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Village Elder Stories

Five pieces of Mayan folklore are linked to the traditional stories chapter. These stories have been handed down, generation to generation, in the Mayaland.

Stories provide a means for both the Q´eqchi´ and Mopan Maya of the Toledo District to communicate a variety of concepts in an entertaining fashion. Each story has a purpose, such as the conveying of beliefs, practices, and legends.

Mayan History and Ancestral Beliefs
through Stories

Understanding the time frame of traditional stories gives one an understanding of Maya history. Stories of the Maya sometimes refer to the names and activities of the gods that are documented in the Popol Vuh. The belief that corn came from the splitting of a rock (mountain) by the god Yaluk, for example, has its origins in the Popol Vuh. A slight variation on the account in the Popol Vuh is documented again in 1929 through a story told to anthropologist J. Eric Thompson, and yet again in The Living Maya is a story titled The Quest for Corn.

Some stories go back to a time when the Maya were grappling with the Spanish conquest. They offer a history of the Maya through use of different characters that have a specific purpose in helping to convey the actions, thoughts, and feelings of the people at that time.

Traditional Stories
Available in
The Living Maya

The Sun, the Moon and Venus

The Quest for Corn

The Grasshoppers and the Corn

How the Tiger Got Spotted

How the Mopan and the Q´eqchi´ Became Friends

Mask used in the
Cortez Dance

Local Legends

Most traditional stories are variations on existing folklore shared throughout the Mayaland. However, local legends also exist. These stories are only heard in villages surrounding the source of the legend. One example of a legend shared in Santa Elena and Santa Cruz concerns a "monster" that lived under the Rio Blanco Falls.

Many generations ago a young girl disappeared while playing near the falls. Legend has it that she was eaten by a giant, hairy, manlike creature that lived under the falls. As a result of this legend, no Maya would swim in the pristine waters until recent times.

Who Tells Stories?

Storytelling has traditionally been the job of village elders. The village elders know the stories more completely than most anyone else, and they are awarded respect within the community. Elders have served as advisors and keepers of the culture for many generations. This is not to say, however, that folklore is never shared in families between mothers and fathers and their children.

Storytelling Methods

Deer Dance
Big Falls
The Mayan tradition of passing folklore in an oral as opposed to a written form means that one is never alone when cultural information is passed. There are always at least two people involved in the activity, allowing both storyteller and audience to interact on many levels.

The Maya do not only use storytelling in the traditional sense to communicate important cultural elements. Stories are also told through lengthy dances that can last from hours to days. The Cortez and the Deer Dances are two examples of storytelling through a combination of music and movement.
An untrained eye may miss the intricacies of the dance as few words are spoken to tell the story. If one doesn't know the story, the dances may look erratic and without direction. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Marimba players and dancers work together to tell a story.

The use of music is a critical part of the dance, as it is through melding of the musical score (rhythm or melody) with a dance character or a particular event being documented, that carries the story. The music, the masked and costumed dancers, and the story are all one.

Drums are used to tell the story with Cortez Dancers.

Harp quartet
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