Saturday, June 24, 2017

¡Matyöx chawe Gilda!


This blog post is about my host mother. I think it makes sense to talk about her and her wonderful family because there’s no doubt that the success of this field station goes hand in hand with the exceptional quality of the families that welcome us into their homes. 

My host mom is a superhero. Mother of three beautiful and (almost all the time) well-behaved children, she holds various different jobs, multitasks practically everything, and is devoted to many political and sociocultural issues related to indigenous women’s rights, Mayan identity, and culture in Guatemala and Patzún. Gilda (who agreed to have her name published in this blog post) is a very active person. Every week, she helps her mother at the family business, which makes the best chiles rellenos in town. She also spends a lot of time and energy working for a cooperative of indigenous women called Ajsu’m. This cooperative not only provides a community of women with work, but also aims to offer workshops and training about current issues in Guatemalan society, specifically with respect to indigenous rights in communities around Patzún. (It’s also thanks to this great cooperative that we got to enjoy delicious meals every lunchtime of the week. ¡Matyöx Ajsu’m!)

With the family

On June 22nd, Gilda generously accepted to give us a workshop similar to those the cooperative usually gives in communities around Patzún. Her presentation focused on Mayan identity and women self-confidence, and how years of racism and stigmatization against indigenous peoples has led to an unhealthy societal climate. In the end, her talk was not only very inspiring, but much-needed. It is crucial that any researcher conducting work related to Mayan language and culture understand what issues are faced by communities that speak these languages and hold these cultures.

Gilda and Pedro discussing in the question period

I feel extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to know Gilda and her family, and I’m sure many of my colleagues have similar things to tell about their families. Again, without these beautiful families, which share their language and culture with us and which generously welcome us into their homes, there is no field station. 

Nan Gilda, janila matyöx ruma xib’än compartir iwachoch, ichabäl chuqa’ ina’oj wik’en yïn.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Documenting Kaqchikel Ritual Language

Last Sunday, I traveled to Sumpango to launch a very exciting project, in collaboration with Yolanda Estrada and a group of Kaqchikel Ajq’ija’ (Spiritual Guides) led by Delfina Solloy and Valerio Toj. The group is called Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ and is comprised of several guides from Sumpango and Santa María de Jesús, who meet every three weeks for a ceremony. Yolanda, who is a professor of history at Universidad San Carlos de Guatemala (USAC), has been working with Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ for over a year, documenting their educational practices and life philosophy. This year, we were awarded a grant from the Firebird Foundation to help the guides record their ceremonies from June-August.

Camera 1 Recording

The primary purpose of the project is to ensure that this special type oral tradition is preserved forever; we will thus provide the guides with a thorough documentation of their ceremonies (audio and video), so they can use the recordings in the future for the training of new guides or for dissemination with their local community. The guides have yet to decide whether the entirety of the material can be made available more generally; that decision will be discussed in private meetings that Yolanda and I cannot attend.

The offering is ready and the fire is about to be lit. 

Yolanda, Yolanda’s son Iván, my brother Andres, sister-in-law Gaby, and I made our way from Guatemala City early in the morning, to avoid the traffic. The rain had not stopped for several days, so we were all very nervous that a downpour would ruin the event. The ceremony took place in a piece of land near Sumpango, where corn and beans are grown by one of the Waqxaqi’ B’atz’ members, Chalo. We arrived and all the guides had already started preparing for the ceremony, unpacking the candles, incense, sugar, liquor, and flower petals that were to be offered. The sky was an ominous gray as we placed the 8 microphones in place (4 ground microphones and 4 lapel microphones), the two cameras, and a waterproof GoPro on a tree. After we were “saturated” (blessed so that we could participate), the ceremony began.

The opening of the ceremony. 

The recording went well until the first drops of rain started to fall, about two thirds in. We removed most of the equipment quietly, since the ceremony had to continue, regardless of the weather. The GoPro and the lapel microphones kept recording, so we captured the event until the very end. It was a bit stressful, but we were happy with the final audio and video! After the ritual ended, the rain began to pour fiercely and the guides and other attendees served a delicious lunch – pulique with beef and tamalitos. It was tricky to eat while holding on to a nylon cover and umbrellas, but we had a very good time.

A newborn being blessed during the event. 

My brother and sister-in-law are in charge of the editing process, piecing together the 8 audio streams and 3 cameras. It will be a complex process, since there were moments when multiple guides spoke at the same time. In a couple of weeks, we will present the guides with the final product; after that, linguist Filiberto Patal will transcribe the material using ELAN, Pedro Mateo Pedro will run a workshop on transcription with the guides, and we will settle on a date for the next ceremony. When the summer is over, all the recording equipment will be given to the guides, so that they can continue with the documentation indefinitely and however they see fit. 

Now, we’re all back together in Patzún, working on our individual projects – it will be a hectic final few days!


Photo credits: Andres Ranero & Gabriela Sagastume 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Visit to Iximche'

This weekend we visited the ruins of Iximche’, the former capital of the Kaqchikel people.

The city features Post-Classic Maya architecture, and was built in 1470. It was the Kaqchikel capital until the Spanish took over in 1524. 

It has four main plazas and two ball courts. A few of the pyramids have been fully excavated, and there are many more which are still partially buried under centuries’ worth of dirt. 
Map of Iximche'
Locals also come to Iximche’ to perform ceremonies and leave offerings of food. There is one pyramid at the back where ceremonies happen.

There is also a small museum, and a stela at the entrance.

The stela was built by Kaqchikel artists and historians in 2012 to commemorate the passing of the oxlajuj b’ak’tun (thirteenth unit of 400 years). The glyphs on the stela describe the dates of eight important Kaqchikel historical events that have happened in the past several hundred years.

Earthquake update

Just a quick update to let everyone know that we're all alive and well down here in Patzún following this morning's earthquake!

Visits to the doctor

Recently, I came down with a stomach bug and had to go to the doctor. I'm alright now, but when I needed medical care, it was really easy to get, especially with the help of Pedro and my host-mom.

Pedro took me to my first doctor's appointment, and after a simple test, they prescribed me a mountain of medicine, which I was able to buy several minutes later in the same building, for way cheaper than in the U.S.

Fast forward two days, and I have been feeling better, but I seemed to be having a different problem, so I went to the doctor again. This time my host-mom took me. We had to go to a different doctor than my first visit because it was Saturday, and very few doctors were seeing patients, but luckily for me, the doctor we went to was close by and only had one patient ahead of me. My host mom took a picture of me waiting in the office:

I made sure to bring my Spanish-English dictionary because Pedro wasn't there to help me and my Spanish concerning medical terms is basically non-existent. I ended up only needing it twice, because my host-mom was able to relay what I had told her earlier.

When I went in to see the doctor, she asked me what medicine I was taking and told me to stop taking two of the medicines I had been prescribed. She then had me make an appointment with her for the next day, where they ran some tests and told me that once I finished my medicine that I was still taking, I should be good to go.

Overall, both visits were really easy, which was especially nice considering how daunting getting medical care in a foreign country and in a foreign language can feel. The last visit was also close to a fruit-juice stand, where my host-mom bought me a freshly squeezed orange juice.

It made me feel like a kid getting a lollypop after getting vaccinated. It was great.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lajuj Kaqchikel Gavagais

Try to guess what these words mean... This is what we have been doing for the last two weeks!




wakamïn muqül


(man tikirel ta yöjmuxan)


Waqi' Kej niropin

Ixtöj nwär


(janila matyöx!)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Kaqchikel Sounds

¡Xqa q’ij, k’a!
¡Buenas tardes!

We recently just finished our first week of Kaqchikel classes. Woo! It has been a whirlwind of information from amazing teachers and peers in a very beautiful country! As other posts point out, we have been spending this time either listening or attempting to speak Kaqchikel and rarely speak any other languages, although sometimes revert to Spanish when we need translations of sentences or something of that sort.

This past week, consequently, has been spent making all sorts of fun and new sounds. As non-native speakers of Kaqchikel this has been quite the challenge for us. More specifically I am referring to the lovely ejectives that exist in Kaqchikel. Ejectives, according to the very indubitable Wikipedia, occur in approximately 20% of the world’s languages, and most of these languages are minority languages that are not very frequently heard outside of their own speech community. Ejectives are stops made without using air, i.e., holding your breath. If you attempt to produce a consonant sound such as /t/ or /p/ while holding your breath and then releasing it would ideally become an ejective, marked as /t’/ and /p’/. In the greeting buenas tardes in Kaqchikel: xqa q’ij, k’a, there are two ejective stops, /q’/ and /k’/. Easy enough, right?

Not. Or, at least, for me. To start, if you speak English natively, you can produce an ejective by pronouncing the word ‘kick’ and really enunciating the final k at the end of the word. It can be difficult to get the sound down but it’s worth a try! You never know when you will want to start learning a language such as Kaqchikel :)

Thanks for reading!

¡Matyöx chawe Gilda!

¡Xseqër! This blog post is about my host mother. I think it makes sense to talk about her and her wonderful family because there’s no d...