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Xurt’an (the end of the world) showcases the rich storytelling traditions of the northern Lacandones of Naha’ through a collection of traditional narratives, songs, and ritual speech. Formerly isolated in the dense, tropical rainforest of Chiapas, Mexico, the Lacandon Maya constitute one of the smallest language groups in the world. Although their language remains active and alive, their traditional culture was abandoned after the death of their religious and civic leader in 1996. Lacking the traditional contexts in which the culture was transmitted, the oral traditions are quickly being forgotten.
This collection includes creation myths that describe the cycle of destruction and renewal of the world, the structure of the universe, the realms of the gods and their intercessions in the affairs of their mortals, and the journey of the souls after death. Other traditional stories are non-mythic and fictive accounts involving talking animals, supernatural beings, and malevolent beings that stalk and devour hapless victims. In addition to traditional narratives, Xurt’an presents many songs that are claimed to have been received from the Lord of Maize, magical charms that invoke the forces of the natural world, invocations to the gods to heal and protect, and work songs of Lacandon women, whose contribution to Lacandon culture has been hitherto overlooked by scholars. Women’s songs offer a rare glimpse into the other half of Lacandon society and the arduous distaff work that sustained the religion. The compilation concludes with descriptions of rainbows, the Milky Way as “the white road of Our Lord,” and an account of the solstices.
Transcribed and translated by a foremost linguist of the northern Lacandon language, the literary traditions of the Lacandones are finally accessible to English readers. The result is a masterful and authoritative collection of oral literature that will both entertain and provoke, while vividly testifying to the power of Lacandon Maya aesthetic expression.
About the Author
Suzanne Cook is an adjunct professor of linguistics at the University of Victoria. She is a former project director and principal investigator of the Volkswagen Foundation–sponsored Lacandon Cultural Heritage Project and the author of The Forest of the Lacandon Maya: An Ethnobotanical Guide.
"Xurt’an will appeal to students and scholars in the fields of folklore, anthropology, comparative literature, and performance studies. The scope of the oral narratives gathered here is notable, as is Cook’s discussion of some of the selections. . . . Xurt’an will certainly become a landmark in the study of Northern Lacandon Maya oral literature."—Sarah Alice Campbell, Journal of Folklore Research
“This is a very valuable piece of work for folklorists and linguists and is a huge contribution to scholarship in this area. I applaud Cook for including oral traditions recorded from Lacandon women. Lacandon women are largely ignored in the Lacandon ethnographic literature and archaeology, and until now I know of no compilation of Lacandon women’s stories. This is an outstanding service to the field.”—R. Jon McGee, professor of anthropology at Texas State University
“You will be quickly drawn into this presentation of language texts contributed by skilled Mayan narrators working in multiple literary genres while covering topics ranging from the earthly to the cosmological. The author’s attention to detail is unparalleled. The scope and quality of the narratives will take your breath away.”—Barry Carlson, editor of Northwest Coast Texts: Stealing Light
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