of Mayan folklore are linked to the traditional stories chapter.
These stories have been handed down, generation to generation, in
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.
History and Ancestral Beliefs
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
are used to tell the story with Cortez Dancers.