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The Rabinal Achí is a Maya theatrical play written in the K'iche' language[1] and performed annually in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala. Its original name is Xajoj Tun, meaning "Trumpet Dance".[2]

Guatemalan masks on display. The Rabinal Achi depends on the use of such masks in all performances.


Rabinal Achí is a dynastic Maya drama from the fifteenth century and the only example of pre-Columbian Maya theatre known to have survived to the present day.[3] 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 a wooden slit-drum and two trumpets or shawms. This drama has been performed for more than eight centuries in Rabinal, and always takes place between the 12th and 25th of January to honor Saint Paul[4].

Early RecordingEdit

The drama was translated into French by Charles-Étienne Brasseur de Bourbourg, from an Achi narration of the cofrade Bartolo Sis in 1856, though he would not publish the text for ten more years. Bartolo Sis had transcribed the dialogue of the performance six years before. It is one of the only extant texts that remain from the pre-Columbian era, since many were lost after the land was conquered.



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 central focus of the Rabinal Achí is to tell the story of a feud that took place between the Rabinaleb and the K'iche' people. The dialogue uses repetition as a device to create poetic symbolism within the language. During the performance, K’iche’ Achí is captured and put on trial for having attempted to steal Rabinaleb’ children. Due to the gravity of the crime, Mayan Law dictates that K'iche' Achí must be sacrificed.


  • The Rabinal Achí, or prince of Rabinal
  • The K'iche Achí, or prince of the K'iche'.
  • The king of Rabinaleb'
  • Job'Toj
  • Achij Mun (his servant)
  • 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'.


The traditional Rabinal Achí costumes include vibrant colors and masks. All of the characters wear elaborate masks that are universally understood to represent certain characters. For instance, the jaguars and the eagles

Movement and MusicEdit

The movement for the piece is primarily cyclical, which represents the cycle of life and death that K'iche' Achí faces during the drama. The dialogue is likewise repetitive to perpetuate this notion[5].

The performers are called out into the playing area by the beating of the drum. This drum is played by a community member who has been trained on how to play the sacred drum from a young age.

Tradition and Present Day Rabinal AchíEdit

Since colonization in the sixteenth century, the Rabinal Achí dance has been performed on Saint Paul’s day on 25 January.[6] 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.[citation needed]

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


  1. ^ Akkeren 1999, p. 281.
  2. ^ Dennis Tedlock, Rabinal Achi, p. 200
  3. ^ The Mayas of the Classical Period. Milano, Italy: Jaca Book. 1999. p. 230. ISBN 881669002X. 
  4. ^ "El "Rabinal Achi"". Espiritualidad Maya de Guatemala. 
  5. ^ Carson, Margaret (2008). Stages of conflict: a critical anthology of Latin American theater and performance. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. 
  6. ^ UNESCO page on the Rabinal Achí


Akkeren, Ruud van (July 1999). "Sacrifice at the Maize Tree: Rab'inal Achi in its historical and symbolic context". Ancient Mesoamerica. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press. 10 (2): 281–295. doi:10.1017/s0956536199102104. ISSN 0956-5361. OCLC 364022517.  (subscription required)
Akkeren, Ruud van (2000). Place of the Lord's Daughter. Rab'inal, its history, its dance-drama. Leiden: CNWS. 
"El "Rabinal Achi"". Espiritualidad Maya de Guatemala. 
Lehnhoff, Dieter (2005). Creación musical en Guatemala (in Spanish). Guatemala: Editorial Galería Guatemala. pp. 180–84. ISBN 99922-704-7-0. 
Tedlock, Dennis (2003). Rabinal Achi. A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice. Oxford. 

Further readingEdit

Howell, Mark (2007). "Possible Prehispanic Music Survivals in the "Rab'inal Achi"". The World of Music. VWB - Verlag für Wissenschaft und Bildung. 49 (2, Music Archaeology: Mesoamerica): 105–138. JSTOR 4169968.  (subscription required)
Yurchenko, Henrietta (1990). "El Rabinal Achí, un drama del siglo XII de los mayas-quichés de Guatemala". Anales de la Academia de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala (in Spanish). Guatemala City, Guatemala: Academia de Geografía e Historia de Guatemala. LXIV: 169–182. ISSN 0252-337X. 

External linksEdit