Reviews of Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth and Other Mayan Folktales

"James Sexton Gives Us Superb Folktales. Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth is a wonderful collection of folktales from the Maya Indians of Central America. Sexton has gathered these couple of dozen tales over the course of several decades as an anthropologist and has edited and polished them to a high shine for your reading pleasure. There isn't a clunker among these highly imaginative tales, which tell of intelligent animals, dangerous supernaturals, and everyday people trying to get by. With a little editing these stories are suitable for children's bedtime material, and if you're into the Maya Indians they're an invaluable resource on the thinking of modern Maya Indians, from tales they themselves tell in their culture today. There are a number of collections of Mayan folktales in print these days; of these, this one I think is the best. Its style is smooth and traditional, its stories have been selected for originality and authenticity and to give a broad view of Mayan culture, and it is downright fun to read. Many aspects of Mayan life are explored and cross-referenced herein. It is a real value for its money and will give you many hours of enjoyment upon reading and re re-reading, which I do every couple of years. Enjoy!"

        --Neodoering, 6 January 2012,

"The collaboration between Bizarro Ujpán and Sexton has been long and fruitful.  What began as an assistant-researcher relationship has developed into a shared publication agenda.  These two scholars have produced five books together.  In this latest book, the theme was mutually agreed on, the stories collected and arranged by Bizarro Ujpán and the translation and exegesis done by Sexton.  Not only do the stories speak with a clear indigenous voice, but Sexton has not imposed an outside analytic matrix on the collection.  He lets the texts speak for themselves.  The exegesis, from introduction and through the footnotes, is unobtrusive...

"This collection of tales gives us a snapshot of life and values in San José la Laguna, one that will be interesting to revisit as more predictions of Francisco Sojuel come true.  The army has been expelled, and Tz'utujil people have more control of their government and lives.  Sr. Bizarro Ujpán, as he is presented to us by Sexton, has been a faithful observer and researcher in his town, a community member and official, while collaborating productively with Dr. Sexton.  The time depth of the collaboration enriches this work.  It is a testament to the dedication of both researchers.  While the name Bizarro Ujpán is a pseudonym, the work he and Sexton have done presents a frank and open window into the culture." 

        --Judith M. Maxwell, Ethnohistory, September 2003, Vol. 50:753-758.

"James D. Sexton and Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán have created a marvelous collection of myths and legends that is entertaining and informative.  The book is very easy to read, and it is about interesting topics."

        -- Bryan A. Halverson, Folklore americano, Dec.-Jan., 1999, Vol. 60: 273-75. 

"The tales are lively and full of humor, paradox, moral lessons, and patterns of Mayan daily life in the Lake Atitlán region.  Sexton’s translation are excellent, capturing well the spirit of the tales and the flavor of rural Indian culture in Guatemala...a most welcome and valuable contribution to our growing corpus of Mayan oral tradition.  Furthermore, it is a joy to read, and I would expect it to appear on reading lists for courses in Latin American and Native American literature." 

        --Robert M. Carmack, American Anthropologist, June 2000: 408-409.

El libro se concentra en las relaciones del ser humano con lo sobrenatural y permite observar las creencias, los valores y el comportamiento de los mayas tz’utujiles.  Ésta es una colección de 33 relatos antiguos y contemporáneos que contó el anciano tz’utujil, Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán, y tradujo al inglés y editó James Sexton.  Muestra cómo es que las creencias y práticas mayas mezclan elementos de la cultural tradicional con las hispana.  Las historias revelan cómo se consulta en cuevas sagradas a los ancianos y a los dioses de la naturaleza, al igual que a los santos católicos.  Nos dicen tambiJn cómo es que el Dios cristiano no ha eclispado el poder del Corazón del Cielo ni el del Corazón de la Tierra, deidades percolombinas que, según la lyenda, crearon a los negros, a los blancos y a los mayas.  Nos detallan, además, la diversidad de la flora y fauna en la región, nos ilustran proverbios y enfatizan el poder de la suerte el destino.  Las historias son divertidas, macabras y mágicas y la introducción de Sexton realza los cambios que se han dado en la región a raíz de turismo alrededor del Lago Atitlán y proprociona datos resumidos sobre la geografía, la religión, la sociedad y los idiomas en Guatemala.

The book focuses on human relationships with the supernatural and allows one to observe the beliefs, values, and behavior of the Tzutuhil Maya.  This is a collection of 33 ancient and contemporary stories that the Tzutuhil elder Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán told and the editor James Sexton translated and edited into English.  It shows how the Maya beliefs and behaviors mix elements of traditional and Hispanic culture.  The stories reveal how the ancestors and the gods of nature as well as the Catholic saints are consulted in sacred caves.   They tell us also how it is that the Christian God has neither eclipsed the power of the Heart of Heaven nor of the Heart of Earth, pre-Columbian deities, which, according to legend, created the Blacks, the Whites, and the Mayas.  They detail, also, the diversity of the flora and fauna in the region; they illustrate proverbs and emphasize the power of luck and fate.  The stories are entertaining, macabre and magical, and Sexton’s introduction highlights changes that have taken place in the region as a result of tourism around Lake Atitlán and provides summarized data about the geography, religion, society, and languages in Guatemala.

    --Mesoamérica, Volume 43, June 2002: 211-12.

***** Mayan self revelations--I selected this book as one to be used in a high school class where we were studying Guatemala and the Mayan Indians.  The thirty-three folktales included in the book are a compilation of folklore from the Lake Atitlán area in the highlands of Guatemala. Each student retold a folktale in their own words  and reported what they learned about the Mayan culture as a result of that folktale.  This book enabled them to get a clearer picture of the Mayan culture than more factual texts.  The folktales comprise stories told around Lake Atitlán, some of which are ancient Mayan tales, some more recent and some that reveal the mix of Mayan and ladino culture. Some of the tales reveal beliefs of the people, some the meaning of life, and some present a world view picture.  There are tales of creation, of good and evil, of people turning into animals.  Sexton presents a helpful introduction to the folktales, the majority of which were written by a local Mayan or told to him by the indigenous people in the area.  The notes at the end of the book are a great addition to increasing understanding of the tale and of the person who told it.  The notes also explain various aspects of the culture that might be unclear through only reading the folktales.  Finally, the glossary at the end is helpful in capturing a clearer sense of the Spanish words peppered throughout."

        --Diane Haines from St. Paul, MN,, 22 August 2000.

"This compilation has stories that will appeal to everyone's idea of entertainment, be it humor, drama, suspense or fantasy...This book deserves its four stars because it appealed to all senses at different times. If you want to read something funny, you'll find a story, and if you want to read something insightful, you'll find another story."

        -- F.M.C., Rapport, Vol. 20 (6), 1999: 31.

"***** (Exceptional)--Coauthors James D. Sexton, Northern Arizona University anthropologist, and Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán, Guatemalan, retell contemporary and age-old stories of magic and transformation among the lake people."

        --Lex Ticonderoga, Today’s Books, 1999.

"A collection of 33 tales from the Tzutuhil Maya in Guatemala.  They portray lords protecting forest creatures, a bat ruling a hell, a singing lake goddess, and other delights.  Ujpán, an elder, told the tales; Sexton (anthropology, Northern Arizona University) translated, edited, and extensively annotated them.  He also provides a substantial introduction and glossary, but no guide to pronunciation or index."

        -- Reference & Research Book News, May 1999.

"When Sexton, now Regents' professor of anthropology at Northern Arizona University, first visited a village in the Lake Atitlán region of Guatemala in 1970, he began collaborating with a Tzutuhil Maya, who through a series of books, has been known by the pseudonym Ujpán.  

"Now, after 15 such journeys to Guatemala, the professor translates 33 ancient and contemporary folk tales--a mix of topics historical, humorous, macabre and magical--told by the elder.  

"The book serves a companion to Sexton's Mayan Folktales, published in 1992 by Doubleday Anchor and reissued this year in paperback by the University of New Mexico Press."

        -- Jon Kamman, The Arizona Republic, Sunday, 23 May 1999: E15.

"This collection of folktales and legends provides insight into the behaviors and beliefs of Ignacio's Guatemalan culture.  The 'Story of an Enchanted Place, Paruchi Abaj,' demonstrates that rich people who don't treat poor people well during life on earth have the suerte (which may be good or bad) to go to a place of suffering after death ruled by Nima Sotz' (the big bat).  A popular saying, El que mal hace, mal espera (He who evil makes, evil awaits) is illustrated in 'The Louse Who Caused the Death of the Womanizing King: A Tzutuhil Story,' in which a ruthless king who sends men to battle in order to get their wives as concubines suffers his own misfortune.

"Another local saying, Cuando la muerte llega, no pide edad, posicion o sexo (When death arrives, it doesn't ask age, position, or sex) is explained in the story 'The Woman Who Died for Three Days and Went to Get Acquainted with Hell.'  The story tells of a woman who dies rich in material goods but poor in social status. Some of the tales are ribald and colorado (vulgar).  In 'The Oldest Tale of my Town,' a priest puts a curse on his parishioners after they whip him for farting during a mass.

"The stories will appeal to all readers, with their colorful details and rich cast of characters."

        -- David Ortiz, Flare, Arizona Daily Sun, Thursday, 25 March 1999: A3-4.

"I enjoyed reading the work and thinking about it.  It is a very nice will make an excellent contribution to your collection."

        -- Anonymous Reviewer, pre-publication review for the Smithsonian Institution Press.

"The work will certainly appeal to a much broader audience than just anthropologists and folklorists.  There are many lay people who enjoy hearing or reading about the oral literature of other peoples, as well as the literature itself. They will surely not be disappointed by this work."

        -- Anonymous Reviewer, pre-publication review for the Smithsonian Institution Press.

Joint Review of Mayan Folktales and Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth

"Since the early 1970s, James D. Sexton has been working with Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán, the pseudonym for a Tzutuhil Maya from the Guatemalan area of Lake Atitlán, in an effort to learn and record folktales.  Their efforts can be appreciated in two delightful books: Heart of Heaven, Heart of Earth and Other Mayan Folktales and Mayan Folktales: Folklore from Lake Atitlán, Guatemala.

"The stories captivate the reader’s interest by various means.  Beside providing a glimpse at the life and beliefs of the people, they are told in a way that allows the peruse to imagine that he or she is present.  They also appeal to the emotions and imagination.  The characters’ nature and circumstances arouse sentiments that enable the reader to identify with and develop keen feelings about the actors.

"This reviewer commends and graciously thanks James D. Sexton, Ignacio Bizarro Ujpán and the presses of the University of New Mexico and the Smithsonian Institution for their active interest in the preservation of this type of material."

        --Mary H. Preuss, Latin American Indian Literatures Journal, Vol. 16, Spring 2000: 1-17.

Guatemalan Fabric

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