Lacandon Cultural Heritage Project

The Lacandon Cultural Heritage project documents the language and culture of the northern Lacandones, who live in the Selva Lacandona of Chiapas, Mexico. It was carried out under the purview of the DOBES (Dokumentation Bedrohter Sprachen [documentation of endangered languages]) and the VolkswagenStiftung endangered language documentation program between 2002 and 2006.

The Lacandones

The Lacandones are a Mayan people and the descendents of "Lacandon" fugitives who fled from the Guatemala Petén and the Yucatan peninsula in the later 18th and early 19th centuries. They constitute two groups named according to their present geographic location. The northern Lacandones are located northwest of the Usumacinta River, close to the Mayan ruins of Palenque, in Chiapas. The southern Lacandones are located southeast of the northern Lacandon territory, close to the ruins of Bonampak. They share similar histories, cultural patterns and language, yet they are ethnically distinct. Lacandon Area Map»


Lacandon is one of four Yucatecan (Mayan) languages. The others are: Itzáj, spoken in the Guatemala Petén; Mopán, spoken in Belize; and, Yucatec, spoken in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Lacandon language is far closer than its sister languages -- Itzáj, Mopán, and Yucatec-- to the original Classic Maya, because the Lacandones were not subjected to centuries of political, cultural, religious, or linguistic domination by either the Colonial Spaniards or the Mexican State. more»

Urgency for documentation

The northern Lacandones are the focus of the documentation project, because, unlike their southern counterparts, who abandoned their traditional religion six decades ago, the northern Lacandones resisted all missionary attempts to convert them to Christianity and so preserved much of the ancient Maya religion and customs well into the 20th century. After the death of the northern Lacandones' traditional civic and religious leader, Chan K'in Viejo, in 1996, deforestation and colonization have accelerated, and the northern Lacandones have now all but abandoned their traditional way of life to join the modern world. Documentation of what remains of their cultural heritage, particularly their ecological knowledge, has become urgent.more»


The Lacandon Cultural Heritage corpus contains a variety of media, including 25 hours of audio-video recordings and transcribed texts, a trilingual (Lacandon/Spanish/English) field dictionary, and an ethnobiological inventory of Lacandon folk terms for the flora and fauna of the Selva Lacandona. It also contains a descriptive component of the language and culture, including a language sketch of northern Lacandon, and ethnographic, social, historical and geographic information. All the data have been incorporated into a browsable corpus archived at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands. A demonstration of the documentation is presented here.

In addition to the archive, the corpus will be available on DVD and the internet. Electronic and print versions of the ethnobiological inventory are also envisioned.


Suzanne Cook Principal Investigator, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Victoria
Barry Carlson Principal Investigator, Dept. of Linguistics, University of Victoria


A special thanks goes to the following organizations that helped bring this project to fruition:

University of Victoria | Department of Linguistics | Lacandon Cultural Heritage Home |
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