Academia de las Lenguas Mayas, Guatemala


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The Academia de las Lenguas Mayas is the fruit of several decades of struggle by Mayan literary figures such as Adrian Ines Chavez, a well known writer in the Quiche language, who pushed for its formation at the end of the 1970s. The Academia is the initial step taken by the Mayan communities in Guatemala to regain control of their cultural inheritance. Representing all linguistic groups in the country, the group makes available, through standardisation of their written language, Mayan documents, myths and tales preserved by oral tradition.

The aim of the Academia is to revitalise Mayan cultures and languages and promote the teaching of them in the primary schools in Guatemala, where there is a majority of indigenous children. Afraid that such a movement would be divisive for the country, there had been much opposition by the government to its establishment. It was not until 1984 that the Academia became an actuality, and it took a further half a decade before President Marco Vinicio Cerezo approved the Academia as an autonomous institution with a presidential decree.

Beyond the political opposition, the most difficult task the Academia has encountered is the standardisation of the Mayan alphabet, something they see as the intrinsic element to make Mayan culture available to all Mayans. Rejecting the more than half dozen Mayan written languages developed by foreign anthropologists, the Academia has taken a singular step in the empowerment, and unity of the Mayans. By appropriating their languages the Mayan people move their cultural emphasis away from the eurocentric model and place it at the centre of their own centuries-old experience.

Today most primary schools teach the Mayan alphabet and give classes in each village's mother tongue using school materials produced by the Academia. The members of the Academia see Guatemala in an era of revitalisation and rising awareness of Mayan cultures. In specific terms, the Academia is a unifying force for all ethnic groups, a force that enhances Guatemalas multi- cultural heritage.