almost one daily in a small community, and there are still people at home, without medicine and without medical attention. The government has totally abandoned health centers, hospitals. It really is a collapse.

The truth is that many families need help, not only in my community but many, both for those who have died and those who lost jobs, they have nothing to eat. But, it is a huge struggle, truly…

The truth is, the modality of the classes now has been a challenge and obstacle for all of us. And of course, students and co-workers are missed. But let’s hope that little by little, we are re-emerging from this problem. As long as we do not have the medicine or vaccine for this disease, we have to take care of ourselves, and others.

The current challenges of the pandemic have made holding workshops and classes an impossibility for so many of us around the world, which has forced us to put our mini-grant program on hold, along with this year’s Congreso, previously scheduled for August. Nevertheless, Ajpub’ and I have discussed the possibility of promoting online workshops in the New Year to see if there is any interest, and to offer some hope for a better future as we are all so isolated right now, but there may be something we can do to provide some hope. Ajpub’ suggested, and I agreed that we should send out a survey to assess the potential for holding online Zoom classes for Maya teachers and students and to assess if they have online access, or what they may need in order to participate in an online workshop. Of course, we must recognize the over-arching priorities of health, work, and food security that are paramount right now for so many of our Maya colleagues, and we hope to be able to offer what we can, in whatever way is feasible within the parameters of our organization. In the coming months, I hope to update you on our progress, including any other reports back from Maya teachers and their communities that we receive.

Today, we publish our last report from one year ago, before the world changed so dramatically, and it reminds us of a better time. We hear from our friend and former Director of the PLFM, Juan Rodrigo Guarchaj Tzep, about the phenomenal pre-Congreso event he held at Rafael Landivar University in Santa Cruz del Quiché in October of 2019. Our friend, the renowned teacher Aj Xol Ch’ok facilitated the instruction. Originally designed as a workshop for only 20 students, it greatly expanded to include 60 participants from the surrounding K’iché, Ixil, Sakapulteko, and Uspanteko communities. The majority of the participants were speakers of K’iché, with others who were Spanish speakers, and several others speaking Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’, and Tz’utujil. We fondly look back to a time when these kinds of large workshops were possible, and we look towards a future when we can all return to working together again.

May we all find healing and strength in this time, and we wish all of you and all of our Maya friends and their communities health, strength, and hope for the future.

Sib’alaj Maltyox, Chajij awib’,
Michael Grofe, President

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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



2 Ajaw 3 Yaxk’in (August 1, 2020): “Unity Through Maya Cultural Experience”: Maya Writing and Calendrics with INNO’ON – LA ’OH at the University of Belize

2 Ajaw 3 Yaxk’in: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

The INNO’ON-LA’OH workshop participants receive their certificates of completion.

“Unity Through Maya Cultural Experience”: Maya Writing and Calendrics with INNO’ON – LA ’OH at the University of Belize

Things have been unusually quiet with us at MAM, since the pandemic has forced us to postpone all of our activities until next year. This summer, we delve into the archive of unpublished reports and bring you a report from Clinton Cho with some wonderful photos of the introductory workshop given by INNO’ON – LA ’OH at the University of Belize in Belmopan in April of 2019. If you look closely at some of the photos, you can see the image of the remarkable Komkom vase newly excavated from Baking Pot, Belize in 2016, which contains the longest known text found on a ceramic vessel, with some 202 glyphs! Also featured is a Maya Calendar tool, beautifully made from wood.

This workshop was taught by Jorge De Leon, and facilitated by Clinton Cho, with Dr. Pio Saqui, and Felicita Cantun. This is a continuation of the previously successful workshop facilitated through INNO’ON-LA ’OH in 2018.

In these challenging times, we are wishing all of our Maya colleagues and supporters well, and looking forward to a time in the near future when all of this will be behind us. We look forward to working together for a brighter future in which Maya cultures, languages, and communities are healthy and thriving. Thank you for all of your continued support through these challenging times.

Niib’oolal, Bo’otik, Bantyox,

Michael Grofe, President

The Dresden Codex

On behalf of INNO’ON – LA ’OH, the Mayan student association, I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Mayas for Ancient Mayan for assisting us financially to host our Epigraphy Workshop 2019 event. Our event was successful and brought students and individuals from various non-governmental organizations in unity through the Maya culture experience, and they received the knowledge of writing and deciphering hieroglyphs. Thank you once again for making our event possible.


Clinton Cho, Vice President

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1 Ajaw 3 Sek (June 22, 2020): Remembering Tata Domingo Choc Ché: Your Name Will Not Be Forgotten

1 Ajaw 3 Sek: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

[Maya priests hold a ceremony in memorial of the late, well-known Maya spiritual guide and natural medicine expert, Domingo Choc Ché, in Constitution Plaza in Guatemala City, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. (©AP Photo/Moises Castillo, photo used with permission through July 22)]

Nab’e chel iwe,
Nab’e nay puch kixq’ijiloxik
Rumal saqil al,
Saqil k’ajol.
Mawi chisachik i b’i’.


“The child who is born in the light, and the son who is begotten in the light shall go out to you first. They shall worship you first. Your name shall not be forgotten.”

~Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. (Christenson 2007:191)

It is with a heavy heart and great sadness that we mourn the tragic loss of Tata Domingo Choc Ché, renowned and respected Q’eqchi’ Maya Elder, Aj Ilonel, specialist in traditional Maya herbal medicine, and Aj Q’ij, spiritual guide. We join with our Maya friends and allies in condemning his senseless and cruel murder and call for justice for all traditional Maya healers, who continue to be persecuted and attacked out of ignorance and misguided religious intolerance.

So much has happened in the last month.

Already suffering through a global pandemic and the resulting economic hardships that have brought the world to its knees, many of us were shocked and awakened to action after the witnessing the murder of George Floyd, following that of Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black lives in the United States at the hands of those meant to protect those very lives. Certainly, these deaths were not the first, as they follow in a longstanding tradition of racism to which many have turned a blind eye, because the current power structure benefits them. But now the world instantly watches all of this on film and we cannot look away. Quarantined in our homes and feeling helpless to act, it seems we reached a tipping point, and we have seen millions of people all over the world marching together, calling for justice and reform, and having difficult conversations about racism and the acknowledgment of White privilege. Perhaps some real, substantive change can come of these painful events.

Then the news arrived last week of the horrific murder of Tata Domingo Choc Ché in Chimay, Guatemala, on June 6th. Once again, we are called to speak out, to demand justice, and to bring awareness to the ongoing persecution of Maya traditional healers and the important ongoing work of decolonization. Again, we have seen an outpouring of grief, anger, and a demand for justice in Guatemala. As allies of Maya people, we need to use our privilege to amplify these voices for the world to help shed much-needed light on this tragedy.

Tata Mingo, as he was known, was a member of the Association of Councils of Spiritual Guides Releb’aal Saq’e’ (ACGERS), and he had extensive knowledge of the medicinal uses of local plants. In collaboration with medical anthropologist Dr. Monica Berger Gonzalez from the University del Valle in Guatemala, Tata Domingo was working on two large transnational research projects with the University of Zurich in Switzerland, and the University College London. He was in the process of scientifically documenting this traditional knowledge, thereby establishing the legitimacy of Maya science and medicine, and he had helped to establish a botanical garden of endangered medicinal species that are disappearing due to deforestation of the Petén. Yet, despite all of this, he was accused of being a “witch-doctor” and burned alive on camera for the world to see.

A group of people in his village of Chimay tortured and killed Tata Domingo in a harrowing and painful way, and the sickening video of the crime circulated rapidly through social media, much like the video of George Floyd. Four people have been arrested and, so far, one of them has openly confessed to the murder on camera, claiming that Tata Domingo was a “witch” who he blamed for the death of his father—apparently based on false rumors that he was practicing witchcraft on his father’s grave. For further details on this tragedy, please see this article from the Prensa Comunitaria:


[Maya priests hold a portrait of well-known Maya spiritual guide and natural medicine expert Domingo Choc Ché during a press conference and ceremony at Constitution Plaza in Guatemala City, Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Police say they arrested four people in connection with the June 7 killing of Choc Ché in the village of Chimay, in the department of Peten, after he was beaten for hours and the next day doused with gasoline and set on fire by people who believed he had been performing witchcraft at a relative’s gravesite. (©AP Photo/Moises Castillo, photo used with permission through July 22)]

Because the alleged perpetrators are also Q’eqchi’ Maya, some have sought to minimize this event as a mere personal vendetta that has nothing to do with racism or religious intolerance. Indeed, further investigation is necessary to ascertain the facts beyond the limited information we have, other than the televised confession of one of the perpetrators, who admitted that he burned Tata Domingo and accused him of being a “witch-doctor” who was responsible for his father’s death.

However, for many others, to minimize this murder as a family squabble misses the larger context of the longstanding discrimination against Maya languages, cultures, and religions, and the increasing attacks on Maya healers in Guatemala based on religious fanaticism and intolerance. Anthropologist Diego Vásquez Monterroso writes:

How can it be racist for a group of Q’eqchi’ to kill a Q’eqchi’? Racism intersects with other forms of contempt for difference (from the dominant group, of course). To accuse someone of being a witch is a death sentence that intersects with another form of hatred: religious extremism. During the Colonial Era, the Maya were first seen within Christianity as minors and later as idolaters. The latter implied that they committed crimes before the Church and the Crown.


Many Maya voices are also speaking out about this, including the K’iche People’s Counsel:

The murder of the spiritual guide Domingo Choc, makes it clear that political and spiritual intolerance remains, and religious fanaticism has deeply damaged the communities.

In current times, the colonial attitudes and behaviors that prevent living the Maya worldview are still in force. When speaking of human rights there is a risk of being assassinated, criminalized and persecuted by groups of people who, manipulated by religious fundamentalism, far from analyzing and questioning indoctrinations, have been submerged and enslaved in ignorance, the result of some religions imposed during the European invasion from 500 years ago to the present day.

Therefore, WE DEMAND that the Public Ministry clarify this reprehensible criminal act. It cannot go unpunished. Identify the masterminds and perpetrators responsible, since several Ancestral Authorities, Spiritual Guides who practice the Maya worldview, are at risk. They are defenders of life and of the territories.

We demand that the Government of Guatemala defend the right to life and freedom of each and all Ajq’ijab’ (spiritual guides), because indigenous peoples have the right to live in harmony with the tangible and intangible elements of Creation and Mother Earth, and there must be necessary measures to guarantee security and freedom.


In this time of loss and tragedy that is so painful for us to endure, I think it is an important time for all of us to reflect on the ways in which Eurocentrism and systems of colonial domination have inescapably shaped all of us. Only by facing these truths can we ever hope to change our world for the better for all of us.

In our work at MAM, we serve and support Maya communities and teachers who are interested in learning about the ancient script and the calendar in an effort to help fortify and revitalize many different Mayan languages, histories, and cultures. To empower Maya people to be able to learn about their own cultures and histories is an important part of the work of decolonization. For too long, the conversation has been one-sided, and Maya people have been made to feel that their ways of life, their languages, and their cultures are somehow inferior to those of Europe. K’iche’ leader Sebastiana Par Álvarez writes:

Uk’u’x kaj, uk’u’x qanan ulew, kqajach ranima’ ri tat Domingo Choc Ché xe’ q’ab’, xe’ aqan alaq, are ta b’a ri qajaw kuq’aluj pa tew kaqiq’, are tab’a ri qanan ulew kpoq’san uwach rech jun je’lalaj ija’ pa uwi’ ralk’wa’l, pa uwi’ qatinamit.

Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth, we deliver the being and energy of Tata Domingo Choc Ché. May Qajaw and Mother Earth receive him, embrace him in the clouds, in the air and be a new seed for the good path of the people…

Today it is once again evident that education in Guatemala is decontextualized, and alienated from cultural reality, which is why the indigenous / native population does not even know its own Maya culture and science, thus losing the values ​​of ancestral justice.

We demand from the government of Guatemala prompt justice and fulfillment of the cultural rights, conventions and national and international treaties in favor of indigenous / native peoples.


Today is 1 Ajaw, Hun Hunahpu, the eponymous name of the Hero Twin from the Popol Vuh who himself was burned in the fires of Xibalbá, only to be reborn as the sun, vanquishing the Lords of Death. Throughout Mesoamerica, the sun itself is seen as a sacred ancestor who generously gives his light and his life so that we all may live. But in saying this, I do not wish to claim that these metaphorical stories are meant to be taken literally. It is perhaps this very religious literalism that is at the root of this tragedy. I am reminded of Carl Jung, and how he warned that we are doomed to literally act out the very myths whose meaning we do not understand.

In our human search for ways in which to render this tragedy with meaning, I am reminded of the ways in which Maya astronomers wove together the movements of the heavens with life on Earth, and the apotheosis of kings. In the Dresden Codex Venus Table, we see that 1 Ajaw is the repeating day commemorating the heliacal rising of Venus as Morning Star after a long cycle of 104 years. Indeed, the very day after Tata Domingo left this world, Venus rose as Morning Star, itself symbolically passing through the fire of the sun and re-emerging at dawn, reborn.

Just yesterday, we reached the summer solstice and a new moon, with a rare annular eclipse on the other side of the world. On this longest day of the year in what seems like the longest year for all of us, we can only hope that the light of this rare new day will bring us much needed illumination.

From multiple ethnographic sources, we know that the day Ajaw/Hunahpu is a day on which to remember the ancestors, and the day on which the patrilineage priest is to visit the family shrine following the loss of a loved one (Christenson 2007: 191). Today, we honor Tata Domingo Choc Ché.

“ ‘We are merely the avengers of your death and your loss, for the affliction and misfortune that were done to you.’ Thus was their counsel when they had defeated all Xibalba.

Then they arose as the central lights. They arose straight into the sky. One of them arose as the sun, and the other as the moon. Thus the womb of the sky was illuminated over the face of the earth, for they came to dwell in the sky.”

~Popol Vuh: The Sacred Book of the Maya. (Christenson 2007:191)

“Xa oj paq’ol i kamik,
I sachik,
Ra’il xb’an chiwe.”

Keje’ k’ut ki pixab’ik
Ri xch’akatajinaqoq ronojel Xib’alb’a.
Ta xe’aq’an k’u loq,
Waral e nik’aj saq.
Ju su k’u
Xe’aq’an chi kaj.
Jun k’u q’ij,
Jun nay pu ik’ chike.
Ta xsaqirik u pam kaj,
U wach ulew.


B’antiox, ut Xa wiil acuib’,
Michael Grofe, President

13 Ajaw 3 Sip (May 13, 2020): Beneath the Majestic Ceiba

13 Ajaw 3 Sip: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

Receiving diplomas of participation in San Juan Chamelco

Beneath the Majestic Ceiba: Q’eqchi’ teachers explore the ancient script in San Juan Chamelco, Guatemala

This month, as we are all mostly confined to our homes, we bring you good tidings from Leonel Pacay Rax and Byron Rafael Xi Tot in San Juan Chamelco, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Leonel and Byron facilitated a three-part workshop on Maya writing from April to December, 2019 with 21 local Q’eqchi’ teachers.

Among the approximately 30 languages in the Mayan language family, Q’eqchi’ is the second most widely spoken Mayan language (after K’iche’) with well over a million speakers, and it has the distinction of having the highest rate of monolingual speakers who do not speak other languages. In addition, although Q’eqchi’ belongs to the K’ichean subfamily of Mayan languages, which are mostly found in the Highlands of Guatemala, it contains a large number of loanwords from the Ch’olan and Yucatecan languages that are typically associated with the Classic period Maya script. Though Q’eqchi’ speakers are found in the relatively remote area of the Alta Verapaz, there has been a longstanding contact between Q’eqchi’ speakers and speakers of the Lowland Mayan languages (see Soren Wichmann and Kerry Hull 2009
“Loanwords in Q’eqchi’, a Mayan Language of Guatemala’ in Loanwords in the World’s Languages: A Comparative Handbook. Martin Haspelmath, Uri Tadmor, eds. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.)

This brings up an interesting and complex issue in our collective work to revitalize the Maya script for all Maya people. Namely, linguists have carefully classified the 30 different Mayan languages as all related to single ancestral tongue that most likely existed over 3,000 years ago, referred to as proto-Mayan, since we do not know the original name. Interestingly, the name “Mayan” itself derives from the name Maaya’-T’àan, or the Yucatec language, which was the first Mayan language that was documented by the Spanish, and then the term was used by archaeologists to refer to the Ancient Maya, as well as by linguists to refer to all speakers of Mayan languages.

As the decipherment of the Maya script progressed in the late 20th Century, clear evidence emerged that the lingua franca of the Classic Script was most closely related to an extinct but documented language called Ch’olti’an, which was part of the Eastern Ch’olan branch of the Mayan language family. The highly endangered language of Ch’orti, spoken in Honduras and in Chiquimula, Guatemala, is apparently the next closest relative, though neither one of these languages is identical with the script from the Classic period, just as Spanish is different from its ancestral Latin. Much as Latin was used in the Roman Empire, the language of the Classic script was an elite, prestige language that was apparently quite standardized. However, there is clear evidence that the Maya script was used to write Yucatecan languages, as well as Tzeltalan, and possibly K’ichean. We likewise see examples of even non-Mayan Nahua words in the glyphs (see Kettunen and Helmke, 2020: 13). Wayeb Resources-Kettunen and Helmke

The extent to which speakers of other Mayan languages used hieroglyphic writing is not fully known, though scribal languages are typically used by diverse language speakers. Tragically, all but four of the codices have been destroyed, yet even the K’iche’ Popol Vuh itself was apparently transcribed from an original written version in some form. With advances in the decipherment of the Maya script, speakers of many different Mayan languages have taken a great interest in learning this ancient writing system which was used to write a language related to their own languages, and they invited epigraphers to teach them what they knew, which is how MAM first developed as an organization. As our Maya colleagues have learned to read and write in this ancient script, they have recognized their common Mayan heritage, including the very familiar calendars still kept by living Maya people, and they have taken great pride in valuing their own languages and cultures in the face of enormous pressures to assimilate. Insights gained from living Maya traditions in both the Highlands and Lowlands have helped archaeologists and epigraphers to interpret the Ancient Maya past. Imagine how many more insights may be gained by having Maya people participate more fully in this effort as Aj Tz’iibob, epigraphers, and archaeologists themselves.

Living writing systems naturally change and adapt, and our Maya colleagues have each adapted the Maya script to write and record their own living Mayan languages, sometimes necessitating the need for a few new syllabic glyphs to represent sounds in the Highland Mayan languages that do not exist in the lowland script, such as /q/, /q’/, /r/ and /r/. Even modern Ch’orti uses the /r/ sound that did not exist in its close cousin in the Classic script.

In a very real way, this script is again a living connection that brings together all Maya people with a common heritage that have suffered under colonial rule, much as the European Renaissance emerged following the Dark Ages, after which Europeans of all different languages and nations looked to the Greek and Roman cultures as their common cultural heritage, inspiring great works of art, literature, science, and culture.

Now, all European languages are written using descendants of the Greek script, which gave rise to both the Roman and Cyrillic scripts we see today. No longer are these scripts confined to just writing Greek and Latin. They allow us to learn about our ancient history and our ancestors who preceded us, but they also allow us to write our own histories, and to be a part of making history ourselves.

What we are seeing now with the interest in the Classic Maya script among Maya people of all different languages is very much a Maya Cultural Renaissance, and it is a great honor and privilege for us to be a part of this at MAM as we witness history in the making, and as we celebrate the achievements of Maya cultures, past and present.

Our hearts go out to all of our greater human family who are suffering in this current pandemic, and especially to our many Maya colleagues at this difficult time. We stand with you and send this message of hope, health, and more life as our planet begins to heal. This is not the first pandemic humanity has endured, and Maya people suffered greatly when the diseases of Europe ravaged native populations many centuries ago. We look forward to emerging from this pandemic with strength, more dedicated to our cause, and with great resolve for making the Fifth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing next year a powerful, historical event.

To all of our generous supporters, thank you all for being a part of making history.

Michael Grofe, President

Epigraphy Workshop Report

Accomplished thanks to the support provided by Mayas for Ancient Mayan–MAM

Where the activity took place

San Juan Chamelco Parish Hall
Dates: April 16, December 23 and 27, 2019
Participants: 11 Women 10 Men
Language Group Q’eqchi’
Facilitators: Leonel Pacay Rax and Byron Rafael Xi Tot


Geographic Location

San Juan Chamelco, founded in 1558, is located in the department of Alta Verapaz, only 7 km from the departmental headwaters. Upon arrival, you can see its majestic ceiba, which is located in the park of the central Catholic church, which is very old. On the side of the church is the former headquarters of the municipality and the market. Continue reading

12 Ajaw 3 Pop (April 3, 2020): Postponement of the Fifth Congreso

12 Ajaw 3 Pop: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

Maria Francisca Elias at Yaxha’ during the 3rd International Congreso in 2016.

Given the current circumstances surrounding the global Coronavirus pandemic, it is with a heavy heart that I must announce the postponement of the Fifth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing— Ojer Maya’ Tz’ib’—which was scheduled for August 18-21 of this year. The Congreso Planning Committee has agreed to postpone the event until August of 2021, and we at MAM have decided that, in order to protect our Maya colleagues and communities, we will also be canceling this years mini-grant program.

Here is the notification posted by the Congreso Organizing Team:

In solidarity with humanity, which is suffering the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, we informed our Maya sisters and brothers from different towns in Mesoamerica, who have participated in our workshops and conferences, that the Fifth International Congreso on Ojer Maya’ Tz’ib’ in 2020 has been suspended. In addition, the mini-grant workshops in Maya communities have been canceled.

Further, we report that the date of the event will be transferred to be carried out in the same place and date in 2021.

Deep thanks to our supporters for the development of these Congresos, workshops, and conferences, as well as the financing of mini-grants:

Mayas for Ancient Mayan —MAM—and their collaborators. 

Fundación Proyecto Ligüistico, Francisco Marroquin – PLFM and the International Congreso Organizing Team.

To all of you—our extended family of Maya friends, our supporters and contributors, our families and loved ones—and to all humanity, we wish you good health and strength in this time. Together we will re-emerge from this profound moment in history stronger and ever more resolved and committed to our cause. To all of those who have donated to our cause for the upcoming Congreso and mini-grants, we will hold your donations in trust for the next year, or as soon as the timeline will allow us to safely send out an announcement for our next mini-grant program. We hope we will continue to have your support and your dedication, especially as we emerge from this crisis and move into next year with a resounding affirmation to continue our work of supporting our Maya colleagues in their efforts to reconnect to their own history.

Yum B’o’otik and
Sib’alaj Maltiyoox

Michael Grofe, President