Q’anjob’al Poetry
category: Jims Guatemala

Way back when we were taking regular Mayan language classes, I remember asking someone if there were any Q’anjob’al poets. I got a strange look, and after a pause, they said “I dont think so. No, I’m pretty sure there aren’t.” This was disappointing, but not a huge surprise: Q’anjob’al only has about 140,000 speakers worldwide; and within living memory, wasn’t even a written language.

So imagine my surprise when I was in a book store in Antigua last week and saw Sq’anej Maya (“Mayan Words”) on the shelf. I thought, “Hey, that looks like Q’anjob’al!” and flipped the book over to see a familiar face on the author’s bio: Gaspar Pedro González. You might rember him from a post last fall, when I read his novel A Mayan Life. He’s a well-educated Q’anjob’al Mayan from Soloma, only about an hour and a half south of here. Besides being the only Q’anjob’al fiction writer I’ve ever heard of, apparently he’s also a poet.

In true Guatemalan fashion, the price tag on the book was pretty hefty: 108Q. I was torn with indecision, so I asked Emily what she thought. “If you don’t buy it, you’ll never see it again,” she replied(1). So now I am the proud owner of a tiny book of Mayan poetry. Even better, though, is that the book is a side-by-side book, meaning it has Q’anjob’al on one page, and Spanish translations of the poems on the facing page. Yeah, I know that wouldn’t be helpful for most of you, but for those of you like Karen that DO read both, it’s a rare, cool literary gem.

At the risk of getting my butt sued(2), I’d like to reprint a few stanzas of one of the poems I really like, so you can get a feel for the way the language rolls. This is from “Tzalojk’ulal” (Happiness) by Gaspar Pedro González:


Tix wal naq winaq ti’.

!Tuqanhintoq sjolom witz

mayayi yilitoq ta kaytu’

nab’ a wal txekeltatoq,

masanil jan sjolomlaq witz

b’ay kajan hiiiin!



Aqui está el hombre.

!Veo desde esta cumbre

la extensión inmensa

de la lejanía del paisaje,

más allá de las cumbres

en donde viiiivo!


Yeeee ha!  

Here’s the man.

I watch from this lofty ridge

the clear beauty

of this broad land

and each surrounding peak

of this place I liiiive!


I’ve been thinking, and now I have to find a way to get another copy of the book. There’s kid I know named Ronald, he’s about Chalio’s age and is equally clever. But instead of fixing things and making cool toys like Chalio, he writes poetry. He does it in Spanish, though, and I think that if he had a book like this it might inspire him to write poetry in his native tongue as well. I will have to keep my eye open next time I am in the big city, where they have book stores.

(1) Turns out she was right, it doesn’t even appear on Amazon.com

(2) Maybe I will contact the author and try to get permission to reprint this poem in its entirety, when I make this blog into a book. It’s a great poem.

(3) Forgive my English translation; the Q’anjob’al version and the Spanish version, both by González, are not always similar line-for-line. I tried to stay closer to the Q’anjob’al version.

Posted by: jfanjoy