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Rabinal Achi Part IV


The Rabinal Achí, a Mayan drama of war and sacrifice, which is found in Alcheringa was typically performed without a script. It was initially written down and completed, after 12 days, on January 25th, 1856 in gratitude to Abbot Brasseur de Bourbourg's healing of Bartolo Ziz's wife in the town of Rabinal located in the highlands of Guatemala. Rabinal Achi, “Man of Rabinal” is one of the play's two titles. The other is Xajoj Tun, “Dance of the Trumpets.” The second name can be attributed to the fact that the characters dance to the music of trumpets whenever they are not participating in the dialogue.

The text included in Alcheringa is the French-American poet Nathaniel Tarn's translation from the original Quiché and French edition of Brasseur de Bourbourg, Paris, 1862 and the Spanish edition of L. Cardoza y Aragón, Guatemala, 1929-1930.


Before the invasion of Mesoamerican civilizations, kingdoms would sponsor public dramas that portrayed major historical events. Typically, the dialogue was either sung back and forth by two choruses or while actors danced, a single chorus sang everything.

According to Dennis Tedlock in his book Rabinal Achi: A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice, “The early missionaries intervened in Mayan theater on a massive scale, substituting Christian hymns for Mayan songs or suppressing traditional productions altogether.” (2) When Europeans introduced their plays, they also introduced writing down a script. The first scripts of the Rabinal Achi, which have since been discarded or lost, go as far back as the 16th century.

However, Rabinal Achi is a descendent of one of the most popular plays to be produced in the early colonial period, possibly because it was contrary to the purpose of their colonizers.

Rabinal Achi is a dramatization of the capture and sacrifice of prisoners of war. The current script in use dates back to 1913.


“The play portrays Lord Five Thunder and Man of Rabinal as loyal supporters of an old order that has been disrupted by the unauthorized actions of Cawek.” (Tedlock 3)

Quiché-Achí threatens Chief Five Rains, but Chief Five Rains responds that he will now pay saying, “you’re going to die in this place, to disappear in this place.”

Quiché-Achí admits that he’s done wrong and asks for food and drink from Chief Five Rains before he dies. He is provided food and drink which he consumes and then insults Chief Five Rain stating that the food and drink in his lands is better.

He continues to make requests by asking for a piece of cloth which he is provided as “a supreme signal of his dying and of his disappearance” and then asks for music from the flute and drums. Quiché-Achí then dances around in the middle of the Court.

Next, he asks to dance with Chief Five Rain’s daughter and they dance together before the court. He then asks to parade with Chief Five Rain’s 12 golden eagles and 12 golden jaguars. After which he insults them for not having any teeth or talons. He then asks for 260 days to salute his mountains’ and valleys’ faces. In the performance he then approaches the eagles and jaguars at the altar and questions whether he really has to die, has to disappear and then concludes, “Come on then! Let’s get your work done! Let’s get your duty over with. They then surround him, place him on the altar and execute him.

In the end, Cawek accepts defeat, confesses to multiple offenses, and accepts his death. “This is an important point, because one of the recurrent themes running through the literature on the indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica is that their attitude toward life was and still is fatalistic.” (Tedlock 4)


Tedlock, Dennis. Rabinal Achi : A Mayan Drama of War and Sacrifice. Oxford University Press, 2003. EBSCOhost,

Tedlock, Dennis. 2000 Years of Mayan Literature. University of California Press, 2010. EBSCOhost,



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