Sunday, December 31, 2006

Heb’ Kab’nal
The Lacandones

A Q'anjob'al Maya story

Ay jun ab’ix chiyal intxutx yet heb’ jichmam tzet maxyun pitz’oj heb’ a heb’ anima yet payxa. K’am chi pitzk’oj heb’ yuj no’ tiltik chijayi chi chiontoq no’ chiyab’en no’ b’ay chiajteq heb’ unin okoq. Maxb’et chalayayteq a no’ chib’et chaonayteq. Chi pitzk’oj jun jun unin chi chionaytoq no’ k’am chipitzk’oj heb’ anima. Axa P’elixh maxnaoni tzet oq-yun pitzk’oj heb’ anima kaq ti’ ta kak’alti’. Maxpitzk’oj heb’ maxsayon rason. Maxb’et sayonteq te’ q’olal taj maxtoj b’ay nanlaq ak’al. Maxb’et chikon chib’ej. Maxyab’en no’ tiltik tu’ jab’ chib’ej tu’ maxayk’ay no’ kaq chiyun yayk’ay no’ ostok. Maxb’et maxayk’ay no’. Chikon P’elixh tu’ te’ q’olal taj tu’. "Echinb’el wuxhtaq oqachlowoq ti’ chiwat’nej alob’ej." Maxyi’onaj te’ q’olal taj tu’ lanan yuqi te’ maxq’anwontoq yul nuq’ no’ tiltik tu’ kax chikamel no’. A b’ay chib’etek’ jun junel chib’et ya’kan kam, otaqk’on waqtaqk’on lajlajonk’on tiltik. Kay tu’ maxyun kami. Kay tu’ maxyun pitzk’ojkan heb’. Axkatu k’amxa maqtxel oqchiontoq heb’ kax maxpitzk’ojkan heb’. Axkatu maxyun pitzk’ojkan heb’ anima yet antiwo ley yet heb’ jichmam.

There is a story my mother tells about our ancestors, how it happened they grew [progressed] those people from long ago. They do not progress because of the lacandon. They [the lacandones] come, they eat, they hear where they [children] go up, the children enter [the steambath]. [And they] go to receive, those animals go receiving to themselves. Each child is born, the animal eats him up, the people do not progress. And so Vírvez [P’elixh] was thinking: How will it happen the people grow, thus if it is [to be] they grow [and he] looked for a way. He went looking for pine resin, he went in among the valleys. He went to cook meat. Those lacandon smelled the meat [and] they fell as it happens the buzzard falls. They went, they fell down. That Vírvez was cooking that pine tree sap. "Wait, my brother, you will eat, here I am preparing your meal." And he raised up that pine tree resin—it was boiling—[and he] threw it down the throats of those lacandones and they died. There he went by every time he went to leave them dead—five, six, ten animal lacandones. Thus it happened that they died. Thus it happened the people continued to grow. Thus no more will anyone eat them up and they progressed. So it happened the people grew in the old law of our ancestors.

This story is about a group of Ch'ol-speaking Maya people called the Lacandon, or Lacandones, who were never conquered by the Europeans and who were apparently not on good terms with the Q'anjob'al at this point in history. Note that the story-teller (see below) uses the term no' tiltik for the Lacandon, instead of the usual Q'anjob'al term naq kab'nal. The no'(1) is a classifier for animals (most Q'anjob'al nouns take some type of classifier usually translated 'the' in English), and the tiltik was described by informants as an inhuman, vampire-like creature with deep red eyes and long black clothes over a skeleton. There is one occurrence of lajlajonk'on tiltik, with lajlajon (ten) and k'on the numerical version of the no' classifier for animals. The word naq is a human classifier used with kab'nal, the actual term for the Lacandon, but her repeated use of no' tiltik seems to indicate her equation of them with something less than human probably due to their behavior.

Note the Spanish borrowings: anima (borrowed into most Mayan languages and in Q'anjob'al means 'person' or 'people'), rason (razón, reason), antiwo (antiguo, old), and ley (law).

This story was told by Eulalia Garcia M., a native speaker of Q'anjob'al, as it appears in an International Journal of American Linguistics (IJAL) article of 1980 by Laura Martin.

The article's English translation is not too smooth, but it gets the basic idea across.

(1) In Q'anjob'al, you cannot simply say "I have a dog" or "There is a house." You must use the appropriate classifiers for dog or house: Ay jun no' hintx'i' (exists-one-[animal]-my-dog) or Ay jun te' na (exists-one-[wood]-house; te' the classifier for houses, wooden objects, etc.). There is no verb 'to have' in Q'anjob'al.

Friday, December 29, 2006

A real Yukatek Maya perspective on the movie Apocalypto

I especially liked his ending sentence:

"Perhaps Gibson could make a movie showing how the Mayas still are suffering discrimination, even to the point of being cheated out of our lands and displaced, because of the ships he showed arriving as the finale of 'Apocalypto.'"

Not to mention his remarks on the Yukatek language as spoken by non-Maya actors!

Who were the Maya?

Not the people in 'Apocalypto'

Staff Writer

The Mayas were savages and needed to be straightened out.

That is the message Mel Gibson's movie "Apocalypto" conveyed to me when it contrasted savage bloodthirsty pagans meeting with arriving Europeans carrying the symbol of the cross.
But we are not savages.

Spanish invaders who arrived among the Maya in the 16th century depicted natives as barbaric people dedicated to devil worship in order to justify brutality and conquest. We all know native peoples didn't fare well under Christianity; some cultures were completely lost. Coincidentally, Christianity is the foundation of Gibson's belief and spirituality.

But a more serious massacre -- that of the Yukatek language -- begins early in the movie. The non-Maya actors of North American Indian heritage pronouncing their rehearsed Yukatek lines sounded like Hollywood Western stereotypes saying: "How! Me Tonto, this Painted Horse."
Although I was born a Yukatek Maya and raised in a Yukatek village, speaking Yukatek as the first of four languages I know, I had to glance at the subtitles to figure out what the actors were trying to say.

It was slightly refreshing that Gibson cast an elder, a storyteller, who spoke the language without pauses, with such musical flow and accuracy that for a moment I thought I was in my village listening to my own elders. But, sad to say, the only other significant part in the movie where the power of the Yukatek language was genuinely demonstrated is when the tiny village girl talks about the prophecy of the jaguar ending the evil and vile ways of the devil people.

The film is full of violence, floods of blood, throat-slitting, beheadings, heads rolling down the steps of temples and hearts being wrenched out of gaping holes in upper abdomens.

I had to turn to my friend, Robert Sitler, a Latin American studies professor at Stetson University, to ask for his reaction.

"Sadly, 'Apocalypto' will leave mainstream American moviegoers seeing Maya as heartless savages," Sitler said after the movie. He said the movie "unwittingly reinforces a long-standing tradition of virulent racism against the Maya among white Europeans and their Spanish-speaking descendents."

The film falls short of Gibson's intention -- which, remotely, appears to be telling the story of Jaguar Paw, the hero played by Rudy Youngblood, and the prophecy of his rise to power. The film fails for two reasons.

First, Gibson bogs down the plot with his craze for blood and death. Second, just as Jaguar Paw appears to be achieving success, he runs into ships anchored in the bay with boats rowing ashore carrying grim-faced conquistadors bearing the symbols of the cross.

I am not certain which Jaguar Paw Gibson tried to portray in his movie. There were several famous Jaguar Paws in Maya hieroglyphics, including one who became king of the great Maya city of Calakmul in 686 and was long gone when the Spaniards arrived 806 years later. There were no glorious Maya cities, simply small communities scattered throughout the Maya world.
And Mr. Gibson, that world is not only Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras, as you defined it in promoting your movie. It also includes what is now Belize and El Salvador.

Unlike the sadistic and violent caricatures of Maya in "Apocalypto," real Maya intensely nurture their children and honor both their elders and ancestors, embracing human mortality in the context of a cultural heritage going back more than a hundred generations.

My only hope is that moviegoers would take the movie as a misleading and distorted Hollywood drama designed to entertain.

Perhaps Gibson could make a movie showing how the Mayas still are suffering discrimination, even to the point of being cheated out of our lands and displaced, because of the ships he showed arriving as the finale of "Apocalypto."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Makahiki Hou

I was looking through some of my old notes and handouts from when I took a Hawaiian class a few years ago and came across some seasonally appropriate material:

Makahiki is the traditional Hawaiian version of New Year. The Makahiki season begins with the first sighting of the constellation Pleiades, Makali’i, in late October or November and ends about four months later with the rising of the fourth new moon. It is the time when the god Lono-i-ka-makahiki reigns over the ancient god of war , and the people enjoy peace and harmony. It is also the time for tax collection, thanksgiving, and feasting. There are various rites of purification and celebrations during the Makahiki season.

Once the Makahiki season ends, Lono(1) returns to Kahiki (Tahiti) and the time of Kū begins again, which is symbolic of the ali’i (chief) reasserting his power and imposing kapu (taboo) to be observed for the rest of the year.

Here is an ancient chant from the Makahiki season:

Nā ‘Aumākua

Nā ‘Aumākua mai ka lā hiki a ka lā ‘ākau
Mai ka ho’okui a ka hālawai
Nā ‘Aumākua ia Kahinakua ia Kahina’alo
Ia ka ‘ākau i ka lani
O kīhā i ka lani, ‘owē i ka lani
Nunulu i ka lani, kāholo i ka lani
Eia ka pulapula a ‘oukou, nā po’e o ka Pakipika
E mālama ‘oukou ia mākou
E ulu i ka lani, e ulu i ka honua, e ulu i ka pae ‘āina o ka Pakipika
E homai ka ‘ike
E homai ka ‘ikaika
E homai ka ‘akamai
E homai ka maopopo pono
E homai ka ‘ike pāpālua
E homai ka mana
‘Āmama ua noa.

To the ancestral deities from the rising to the setting sun
From the zenith to the horizon
The ancestral deities who stand at our back and at our front
You who stand at the right side
A breathing in the heavens
An utterance in the heavens
Here are your descendants, the people of the Pacific(2)
Safeguard us
That we may flourish in the heavens
That we may flourish on the earth
That we may flourish on the islands of the Pacific
Grant us knowledge
Grant us strength
Grant us intelligence
Grant us the understanding
Grant us the spiritual insight
Grant us the power.
The prayer is lifted, it is free.(3)

The translation of the chant above is not my own, and as I was thumbing through the dictionary to find some unfamiliar words, it seems some poetic liberties were taken by the translator. For instance, although kīhā is translated as 'breathing' by this translator, the only dictionary entry I found defines it as 'belch.' A belch in the heavens?! Well, I guess breathing sounds better than belching, so I'll go along with this more poetic translation!

1. Lono is one of the four ancient gods brought from Tahiti and is associated with peace, fertility, and agriculture, the clustering of dark clouds, thunder, whirlwinds, waterspouts, earthquakes, and the Kona rain. This same god is known as Rongo on Rapanui (Easter Island; Hawaiian l = Rapanui and Tahitian r) and is the namesake of the Rongorongo hieroglyphic script of that island, which has not been deciphered.
2. I suspect this is altered from the traditional chant, since Pakipika for 'Pacific' was obviously borrowed from English in post-missionary times. Perhaps the original was simply moana or kai, 'ocean' or 'sea.'
3. This is a pre-missionary, or pre-Christian, ending of a traditional prayer.

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Native Language Bill Signed Into Law

Finally, some good news from the pen of the president. This bill was signed into law on December 14. I hope it hails a new era in indigenous language preservation and revitalization!

"This innovative and timely legislation helps stem an impending tragedy for our nation; the rapid decline and potential loss of Native American languages" -- Rep. Steve Pearce

WASHINGTON - The New Mexico Congressional Delegation today announced that President Bush has signed into law the Esther Martinez Native Languages Preservation Act. The new law helps prevent the loss of an important part of New Mexico's heritage, the Native American languages that are rapidly disappearing.

The bill, written and introduced by Congresswoman Heather Wilson in February, was passed by the House in September and the Senate earlier this month with the support of the entire New Mexico delegation. "These languages will be preserved with attention and effort. Once lost, they will never be recovered," Wilson said. "The native languages were precious to Esther Martinez, and this bill is designed to help preserve them. It is a fitting tribute to her life's work." "This bill is a tremendous way to honor the memory of Esther Martinez. It aims to preserve the unique linguistic heritage of Native Americans, and I'm pleased to see it become law," said U.S. Senator Pete Domenici, who worked to ensure passage in the Senate. "For many years, tribes were discouraged from speaking their native languages and now many languages have disappeared."

This legislation will help ensure native languages are preserved, and passed on to future generations," U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman said. "Considering Esther's dedication to preserving her native language, it is a fitting tribute that this legislation be named after her," said Rep. Tom Udall. "The urgent need to protect and preserve Native American languages is clear. We must invest in their preservation by implementing immersion programs. This legislation is an important step toward reversing the trend of disappearing native languages. I would like to congratulate Congresswoman Wilson on this legislation being signed into law, and thank her for her efforts on this important issue." "This innovative and timely legislation helps stem an impending tragedy for our nation; the rapid decline and potential loss of Native American languages," said Rep. Steve Pearce, also a co-sponsor of the legislation. "I commend Rep. Wilson for her leadership in reconnecting younger generations of Native Americans to the language and culture of their ancestors while preserving an irreplaceable treasure for every American."

The bill was designated in honor of Esther Martinez of New Mexico, following her death in September. On September 14, Esther Martinez of Ohkay Owingeh was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship in Washington, DC. She died at 94 years of age in Espanola en route home after attending a ceremony at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Sadly, only an estimated 20 of more than 300 pre-colonial indigenous languages will remain by the year 2050. In 1996, 175 of these languages remained, but now we're losing them at a rate of 12 languages every 3 years. New Mexico is home to 19 different pueblos and 3 tribes. Among the tribes and pueblos, there are six major languages, plus varying dialects. Language is a key element of each community's identity. A recent survey of Native languages found that among the Lipan Apache on the Mescalero reservation in southern New Mexico there are just ten speakers of the native language remaining. At the Sandia Pueblo, north of Albuquerque, most of their Native speakers are middle aged or older. Even Navajo, spoken more than any other Native Language in the U.S., is spoken fluently by less than half of the Navajo children entering kindergarten.

The bill authorizes competitive grants through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to establish Native American language "nests" for students under the age of seven and their families. It supports Native American language survival schools. It will help to preserve all the indigenous languages that are still being spoken, and increase the support for Native American language immersion programs to create fluent speakers, and allow tribes and pueblos to develop their own immersion programs.