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Words of the True Peoples/Palabras de los Seres Verdaderos: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers/Antología de Escritores Actuales en Lenguas Indígenas de México

Words of the True Peoples/Palabras de los Seres Verdaderos: Anthology of Contemporary Mexican Indigenous-Language Writers/Antología de Escritores Actuales en Lenguas Indígenas de México
Volume Three/Tomo Tres: Theater/Teatro

The third and final book in a major three-volume trilingual anthology of Mexican indigenous writing.

Series: Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Endowment in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture

May 2007
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
304 pages | 8.5 x 11 | 6 b&w illus. |

As part of the larger, ongoing movement throughout Latin America to reclaim non-Hispanic cultural heritages and identities, indigenous writers in Mexico are reappropriating the written word in their ancestral tongues and in Spanish. As a result, the long-marginalized, innermost feelings, needs, and worldviews of Mexico's ten to twenty million indigenous peoples are now being widely revealed to the Western societies with which these peoples coexist. To contribute to this process and serve as a bridge of intercultural communication and understanding, this groundbreaking, three-volume anthology gathers works by the leading generation of writers in thirteen Mexican indigenous languages: Nahuatl, Maya, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Tojolabal, Tabasco Chontal, Purepecha, Sierra Zapoteco, Isthmus Zapoteco, Mazateco, Ñahñu, Totonaco, and Huichol.

Volume Three contains plays by six Mexican indigenous writers. Their plays appear first in their native language, followed by English and Spanish translations. Montemayor and Frischmann have abundantly annotated the Spanish, English, and indigenous-language texts and added glossaries and essays that introduce the work of each playwright and discuss the role of theater within indigenous communities. These supporting materials make the anthology especially accessible and interesting for nonspecialist readers seeking a greater understanding of Mexico's indigenous peoples.

  • Acknowledgments/Agradecimientos
  • Abbreviations/Abreviaturas
  • Regarding the Indigenous Languages and Alphabets in This Volume/Acerca de los idiomas y alfabetos indígenas de este volumen
  • Theater, Which Once Was Dance / El teatro, que alguna vez fue danza (Carlos Montemayor)
  • A Question of Balance: Indigenous Theater at the Conjunction of Millennia / Buscando el equilibrio: Teatro indígena en la conjunción de milenios (Donald Frischmann)
  • 1. Feliciano Sánchez Chan (Mayan/maya)
    • Keejo'ob
    • Deer
    • Venados
  • 2. Carlos Armando Dzul Ek (Mayan/maya)
    • Bix úuchik u bo'ot ku'si'ip'il "Manilo'ob" tu ja'abil 1562
    • The Maní Inquisition or the Colliding of Two Cultures
    • El auto de fe de Maní o Choque de dos culturas
  • 3. Sna Jtz'ibajom (Tzotzil/tzotzil)
    • Skotol ta skotol
    • From All for All
    • De todos para todos
  • 4. Petrona de la Cruz (Tzotzil/tzotzil)
    • Ilbajinel xchi'uk lekilal ta tz'akal
    • Hell and Hope
    • Infierno y esperanza
  • 5. Isabel Juárez Espinosa (Tzeltal/tzeltal)
    • Mach' atik ya xlok'ik
    • Migration
    • Migración
  • 6. Ildefonso Maya (Nahuatl/náhuatl)
    • Ixtlamatinij
    • The Learned Ones
    • Ixtlamatinij
  • English Glossary
  • Glosario español
  • Sources of the Plays/Fuentes de las obras de teatro

Carlos Montemayor is an award-winning Mexican creative writer, political analyst, and expert on indigenous cultures. He is based in Mexico City.

Donald Frischmann is Associate Professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and Researcher at the Universidad de las Américas-Puebla.



In contrast to the earlier two volumes, where I took part in the writing, correction, or revision of many of the translations, in this volume we present only the Spanish versions translated by the authors themselves. For this reason, the endnotes tend to point out the multifaceted preferences and discrepancies between the original works and their translations. As I indicated in the earlier volumes, the writers often use the Spanish language not as a neutral vehicle for the translation of a poem or a story but rather as a new space in which to continue creating or re-creating their works. In the case of theater, these linguistic differences are emphasized for dramatic effect, given the actors' goal of persuading their audiences.

I had previously revised or edited three of the works contained in this volume prior to their publication in the Colección Letras Mayas Contemporáneas: Keejo'ob/Venados (Deer) by Feliciano Sánchez Chan; Bix úuchik u bo'ot ku'si'ip'il "Manilo'ob" tu ja'abil 1562/El auto de fe de Maní o Choque de dos culturas (The Maní Inquisition or the Colliding of Two Cultures), by Carlos Armando Dzul Ek; and Skotol ta skotol/De todos para todos (From All for All), by Sna Jtz'ibajom.

I should point out that in the Letras Mayas Contemporáneas edition a passage in the fourth scene of Keejo'ob/Venados (Deer) was not translated to Spanish. I rectified this error and made further corrections to the Mayan and Spanish texts in early 2004 when I included this work in the anthology La voz profunda (The Deep Voice). Therefore that edition contains the same Mayan and Spanish versions that appear here.

In the case of Carlos Armando Dzul Ek, in contrast, my editorial and typographical corrections have been made as much in response to his suggestions as for reasons of typographical uniformity, so the reader may consider these versions the definitive texts. This is a clear example of the problems faced by several contemporary authors writing in Mexican Indigenous languages: the Mayan and the Spanish texts do not correspond exactly. The author is free to affirm or propose something in Mayan that may not necessarily coincide with the Spanish version. Moreover, the pre-Hispanic cultural order becomes confused with or may even be replaced by colonial or present-day Mayan customs. Finally, events which actually took place at different times are merged in the plays in order to concentrate in a single episode the aggressive nature of the conquest and the Christian conversion in Mayan communities after the Maní Auto da Fe.

The next two works, both in Tzotzil, Skotol ta skotol/De todos para todos (From All for All) and Ilbajinel xchi'uk lekilal ta tz'akal/Infierno y esperanza (Hell and Hope), offer a different perspective on non-Indigenous authorities. In the former, the Agrarian Delegate is corrupt; in the latter, the authorities are just. In both, the range of meanings corresponding to the words ajvalil or ajualil, kajval, and yajval ch'ul banumile in social, political, and religious contexts is interesting as well. We have carefully indicated in the endnotes and the glossaries these subtle shades of meaning, as reflected in the translations.

Both in these plays and in Mach' atik ya xlok'ik/Migración (Migration) by Tzeltal writer Isabel Juárez Espinosa and Ixtlamatinij (The Learned Ones) by Nahuatl writer Ildefonso Maya, the lexical and syntactical variations, alterations, and nonstandard usages of certain characters in their attempts to speak Spanish are instrumental in defining these characters dramatically and socially.

Ildefonso Maya's Ixtlamatinij is an extreme and unusual case of this. More than speaking of a play written in Nahuatl and its "translation" into Spanish, we should recognize that these two texts reflect at a very deep level the linguistic reality of the Huasteca region of the state of Hidalgo and part of Veracruz. In spite of the numerous endnotes that I have included in an attempt to explain the diverse linguistic variations and expressions, I opted to rewrite (in brackets) entire passages written in that regional dialect that are difficult to understand. Nahuatl and Spanish are continually interwoven, which produces a dramatic work of great literary richness, but one which is very difficult to read. Rural Spanish is clearer when spoken by an actor than in its written form.

In remarkable fashion, then, Maya has written two texts which are in many ways unsurpassable, but also perhaps untranslatable. A large part of the "Spanish" used in the version which we may consider principally Nahuatl is no clearer in the author's translation than it is in the original. Here we find ourselves facing perfectly crafted characters who are determined to speak in a language in which they are not fluent and in whose use Nahuatl as well as Spanish lexical and syntactic variants flow together simultaneously. From a linguistic perspective, this is perhaps the most complex of all the works presented in this volume.


We know from the writings of various chroniclers of a remarkable dramatic tradition which existed among the Mayas and of the enthusiasm with which they attended theater and dance events during their feast days. The Rabinal Achí is a magnificent example of that tradition, because in those times theater and dance were inseparable. Now theater, deprived of dance, has become impoverished. There exists a list of Mayan plays that bring to mind titles or everyday themes from modern-day indigenous theater, such as Ah con cutz (The Seller of Wild Turkeys), Ah pakal cacau (The Cacao Farmer), and Ah con tzatzam (The Seller of Intrigues), to cite a few historical works; and Kolnaál (The Maize Farmer), U tokbesa'al i'najo'ob (The Recovery of the Seeds), Xunáan kaab (The Bee), and Keejo'ob (Deer), among modern works. It is difficult to know if any of the historical works were written in verse, but the modern ones are in prose. Nonetheless, the Rabinal Achí shows numerous indications of having been written in a formulaic manner, as does another play in Nahuatl, Diálogo del Tepozteco y sus rivales (The Dialogue of the Tepozteco and His Rivals), which was presented every September 8 in Tepoztlán, Morelos. In the latter work, the rivals are four warriors, from Cuernavaca, Yautepec, Oaxtepec, and Tlayacapan. According to Miguel León-Portilla, Tepoztecatl, born to a virgin and conceived in portentous circumstances, is celebrating the feast day of his maiden mother, identified with the Virgin Mary.

Each rival expresses himself in the same ritualistic manner, and Tepozteco questions and responds to each of them using the same formula. For example, all the rival warriors affirm:

Tepehtlanchahnech, mitztehmoa in Cuauhnahhuacatl (o Yahohtepehcanehcatl, o Huahxtepehcatl, o Tlayacapanehcatl) . . . Ihhuahn chicahhuac noyohllo.

[¡Oh, habitante entre los cerros! Te busca el guerrero de Cuernavaca (o de Yautepec, o de Oaxtepec, o de Tlayacapan). ¡Te juro por mi corazón guerrero!]

[Oh, hill dweller! The warrior from Cuernavaca (or Yautepec, or Oaxtepec, or Tlayacapan) seeks you. I swear this to you by my warrior's heart!]

Some add this formula:

Ahzomoh timomauhtia ihcuahc ticcaqui notehnyo ihhuahn notlahtohl?

[¿Acaso no te atemorizan mis duras palabras cuando escuchas mi voz?]

[Do not my hard words strike fear into your heart when you hear my voice?]

Very early in the colonial period Indigenous communities were forbidden to continue cultivating their own music, dance, and theater. The great feast days held today in honor of the patron saints of indigenous communities sometimes include enactments of combats between different armies of actors and dancers; perhaps these are the modern versions of great pre-Hispanic dramatic works such as the Rabinal Achí in Quiché, as indicated by the performance attended by the Abbé Brasseur de Bourbourg.

Theater was based on the collective representation of innumerable cosmogonic, historical, and everyday themes, in which music and dance were inseparable elements. Music as well underwent profound changes, because the use of traditional pre-Hispanic instruments was prohibited and European instruments were substituted. In some regions wind instruments accompanied by cymbals and large drums are used almost exclusively in present-day theater, while in others violin and guitar are mixed with various types of flutes. In still other areas, this music now uses such a variety of instruments that it is difficult to distinguish it from mestizo or national music.

Among the Tarahumaras dance continues to be so important that it is obligatory in their ceremonies: the traditional guides or Siriames refer to it as "work." Dance is a way of taking a trip through the heavens and preserving celestial knowledge. When the Tarahumaras dance, they are helping God in the preservation of the universe. Masks, corporeal adornment using different paints, and elaborate costumes form part of these celebrations in practically all the indigenous areas of Mexico.

The murals at Bonampak depict musical instruments and actors wearing masks representing birds, animals, or sea fauna, who perhaps are awaiting their cues to take part in a play. We know from Diego de Landa that two structures in Chichén Itzá which he referred to as "masonry theaters" were used as stages for the representation of "farces and comedies." One of these may have been located slightly in front of the ballgame court, adorned on all four sides with human skulls sculpted in stone. Landa witnessed two important dances, one of them called Colomché or Danza de las Cañas (Dance of the Reeds) and the other performed by more than eight hundred dancers with flags, who took long steps in time with the music. This dance lasted all day, and the dancers were given food and drink as they danced.

The great dances were profoundly changed by the conquest. In addition to eucharistic plays, allegorical dramas arose, encouraged by missionaries. The Passion and the Crucifixion, for example, are still represented each year in various regions of the country. The Crusades and the Spanish reconquest have been transformed into a new version of the conquest drama: the Dances of Moors and Christians, in which the Moors have ended up representing the Indigenous communities.

One of the best-known theatrical productions of the colonial period was Tun teleche (Dance of Tun). Barbara Bode believes that it is related to a dance from San Pedro Saloma, Guatemala, and has also taken on elements of the Danza de la Conquista (Dance of the Conquest). Ernesto Chinchilla Aguilar discovered two Mexican documents from the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that prohibit native peoples from performing this dance; one of them gives the number of dancers and the place where it was performed. In 1957 Bode learned of the existence of sixty-three manuscripts of the Danza de la Conquista in the Guatemalan Highlands belonging to the Momostenango, San Andrés Xicul, and San Cristóbal Indigenous communities. Although no scripts of this type are known to exist in the Chiapan Highlands, Victoria Reifler Bricker believes that they may have existed in the past. In some of these dances, Christ himself is represented by a dancer.

Today, several centuries later, dance in the context of theater continues to be fundamentally important in many Indigenous regions. It is perhaps for this reason that theater is also one of the most successful forms of popular expression. Among the Mayas, Zapotecs, Tzotziles, and Tzeltales, dramatic works are created as a group project. Only the final version is recorded in written form by one of the participants, who appears as author. Themes are usually based on legends taken from the oral tradition or current issues within the communities. Among the Mayas of the peninsula, all works are performed in the Indigenous language; in contrast, among the Tzotziles and Tzeltales, works are sometimes presented in Spanish or only in Tzotzil, since it is easier to use these languages than to translate the librettos into the various linguistic modalities of the Chiapas area.


Here I offer only a very general outline of Indigenous-language authors and theater groups from the last two decades of the twentieth century, because Donald Frischmann's essay deals with this volume's authors exhaustively.

Beginning in 1982, a group started in Yucatán by María Luisa Góngora Pacheco, Feliciano Sánchez Chan, Leovigildo Tuyub Colí, Miguel May May, Pedro José Yam Pech, Leydi Cituk Yah, and Andrés Tec Chi, among others, made an important contribution to theater in many regions of Yucatán and the peninsula, such as Sihó, Halachó, Peto, Teabo, Akil, Chaksinkin, and Chumayel. Some of the plays presented by this group were the product of a collective collaboration, while others were written individually by Feliciano Sánchez Chan.

Perhaps the most interesting works performed by this group are the ones with traditional themes. Keejo'ob/Venados (Deer), for example, a fast-moving, light-hearted play, is based on the miraculous belief that certain deer carry a stone that confers on the hunter absolute power over them but should be returned after a time. U siijil ixi'im/El origen del maíz (The Origins of Maize) presents some traditional Mayan themes in a not always orthodox manner. A weasel discovers that some ants have found grains of corn beneath an immense rock. When men arrive at the rock, they attempt to move it or demolish it, but to no avail. The gods of the four cardinal points help the men to destroy it, enabling them to get the corn. This moment marks the beginning of the human agricultural cycle. U tokbesa'al i'najo'ob/El rescate de las semillas (The Recovery of the Seeds), adapted by Feliciano Sánchez Chan from a text by Rafael Molina, is a more agile work and richer in characters, situations, and traditional motifs. Confronted with the imminent purification of the earth by fire, the gods allow the animals to rescue from an unknown place the seeds which will sustain humans and animals in the future. An owl, a weasel, a thrush, a jackdaw, a squirrel, a turtle dove, and a small songbird named X-pak'iin take part in this endeavor. The participation of each one in the rescue decides its destiny. The thrush rescues the greatest number of corn kernels:

as a reward the thrush was allowed to procreate without having to sit on her eggs or care for her fledglings. These responsibilities would be entrusted to any of the other birds.

When the K'a'aw came in, he also returned with corn kernels and as a reward Junab K'uj also gave him the right to eat what is produced by man.

The turtledove's feathers were singed, and in return for her participation she was given a beautiful voice with which to gladden the fields and call forth the rains.

El milpero (The Maize Farmer) is a collective adaptation of a story written originally by Domingo Dzul, one of the few examples in my experience of a play about a female in relation to corn.

Other works have a notable moralizing or educational orientation. Xunáan kaab/La abeja (The Bee) is a historical account of the importance of the native bee to the Mayan communities and an appeal for its continued care. U muk'yajilo'ob kaáltaj ich mejen kaajo'ob/Los problemas del alcoholismo en el medio rural (The Problems of Alcoholism in Rural Areas) is a didactic work aimed at the eradication of that social ill. Saák'o'ob/Las langostas (The Locusts) has a threefold theme: family and community solidarity, the devastation wrought by plagues like locusts, and the newer devastation visited on Indigenous communities by junk food.

Carlos Armando Dzul Ek (b. 1947) is the author of two dramatic works collected in the volume, Bix úuchik u bo'ot ku'si'ip'il "Manilo'ob" tu ja'abil 1562/El auto de fe de Maní o Choque de dos culturas (The Maní Inquisition or the Colliding of Two Cultures). The first of the two, from which the book's title is taken, is a stupendous treatment of the Maní Decree, a brutal example of the religious repression presided over by Bishop Fray Diego de Landa in 1562. The other play, U ts'o'okbelil in kajil/Boda en mi pueblo (Wedding in My Village), is a delightful comedy whose plot is based on the tradition of asking for the future bride's hand in a Yucatecan community.


With respect to dramatic production among the Tzeltales and Tzotziles of Chiapas, it should be recalled first that during the 1950s Rosario Castellanos created a puppet theater, the Teatro Petul, for educational purposes and that in 1973 Heraclio Zepeda gave his support to the Teatro CONASUPO de Orientación Campesina, which also put on plays of a didactic and political nature. In 1990 Manuel Pérez Hernández stated:

There have been only two indigenous theater groups in the state of Chiapas: the Chiiltak group, which worked in the municipalities of Altamirano, Ocosingo, and Margaritas, presenting plays with social and political content, and ours, the Lo'il Maxil group of Sna Jtz'ibajom, with a repertoire of nine puppet theater plays and two live plays: El haragán y el zopilote [The Loafer and the Buzzard] and ¿A poco hay cimarrones? [Who's Afraid of Spooks?].

Pérez Hernández says that one of the founders of Sna Jtz'ibajom or La Casa del Escritor (based in San Cristóbal de las Casas):

told me about the puppet theater presentations: that when they began they didn't know where to go, what would happen, how they would be received. In 1985 they were forced to go out to the communities to offer plays, because no one knew that a new group existed. The older people had almost forgotten about Rosario Castellanos' Petul group, and the young people didn't even know of the puppets' existence, much less about the Lo'il Maxil group. At that time we went out and we were very well received, but this didn't last long; later, when people saw the short plays, they liked them, and we were flooded with invitations to perform at building project launchings, schools, patriotic festivities, parties, and anniversaries. We used to get—and we still get—between fifteen and twenty requests a month, and we couldn't keep up with that much work, because we need to do research, gather data, write. Since I joined the group I've been a witness to this, that it's true, it's not possible to honor so many commitments, because we neglect our other jobs, which are also very important.

Later Pérez Hernández adds that they got together to consider the possibilities of staging a play with live actors, as the other groups did; this was toward the end of 1987:

We began to work on the selection of the short story or legend best suited for presentation as a play: since we had many books to produce, school obligations, and other commitments, it was almost September of 1988 by the time we decided to present a comedy based on a story familiar to almost all the American Indigenous cultures: El haragán y el zopilote. Based on all of our versions, Francisco Álvarez, our mestizo advisor, wrote a script that we later went over and corrected so that it would express our customs and our language correctly, and we began to choose actors for each role and to memorize our parts. During a meeting with Don Roberto, he informed us that there was a prestigious theater director, an expert in the creation of masks, giant puppets, and processions based on Indigenous legends from various parts of the world, and that he was willing to teach us exercises and acting techniques which would help us present our plays better. That was how we met Rafael Lee, who began by giving us a two-week course in exercises, improvisation, construction of papier-mâché masks and scenery. We learned quickly, and by the end of the two weeks we presented the first performance of the comedy El haragán y el zopilote in the Na Bolom Cultural Center (La Casa del Jaguar), before the general public of San Cristóbal and many foreigners who couldn't believe that a group of Chamula Indians from Zinacantán, Aguacatenango, and Tenejapa could actually be putting on a play and also that it could be so entertaining and edifying.

Acting cured us of the nerves and embarrassment we felt about appearing in person before the public, something we had never done. We were all very nervous; I had one of the principal roles, the good-for-nothing husband who is later turned into a buzzard, and another comrade from Zinacantán was playing a role which was just as difficult; our friend Isabel was the first and only Tzeltal woman who dared to act in person in front of so many people and surrounded by nothing but men. We had barely had time to learn our parts, and then it had to be in Spanish, because that was our common language in the group, since we all spoke different languages. Well, people really liked the play, from the very first performance, and from then on we felt confident, and we're always trying to be better.

Since then, in addition to giving literacy courses in the Indigenous languages of the region and continuing with puppet theater and live plays, this group has begun to participate in video productions and radio programs. We include here a brief discussion of some of their productions, whose political orientation emphasizes the Mayan resistance struggle and a revalidation of the Mayan peoples and their resistance struggle. At times the theme is the agrarian struggle, the barbarity of the conquest, or a proposed return to the times of freedom for the Indigenous peoples. Although the plays seem to echo the pronouncements of the armed uprising of the Zapatistas on January 1, 1994, they were actually written and presented at an earlier date. Dinastía de jaguares (Dynasty of Jaguars) is set during the time of the conquest; its essential theme is the resistance of the Indigenous peoples.

Ch'ok: Great will be the reckoning. What shall we do to avoid being lost?

Matawil: Resist, Ch'ok, resist. To that end we must be united. Look what happens to this lone arrow. (He breaks it)

Ch'ok: It breaks!

Matawil: But what if you try to break a handful of arrows?

(Ch'ok attempts to do so without success.)

Ch'ok: We the Mayan people, the men of the jaguar, will never die!

For the Indigenous cultures time has a different essence, a different speed (or slowness, perhaps). This is one of the secrets of cultural resistance and the capacity for struggle of these peoples. For them the past exists in another dimension, which continues to coexist with the present. For that reason, when they talk about heroes of the long-ago conquest, of Independence, or of the nineteenth century, they are referring to a force which still lives. This is the case with their remembered agrarian struggles.

In the 1936 elections in Chiapas, the Cardenista candidate Efraín Gutiérrez was elected, but the incumbent governor, General Victórico R. Grajales, who was affiliated with Plutarco Elías Calles and opposed to agrarian reform, refused to turn over power to him. The Mexican Senate immediately deposed the rebellious governor. This marked the beginning of the agrarian reform movement in Chiapas. In the Soconusco and the southern Sierra, properties were distributed and ejidos were created. In the North, among the Choles, North American and German haciendas such as El Triunfo were expropriated. The most famous Chol leader, whose story has since become legendary, was Manuel Guzmán, nicknamed Manuel Sol. In Los Altos, where the Tzotziles began to recover their lands, the organizer was Don Erasto Urbina.

In a play written by these Tzotzil and Tzeltal writers, Batik ta Pinka/Vámonos al Paraíso (Let's Go to Paradise), Urbina is the central character who discovers and opposes the slavery conditions to which the Indigenous workers on the coffee plantations were subjected. Another play by these same authors, also written in Tzotzil, Skotol ta skotol/De todos para todos (From All for All), refers to the armed indigenous uprisings of Chiapas, paying particular homage to the January 1, 1994, uprising. Toward the end of the play, a mythical personage appears who confronts and combats the government armies in other oral histories: Juan López, indigenous hero or king among the Tzeltales. Other collectively written works, such as Svokol chonetik lo'il ta batz'i k'op/El sufrimiento de los animales (The Suffering of the Animals) and Yorail Mayaetik/Tiempo de los mayas (The Time of the Mayas), relate the irregular process of the colonization of the Lacandón jungle.

De todos para todos denounces the plunder of Indigenous lands by Chiapan cattle ranchers and corrupt authorities. The dedication of the play explains, significantly, that it is written "En homenaje a los mártires mayas y zoques caídos en las guerras de Chiapas" (In homage to the Mayan and Zoque martyrs fallen in the Chiapas wars). At the end of the play, when the Indigenous people have risen up in arms, there is a concise acclamation. Juan López, one of the main characters, exclaims:

We will never again be slaves! Long live the struggle of the indigenous peoples! Viva!

All: Viva!

The one-act play Tiempo de los mayas, which picks up some loose ends from Dinastía de jaguares (though it was written in October 1994, in the first year of the Zapatista uprising), ends with this exhortation by a man dressed as a jaguar:

Men and women of the corn! Awaken now, Mayan and Zoque peoples! Do not leave for tomorrow what we have left undone for 500 years. We must bring about the rebirth of our wisdom, our culture, and our nature! We are in the new Mayan era!

The group has also written two superb comedies, full of humor and irony. One of them deals with the fabled and fearsome presence of escaped slaves, while the other is about a shiftless campesino who envies the flight and apparently worry-free life of the buzzards. Lying on his back in his field, resting all day long, he contemplates them for hours every day as they soar in the heavens. Finally he is given permission to exchange destinies with Don Juan Zopilote. The new farmer turns out to be a very hard worker, both in the cornfield and in his intimate conjugal duties. Too late, the good-for-nothing farmer regrets having exchanged his fate.

Petrona de la Cruz (b. 1965) is another of the most prolific Tzotzil playwrights. Her dramatic works have not yet been collected in a single volume, but her plays have been presented in Chiapas, Canada, the United States, and Guatemala. Perhaps her most representative work is Una mujer desesperada (A Desperate Woman).

Isabel Juárez Espinosa (b. 1958), a former member of Sna Jtz'ibajom, is a Tzeltal writer who has written stories and plays. Her works for theater are heavily didactic, and for that reason her characters often lack individuality. Her plays warn against the exodus to the large cities, as in Te ixtaeletik/Los juguetes (The Toys), Xkuchosi'/Cargando leña (Carrying Firewood), and Mach' atik ya xlok'ik/Migración (Migration). When dealing with family themes, she exaggerates the evil streaks in her characters, particularly when the victims are women, as in Te tatil/El padre (The Father) and La familia (The Family).


The Chontal writer Isaías Hernández Isidro is a unique case. Included as a prose writer in the first volume of this anthology, he has also worked as a contemporary Chontal-language playwright. In 1983 teachers from the Laboratorio de Teatro Campesino e Indígena (Indigenous Campesino Theater Laboratory) arrived in Mazateupa and six other Tabascan communities. Hernández Isidro not only joined the group but embraced theater as a career, giving up the assistant accountant degree that he had been pursuing in Villahermosa. Under the tutelage of the laboratory teachers he began to read the works of Federico García Lorca, Emilio Carballido, Sergio Magaña, Elena Garro, Mariano Azuela, and others.

For my first acting exam, I used the play El diálogo entre el enterrador y un zapatero [Dialogue between the Gravedigger and a Cobbler], by Felipe Reyes Palacios . . . We translated it to Chontal and a very talented colleague named Miguel de la Cruz Luciano and I presented it . . . Claudio Obregón, Ana Ofelia Munguía, Tomás Espinosa, Margarita Sanz, Faustino Pérez Vidal, Margarita Isabel Morales, Felio Eliel, Beatriz Sheridan, and teachers of other subjects spent a lot of time with us during the seminars. I took dramatic arts seminars with Professor Tomás Espinosa. At first we were thirty in the group, but little by little people who didn't like to write and preferred to take dance classes dropped out. The teacher began to order coffee and buy cookies, and he would share them with us. We liked that and were always on time. Word got around quickly, and soon the group was back to its original size.

Hernández Isidro majored in dramatic arts and directing. For a festival organized in honor of Emilio Carballido and Luisa Josefina Hernández, he directed Carballido's Los días (The Days), translated to Chontal. His thesis exam was on the play Moctezuma II by Sergio Magaña: "We chose Moctezuma II because it's a play that shows what the Mexicans were like before the Conquest. It shows Moctezuma Xocoyotzin as he truly was: an intelligent, cultured and noble man . . ."

In the Tenosique community of Redención del Campesino Hernández Isidro later founded a Theater Workshop for children, adolescents, and adults called El General Grillo (General Cricket). The name is taken from a popular Chontal tale that recounts the victorious battle waged by the tiny insects against the enormous mammals:

>When my play Perdónalo, Señor [Forgive Him, Lord] was published in Tramoya it served as a stimulus for me because it gave me the desire to write more. From that moment on I told myself: "I want to be a writer," but with the idea of bringing to light everything that is hidden in my community. I'm still writing in Chontal and in Spanish. I translate my writing even though there are words which lose their poetry when they are converted to Spanish. I have translated several works written by Mexicans: Los días [The Days] and Únete, pueblo [Unite, My People], by Emilio Carballido; Los perros [The Dogs], by Elena Garro; Yuneri, by María Alicia Martínez Medrano.

Ildefonso Maya (b. 1936) is a well-known dramatist from Chahuatlán, Veracruz, who writes in Nahuatl. Though it is true that his plays are also written for instructional purposes, his talent may be seen in the multiplicity of characters and the fast-paced action and scenes. Tlatsikuini/La ofrenda (The Offering) is a complex play about the agrarian problems in La Huasteca and the repression suffered by the Indigenous communities, an intense, tragic work which deals expertly with family scenes and adapts the expression of each character well. The comedy Oxtotl/La zorra (The Vixen) has a stronger didactic and moralizing flavor, but its characters are also very elaborately and attractively drawn; the drunks, the porter, and the little girl Paulita come gracefully alive as individuals with clearly defined traits. One important aspect of these dramatic works is the Spanish translation: the goal (in which it has succeeded) has been to preserve the syntactic, lexical, and phonetic peculiarities of the Spanish used among the Huasteca Indigenous communities of Hidalgo and Veracruz, as may be observed in this speech by Tila from the second act of La ofrenda, spoken to Alejandro, a campesino leader who betrays the community:

Es que tú sabes que ansina sofremos sempre. A los indios nos hacen lo que queren. Que vieni on lecenciao, que nos manta que hágamos una cusa, que le cofierno utra, que los líderes nos manta invadir po quí, robar po llá, que matar ansina; que luego pidein vutas PST, vutas PPS, que vutas la PRI. Nos garran las manos pa que hágamos la cruz y no sé cuántos chismis; que hura los OEIPUCHAS y los URRECHAS, chismusus que numás nos menazan y nos rigañan; cuando no viene a salir el agrario, iega la INI, quesque nos yuda, que no sé qué y nomás nos engañan los cafronis. Yo no sé hasta cuándo nos van a dejar de rechingar. Hura tú dijites que nos yudabas, que nos defendiyas. Siñor, dimi, ¿qué la gente rerazú no nos tieni lástima? ¿Qué no nos mira como a crestianos?

[Well, you know we always suffer like this. They do whatever they want to us Indians. An official man comes, orders us to do one thing, the government orders us to do something else, the leaders order us to invade here, rob there, kill like so; and later they tell us to vote for the PST, the PPS, the PRI. They grab our hands and force us to make the sign of the cross and I don't know how many other things; now the OEIPUCHAS and the URRECHAS are coming around, a pack of busybodies, all they do is threaten us and scold us; when the Agrarian Department isn't here, the INI is, and they both say they're going to help us and I don't know what all, but the bastards only try to pull the wool over our eyes. I don't know when they're ever going to stop fucking us over. Now you said you would help us, you would defend us. Mister, tell me, don't the mestizos have any pity on us? Don't they see us as Christians?]

García Marcelino, the Purepecha poet from Ihuatzio, has told me that José Luis Rauda Delgado, of Pátzcuaro, wrote several important works for the theater; three of them, K'uanikuti, el último rey de los indios (K'uanikuti, the Last King of the Indians), Erentira, and Nana Echeri, Madre Tierra (Nana Echeri, Mother Earth), revisit, revalidate, and strengthen salient aspects of the history of Purepecha societies. Rauda directed the theater group Ariel, which has served as a cultural space for the formation and training of actors in four communities in the Lake Pátzcuaro region: Quiroga, Pátzcuaro, Tzintzuntzan, and Erongorícuaro.

Additionally, a group of Purepecha writers, including Lucas Gómez Bravo, Gilberto Jerónimo Mateo, Felipe Chávez Cervantes, and Rafael Ambrosio Victoriano, translated to Purepecha William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. The translated version was published in 1992 and staged for the first time in Zocán in 1990 and later presented several times in Pátzcuaro, Morelia, and in the state of Colima. Most of the actors came from the community of Angaguan.

In the community of Francisco Sarabia, municipality of Papantla, Veracruz, several supporters of the Unidad Regional Papantla de Culturas Populares (Papantla Regional Unit for Popular Cultures) created the theater group Los Panchos (The Panchos) in September 1988. The coordinator, Salvador Francisco Francisco, was supervised by Professors Francisco Acosta Báez and Maximina Zárate Morales, members of the Teatro Comunidad Tecom, A.C. The group, which consisted of fifteen actors of all ages, staged various plays: La cucarachita Martina (Martina the Little Cockroach), La carcacha (The Old Jalopy), La leyenda del origen del Sol y la Luna (The Legend of the Origin of the Sun and the Moon), Los niños traviesos (The Naughty Children), Todos lo que se hace se paga (What Goes Around Comes Around), Los sufrimientos de una madre (The Sufferings of a Mother), Un día en mi pueblito (One Day in My Village), Tatlajitat, and La hija del venado (The Daughter of the Deer). In the state of Veracruz, these plays were presented in Coyutla, Tecolutla, Coxquihui, Gutiérrez Zamora, La Isla, Morgadal, and the municipal seat of Papantla. Outside the state, they were given in Santiago de la Peña (Nuevo León), Caltzontzin (Michoacán), Santa Cruz Atzcapotzaltongo (Estado de México), Ocotlán de Morelos (Oaxaca), and Ciudad Victoria (Tamaulipas), on the occasion of the Primer Encuentro Nacional de Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas (First National Congress of Writers in Indigenous Languages). I saw them act there one night, to great public acclaim.


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