“Baktun” is the name of the first Mayan Soap Opera (Telenovela) ever created for the Maya language. It has all of the usual patterns of soaps: greed, betrayal, revenge, and unrequited love. What is interesting is that they’ve incorporated historical Mayan beliefs and culture into the contemporary format.
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key.
Excerpt: A Culture Clings to Its Reflection…By Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times
“It might be the cleanest Mexican soap opera around. The passionate love scenes that are a staple of the genre were reduced, bowing to conservative local sensibilities, to a few pecks on the cheek and hand-holding as innocent as junior high schoolers on a first date.
It was not the only accommodation made by producers of what is considered the first “telenovela,” as soap operas are known here, entirely in an indigenous language, Maya, and with a story line rooted in the community.
For starters, María, the love interest, cannot bring herself to say “I am falling in love with you” when her beau-to-be, Jacinto, finally gets his act together. Because while phrases of desire like “I love you” are roughly translatable into Maya, it is trickier to express being “in love” in the language.
“It’s more like ‘the heart of my heart is happy,’ ” said Hilario Chi Canul, a professor of Mayan language and culture. He also helped write the script and also plays the leading man in the telenovela, called “Baktun,” which makes its debut this month on Quintana Roo State public television.
But “Baktun” is as much a cultural journey as one of the heart, using a contemporary story line that blends Mayan ceremonies and beliefs with the tale of a young man who emigrates to New York City to work, distances himself from family and community — even becoming rusty in his language — and eventually returns and learns the value of preserving the community and not forgetting his roots. Or his childhood sweetheart, who has taken an interest in his brother.
Baktun (pronounced bak-TOON) refers to a megacycle of the Mayan Long Count calendar and was deliberately chosen as the title in light of the attention it received last December, when widespread misinterpretations fanned on the Internet led people to claim that the end of the world was nigh. In reality, one cycle ended and another began. In the telenovela’s case, the cycle is a metaphor for life’s ever-changing chapters.
Telenovelas are popular in the Mayan communities, too, but they are not presented in their language or their reality. Most members of the cast are residents of the town with little or no acting experience, smitten a bit with the star turn. Entertainment offerings in Maya are sparse. There are occasional documentaries and Hollywood movies dubbed in Maya. A full-length telenovela, or any television drama for that matter, set in the Mayan world in Maya is unique, experts on Mexican soap operas said.
Still, Mr. Cárcamo and Mr. Chi Canul had to win the support of community elders, who were skeptical of outsiders but eventually were convinced by the idea of a Mayan story told by Mayans. But working in Maya and in a community where public displays of affection are frowned on presented stiff challenges as well; many staples taken for granted in telenovelas, like passionate love scenes, would offend the community.
One translation stumped them, so they simply avoided it. “New York” is referred to as “the far, faraway town.” What, is a York?” Read more…
ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post
Level: Intermediate -Advanced
Language Skills: Reading, writing, speaking and listening. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.
Time: Approximately 2 hours.
Materials: Student handouts (from this lesson) access to news article, and video.
Objective: Students will read the article with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through discussions, and writing.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Analyzing headings and photos
Directions: Place students in groups and have them read the title of the post, and of the actual article. Then, have students examine the photos. Based on these sources, ask students to create a list of words and ideas that they think might be related to this article.
II. While Reading Activities
Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary or thesaurus for assistance. Have students use this Vocabulary Word Chart by Against The Odds.
- The passionate love scenes that are a staple of the genre were reduced.
- It was not the only accommodation made by the producers.
- Soap operas are known here, entirely in an indigenous language.
- It has standard ingredients of the form: greed, betrayal, and family squabbles.
- It uses a contemporary story line that blends Mayan ceremonies and beliefs.
- It is the tale a young man who emigrates to New York City to work.
- In the telenovela’s case, the cycle is a metaphor for life’s ever-changing chapters.
- Telenovelas are popular in the Mayan communities.
- Most members of the cast are residents of the town.
- Mr. Cárcamo and Mr. Chi Canul had to win the support of community elders, who were skeptical of outsiders.
Directions: Students are to circle or underline the correct word or phrases from the article. Have them skim the article to check their responses.
- It mighty/might be the cleanest Mexican soap opera around.
- The passionate/passion love scenes were reduced.
- In the telenovela’s case, the cycle/circle is a metaphor for life.
- Most members of the cast are residents/resident of the town.
- On a recent evening, Mr. Cárcamo show/showed some episodes of the drama.
- It’s better to speak/spoke English.
Directions: Review the statements with students before the watching the video. As students listen to the video if a statement is true they mark it T. If the statement is not applicable, they mark it NA. If the statement is false they mark it F and provide the correct answer.
- This is the first telenovela entirely in an indigenous language.
- The passionate love scenes were portrayed by foreigners.
- Phrases such as “in love” were difficult to express.
- The story is about a young man who emigrates to New York City to work.
- The Maya people will make a lot of money from the telenovela.
- The movie that will be shown at film festivals, was shot in New York.
- Most members of the cast are residents of New York.
- It was estimated that 80 percent of the village speaks Maya as a first language.
- Mr. Cárcamo, wrote the script in Spanish and then adapted it with Mr. Chi Canul into Maya.
- The translation that stumped the actors was the word “New York”.
Identifying Parts of Speech
Directions: Students are to identify the noun words in the following paragraphs. Then they are to use these terms to create their own paragraphs about the Mayan telenovela. After have each group share their stories with the class.
“We wanted to show you could still be proudly Mayan even in this modern world with mass media and digital communication,” said Bruno Cárcamo, the veteran film and television producer who made the show and previously oversaw a documentary on fading indigenous languages in Mexico. “Telenovelas are popular in the Mayan communities, too, but they are not presented in their language or their reality.
The series, in 21 episodes and also packaged as a movie that will be shown at film festivals, was shot in this remote, historic village in Quintana Roo State, 140 miles southwest of Cancún and famed for a church left damaged from a 19th-century Mayan uprising.”
III. Post Reading Tasks
Reading Comprehension Check
Directions: Have students use the WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.
Who or What is the article about?
Where does the action/event take place?
When does the action/event take place?
Why did the action/event occur?
How did the action/event occur?
Directions: Place students in groups and have them answer the following questions. After, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the discussion topics.
- In the article professor Adrien J. Charlois states “It’s very important that indigenous people are able to tell stories of their reality, not only in documentaries but in fictional formats.” Explain what he means in your own words.
- In your opinion, do you think the Mayan community will change in light of this new publicity? Provide reasons for your answers.
- Explain how using the Maya language for a soap opera might help the preserve the language.
- In the last part of the article it states, “One translation stumped them, so they simply avoided it. “New York” is referred to as “the far, faraway town.” What, is a York?” New York City is famous, so why didn’t the Mayan actors recognize the name?
- What other indigenous languages can you think of that might be used for telenovelas?
1-Minute Free Writing
Directions: Allow students 1 minute to write down one new idea they’ve learned from the reading. Ask them to write down one thing they did not understand in the reading. Review the responses as a class. Note: For the lower levels allow more time for this writing activity.
IV. Listening Activity
Trailer: ‘Baktún’ You Tube
Note To Teachers: Because this trailer uses the Maya language with Spanish subtitles, the activity will not have a regular listening component.The students can answer the following questions based on what they see.
- What did you like or dislike about the trailer?
- After watching the trailer with your group members outline the story plot of the movie.
- What Genre is this movie? (Drama, Suspense, Thriller, Comedy, Horror, Love story).
- What rating would you give this film based on the trailer? (PG, PG-13, R)
- Based on the trailer would you go to see this movie? Would you recommend this movie to your friends? Provide reasons for your answers.
With your group members make a list of questions that you would ask anyone connected to this film.
ANSWER KEY: Mayan Soap opera