Humberto Akʼabal

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Humberto Akʼabal
Born(1952-10-31)October 31, 1952
Momostenango, Totonicapán, Guatemala
DiedJanuary 28, 2019(2019-01-28) (aged 66)
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Other namesHumberto Akʼabʼal, Humberto Akabal

Humberto Akʼabal, also Akʼabʼal or Akabal (31 October 1952 – 28 January 2019), was a Kʼicheʼ Maya poet from Guatemala. Akʼabʼal wrote in his native language of Kʼicheʼ, and then translated his poetry into Spanish. With the translations of his works into numerous languages and international recognition, Akʼabʼal is considered to be "the most renowned Maya Kiʼcheʼ poet"[1] in the world and one of the best known Guatemalan writers in Europe and Latin America.[2]

Early life[edit]

Akʼabʼal was born in 1952 in Momostenango, Totonicapán. His formal education ceased at age twelve, when he left school to help financially support his family. He worked in his village as a shepherd and weaver, until leaving to find work in Guatemala City as a street vendor and porter. Despite his grandfather's cautions that “books can make you lose your mind,” Akʼabʼal decided to venture into the world of poetry.[3] His mother actually served as a source of support and influence in this choice, as she "planted in [him] an interest in the word" as a way to "continue [his] elders' tradition."[3]



Akʼabʼal originally began writing his poetry in Spanish, "because he was 'illiterate' in his own mother tongue,"[1] but eventually started to write in Kʼicheʼ in the 1980s. Despite the fact that his own Spanish translations made his works available to a wider audience, Akʼabʼal was unable to find a publisher interested in printing his Kʼicheʼ work until 1993.

Since gaining popularity, Akʼabʼal's poetry has been translated into many different languages, including French, English, Estonian, Scots, German, Japanese, Dutch, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Hebrew, Hungarian, Arabic, and Italian.


Many scholars have praised Akʼabʼal's work as an expression of his indigenous tradition. Literary critic Carlos Montemayor said that "Humberto Akʼabal embodies indigenous consciousness, its languages, its greatness, its spirituality, its music, its songs, as well as the consciousness of Latin America itself."[4] Spanish poet Antonio Gamoneda described Akʼabal's poetry in terms of its “essential humbleness, its elementary sacredness, through which you feel the pulse of words that reveal deeds, things, beings of nature”.[5] Chilean historian Miguel Rojas Mix wrote that “Akʼabal sings like the birds, speaks Kʼicheʼ Maya and thinks like weʼd wish most men thinked.”[6]


Akʼabʼal has been given many awards and honors from around the globe, including:[7]

Akʼabal's book Guardián de la caída de agua (or "Guardian of the Waterfall" in English) was named book of the year by Association of Guatemalan Journalists and in 1993 received their Golden Quetzal award.[7] In 1995 he received an honorary degree from the Department of Humanities of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. In 2004 he declined to receive the Guatemala National Prize in Literature because it is named for Miguel Ángel Asturias, whom Akʼabal accused of encouraging racism. He said Asturias' 1923 essay The Social Problem of the Indian, "Offends the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, of which I am part."[9] The young Asturias proposed a program of eugenics —focused on the assimilation of Guatemala's Indians into its mestizo (in local usage “ladino”) population— as a remedy to the ills of the Guatemalan nation, a process he would promote by encouraging European immigration.[10]

Selected works[edit]

  • (1993) Guardián de la caída de agua ("Guardian of the Waterfall" in English)
  • (1999) Poems I Brought Down from the Mountain
  • (2000) Con los ojos despues del mar (Vado ancho)
  • (2001) Ovillo De Seda
  • (2004) Chʼanalik
  • (2005) Entre patojos / Among patojos
  • (2010) Drum of Stone [11]

Personal life[edit]

After starting his career as a poet, Akʼabʼal moved back to his village. He lived in Momostenango, where he focused solely on his writing.

Akʼabʼal died in a Guatemala City hospital on 28 January 2019.[12]


  1. ^ a b The Routledge history of Latin American culture. Salomon, Carlos Manuel, 1967-. New York, NY. ISBN 9781138902565. OCLC 957608825.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Elizabeth,, Chacón, Gloria. Indigenous cosmolectics : kabʼawil and the making of Maya and Zapotec literatures. Chapel Hill. ISBN 9781469636825. OCLC 1055160998.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  4. ^ "Humberto Akabal". (in Spanish). Retrieved 2018-10-16.
  5. ^ Akʼabal, Humberto (2001). Ajkem tzij (in Spanish). Cholsamaj Fundacion. ISBN 9789992256404.
  6. ^ Rustrián, Daniel. "Compendio de histórico de Guatemala". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ a b "Humberto Akʼabal: Biogrpahy". Humberto Akʼabal. Retrieved 2017-11-27.
  8. ^ "Guggenheim Foundation 2006 Fellows". John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. 2006. Archived from the original on October 27, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  9. ^ "In Brief: Poet Rejects Literary Award". Canadian Broadcasting Centre. 2004-01-23. Retrieved 2008-11-10.
  10. ^ Webre, Stephen (2010-03-26). "Sociología Guatemalteca: El Problema Social del Indio (review)". The Americas. 66 (4): 579–580. doi:10.1353/tam.0.0264. ISSN 1533-6247.
  11. ^ "Humberto Akʼabal - Poet". Retrieved 2018-11-11.
  12. ^ Montenegro, Gustavo (28 January 2019). "Fallece el poeta kʼiché Humberto Akʼabal" (in Spanish). Prensa Libre. Retrieved 29 January 2019.


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