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Monkey Business Theatre

By Robert M. Laughlin and Sna Jtz'ibajom

Publication Year: 2008

In 1983, a group of citizens in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, formed Sna Jtz’ibajom, the Tzotzil-Tzeltal Maya writers’ cooperative. In the two decades since, this group has evolved from writing and publishing bilingual booklets to writing and performing plays that have earned them national and international renown. Anthropologist Robert M. Laughlin has been a part of the group since its beginnings, and he offers a unique perspective on its development as a Mayan cultural force. The Monkey Business Theatre, or Teatro Lo’il Maxil, as this branch of Sna Jtz’ibajom calls itself, has presented plays in virtually every corner of the state of Chiapas, as well as in Mexico City, Guatemala, Honduras, Canada, and in many museums and universities in the United States. It has presented to the world, for the first time in drama, a view of the culture of the Mayas of Chiapas. In this work, Laughlin presents a translation of twelve of the plays created by Sna Jtz’ibajom, along with an introduction for each. Half of the plays are based on myths and half on the social, political, and economic problems that have confronted—and continue to confront—the Mayas of Chiapas.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword. The Visitors’ Question

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pp. ix-xx

For fifteen years, most of my opportunities to see the plays of the Monkey Business Theatre, Teatro Lo’il Maxil, have come about through the happy coincidence of being where the company was performing at the right moment. As a friend of cofounder Robert M. Laughlin and several of the original actors, I have always kept an eye on the performance’s effect on the spectators, whether the show is Torches for a New Dawn presented in the plaza...

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Preface. Recollections of a Ghost

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pp. xxi-xxvi

One January morning in 1989, I found myself in a clearing surrounded by scrubby woods on the outskirts of the old provincial capital of Chiapas, San Crist

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pp. xxvii-xxxiii

A great host of people, many known and many more unknown, have given life and substance to the Monkey Business Theatre, Teatro Lo’il Maxil, projecting The first word of thanks should go to Karen Bassie, who reformatted this text and undid in the play scripts Word’s magical trick of turning all italics into regular print and all regular ...

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Pronunciation and Translation

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pp. xxxiv-xxxv

Tzotzil and Tzeltal vowels are as in Spanish, as is the j. X is as sh. An apostrophe between vowels is a glottal stop as in the modern pronunciation of “uh-oh,” Jewish Brooklynese “bottle,” and “Hawaii.” Consonants followed by an A word on the translations: I had suggested that a good first play could be based on “The Buzzard Man” tales (t42, t43, t48 and t69) I had translated ...

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1. Looking Back, Looking Forward: In the Beginning

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pp. 1-8

When I first landed in the colonial city of San Crist

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2. Febrero Loco: A Live Theatre in the Making

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pp. 9-16

In 1989, we brought Ralph Lee from New York City to Chiapas. “. . . [A]s artistic director of the Mettawee River Company, which performs as an itinerant troupe in rural upstate New York and New England during the summer, [Ralph] had for years peopled the stage with spirits, gods, and demons from around the Greenwich Village’s famous Halloween parade, he had filled the streets with giant masks and puppets. What magical figures would he...

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3. The Theatre on the Road: The Great Adventure

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pp. 17-22

When the actors of the Teatro Lo’il Maxil puppet theatre first ventured to distant hamlets, carrying the wooden curtain frame on their backs or on muleback, it seemed a great adventure. It was less so when they graduated to buses, and the bus drivers refused to transport the boards without a hefty tip. Shifting to light metal poles solved the problem. The theatre tours sometimes had an extraordinary...

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4. Personal and Social Impacts

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pp. 23-32

In 1992 the state of chiapas gave scholarships to two young men to join the cast and learn from us. From far away Cancuc, they were considered by Zinacantecs to be “forest animals.” The first day the men watched our bizarre exercises intently. Then, the second day, they added their own playfulness with an abandon no one could believe. Although unrelated, Petul and Xun 2 looked almost identical, and soon we were calling both of...

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5. The Immokalee Special: Social Action in Florida

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pp. 33-40

In 1994 Allan Burns, a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, arranged with Laura Germino of Guadalupe Social Services and with Greg Absted and Lucas Ben

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6. The Future

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pp. 41-42

For the Mayas time is thought to be cyclical. The future repeats and develops from the past. Just so, Mayan myths repeat old truths, but adapt them constantly to the present situation. The same is true of the Monkey Business Theatre. Currently, the major support for the cooperative is from the State of Chiapas and Oxfam International. We were concerned that government involvement might threaten the cooperative’s...


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pp. 43-44

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The Loafer and the Buzzard

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pp. 45-58

Four first play I suggested a folktale I had collected (Laughlin1977) that was widely known in Mexico and Guatemala. Versions of what I call here The Loafer and the Buzzard (El harag

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Who Believes in Spooks?

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pp. 59-74

Who believes in spooks? (

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Deadly Inheritance

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pp. 75-98

Tziak informed us that he would like a different kind of play this year, not based on myths, but on gossip. He recounted a recent case of murder in his town, Tenejapa, where two brothers, after their father died, murdered their two sisters to appropriate their land. For those who romanticize Mayan culture and, particularly, Mayan family life, this play will be a surprise, for it revolves around one of the most feared ...

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Jaguar Dynasty

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pp. 99-120

Jaguar dynasty (Dinast

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Let’s Go to Paradise!

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pp. 121-148

The idea for Let’s Go to Paradise! (¡Vámonos al paraíso!) was born in 1992 as the theatre group was returning by bus from Honduras. As we passed by many coffee fincas in the Soconusco region of southwestern Chiapas, suddenly Maryan pointed to a sign at a finca entrance. “I worked there!” he exclaimed. As he began to recall his suffering while working as a coffee picker, I suggested ...

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From All for All

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pp. 149-172

For the first time, not a single word had been written upon Ralph’s arrival. Andrés Fábregas Puig, director of the Instituto Chiapaneco de Cultura, suggested we touch on the present situation: the overrunning of four towns, including San Cristóbal de las Casas, on New Year’s Day 1994 by the ezln, the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Protesting the disastrous effect of ...

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Torches for a New Dawn

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pp. 173-196

Torches for a new dawn (Antorchas para el amanecer) focuses on the necessity of replacing the current disastrous education system with a truly bilingual model, staffed by Mayas who respect their culture. Indians make up twelve percent of Mexico’s population, and they speak one or more of fifty-six languages that the general public refers to as dialectos. In fact, many of these ...

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The Story of Our Roots

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pp. 197-224

The story of our roots (El cuento de nuestras raices) is based on the play Christ I Never Knew You! which I wrote many years ago, drawing on a folktale that Xun’s uncle, Matyo Tanchak, told me. This play was accepted by Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino in California, but never performed. Year after year I suggested that it might be a good project for our theatre, but my suggested...

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Workers in the Other World

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pp. 225-246

Workers in the other world (Trabajadores en el otro mundo) is a revision of Don Tomate y sus coyotes, which was created the previous year in Immokalee, Florida. With raucously grim humor this play charts the travels of a pair of poor Chamulans who go to the border only to be tricked by the coyote. After they finally cross the border, they are driven across the country, packed in a ...

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When Corn Was Born

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pp. 247-260

When corn was born (Cuando nació el maíz) is a creation myth from Tenejapa, with similarities to other such myths throughout the Mayan world. The gods are unhappy that men and women happily crunching soft, edible pebbles, have forgotten them and are leading sinful lives. So with the aid of ants, they steal the Earth Lord’s corn. Finally, the Earth Lord, in his rich Ladino aspect, ...

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Mexico with Us Forever!

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pp. 261-280

The title Mexico with Us Forever! (¡Siempre México con nosotros!) was chosen to give a positive swing to the Zapatistas’ cry, “¡Jamás México sin nosotros!” (Never again Mexico without us!). This play, under the guidance of Michael Garcés, then producing artistic director of INTAR Hispanic American Arts Center of New York City, shows how political corruption, including the buying of votes, ...

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The World Turned on Its Head

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pp. 281-329

The world turned on its head (El planeta de cabeza), unlike the previous plays that were written collaboratively by the members of Sna, is the work of Rogelio Román Hernández de la Cruz, Petu’s son, who wrote it when he was eighteen. Because this play was to be performed on Valentine’s Day 2003 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to accompany the presentation of my ...

Appendix 1. Individuals Referred to in the Text

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p. 293-293

Appendix 2. Members and Former Members of Sna Jtz’ibajom

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pp. 294-295

Appendix 3. Length of Service

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p. 296-296


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pp. 297-298


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pp. 299-308


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pp. 309-315

E-ISBN-13: 9780292794535
E-ISBN-10: 0292794533
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292717596
Print-ISBN-10: 0292717598

Page Count: 351
Illustrations: 35 halftones, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: The Linda Schele Series in Maya and Pre-Columbian Studies

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Mexican drama.
  • Tzotzil drama.
  • Tzeltal drama.
  • Puppet theater -- Mexico.
  • Teatro Lo'il Maxil.
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