How do you preserve an ancient language? You make it the star of its own TV soap opera.
The ancient language of Mayan has been put centre stage in a new TV soap opera in Mexico. The soap’s producers hope their new 21-episode series, Baktun (pronounced bak-Toon) will help immortalise the indigenous language of the Yucatan Peninsula, southeast Mexico – or at least save it from impending extinction.
The Yucatec Maya language is spoken by 800,000 Mexicans whose ancestors ruled an empire from about AD 250 until the Spanish conquest of the 1520’s.
Director and producer Bruno Carcamo said the soap opera, which is broadcast with Spanish subtitles, is the first show ever made in the Mayan language for the hundreds of thousands of Maya (Mayan-speaking Mexicans). It is hoped that in relating to the language and characters of the show, they will be encouraged to use their native tongue more openly in their Mayan communities and help it to filter into the wider community.
The traditional soap opera themes are universal – love, family, intrigue, and betrayal. All acted out in the Mayan language with Mexican Spanish subtitles.
The series follows the life of a young man who left his village in the Yucatan Peninsula to work as a cook in New York. There, he became estranged from his family and began to forget his native Mayan language. On his return, he realises the importance of his language and culture while fighting his brother for his childhood love.
Baktun* and its cast of non-professional actors went on air in August 2013 on the state government channel in Quintana Roo, home to the resort of Cancun and the filming location. So far the show has been well received with hopes for plans to release more.
* The Mayan term “baktun” describes a measure of time in Mayan Long Count Calendar, representing 20 katun cycles and equivalent to 144,000 days. That’s 394 years.
Sources: BBC, Associated Press