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Chan K'in Viejo


picture of Chan K'in Viejo

Chan K'in Viejo was the last t'o'ohil, or traditional Maya civic and religious leader, of the Lacandones. He was born at the turn of the 20th century in the Selva Lacandona where he lived his entire life. He succeeded his father when he was still a teenager, and led his community for another eighty years. As the last of the traditional Maya civic and religious leaders (or "lords"), he was the subject of a great many books, articles, and films.

Many outsiders claim Chan K'in is a shaman. He was not. He knew a great many things, and as Robert Bruce has said, Chan K'in was the ultimate resource to be consulted on all matters of Lacandon traditional life. He was also the most respected of the Lacandon all the Lacandon leaders. Given his position in Lacandon society, it is understandable that outsiders would view Chan K'in as having special powers.

But the converse is true. Chan K'in was a simple man. He had tremendous insight and was a devout practitioner of his traditional religion. He treated everyone with grace, kindness, and generosity, by sharing his knowledge with anyone who asked. So great was his influence that, after his death in 1995, the community of Naha' abandoned the traditional religion and dismantled Chan K'in's god house. His position as t'o'ohil was never filled.

He is survived by two of his four wives and their 17 children, and a multitude of (great)grandchildren.

Click the here to listen to and read the text of an audio recording (10.8MB) of Chan K'in telling the children to take care of the forest. It was recorded by Cook in 1991.

University of Victoria | Department of Linguistics | Lacandon Cultural Heritage Home |Chan K'in Viejo
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