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Multimedia Documentation of Ixil Maya Ritual Speech


Language Ixil Maya
Depositor Maria Luz Garcia
Location Guatemala
Collection ID 0209
Grant ID SG0016
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

This project joins with community initiatives to document public performances of Ixil Maya traditional ritual discourse. These forms have been scarcely documented and include poetic forms, lexical items and grammatical structures not found in other types of Ixil speech. Practitioners of ritual discourse currently use this highly conventionalized form in innovative ways to document recent Ixil history as part of a concerted effort to disseminate and preserve this information for their own community and for outsiders. Nonetheless, those trained in these highly specialized forms are very few and diminishing in number creating a sense of urgency among speakers for documentation of these discourse practices.

This project contributes to the community-based initiatives by providing them with much needed high-quality materials about discourse forms that are particularly significant to Ixil culture. These projects are especially urgent given the cultural and linguistic disruption caused by the recent genocide of the Ixil and other Mayas.


Group represented

The 55,000 to 80,000 Ixil Indians are a highland Maya tribe living in the mountains of the Quiché and Huehuetenango departments of Guatemala. They inhabit the northern slops of the Altos Chuchumatanes range and a middle area between it and the Chama Mountains at the edge of the tropical rain forest to the north. Their territory varies in elevation from 700 to 3,000 meters. They live in the three major municipios of Nebaj, Cotzal, and Chajul in the department of Quiché.


Language information

Ixil is a Mayan language spoken by around 70,000 people in Guatemala. There are three main varieties of Ixil: Chajul, Nebaj, and San Juan Cotzal. Some linguists consider them to be three distinct languages, while others consider them dialects of a single Ixil language. Chajul and Nebaj Ixil use VSO word order while Ixil de San Juan Cotzal uses VOS.


Special characteristics

Over the past decade, survivors of the attempt by the Guatemalan government to eradicate the Ixil Maya people during the country’s thirty-six-year-long civil war have gone back to the mountains where many of their family members were killed and, with the help of forensic anthropologists and traditional Maya priests, exhumed the dead and returned with them to Nebaj, El Quiche. In Nebaj, family and community members participate in elaborate inhumation ceremonies and other remembrance services to honour the dead. In January, 2008, participants in these frequent public ceremonies requested that Miguel Guzaro Raymundo and Maria Luz Garcia document these ceremonies. Guzaro Raymundo was known to the community as the Ixil Maya liaison for Asociacion del Movimiento de Victimas para el Desarollo Integral del Norte de Quiche (Association of the Victims’ Movement for the Integral Development of Northern Quiche, hereafter the Movimiento). Garcia was known by community members as a graduate student who had been working with Guzaro Raymundo at documenting Ixil linguistic and cultural behaviors in a variety of different contexts. Since January, 2008, Guzaro Raymundo and Garcia have documented five inhumation ceremonies with audio and video recordings as well as photographs for the archives of the Movimiento. However, in the course of this work, discussion among Guzaro Raymundo, Garcia, and Ixil Maya priests performing the rituals led to the shared realization of the urgent need for more thorough documentation of the highly specialized and culturally meaningful ritual discourse practices that are at the heart of these events. This collection is an outcome of their continued documentation.


Collection contents

When completed, this collection will include

  • approximately 15 hours of high-quality simultaneous audio and video recordings as well as photographs of public performances of Nebaj Ixil Maya ritual speech
  • transcription, translation into English and Spanish, and glossing in both English and Spanish
  • accompanying metadata in Spanish and English
  • audio recording of all transcription sessions because they are a rich source of metalinguistic data and because ritual speech is a highly specialized form that requires expert knowledge in order to be fully understood
  • interview Ixil priests (or b’aal vatz tiixh, in Ixil, a class which includes the better-known ajq’ii) about the meaning of archaic terms and unusual or otherwise potentially confusing constructions as well as general metalinguistic and cultural observations about the ritual speech
  • transcriptions, translations into Spanish and English and glosses for five hours of interview and transcription sessions
  • annotations in English and Spanish with information about specialized terminology, poetic forms, unique grammatical structures, and cultural information necessary to understanding the texts
  • Ixil/Spanish/English subtitled videos


Collection history

The materials in this collection were gathered between 2011 and 2012 during the fieldwork for Maria Luz Garcia’s Small Grant from ELDP.


Other information

The video and audio recordings will be archived along with glossed texts at ELAR as well as at the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA) at The University of Texas at Austin, providing a unique and indispensable resource to Mayan language scholars. These materials will also be added to a website being produced by the Grupos de Mujeres y Hombres por la Paz that is designed to be interactive and user-friendly to the general public. In addition, DVD and CD copies of materials produced will also be made available to the Ixil community through the Grupos de Mujeres y Hombres por la Paz library and the archives of the Asociacion del Movimiento de Victimas para el Desarollo Integral del Norte de Quiche.


Acknowledgement and citation

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Luz Garcia, Maria. 2013. Multimedia Documentation of Ixil Maya Ritual Speech. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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