Image - Cacao Pod Vessel - K6706 © Justin Kerr FAMSI © 2003:
J. Kathryn Josserand

Story Cycles in Chol (Mayan) Mythology: Contextualizing Classic Iconography
with Nicholas A. Hopkins, Ausencio Cruz Guzmán, Ashley Kistler, and Kayla Price
Vea este informe en Español.

Figure 2. Street scene, Calle Puc Te, Zoh Laguna, Campeche.

Research Year:  2002
Culture:  Maya
Chronology:  Classic to Contemporary
Location:  Palenque Area, México
Sites:  La Cascada, San Pedro Sabana, Palenque

Table of Contents

Project Summary
Field Work
Results to Date: Dramatis Personae in Chol Folktales
The Cast of Characters
Suggestions for Further Research
List of Figures
Sources Cited
Appendix I:   A Guide to Chol Narrative Literature
Appendix II:  Story Synopses (Summary) Ch’ol de Chiapas y Campeche, 2002 Field Season
Appendix III: Interviews and Recordings, Ch’ol de Chiapas y Campeche, 2002 Field Season

Project Summary

The immediate goal of this research project was to amplify the known corpus of folk narrative materials in Chol, a modern Mayan language closely related to the language of Classic Maya inscriptions. The motivation for the project was the belief that a systematic study of modern Maya traditions can contribute to the understanding of Classic Maya art, iconography, and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Classic Maya artifacts, especially ceramics, depict many supernaturals and personified animals. Often these characters are shown in activities that are reminiscent of scenes from the Popol Vuh, a sixteenth century Maya document from Highland Guatemala. Some of the episodes of the Popol Vuh stories are in turn reflected in modern Chol (and other Maya) folklore. Furthermore, the structure of traditional narratives in Chol and the rhetorical devices used therein resemble those of Classic Period historical narratives written in hieroglyphics (Hopkins and Josserand 1990). There is a reasonable chance, therefore, that a systematic investigation of the form and content of this folklore will shed light on the scenes shown on Classic vases and elsewhere in Classic Maya art.

There is a certain urgency to the task of collecting traditional folklore. While older generations are still fluent and skilled performers of folktales featuring traditional characters and motifs, the younger generations are less fluent Chol speakers and tend to be focussed on non-traditional culture.

Field work, carried out in the Summer of 2002, was concentrated on recording, transcribing, and translating samples of Chol folklore. We made special efforts to contact older speakers of Chol, and to work with persons who were identified as traditional storytellers. Prior to field work we had assembled and reviewed an extensive collection of published folktales in Chol and related languages, and we continued to acquire more locally published material during the field season.

In the interviews conducted in the field, we attempted to elicit new versions of folktales already known, as well as folktales not already attested. In general, interviewees would first be asked to tell any stories that came to mind, and later would be prompted to tell other stories in the known repertory. While this methodology has certainly not resulted in an exhaustive inventory of Chol folktales, it has resulted in a collection of the most salient folktales and folktale types, the stories and kinds of stories that come first to mind.

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Submitted 01/29/2003 by:
J. Kathryn Josserand
Florida State University
(Please direct any questions to )

With Great Sadness We Mourn the Passing of Dr. Kathryn Josserand.

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