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Palo Volador Mayan Dance in Cubulco Guatemala July 24 2014

This Palo Volador took place on July 24,2014 in Cubulco Guatemala as part of the celebration of their patron saint, St. James (July 23 to 25). The Palo Volador as presented in Cubulco is an ancient traditional Mayan dance/drama whose origin can be traced to the post classic K’iche’ document the “Popol Vuh” or “Book of the Community”. The main dancers are two monkeys. In the Popol Vuh, Hun-Chowen and Hun-Batz are defeated by their younger step-brothers, the Hero Twins, Hunahpú and Ixbalamqué and are transformed into monkeys. The hero twins are hunters while the vain elder brothers recite, sing, and do no work. One day the twins ask their elders to climb a Cante yellow wood tree to help them hunt. As the elder brothers climb the tree, the tree grew and the elders were unable to climb down. The hero twins tell their elders to untie their sashes and when they did this the sashes became tails and the elder brothers became monkeys. The hero twins return home and play the flute and drum and attract the older brothers now monkeys who dance and clown. The apparent moral messages are that vanity will be punished and one should not mistreat your brothers and do no work. Hun Bátz and Hun Chouén become the deities of art, dance, music and immorality as they danced naked to the music played by the twins.
In Cubulco on July 24,2014 a crowd gathered around the steps of the church in the center town square. It was a hot sunny day. An enormous tree about sixty feet high had been cut in the forests of the Paguesa community, and had been placed in front of the Catholic Church inside a deep hole. It is through solemn prayers and religious vigils that the correct tree had been selected and the ancestors deities thanked and appeased. The traditional method of felling the tree is by burning-thus the tree is selected by fire. The men ask the tree for forgiveness and appease its pain with home brewed beer. The tree is then carried into town by “400” men similar to the story of the 400 boys in the Popol Vuh. The hole is also sacred and blessed to insure success.
In the K’iche” version of this dance 4 men climb the pole but only 2 men descend at a time and they are dressed as monkeys. The monkeys slowly descend attached to ropes that slowly unwind as if the dancers are flying.
It is interesting to note that monkeys are not present in the western highlands of Guatemala. The precise origin of this dance will never be known but a form of this dance has been documented from central Mexico to Nicaragua. In a different interpretation of the dance there are four flyers dressed as birds and the pole represents the Mayan world tree. Itzamna –the principal bird deity and creator God sits on top of this world tree and plays the flute as the four flyers descend the pole attached to ropes. The four flyers may represent the four directions and /or the four Chacs that hold up the world. The descent may represent the passing of days. It is difficult to find references for these interpretations.  RD

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