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


11 Ajaw 8 K’ayab (February 23, 2020): Lunas Yaxche: The Youth of Huixtán Recover the Maya Script

11 Ajaw 8 K’ayab: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

As the second month of 2020 already comes to a close, we are reminded of the upcoming Congreso, now just six months away in Comitán, Chiapas. The proposed theme this year will be Maya Vases, and we are excited to be working with the Congreso Planning Committee to help make this an unforgettable event.

We would like to welcome the new Director of the Proyecto Lingüístico Francisco Marroquín (PLFM) Foundation, Juana Celilia Ixch’umiil García Méndez, and we would similarly like to thank Juan Rodrigo Guarchaj Itzep for his years of service as the previous Director. We have enjoyed working together with the PLFM, and we look forward to working with them and the Congreso Planning Committee in the future.

In honoring the upcoming Congreso in Chiapas, this month, we hear from the Lunas Yaxche Team, comprised of three inspiring teachers from Huixtán, Chiapas: Silvia Maribel Ts’it Ts’eme, Norma Erika Ch’ijk’ Mulex, and Francisca Bautista Gómez. Working with Tseltal and Tsotsil speakers from multiple communities, this team taught the first introductory hieroglyphic workshop in Huixtán, and we look forward to seeing additional workshops here in the future as Maya people from several countries converge in Chiapas for this year’s Congreso.

As always, thank you for your continued support for the work we are doing on behalf of our Maya colleagues.

Oj Toj Kolaval,
Michael Grofe, President

Introductory workshop to Maya syllabary
Huixtán, Chiapas, Mexico

Team: Lunas Yaxche
Silvia Maribel Ts’it Ts’eme
Norma Erika Ch’ijk’ Mulex
Francisca Bautista Gómez

College of Science and Technology Studies (CECyT), Campus 27
Huixtán, Chiapas, Mexico

May 14, 2019

Number of participants
Introductory level: 22 young participants

Mayan languages ​​represented
Tsotsil, Tseltal, Spanish


The first introductory workshop with the Maya syllabary was held with the collaboration of the Centro de Estudios Científicos y Tecnológicos (CECyT) 27, the state high school in Huixtán; MAM (Mayas for Ancient Mayan); the continued support of Michael Grofe; and the Lunas Yaxche Group. Both institutions and advisers showed the best readiness for this activity.

For the first time in the municipality an introductory workshop with the Maya syllabary was held, with 22 young people from 15 to 17 years old, originating from different communities: San Sebastián, San Andrés, Chempil, and San Pedro la Tejeria, among others. This workshop involved social contexts lived by Mayan descendants, including the discrimination and racism that has been experienced. However, the youth group showed openness to learning ancient writing. Continue reading

10 Ajaw 8 Muwan (January 14, 2020): Seeking Balance in Quetzaltenango

10 Ajaw 8 Muwaan: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

Seeking Balance in Quetzaltenango: Jun B’atz’ and Jun Chowen and the Art of Writing

Happy New Year! As we enter this new decade, as reckoned by the Gregorian Calendar, we must remember that this system of reckoning time is but one among many other systems, and that the sophisticated calendrical system of the Ancient Maya was used for far longer than that which we use today. While it was nearly lost, thousands of Maya people speaking many different Mayan languages are now relearning how their ancestors reckoned time and recorded their histories using their unique writing system. We are very excited to ring in this new and hopeful decade by supporting the upcoming Fifth International Congreso on Ancient Maya Writing this August in Comitán, Chiapas!

This month, we hear from our close friend, Ajpub’ Pablo García Ixmatá, one of the integral members of the Congreso Organizational Team. Last September, working together with the Asociación Qajb’al Q’ij and Rafael Landivár University, Ajpub’ organized a workshop in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for 35 men and women from no less than eight different Mayan language communities in Mexico and Guatemala—all of them leaders in their respective communities.

In his workshop, Ajpub’ explored the meaning of Jun B’atz’ and Jun Chowen, the monkey brothers from the Popol Vuh, and how they represent the uniquely Maya relationship between writing and art, emphasizing the importance of maintaining a balance between these things in the development of human character.

We look forward to working with Ajpub’ and the Congreso Organizational Team in the coming months as we begin our fundraising efforts for this historic event, as well as to continue our program of Mini-grants for the New Year.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support, and we hope that you all have a prosperous and peaceful New Year.

Sib’alaj Maltiyoox,

Michael Grofe, President

Ojeer Maya’ Tz’ijb’
Introduction to the writing and system of the Ojeer Maya’ Tz’ijb’
Municipality of La Esperanza, Quetzaltenango
September 18 and 19, 2019

Workshop facilitator: Ajpub’ Pablo García


For two days an International Workshop of Introduction to the Maya writing system, Ojeer Maya’ Tz’iib’, was held with a group of Maya leaders, men and women who speak the following languages: Tsoltsil, Tseltal, and Mam from Chiapas, Mexico, and Mam, Awakateko, Chuj, Q’anjob’al, Kaqchikel, and K’iche’ of Guatemala. This activity was carried out in coordination with the Qajb’al Q’ij Association for Intercultural Education and Development, and Rafael Landívar University.

The main objective of the group: Rescue the ancestral knowledge and practices from the Ojeer Maya’ Tz’ijb’ and the 260-day Calendar to help people who seek peace and the creation of spaces to discern and develop comprehensive training in Maya villages.

Within the same dynamics of the workshop, the relationship between Jun B’atz’ and Jun Chowen was discussed in depth with the art of writing, drawing, carving, painting and singing and their relationship with the persona to seek balance.

During the two days 35 people participated, of the 40 guests invited. Continue reading

9 Ajaw 8 Mak (December 5, 2019): Celebrating International Mother Language Day in Colonia San Camilo de Kanasín, Yucatán

9 Ajaw 8 Mak: Drawing by Jorge Pérez de Lara

In this holiday season, we give thanks for many things, not the least of which are the many good people we have had the privilege and honor to work with as they do the earnest and heartfelt work of reconstructing their understanding of the knowledge and writing of their ancestors. Today, we reach the day 9 Ajaw, which has become a very important day in the organization of all of the previous four Congresos. In keeping with this tradition, the Congreso Organization Team has decided that the Fifth International Congreso on Ojer Maya Tz’ib’ will conclude on this same day, 9 Ajaw, which will take place precisely 260 days from now, from August 18-21, 2020, in Comitán, Chiapas, Mexico. The tentative theme of this next Congreso will be “Writing and Texts on Maya Vases.” We are very excited to help the organizers in their efforts to make this event possible, and we look forward to next year’s fundraising season and the ongoing support of our many friends and generous donors.

Personally, I would also like to give thanks for the good people who help to make this blog possible, despite the many other obligations and endeavors with which we are all engaged. Specifically, I would like to thank Meghan Rubenstein as our Webmaster, Jorge Pérez de Lara as our artist and epigrapher, and the fantastic organization of our Secretary, Lynda Manning Schwartz. I would also like to thank Elaine Schele and Sue Glenn of the MAM Executive Committee for their patience, support, and understanding. I am grateful for all of their dedication and hard work on behalf of our Maya colleagues.

This month, we hear from Milner Pacab Rolando Alcocer who writes to us from the Yucatán, where he carried out a series of introductory hieroglyphic workshops for the children and teachers of Colonia San Camilo de Kanasín during the observance of the International Mother Language Day in February and March of this past year. I think you will all agree that the colorful photographs and drawings are quite wonderful, and a reminder of the important work our Maya colleagues are doing.

Thank you all for your ongoing support, and have a wonderful holiday season, and a hopeful and peaceful New Year.

Yum Bo’otik,
Michael Grofe, President

Mérida, Yucatán, May 20, 2019
Report from Kanasín
Milner Pacab Rolando Alcocer

I present here the report on the Mayan hieroglyphic writing workshop carried out at the “Felipa Poot” Elementary School, located in the San Camilo neighborhood of Kanasín, Yucatán. Twenty students in grades three to six, as well as 12 teachers who work in the same school, participated. We presented this workshop while International Mother Language Day (February 21) was being celebrated, which in the state of Yucatán is commemorated by activities related to Maya language and culture between February 21 and April 21.

The main purpose of the workshop was to promote knowledge of the basic concepts of the glyphic writing system for students and teachers. Two work sessions took place at the school, one on February 27 and the second on March 13, 2019. Continue reading