Mayan musicians Members of Children Who Sing and their instruments.Al Momento

Children Who Sing: preserving Mayan traditions with sculpture and music

The Mayas were excellent astronomers, and warriors, too, but they also sang and danced. And some of those musical traditions are being kept alive by a sculptor and musician in the town of Cacao, Yucatan.

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Arsenio Rosado Manzanero returned to his home town to teach painting to children, but before long he was also teaching them something else he knew: sculptures in wood and stone. It became a cultural, recreational and enjoyable activity for the youths, and also helped them avoid “bad temptations,” according to Manzanero.

After two years, he has 26 youngsters aged between 10 and 17 attending classes at the Center for Artistic Development, where he is director.

Among the pieces made by the children is the tunkul, which their teacher describes as a fundamental musical instrument of the Mayan culture, used in ceremonies and rituals.

But now some of Manzanero’s students aren’t just making the instruments, they’re playing them. Chichan Paal tu Kaay, Mayan for Children Who Sing, is a group made up of 11 of  the arts center’s students, who play Mayan music on instruments they made themselves, chiefly the tunkules, but also caracols, rattles, drums and soundboards made with bamboo.

Seven months later and the group has a repertoire of five Mayan songs, which are mostly instrumental, and one in Spanish, “I am from Yucatán.”

Gaspar, aged 11, is the most animated of the young band members when it comes time to play, and he asks his bandmates to find their positions in order to begin. Gaspar likes to use a chisel to give form to his tunkul, and is always inspired by the Mayan culture.

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On average it takes the students some three months to finish an instrument. But Gaspar now finds more enjoyment in the playing than in the making.

Children Who Sing has played at fairs and cultural events in nearby Mérida and other communities, which also gives them an opportunity to sell their sculptures and instruments.

The artist keeps 60% of the proceeds and the rest is reinvested in materials.

Manzanero would like to go beyond teaching ancestral traditions by having a teacher offer classes in the Mayan language, which none of his students speak. It would round out the valuable experience they’re now getting.

Source: El Economista (sp)

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