Rabinal Achí

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The Rabinal Achí is a Maya theatrical play written in the K'iche' language[1] and performed in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Its original name is Xajoj Tun meaning, Tun (trumpet) Dance.[2] Rabinal Achí is a dynastic Maya drama from the fifteenth century and a rare example of pre-Hispanic traditions. It comprises myths of origin and addresses popular and political subjects concerning the inhabitants of the region of Rabinal, expressed through masked dance, theatre, and music. The music is played on the tun, a wooden slit-drum of great antiquity, and two trumpets or shawms. The tun player is usually also the stage and music director, and is often in charge of the production. The drama was translated into French by Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, from an Achi narration of the cofrade Bartolo Sis in 1856.

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. The drama, divided into four acts, deals with a conflict between two major political entities in the region, the Rabinaleb’ and the K’iche’.

The main characters are two princes, the Rabinal Achí or prince of Rabinal, and the K’iche Achí or prince of the K'iche'. The other characters are the king 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.

Since colonization in the sixteenth century, the Rabinal Achí dance has been performed on Saint Paul’s day on 25 January.[3] 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 Achis 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.

In 2005, the dance drama from Rabinal was declared one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

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