Workshop 2: ELAN transcription

Members of the Ch’ol documentation project convened June 7th and 8th at CIESAS-Sureste in San Cristóbal de las Casas for a workshop focused on file management and transcription, organized by Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez and Jessica Coon, and with ELAN and audio file editing tutorials by Justin Royer and Sandra Cruz Gómez.

the group at work transcribing

Groups traveled from Oxolotán Tabasco (led by Nicolás Arcos López) and Yajalón, Chiapas (led by Bernabé Vázquez Sánchez). Altogether, they had collected more than 30 hours of Ch’ol recordings during the first phase of the project. During phase 2, they will select their favorite narratives to transcribe and translate. At the end, all materials will be uploaded to the Archive of Indigenous Languages of Latin America (AILLA).

Workshop 2 participants, back row: Bernabé Vázquez Sánchez, Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez, Sandra Cruz Gómez, Nicolás Arcos López, Félix López López, Jessica Coon, Justin Royer, Morelia Vázquez Martínez Front row: Patricia López Vázquez, Nilda Gúzman López, Lourdes Méndez Sánchez, Matilde Vázquez Vázquez

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.

Chol variants: Tila and Tumbalá

Our language has different variants, and depending on the place in which it is spoken it can be identified as the dialect of Tila or of Tumbalá. Some words are different, but they have the same meaning. Here are some examples:

Tila                                        Tumbalá              Meaning

Tyuñ                                     Xajlel                    Rock

Ch’ijch’um                         Ñi’uk’                   chayote

Ch’ek’ajk                            Luty                       roasted corn

Yum                                      Tatuch                  grandfather

Luty                                      Loj                         twin

Mam                                    Buts                      grandchild

Chonkol                              Woli                      to be doing (progressive)

Majlel                                  Sam                       go

Yoke ja’as                           Ichija’as              banana

Chakal                                  Pits’il                     naked

K’uk’um                              Tsutsel                 feather

Tyejch                                  Kej                         round and flat (classifier of shapes)

Toñel                                   E’tyel                    work

Xä’bäl                                   Käkäw Sa’           chocolate pozol

Xajk’ul                                 Pats’                     bean tamale

Xäk’ä’                                   Bu’lewaj              bean tortilla

Sets’                                     Ch’ejew              clay plate

Xk’aläl                                  Xch’ok                  young woman

Bujk                                      P’o’                       clothing

Other words are not so different, but the pronunciation changes, for example

Momoñ                               Momoy            Hierba Santa

Pusk’al                                 Pusik’al             heart

Semety                               Semejty              comal

Yujmel                                 Yunjel                   unlce

Jomoch’                              Jomojch              Joloche

Mep’                                    Ñep’                     crab

Pejpem                             Pejpeñ                 butterfly

Ts’ijñ                                    Ts’ijm                   yuca

Je’el                                      Ja’el                      also

Ma’añ                                  Ma’añik               no, there aren’t

Ajñisañ                                Ajñesañ               chase it!

k’änjol                                 K’ajñol                  pillow

Xiye’                                     Xäye’                    eagle

A’bälel                                 Ak’lel                    night

Pijchik’                                 Pintsik’                 zanate

Che’jk’o’                             Ch’ejk’u’             woodpecker

The following audio was recorded by Silvestre Gómez Jiménez, a cultural promoter who worked in CELALI:

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

Ch’ol music

In some Chol communities in Tila, Chiapas, the traditional music known as Malintzin is still conserved. It can be heard in different religious festivals, for example during Christmas, New Years, and the Festivals of the Virgin of Guadaluple, the Señor de Tila, Santa Cruz, and many more. A get together happens in the houses of the mayordomos, and the music is there to lift the spirits of the visitors and of the celebrated saints. The musical fragment here belongs to the community of Nueva Esperanza, in the municipality of Tila, Chiapas.

The Ch’ol alphabet

The alphabet:

Our language Ch’ol is different from Spanish (and other languages). It is written differently and has its own special sounds. It has the following 29 letters:

The following are the sounds of the alphabet––listen:

This recording was made in the Centro Estatal de Lenguas, Arte y Literatura Indígenas (CELALI), located in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in 2009. The voice is of the Cultural Promotor, Silvestre Gómez Jiménez, originally from the community of Nuevo Limar, Tila.

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