Author Archives: Nicolás Arcos López

The secrets for scaring away the x-wäläk ok

María de Jesús Martínez Pérez and Adelaida López Gutiérrez. BA in Lengua y Cultura, 6th semester, Oxolotán, Tabasco.

It is said that the secret to scare away the x-wäläk ok (trickster elf) are: holy water, a liter of trago or tequila, playing cards, dice, marbles and a mirror. Once you have all these things, at midnight you have to go out and wait for the x-wäläk ok. In order to understand the ways of the x-wäläk ok you have to spend some time with him and play with him for a while and you also have to take the liquor with you so you can get him drunk.

Once drunk, the x-wäläk ok will start to cry like a child, and once he has lost consciousness,  you have to give him a good lashing so he won’t bother you again. Then you say three Hail Marys, three Our Fathers, and a Psalm 91, and this is how you ensure that the x-wäläk ok will not bother you again.

Consultant: Rosa del Carmen García García, 36 years old from Nueva Reforma, Municipality of Tacotalpa, Tabasco.

Another one of the secrets to free yourself from the x-wäläk ok is to weave two leaves of palm trees together and then throw them behind you in the path while you’re walking so that the x-wäläk ok will get distracted and then you can find the path again.

Consultant: Eliseo Martínez Pérez, 42 years old, from the community of Campamento Mirador, Municipality of Sabanilla, Chiapas.

Another trick is that you take a shit in the middle of the woods or in whatever place where you are, and then the x-wäläk ok take the shit it in his hands and he’ll start to smear it on his head and use it to comb his hair. You’ll distract him this way, because the x-wäläk ok will think it is perfume because he doesn’t know what it is. Then while he is distracted, you can go and look for the path and you can manage to get away.

Another one of the secrets is that you have to turn around everything you wear and you have to put it on backwards: shoes, clothes, hat, backpack. You have to put everything backwards so you can go out.

Consultant: Eliseo Martínez Pérez, 42 years old, from the community of Campamento Mirador, Municipality of Sabanilla, Chiapas.

Another one of the secrets to keep the x-wäläk ok from bothering you is that you have to do the special rites that our grandparents believed in. You have to burn candles and you have to offer some sacrifices in order to calm down his anger. If you are going out to hunt any animals you have to make sure that the animal that you are hunting is for your own subsistence, so that your children can eat, and this way the x-wäläk ok will stay calm. But if you just kill animals for killing and leave them lying there, that is where the x-wäläk ok will intervene to play with your thoughts and to get you lost, to punish you, so that you learn the lesson that everything in the woods has a lord.

The warning of the wäläk ok


Narrated by: Claudia Vázquez
From: Nueva Reforma, Tacotalpa, Tabasco.
Elaborated by: María de Jesús Martínez Pérez  
                           Adelaida López Gutiérrez
BA students in Lengua y Cultura, 6th semester in Oxolotán, Tabasco

On Septebmer 7th 2017, Mrs. Claudia was in her house cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen before going to bed. She began to hear noises, as if someone was washing a lot of pots. She thought it must be her neighbor still awake.

Mrs. Claudia went to peek in the corridor of her neighbor’s house to see if the light was on, but there was nothing, and it looked as if the neighbor had already gone to bed.

She went back to her house, but still heard the noises of the pots banging, but even louder. She was scared and went to wake up her husband.

She told her husband that down in the stream someone was banging pots really loudly, but Mr. Jorge didn’t hear anything. She thought it must be the the lord of the creek, the wäläk ok.

Mrs. Claudia was really scared and shouted: ¡Oh my God, what’s happening!

Once she stopped hearing the noise, she felt a strong earthquake. She yelled and woke up all of her family and neighbors. She thanked the wäläk ok, the lord of the creek, for warning about the the earthquake with the noises he had made.

Drawing 1.  By María de Jesús Martínez Pérez.

Owl (kuj)

The kuj is a bird that has won the respect, admiration, and fear of the Ch’ol people because of his wisdom and knowledge. The owl is capable of predicting, alerting, and communicating dangers within the community. They say that if the kuj cries out in the night near a person’s house, then there will be health problems with someone in that house, or someone will have an accident or even die.  In some cases when the community members notice the presence of the owl, they go out of their house to scare him away, or even try to kill him. But the effort is in van, because the problems will still happen.

The owl we hear at night or in the morning
Jiñi xkuj mi jkubiloñ tyi ak’lel o che’ tyi weñ säk’añ

We are afraid because we don't know if the message is for our family
Mi kbäjñalojoñ kome mach jkulik mi wä’ mi kaj yujtyel wokol

Sometimes it only scares us on its way to another place
Tyajoljach mi kbäktyesaloñ cha’añ mi majlel tyi yambä lumal

I don't kill it because it could be the nahual of another person
Joñoñ ma’añik mi ktsäñtsañ ame iwäyik lakpi’ilob

Corn (Ixim)

The first people in this land believed that we were created by our gods from corn, and this is also what the writers of the book the Popol Vuh tell us. This makes sense because it is the base of our food, it nourishes us, keeps us alive, and gives us strength. We drink it in the form of pozol and atole. We eat it as corn on the cob, tortillas, empanadas, and tamales. There are many different kinds of corn that can be grown in our communities. There are big and small corns, and red, white, yellow, and blue corn. Our grandparents teach that we cannot leave corn thrown on the ground, and we also can’t leave the seeds in the path in the mountains, because they say it cries. They say that if we don’t appreciate the corn, it will not thrive in our fields.

Ch’ol corn

Sounds in Ch’ol

  • “(when he gets hurt) a dog goes ayay”                                 Ay’ayña jiñi ts’i’
  • “people’s walking goes boxbox”                                            Boxboxña ixämbal lakpi’ilob
  • “(when she gets grabbed) the hen cries ch’ech’e”               Ch’ech’eña yuk’el xña’ muty’
  • “(when it turns on) the car goes ch’erch’er”                          Ch’erch’erña jiñi karu
  • “(with the chirp of the crickets) the night goes ch’irch’ir”   Ch’irch’irña jiñi ak’lel
  • “the rain falls ch’orch’or”                                                          Ch’orch’orña mi yajle ja’al
  • “(when it gets hit), the window goes chek’chek’”                  Chek’chek’ña imajk otyoty’
  • “the chicks go chi’chi’”                                                             Chi’chi’ña almuty’
  • “the ducks go  josjos”                                                               Josjosña jiñi pech
  • “the flying of the bird goes lesles”                                         Leslesña iwejlel muty’
  • “the cow goes mo’mo’”                                                            Mo’mo’ña wakax
  • “the sick person cries sik’sik’”                                                 Sik’sik’ña jiñi xsijmal
  • “the cicadas go ts’irts’ir”                                                          Ts’irts’irña jiñi jichityin
  • “the old radio goes ts’orts’or”                                                 Ts’orts’orña ñoxi radio
  • “the baby goes we’we’”                                                            We’we’ña aläl
  • “the dog goes wojwoj”                                                            Wojwojña jiñi ts’i’

The jaguar (bajlum)

picture of a jaguar ‘bajlum’

  1. A long time ago, the first people were very afraid of the jaguar
  2. they say he scratched and knocked down big trees
  3. sometimes we run into jaguars in the jungle
  4. some became extinct because they were hunted and only a few managed to escape
  5. jaguars came to kill and eat the poultry on people’s property
  6. the hunters brought along their dogs to chase them down
  7. they run to climb into the woods to hide
  8. kids are scared when they find a jaguar
  9. they say that jaguars imitate the sounds of children
  10. now, people don’t kill jaguars anymore because they say they are the nahuales (spirit animals) of people


Note: In the original Ch’ol text of this post note that the plural marker –ob is used in a variety of contexts


The Water Lord (Jiñi Yum Ja’)

Nicolás Arcos López

  1. The Water Lord (Jiñi Yum Ja’).
  2. In San Miguel, Salto de Agua, Chiapas, there is a waterfall called Misolha (from misol ‘sweep’, and ja’ ‘water’) ‘fall of water’. Today this place is one of the major tourist centers of the municipality, and is frequently visited by people from different parts of the country and from abroad. But the first settlers who encountered the waterfall tell of the dangers that the yum ja’ (water lord).
  3. One evening, when the Ch’ol people were searching for land for planting, they heard the sound of water in the distance. They were tired and quite thirsty, so they went in search of the water, but they never imagined that they would run into the yum ja’ there. At that time, he did not show himself in person, but he used the ik’ (air), the ja’al (rain) and the mam (lightning) to send messages.
  4. The first thing that impressed people was the height of the falls and the rainbow that formed above the water. Then suddenly, a voice was heard saying…
  5. “I know that you were expelled from your community and have nowhere else to stay. That’s the only way I let people enter my house. But as for the people who do not respect my house I will not respect them either, and that’s how it will be with your wives, brothers, and children.”
  6. After having listened to the yum ja’, the group felt sad and unsure about his welcome, because they did not know what to expect, or what would happen to them if they did not fulfill his wishes. The next day, the small group of Ch’oles left again for their places of origin to go in search of their relatives and other people who had wanted to found a new community.
  7. Once the Ch’ol people managed to settle near the waterfall, they started hunting animals for their food, they started logging and burning many swaths of rainforests for their crops, and then they even began to steal treasures that were hidden in the mountains and caves. When the yum ja’ became aware of this situation he began to communicate his anger through dreams with laktyaty (‘our father’):
  8. “I saw how the kaxlans (Ladino people) came to burn houses. The tenants of the place cried and it was impossible to show resistance, because the group that had come to harm them were mounted and carried machetes.”
  9. Laktyaty, surprised by the revelation, called a meeting to gather the inhabitants of the community and communicates the message he had heard. However, his words were not taken into account and many men and women continued with the same practices as before.
  10. The yum ja’ realized that his words had been disobeyed, so he again reached out to the laktyaty and his community:
  11. ‘’You saw how the ja’al flooded the houses and the crops near the rivers and streams. The roofs of houses, trees and crops fell by the forces of ik’. Mam flashed and shouted at sunset and nightfall.”
  12. Laktyaty understood that the dreamed message had come from the yum ja’ and after reaching consensus with his family, they decided to bring him an offering and prayers. But suddenly a current of air extinguished the candles and they heard a voice that said:
  13. “So this is how they repay me for the favors I gave them? I inhabit this house and I will not allow it to be destroyed!”
  14. Laktyaty again tells his family and friends about the event, and manages to convince some of their children so that each year they bring a token of gratitude to the yum ja’. Still not satisfied with this situation, the yum ja’ meets Ik’, Ja‘al and Mam, and each one asks for support to defend the inhabitants of the jungle.
  15. The Ja’al constantly floods the well of Misolha, it makes it deeper and more turbid, and that prevents people from enjoying the natural color and beauty of the water. This in turn generates economic losses for the owners of established businesses there.
  16. The Ik’, is in charge of sweeping the clouds to other places and with its blowing it also often generates large fires in the mountains and in the crops in the burning season. It also creates a whirlpool to trap and submerge people in the depths of the waterfall.
  17. The Mam, for his part, flashes and shouts the passage of the ik’ and ja’al; he burns the looters physically and spiritually and when he can, he goes back to hiding the treasures in inaccessible places.
  18. The yum ja’ is still alive and constantly visits the community of San Miguel.

Cascada Misolha

Chajk’: lighting

Chajk’: The word means “lightning”, also known as the ña’al ja’al ‘mother of the rain’. In some Ch’ol communities it can punish people who break the sacred rules between man and nature, that is, if a person extracts a resource without the permission of the yum pañämil ‘God of nature’ or ‘Owner of nature’ the chajk’ is guided towards these people with its fire and ax. In some cases it causes instant death, or it simply gives them a warning and a little scare. To get people to heal quickly from shock it is necessary that they be treated with the ax that the bolt left behind.

Second workshop in Yajalón

On March 5th 2018 we had the second workshop of the National Geographic-funded Ch’ol documentation project. The event took place at the Unidad Académica Multidisciplinaria Yajalón, part of the Universidad Intercultural of Chiapas (UNICH). Fifteen students of the Language and Culture BA program participated in the workshop.

Dr. Juan and Dr. Bernabé

Morelia, Juan and Bernabé

Morelia explaining how to use the recorder

Workshop participants


Introduction: Nicolás

Nicolás and Juan José, chatting.                                          My name is Nicolás Arcos López and I’m originally from the town of San Miguel, Salto de Agua, Chiapas. Now I work at the Universidad Intercultural del Estado de Tabasco. I did a bachelor’s degree in history at the Universidad Juárez Autónoma de Tabasco in Villahermosa. After that, I did my master’s degree in Indoamerican linguistics at CIESAS-DF. I like teaching and learning about topics in Indigenous languages. And am now participating in the project supported by National Geographic Explorers.

Uriel and Joél.