James D. Sexton

Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlan, Guatemala translated and edited by James D. Sexton is a collection of folktales obtained in collaboration with Ignacio, a Guatemalan Indian whom Sexton met in 1970. Ignacio’s good relationship with the elderly in his village was invaluable in encouraging them to open up to him and to share their stories, stories that had been transmitted orally for centuries.

The 34 folktales in the collection are diverse. Some are for entertainment purposes only while others are for edification. Through these folktales, we learn about Mayan cultural values: the social obligations toward others; maintaining the proper attitude while participating in religious ceremonies and festivals; the gendered division of labor; the importance of sharing and compassion; the virtue of hard work; the proper way to grow crops; and respect for the environment. There is also a story of creation, which includes a modified version of the fall of first man and first woman.

The stories are populated with talking animals, humans transformed into animals and animals into humans, kettles and pans complaining about their burnt bottoms, talking beans and corn, tricksters and shamans, dragons and giants, and priests whose behavior is decidedly unpriestly. Some of the stories are funny; some are bawdy; some are edifying; but all are entertaining.


AuthorTamara Agha-Jaffar
CategoriesBook Review