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El Chapin

By Susana Raymundo

Nebaj is one of the towns in the Ixil región of the Quiche department. The Mayan culture continues to be strongly prevalent there, as in years past. The town is surrounded by huge mountains which serve to protect it from natural disasters. The following is a translation of one of the folk stories from this region (originally told in Ixil, the dialect spoken in the area).

There arrives a point when all the Ixil have left; I mean have left their roots. The culture remains because the grandparents are dedicated to the welfare of humanity, nature and the cosmos. There was a very large tree that bore the name of Nebaj, which was written on the back of its leaves. This tree was the master and protector of life for the Ixil. Leaves travelled the world by wind and people were impressed by the leaves. But supposedly the leaves caused disequilibrium in the health of the inhabitants of other nations, so they decided to go and find the tree to destroy it. The tree knew that there were people who wanted to destroy him, so it ordered the b’alvastishes (spiritual guides) to go out to prevent the chapin people from entering the town. The b’alvastishes obediently went out to confront them with only one branch of the tree, which they raised above the enemy. When the chapin people realized that these men brought a power above all powers, they decided to bring more comrades, with guns, and had to think up new strategies to succeed in reaching the tree. To avoid being killed the Ixil, the tree and the corn men made an agreement: they let the chapin people into Nebaj, allowing them to begin to cut down the great teacher. But they could not find anything which could pierce the bark. They finally found a tool with which they could cut through the stems from the tree, but they needed a long time to be able to even cut an inch, so they quickly got tired and went to rest. When they awoke they found that the tree was completely healthy again, without a scratch. Upon seeing this they initially thought they were hallucinating and so they returned to the job and repeated the process over and over again. The first group got so frustrated that they died from desperation, and it wasn’t until the third group that they decided to work day and night until they had finished the cutting.

The chapin people walked among the great mountains of Nebaj to find other sacred trees. One day they found another and made plans to cut it down, as their companions had done, but when they returned with their tools, the tree was gone, hiding itself from the chapin people to avoid being destroyed and to protect the roots of Ixil.

The place where the great tree was cut down is now one of the sacred altars in Nebaj, where they perform the ceremonies of the life of a new being.

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