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Academic Paper

Title: Dennis Tedlock (translator and interpreter), Rabinal Achi: A Mayan drama of war and sacrifice
Karl Taube
Linguistic Field: Sociolinguistics
Subject Language: Bali
Abstract: Dennis Tedlock (translator and interpreter), Rabinal
Achi: A Mayan drama of war and sacrifice. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2003.

The Rabinal Achi, a colonial text of the K'iche'-speaking Maya of Rabinal, Guatemala, is an unusual document for a number of reasons. For one, it is a lengthy text of a Maya
dance drama concerning historical events before the Spanish conquest. The content is almost entirely pre-Hispanic and concerns such themes as courtly elite behavior and the arraignment and execution of a prisoner, the rebellious K'iche' war leader Cawek of the Forest People. For the colonial period, there is no Maya dramatic text of comparable
length and complexity. However, as a dance drama, the Rabinal Achi is as much a performance as it is a text.

Although early colonial forms must have existed, the earliest known version dates to 1850, the manuscript recorded by Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg. Brasseur came to Rabinal in 1855, soon after he acquired the famed K'iche' epic Popol Vuh. While temporarily serving as the parish priest in Rabinal, Brasseur learned of the Rabinal Achi drama. Although he did not obtain the manuscript then owned by Bartolo Sis, he was able to transcribe the K'ichean text. In addition, Brasseur helped revive the dramatic performance, which he witnessed in 1856, the first time it had been played in some 30 years. As it turns out, his 1862 publication of the Rabinal Achi in French and the Achi dialect of K'iche' also helped ensure the continuity of the drama in Rabinal, as Brasseur sent a copy of the book to his assistant in Rabinal, Nicolas Lopez. Transcribed versions of the Achi K'iche' text from the Brasseur edition of 1862 have continued to be used by dance masters in Rabinal to this day.


This article appears IN Language in Society Vol. 36, Issue 3.

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