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Rab'inal Achí

The Rab'inal Achí, or  The "Warrior of Achí" is also known as  "Xajooj Tun" meaning, “Tun (Drum) Dance”, is an undeniable and practically unique testimony of the pre-Hispanic Heritage on the American continent. In terms of the structure and the contents, it is a dynastic Maya drama from the fifteenth century and a rare example of pre-The Rabinal Warrior and the princess

Hispanic traditions. It comprises myths of origin and addresses popular and political subjects concerning the inhabitants of the region of Rabinal, in Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, expressed through masked dance, theatre and music.  It survived  clandestinely from 1625 to 1856, until the French priest Brasseur de Bourbourg  traslated it from the elder Bartolo Sis in Achí language.  Although, when Bourbourg  first edited it, there was  a prlogue by  Sis, iwhere he afirms that there was a manuscipt of the play, that its missed. What we now know is taht the friar convinced the Cofradías to perform the play, event that took place on January 20th, 1856, a play taht went on for 12 days. Thus, Bourbourg had the experience of watch the play in its entirely, as a text and as a play.  The Rabinal Achí is the only indigenous Cultural text that does not reflect any of the cultural contamination characteristically found in all of the other surviving texts of the aboriginal people of the Americas: As Alain Breton has pointed out "Two affirmations we can take as facts: the first one, the substance of the narration

 takes us back to pre-Hispanic times; the second one, even if the text was transcribed into Latin characters during colonial times, it did not suffer any European influence". 

      Another manuscript dated in 1913 and signed by Manuel Pérez was found in 1957 in the hands of Esteban Xolop. This manuscript is different from the one made by Brasseur. It is also a possibility that the 1913 manuscript (which is the one used today) could be the one transcribed by Bartolo Sis. Even if the existence of two different version@ÚX any doubt about the originality of any of the manuscripts, what is important is to observe how up to our days the Rabinal Achí is transmitted orally through custodians of the tradition who received it from their family elders, and learned it by heart as a duty to the preservation of the culture of the whole community. As Breton said: ...even today, despite the existence of a written reference of the text in his hands, José León Coloch recites by heart all of the about three thousand verses of the text, the same way Esteban Xolop, his father in law from whom he inherited them, did it. (Breton 1999:26).   It was declared   "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the Humanity", on November 25, 2005 by UNESCO.

The oral and written narrative is presented by a group of characters, who appear on a stage representing Maya villages, especially Kajyub’, the regional capital of the Rabinaleb’ in the fourteenth century, that was founded in the  10th century AD, shortly after the Classic Maya Collapse. Its survival is a testimony of the cultural resistance against the colonial domination. It is notable how this cultural expression, surviving clandestinely, was transmitted through a family tradition in which the persons in charge received it from their ancestors as a task undertaken in the name of the whole community. The Rabinal Achi encloses a complex interrelation of many different aspects, which give it outstanding historical, ethnical, literary, artistic, traditional, linguistic, testimonial, anthropological, sociological, and spiritual value.


Temple remains of Kayjub',
near today's Rabinal

A fundamentally oral tradition, the Dance Drama Rabinal Achí combines poetry, dance, choreography, music, costumes and masks, to transmit the Mayan history, mythology and symbolism of the community. The narrative is performed by a crew of 21 masked dancers divided into four acts, deals with a conflict between two major political entities in the region, the Rabinaleb’ and the K’iche’. The fact that the Rabinal Achí is recited in post-classic Achí is a clear testimony of its originality. Its rhythms, the rhetorical figures, and the composition of the text as whole reflects a particular poetics.  Through the language the interrelations between man and nature, between man and reality, between man and the surrounding world are conceptualized in a poetic and a performative way.  

 The choreographies of the
 dances respond to very specific diagrams, and they follow a special composition to prepare different moments of the representation. Some of them describe the movement of a serpent, other draw the placing of the characters as they take part in the plot of the dance. They are basically linear and rounded. At some points the dancers keep the rhythm by beating their feet on the floor.

The structures of the music of Rabinal Achí are ancient and authentically original. The music is played by three musicians with trumpets, drums andmusicians cymbals. It has complex rhythms and harmonies, and a continuous variation of the melody. The music participates through different moments of the performance and the musicians are very much part of it. The structure of the music changes according to the characters taking place in the representation at each moment. Each one of the main characters is also identified with different musical introductions as they are going to speak. It is important to point out how the voices of the performers reciting the text become part of the music too.

The pre-Columbian masks made by the artisans of Rabinal and the costumes and the special headgear, known as 'tocados' are made to represent particular symbolic meanings. All of the performance elements are original and respond to aboriginal aesthetics. Its construction and their use during performance require a different sensibility and different skills.
The main characters are two princes, the Rabinal Achí and the K’iche Achí,  who are really the representatives of their corresponding communities. The other characters are the king (Ahau) of Rabinaleb’, Job’Toj, and his servant, Achij Mun Ixoq Mun, who has both male and female traits, the green-feathered mother, Uchuch Q’uq’ Uchuch Raxon, and thirteen eagles and thirteen jaguars who represent the 
warriors of the fortress of Kajyub’.  K’iche’ Achí is captured and put on trial for having attempted to steal Rabinaleb’ children, a grave violation of Maya law.

 In the first act, the Warrior or Achi of K'iche' (of Kawek' origin), challenges lord Ojob' Toj of Rab'inal to come out of his fortress. It is here that the Warrior or Achi of Rab'inal intervenes and the two warriors engage in a fight. It is eventually the Warrior of K'iche' who is captured. In the second act, the Warrior  of Rab'inal enters the palace inside the fortress of lord Ojob' Toj to announce the capture of the Warrior of K'iche'. In the third act, the Warrior of Rab'inal returns to the captured and bound Warrior of K'iche' to tell him about the response of lord Ojob' Toj. 

 In the fourth and final act, the Warrior of K'iche' is brought into the palace of Ojob' Toj, where after interrogation he obtains certain lordly and warrior-related privileges. Having eaten well and being intoxicated from the beverages he took, he dances three dances, including one with the princess of Rabinal, the last one of which is a dance in which he tests the agility of the Eagle and Jaguar factions of the Rab'inal warriors. The final act terminates with the Warrior of K'iche' being tied to a tree and being executed by way of arrows, shot at him by the Eagle and Jaguar warriors of the kingdom of Rab'inal

Since colonization in the sixteenth century, the Rabinal Achí dance has been performed on Saint Paul’s day on 25 January. The festival is co-ordinated by members of cofradías, local brotherhoods responsible for running the community. By taking part in the dance, the living enter into “contact” with the dead, the rajawales, ancestors represented by masks. For the Achís of modern-day Rabinal, recalling their ancestors is not just about perpetuating the heritage of the past. It is also a vision of the future, since one day the living will join their ancestors. As the Saint Paul festivities go on for a few days, the Rabinal Achi is performed at various times during the day, in especially designated areas in the open air where the audience is free to come and go.

 Originally the representation took place around specific dates in the Mayan Calendar dedicated for the offerings to Tohil, a God instituted by governing caste Toj. The fact that the representation nowadays takes place around Catholic celebrations has to be understood as a survival and restoring strategy. In geographical terms, the text refers to a series of localities where the Rabinal culture was founded. Those places are the same sacred and symbolic areas where the tradition started and is performed today: the Church, the Cemetery and five surrounding Mountains. In those locations the performers invite their ancestors to be part of it. They are the spaces for the congregation of their ancestors, of their Gods and of the individuals of the present. José León Coloch is the current custodian of the oral tradition and director and representative of the Rabinal Achí Dance Group, the responsible group of the tradition within the community of Rabinal. This Dance Drama is important as a living way for the past to communicate with the present; and as a living memory of the foundational principles and identity of the people of Rabinal

Download the Book at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/15309

And an impressive photographic story of Rab'inal by Shane Solow can be found at: Losttrails.com



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Last updated 28/01/2011 17:07:36 -0500
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