The World of Humberto Ak’abal

by Diana Pastor

The world of Humberto Ak’abal is different from that of ordinary men because it is made of what many have lost: the power to appreciate the little things in life and nature. There is an interesting video on YouTube where this poet of Mayan origins sings some beautiful verses in the Quiché language. Listening is to be transported to the most beautiful and magical forests in the Guatemalan highlands, to hear the song of a bird singing in the ravines, to listen to the sounds of water in a river or to smell a crock pot cooking dinner on a wood stove. After you read Ak´abal for the first time, you are left with a curiosity to read more of his work that describes so simply, beautifully and accurately the landscapes common to the Mayan people.

Ak’abal was born in Momostenango and at a very young age – he was barely twelve years old – he moved to the capital to find work. He went through many struggles but even when he was suffering from hunger one of his greatest worries was not having enough money to buy himself a book that he had seen in the window of a bookstore. The book was The Picture of Dorian Gray and when Ak’abal finally returned to Momostenango from the capital he brought it with him as one of his few possessions.

Ak’abal opened a space in a world where literature was the domain solely of non-indigenous people. It was certainly not easy for him to publish his first book, but perseverance, humility and patience helped him tremendously. Ak’abal has not changed since this day: last year I had the opportunity to attend an event where he presented his latest book and he struck me as a man of gentle and simple temperament. When he reads one of his works his deep voice carries his listeners to his world, almost lost.

Although he has mainly dedicated himself to writing poetry, he has also written some short stories. He always writes in Quiché and then he translates his work into Spanish. His books have been translated into several languages and he is currently one of the most widely renowned Guatemalan poets in the world. Some of his most famous books are the Animalero, El Tejedor de Palabras and El guardián de la caída del agua. His collection of short stories, El animal de humo is written in his own style of magical realism.

Ak’abal says that if it was not for poetry, the world would have already been left mute and I believe he is right. In country so eternally beautiful but ever suffering, the words of his poems are something that rescues us from the madness.


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