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Monkey Business Theatre

Monkey Business Theatre

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    Monkey Business Theatre
    Book Description:

    In 1983, a group of citizens in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, formed Sna Jtz'ibajom, the Tzotzil-Tzeltal Maya writers' cooperative. In the two decades since, this group has evolved from writing and publishing bilingual booklets to writing and performing plays that have earned them national and international renown.

    Anthropologist Robert M. Laughlin has been a part of the group since its beginnings, and he offers a unique perspective on its development as a Mayan cultural force. The Monkey Business Theatre, or Teatro Lo'il Maxil, as this branch of Sna Jtz'ibajom calls itself, has presented plays in virtually every corner of the state of Chiapas, as well as in Mexico City, Guatemala, Honduras, Canada, and in many museums and universities in the United States. It has presented to the world, for the first time in drama, a view of the culture of the Mayas of Chiapas.

    In this work, Laughlin presents a translation of twelve of the plays created by Sna Jtz'ibajom, along with an introduction for each. Half of the plays are based on myths and half on the social, political, and economic problems that have confronted-and continue to confront-the Mayas of Chiapas.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79453-5
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. FOREWORD: The Visitors’ Question
    (pp. IX-XX)

    For fifteen years, most of my opportunities to see the plays of the Monkey Business Theatre, Teatro Lo’il Maxil, have come about through the happy coincidence of being where the company was performing at the right moment. As a friend of cofounder Robert M. Laughlin and several of the original actors, I have always kept an eye on the performance’s effect on the spectators, whether the show isTorches for a New Dawnpresented in the plaza of Zinacantán for Mayan schoolchildren or Rogelio Román Hernández Cruz’sThe World Turned on Its Headacted before a glittery overflow crowd in...

  4. PREFACE: Recollections of a Ghost
    (pp. XXI-XXVI)
    (pp. XXVII-XXXIII)
    (pp. XXXIV-XXXVI)
  7. 1 Looking Back, Looking Forward: IN THE BEGINNING
    (pp. 1-8)

    When i first landed in the colonial city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, in 1957 as a graduate student in anthropology at the Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City, I never dreamt I would spend the rest of my life exploring Tzotzil Mayan culture. Transferring to Harvard University, I began my fieldwork in Zinacantán, accompanied by my wife, Mimi. The first task was to learn Tzotzil. We became the house guests of a young man, Domingo de la Torre (Romin Teratol in Tzotzil), a puppeteer whom I had met the year before at the National...

    (pp. 9-16)

    In 1989, we brought Ralph Lee from New York City to Chiapas. “... [A]s artistic director of the Mettawee River Company, which performs as an itinerant troupe in rural upstate New York and New England during the summer, [Ralph] had for years peopled the stage with spirits, gods, and demons from around the Greenwich Village’s famous Halloween parade, he had filled the streets with giant masks and puppets. What magical figures would he bring to life now?” (Laughlin 1995, 528). Everyfebrero loco(Crazy February), as the month is known locally, he would direct the creation of a new play...

  9. 3 The Theatre on the Road: THE GREAT ADVENTURE
    (pp. 17-22)

    When the actors of the Teatro Lo’il Maxil puppet theatre first ventured to distant hamlets, carrying the wooden curtain frame on their backs or on muleback, it seemed a great adventure. It was less so when they graduated to buses, and the bus drivers refused to transport the boards without a hefty tip. Shifting to light metal poles solved the problem.

    The theatre tours sometimes had an extraordinary mix of good and bad. In 1987, invited to a national Indian/campesino theatre festival in Coxquihui in the Totonac region of Veracruz, the group set off very preoccupied because their lead actress...

  10. 4 Personal and Social Impacts
    (pp. 23-32)

    In 1992 the state of chiapas gave scholarships to two young men to join the cast and learn from us. From faraway Cancuc, they were considered by Zinacantecs to be “forest animals.” The first day the men watched our bizarre exercises intently. Then, the second day, they added their own playfulness with an abandon no one could believe. Although unrelated, Petul and Xun 2 looked almost identical, and soon we were calling both of them Petulxun.

    The lack of self-consciousness among new actors has always surprised me, but I wonder if it isn’t that everyday Mayan life in Chiapas is...

  11. 5 The Immokalee Special: SOCIAL ACTION IN FLORIDA
    (pp. 33-40)

    In 1994 allan burns, a professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, arranged with Laura Germino of Guadalupe Social Services and with Greg Absted and Lucas Benítez of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers a trip to Immokalee in the Everglades, where five thousand Mayan and Haitian workers pick tomatoes, chile peppers, and oranges. The recently formed coalition was confronting the abuses inflicted on these immigrant laborers.

    They commented that our theater would be an effective way of dealing with social problems among the field hands. “What would you do?” they asked. “We would improvise.” That meant nothing to them,...

  12. 6 The Future
    (pp. 41-42)

    For the mayas time is thought to be cyclical. The future repeats and develops from the past. Just so, Mayan myths repeat old truths, but adapt them constantly to the present situation. The same is true of the Monkey Business Theatre. Currently, the major support for the cooperative is from the State of Chiapas and Oxfam International. We were concerned that government involvement might threaten the cooperative’s autonomy, but the Chiapas officials have given us total freedom. However, support from Oxfam is now conditional, requiring that the Monkey Business Theatre attend to poverty and the search for peace. The actors...


    • The Loafer and the Buzzard (1989)
      (pp. 45-58)

      For our first play I suggested a folktale I had collected (Laughlin 1977) that was widely known in Mexico and Guatemala. Versions of what I call hereThe Loafer and the Buzzard(El haragán y el zopilote) had been recorded among the Yaqui of Sonora; Tlapanec of Guerrero; Mixtec of Oaxaca; Tzotzil of Chamula, Chenalhó, and Zinacantán; and among the Awakatek, Kaqchikel, Mam, and Tz’utujil in Guatemala. In the role-switching motif of this version, the Loafer, dressed as a Zinacantec, learns to his distress, including eventual death, that the Buzzard’s life is not so easy as it appears. On the...

    • Who Believes in Spooks? (1990)
      (pp. 59-74)

      Who believes in spooks? (¿A poco hay cimarrones?) was created by the group to dramatize a local belief among the Tzotzil and Tzeltal Maya. Mothers warn their children to come inside at dusk lest they be carried off by a bat-like boogeyman, a spook. When the corn boils over and makes the fire hiss, it is thought to be a sign that a spook is about to pay a visit. In addition, spooks are considered to be in league with the civil engineers, providing victims for them to inter in the foundations of bridges.

      For this play we collected all...

    • Deadly Inheritance (1991)
      (pp. 75-98)

      Tziak informed us that he would like a different kind of play this year, not based on myths, but on gossip. He recounted a recent case of murder in his town, Tenejapa, where two brothers, after their father died, murdered their two sisters to appropriate their land.

      For those who romanticize Mayan culture and, particularly, Mayan family life, this play will be a surprise, for it revolves around one of the most feared elements in the daily life of the people who live in the rural towns of Chiapas: the discord between siblings when parents die. Anger erupts when one...

    • Jaguar Dynasty (1992)
      (pp. 99-120)

      Jaguar dynasty(Dinastía de los jaguares) was crafted by our translator, Palas, who after searching in the historical sources called up the Spanish conquest of Chiapa de Corzo. This town, after which the state is named in part, is situated on the Grijalva River. Dating back to before the Christian era, this non-Mayan town was the most powerful force in the Lowlands. At the time of the Conquest, it was competing with Zinacantán in the Highlands.

      Next follows a dream sequence presenting the creation of the Mayas according to thePopol Vuh[Book of counsel] (see Christianson 2000). Events described...

    • Let’s Go to Paradise! A TZOTZIL TRAGICOMEDY (1993)
      (pp. 121-148)

      The idea forLet’s Go to Paradise!(¡Vámonos al paraíso!) was born in 1992 as the theatre group was returning by bus from Honduras. As we passed by many coffee fincas in the Soconusco region of southwestern Chiapas, suddenly Maryan pointed to a sign at a finca entrance. “I worked there!” he exclaimed. As he began to recall his suffering while working as a coffee picker, I suggested that that should be the basis for our next play, especially because there were still many old Chamulan men who could provide us with material for dramatic scenes.

      This play focuses on...

    • From All for All A TZOTZIL-TZELTAL TRAGICOMEDY (1994)
      (pp. 149-172)

      For the first time, not a single word had been written upon Ralph’s arrival. Andrés Fàbregas Puig, director of the Instituto Chiapaneco de Cultura, suggested we touch on the present situation: the overrunning of four towns, including San Cristóbal de las Casas, on New Year’s Day 1994 by the ezln, the Zapatista National Liberation Army. Protesting the disastrous effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement (nafta) on rural Mexico, the Zapatistas demanded that the Mayan Indians be treated as first-class citizens of Mexico.

      Ralph waited impatiently while the members debated for hours. Our president, Tziak, came from Tenejapa, where...

    • Torches for a New Dawn (1995)
      (pp. 173-196)

      Torches for a new dawn(Antorchas para el amanecer) focuses on the necessity of replacing the current disastrous education system with a truly bilingual model, staffed by Mayas who respect their culture. Indians make up twelve percent of Mexico’s population, and they speak one or more of fifty-six languages that the general public refers to asdialectos. In fact, many of these Indian languages, including Tzotzil and Tzeltal, have their own dialects with differing vocabulary and grammar that distinguish one or more communities from each other. When the Instituto Nacional Indigenista (National Indian Institute) arrived in the Chiapas highlands in...

    • The Story of Our Roots (1996)
      (pp. 197-224)

      The story of our roots(El cuento de nuestras raices) is based on the playChrist I Never Knew You!which I wrote many years ago, drawing on a folktale that Xun’s uncle, Matyo Tanchak, told me. This play was accepted by Luis Valdez’s Teatro Campesino in California, but never performed. Year after year I suggested that it might be a good project for our theatre, but my suggestion was always ignored. Finally, after Palas translated it into Spanish from English, they stripped it down considerably and very well. But they did not want Christ’s name in the title, fearing...

    • Workers in the Other World (1998)
      (pp. 225-246)

      Workers in the other world(Trabajadores en el otro mundo) is a revision ofDon Tomate y sus coyotes, which was created the previous year in Immokalee, Florida. With raucously grim humor this play charts the travels of a pair of poor Chamulans who go to the border only to be tricked by thecoyote. After they finally cross the border, they are driven across the country, packed in a van. Arriving in Florida, they are set to work picking tomatoes. One worker is physically abused, but they discover that there is no legal aid for undocumented workers. At a...

    • When Corn Was Born (2000)
      (pp. 247-260)

      When corn was born(Cuando nació el maíz) is a creation myth from Tenejapa, with similarities to other such myths throughout the Mayan world. The gods are unhappy that men and women happily crunching soft, edible pebbles, have forgotten them and are leading sinful lives. So with the aid of ants, they steal the Earth Lord’s corn. Finally, the Earth Lord, in his rich Ladino aspect, is convinced by the gods that man should plant corn. Because corn farming is so difficult, man will remember the gods, respect them, and seek their aid.

      In 2001, Ralph Lee slightly reduced the...

    • Mexico with Us Forever! (2001)
      (pp. 261-280)

      The titleMexico with Us Forever!(¡Siempre México con nosotros!) was chosen to give a positive swing to the Zapatistas’ cry, “¡Jamás México sin nosotros!” (Never again Mexico without us!). This play, under the guidance of Michael Garcés, then producing artistic director of intar Hispanic American Arts Center of New York City, shows how political corruption, including the buying of votes, is a current practice that must not continue. The pri party had been in control for more than seventy years, rewarding thecaciques(town bosses) or someone else they selected by appointing them mayor. Once “elected,” the mayor received...

    • The World Turned on Its Head (2003)
      (pp. 281-292)

      The world turned on its head(El planeta de cabeza), unlike the previous plays that were written collaboratively by the members of Sna, is the work of Rogelio Román Hernández de la Cruz, Petu’s son, who wrote it when he was eighteen. Because this play was to be performed on Valentine’s Day 2003 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to accompany the presentation of myDiccionario del corazón/Mayan Hearts, we were told that it must be shortened considerably, to last not longer than fifteen minutes. So, together with the members of Sna, remaining true to its original...

  14. APPENDIX 1: Individuals Referred to in the Text
    (pp. 293-293)
  15. APPENDIX 2: Members and Former Members of Sna Jtz’ibajom
    (pp. 294-295)
  16. APPENDIX 3: Length of Service
    (pp. 296-296)
  17. Glossary
    (pp. 297-298)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-308)
  19. Index
    (pp. 309-316)