Contemporary mayan literature of the Yucatán peninsula (writers, genres and publications)

Ligorred Perramon, Francesc
Revista Literatures Núm. 1 i 2 1998

"... ka siijil t´an is the re-encounter of our words of the past with the present."
(Jorge M. Cocom Pech)

In the peninsular area which is presently divided into the Mexican states of Campeche, Quitana Roo and Yucatán, and which occupies 145,000 km2, there are three million inhabitants. We may calculate that one million of these, or about thirty-three percent of the total population, are Mayan speakers. This markedly bilingual social situation makes one wonder if cultural dialogue will finally come about or whether confrontation will prevail as has been the historical norm since the XVIth century. One wonders, also, whether it will be possible to combine harmoniously the lack of identity of the colonialists-foreigners with the solid ethnic prestige of the Mayan people.
One reliable proof of the renaissance of Mayan poetic creation is the proliferation of writers the length and breadth of the Yucatán Peninsula. Prose texts reflect the influence of an oral narrative still deeply-rooted in all the populations and which, in the genres of the story, fable and legend, has its most original examples. A story which is not connected to the popular sphere or a modern novel would not fall into Yucatán-Mayan linguistic preferences.
One must bear two main points in mind: a) that the present existence of a literary production in the Mayan language is not the fruit of a modern experiment but rather the result of a long literary tradition which has its origin in cosmological myths, in theatrical representations and hieroglyphic writing; and b) that the scant attention that has been devoted to Mayan literature, apart from specialised studies, makes one think about the need for a profound revision on the basis of a recognition of the Mayan literary tradition.
Most present-day writers are aged between thirty and forty years and have a medium-level academic training. There are older writers too, as is logical, and a significant generation of younger writers who augur creative continuity. The research of Professor Alfredo Barrera Vásquez, who died in 1980, consolidated Mayan language and literature in the academic sphere so they received the attention of Yucatán, Mexican and foreign anthropologists, historians and philologists. In the early 1980s, José Tec Poot greatly influenced the revival of this culture. With his loss in 1985, academic and official establishments, where he had been pressuring, opted for a bureaucratic discourse and his projects lost their impetus.
In 1984, a group of associations and a number of regional and federal research and study centres approved an updated modern Mayan alphabet. The collection "Maya Dziibo´ob Bejla´e" now boasts twenty titles of different literary genres by different writers and is well received and distributed. Apart from a few poetic texts, these are generally stories, legends, and songs and tales from the oral tradition. The Mayan speakers from Carlos Montemayor´s literary workshops have begun collecting material in their own villages of origin, though doing this, it is difficult for them to fulfil their dreams of becoming poets or novelists. On the other hand, the most experienced and prolific poet, and also singer, Gerardo Can Pat, who died in 1994, left a great number of transcribed and original written texts and he disseminated old and new Mayan songs through the villages of the Yucatán Peninsula. Miguel May May and Feliciano Sánchez Chan occupy, for their part, significant positions in the federal domain in the Associación de Escritores en Lenguas Indígenas (Association of Writers in Indigenous Languages), the Casa de los Escritores Indígenas (House of Indigenous Writers) and the review "La Palabra Florida".
Alongside these official experiences, Mayan groups have emerged with the aim of writing in their own language. In the literary workshops of the teacher Waldemar Noh Tzee are two outstanding young women writers, Margarita Ku Xool and Briceida Cuevas Cob. Similar is the experience of the Sakí-Valladolid workshop Yaakal K´in. It is also important to indicate the existence of independent writers like Vicente Canche Moo, Armando J. Cauich Muños, Jorge Cocom Pech, Jorge Echevarria Lope or Romualdo Méndez Huchim.
An important ethnological and linguistic document, which is vindicatory in its intentions, is the Jalachthaanil Sakih (Valladolid Declaration), where official status is claimed for the Mayan language. Other groups and different personalities from the university sphere are working at organising courses and the dissemination of manuals and grammars. The review "Saastun" of the Centro de Estudios Mayas (Mayan Studies Centre) is a collection of research papers in Mayan history and anthropology. Other initiatives are: a radio programme, a news summary of only five-minutes, a language course on Channel 13 of Yucatán television and the beginning of the school programme Ko´ox Kanik Maaya.
The fact that writers have few possibilities for the publication of their work, submerges them in an immense creative solitude and thousands of potential readers are denied them. The pompous official channels for dissemination are insufficient before the energetic revitalisation of Mayan poetry. Only cultural dialogue can put an end to the social insecurity that prevails today.