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Telling and Being Told

Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures

Paul M. Worley

Publication Year: 2013

Through performance and the spoken word, Yucatec Maya storytellers have maintained the vitality of their literary traditions for more than five hundred years. Telling and Being Told presents the figure of the storyteller as a symbol of indigenous cultural control in contemporary Yucatec Maya literatures. Analyzing the storyteller as the embodiment of indigenous knowledge in written and oral texts, this book highlights how Yucatec Maya literatures play a vital role in imaginings of Maya culture and its relationships with Mexican and global cultures.
Through performance, storytellers place the past in dynamic relationship with the present, each continually evolving as it is reevaluated and reinterpreted. Yet non-indigenous actors often manipulate the storyteller in their firsthand accounts of the indigenous world. Moreover, by limiting the field of literary study to written texts, Worley argues, critics frequently ignore an important component of Latin America’s history of conquest and colonization: The fact that Europeans consciously set out to destroy indigenous writing systems, making orality a key means of indigenous resistance and cultural continuity.
Given these historical factors, outsiders must approach Yucatec Maya and other indigenous literatures on their own terms rather than applying Western models. Although oral literature has been excluded from many literary studies, Worley persuasively demonstrates that it must be included in contemporary analyses of indigenous literatures as oral texts form a key component of contemporary indigenous literatures, and storytellers and storytelling remain vibrant cultural forces in both Yucatec communities and contemporary Yucatec writing.

Published by: University of Arizona Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-xiii

My interest in Latin American indigenous literatures began when I met Mariano Bonilla Caamal as a student in UNC–Chapel Hill’s Yucatec Maya program in the summer of 2004. I was assigned to spend several hours each day in Bonilla Caamal’s home honing my language skills, and...

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1. Who Tells What to Whom and How: Orality, Literacy, and Cultural Control

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pp. 1-29

After three days of recording oral stories, my collaborator Mariano Bonilla Caamal and his family prepared a large meal in his house and invited many of the people who had participated in the Tsikbal ich maya oral literature project. Wanting to make myself useful, on hearing the radishes had run...

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2. Writing THE Word: Storytellers, Cultural Brokers, and the Shape of Indigenous Memory

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pp. 30-60

The situation possesses the trappings of an archetypal romance. Upon being confronted by the ruins of a mysterious ancient city, a white explorer turns to one of the natives for a bit of local knowledge. Setting the scene, the narrator informs us: “The Indians regard these ruins with superstitious...

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3. Into the Archive: Cultural Brokers, Cultural Control, and WritingOral Maya Literature in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 61-94

The previous chapter focused on a particular story, loosely titled “The Dwarf of Uxmal,” and how the different folklorizations of such an oral text can have radically divergent meanings. These dissimilarities are even more apparent when one contrasts these versions with how the same story...

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4. “I’ll tell you the story . . .” : Mariano Bonilla Caamal and Storytelling as Cultural Control

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pp. 95-132

In addition to being where Landa held his 1562 auto-da-fé, the town of Maní is also famous for a number of other things. It is the former seat of the Maya Xiu dynasty, home to the bilingual school Doroteo Arango that was formerly run by the Maya activist and playwright Armando Dzul Ek, and...

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5. Telling Maya Modernity: The Works of María Luisa Góngora Pacheco, Ana Patricia Martínez Huchim, and Briceida Cuevas Cob

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pp. 133-160

As outlined in the previous chapter, Yucatec Maya storytelling must be considered an episteme, and stories such as “The Story of Juan Rabbit” contain the formulae, tropes, and narrative structures that serve as a basis from which to articulate performances of new stories like “The Waiter and the Gringo.”...

Appendix 1: “The Dwarf of Uxmal” as told by Luis Gonzaga (José May)

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pp. 161-163

Appendix 2: “The Dwarf of Uxmal” as told by Humberto Bonilla Caamal

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pp. 164-167

Appendix 3: “The Story of Juan Rabbit” as told by Mariano Bonilla Caamal

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pp. 168-174


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pp. 175-180

Works Cited

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pp. 181-193


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pp. 195-198

About the Author

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pp. 199-217

E-ISBN-13: 9780816599097
E-ISBN-10: 0816599092
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816530267
Print-ISBN-10: 0816530262

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 2 maps, 1 photo
Publication Year: 2013