Professors and Researchers
Special Interest Group
The Naturist Society
Lee Baxandall Drama Issue ●
1. Introduction: The Rabinal Achi
2. Claws of
the Eagle, Claws
of the Jaguar
3. Lee's Notes on the Play
Before he founded The Naturist Society,
Lee Baxandall was a drama critic, and produced at least one play of his
own. As T. A. Wyner recently wrote:
"He was a Renaissance man of our time—not merely among
Lee was a co-founder for The Living Theatre (where I first encountered
He was an internationally respected theatre critic—here and
He was a leader in the peace movement.
He protested the US bombing of Japan and attended the world gathering
on the anniversary of that bombing annually.
He was a leader in the anti-Vietnam War movement.
He designed the poster that set off a fire-storm and court cases when
NY port authority removed them from the subway and buses.
He was a First Amendment Freedom Fighter.
When law enforcement first appeared during the performance of one of my
plays on the beach, Lee stood up and warned them that any interference
with a performance protected by the first amendment would be
The Rabinal Achi (pronounced
rah-bin-AHL a-CHEE) is the only Maya dance-drama to survive from
ancient times. (Lee read it in a Spanish translation.)
In that play, a Maya lord has been
captured in a war. The enemy king is willing to pardon him if
he will just bow down. The proud captive says he would rather
die. He only asks that he be allowed to see his homeland once
more before he dies. Warriors of the Eagle division and the
Jaguar division wait to sacrifice him. This is the last
scene. It begins and ends with dance.
from The Rabinal Achi 1
Listen to me Approve of me
to the sky-face
to the earth-face.
This is what I say
to your mouth
to your face:
Allow me two hundred and sixty days
allow me two hundred and sixty nights
to go salute
u vach nu
u vach nu
Where long and long
ago I went alone
needs my food.
(He dances out of sight, then returns--symbolizing the completed
"He's gone" you said
a moment ago.
No I hadn't gone
No I hadn't disappeared
I went for
to say goodbye
where long and long
ago I went alone
my valiance my bravura
were no use.
I figured out my way
I opened my way
My valiance my bravura
were no use.
Do I really have to die
to die in this place?
disappear in this place?
O my gold!
O my silver!
O my arrow's sons!
O my shield's sons!
my Toltec war-club!
my Toltec axe!
to our mountains
to our valleys!
Take our news
to the teeth of our Man
to the face of our Governor
"It's a long time since
our valiance our
has looked for our food
has found our meals!"
says the word of our Man
the word of our Governor
He won't say so any more
now all I expect is my death
now all I expect is my disappearance
under sky here
and on the earth.
Since I can't do anything else but die
since I can't do anything else but disappear
under sky here
and on the earth
why can't I change fates with this squirrel with this bird
dying on the branch of the tree dying on the bud of the tree
dying in their own little country in which they've found their
food in which they've
found their needs
under sky here
and on the earth?
Come on then!
Let's get your work done
let's get your duty over with
since I am a Valiant an
be with you
Lee Baxandall adapted this ancient drama
to the plight of modern freedom fighters. (Those familiar
with his later attempts to coöperate with The American
Sunbathing Association will recognize his attitude that people who
claim to be on your side but are willing to sell out should be
shot.) Claws of the Eagle, Claws of the Jaguar played at the
Astor Palace Playhouse in New York City in 1967, with music by Philip
Corner. The occasion was the Festival of Angry Arts Against
the War in Vietnam. Lee published a limited edition of the
text in 1994. It included pictures from the 1967 production,
an optional audience participation scene, and Lee's notes written in
of the Eagle,
Claws of the Jaguar 2
Early morning and a mountainous jungle terrain. The sunlight
filters through the trees into an ancient ceremonial ground, partly
overgrown, where the stele of a vanished civilization stand or lie upon
the ground. There is, centrally, a stone platform in
disrepair, with rows of deathheads on its sides carved in profile, as
though skewered on upright poles. Jungle sounds, which
Without a noise, a guerrilla fighting unit enters the open
area. The nine men and two women are wearing nondescript
battle fatigues. Some of the men are naked to the
waist. Others in shorts. They are festooned with
heavy cartridge belts at the waist or across the chest, and with
grenades and canteens—two carry the pans of a machine gun.
The appearance of these people is striking. They are strong,
lithe, brown-skinned, and with eyes slightly slanted. The men
are beardless, their noses jutting, and the receded area between the
eyes built up artificially so the nose blends by an almost unindented
line into the forehead. Both the men and women have long,
dark hair. The women's is the longer, parted in the middle
A watch posted, the guerrillas put down the weapons and the equipment
and relax. One or two work on their camouflage hats and their
handpieces covered over with foliage. Others sprawled with
their weapons or smoking.
In the quiet somebody is heard approaching at a run. The
guerrillas soundlessly become part of the jungle. Into the
clearing bursts a man. He pauses, panting; he is dressed in
the peasant way. The guerrillas reappear, all around him,
their weapons ready.
A GUERRILLA (MAQUA) softly. Tachi!
THE GUERRILLA CHIEFTAIN (BALAM): Seize him.
Two or three GUERRILLAS take the intruder Tachi's arms and force him
against a stele. ANOTHER searches him and turns out a
pistol. TACHI loudly protests his innocence. He is
A WOMAN GUERRILLA to Maqua: You know this man? (MAQUA nods,
slowly.) He is your brother? (MAQUA nods.)
BALAM to the guerrillas, who are engaged in discussion: Hold it! You
must silence your tongues. This man was going
somewhere. We are not alone in these forests, amid these
rocks; and his friends are near, who are not our friends. For
Tachi is no brother to his blood brother Maqua, or to our
brothers. The army has patrols everywhere and though they are
clumsy, frightened and unresolved, their artillery has wings and
ears. We are not suspected here, or Tachi would not have been
careless. But our voices are informers.
(To two guerrillas.) You go and stand the watch. Take your
place on our high rocks, and we must talk like outlaws. Go
THE TWO GUERRILLAS go. BALAM walks to the prisoner, who makes
an impatient gesture with his head. BALAM strikes him hard
across the face. THE PRISONER stares in surprise.
BALAM extracts the gag.
BALAM: You shall speak with us. But you shall speak softly,
Tachi. Or—Tachi, your life shall be forfeit at
once. Release him. Now, little Tachi, tell us why
you are here.
TACHI jokingly: Balam—you bastard, why do you take me
captive? You know who I am, what I have done, why do I
deserve this suspicion? I was coming to warn you!
BALAM: No lies! (Slaps him.) Respect yourself.
TACHI: I speak only the truth. The army has patrols nearby
and I had to warn my brothers.
BALAM makes a sign and A GUERRILLA clamps his hand over the prisoner's
BALAM: Once more like that, Tachi...once more that loudly, or lies, and
your blood returns that moment to the mother soil. Speak
softly, and only truth.
TACHI: And so I do. There are many, many
everywhere. The army. The artillery. The
long claws of the eagle bombers will surely rip the life from our
throats. We must disperse to our villages. You must
prove a wise chieftain, Balam. I say it beneath this sky,
above this earth: I will not end as their victim or yours!
You must prove a wise chieftain, we have to disperse to our villages.
A WOMAN GUERRILLA: We have to go to our villages? You and I are from
Rabinal, Tachi. You know as I why we left Rabinal.
No one can really live in Rabinal, between the landlord of Rabinal and
the army, the artillery, the eagle bombers sent to
Rabinal—sent by the landlords from the city where they live
in many comforts—and the tax and rent collectors, who command
what the city has not yet destroyed. We and no one can really
live in Rabinal.
TACHI with great sincerity: You can say that? But I know that
Balam, as the senior chosen by our people, will be wise. I
have helped our cause, you know I have helped, but now it is the
end! They are too many with their machines for death, they
are everywhere. It is the end, we must go quietly, back to
Rabinal, and when they see that we are quiet, their army, their
artillery, their eagle bombers will leave us in peace. We
shall have the breath in our bodies.
A GUERRILLA: And not much else. We would not really live, for
did we really live before this began? You know we did not.
A GUERRILLA: The breath we had in our bodies. But the grains
we raised doing little else from the rise of the sun to its setting,
they tore from our hands.
A WOMAN GUERRILLA: And our sons and brothers they took from our huts
and fields. Dressed them as soldiers. Paid them
little. Praised them a lot, and sent them against our
brothers and sisters in distant huts among distant
valleys—these faraway brothers and sisters, who understood
before we did they did not really live, and so learned to be jaguars,
driving the people of the eagle, and yaqui and ladino* away.
*pillagers and connivers
YOUNG GUERRILLA: Just one harvest ago I was in Rabinal. I was
taken from Rabinal to be made a soldier...and I could not believe the
cruel things we were made to do to the people of villages like Rabinal,
who only want the land to be theirs. I had heard of Balam and
I left their army. Many have done as I—a deserter,
they call me—and you want me to crawl back to
Rabinal? To what? What?
MAQUA: Can your words be honest, Tachi? Does Rabinal really
live tranquilly in your memory? Without the rumble of trucks
that drove the bulk of our grain to the city as rent and tax?
And those other trucks that drove away even you and I, to soldier
against some faraway brothers and sisters who knew they could not live
any longer even as you and I? Are your words honest, Tachi?
TACHI: They are. I know all that you say, but know also that
we are at an end. They are too many and the machines of our
death are too many.
A GUERRILLA: But they can not find us. We have the breath in
our bodies, and we find them as last night we did, and as again and
again we shall, and they will finally go away or their empty bodies
remain in our fields and jungles—unless you have led them to
TACHI: No one saw me come here.
A GUERRILLA: That is not what was said; what we all of us are thinking.
MAQUA: You are a stinking traitor! Our mother U Chuch gave
birth to a dog who eats the city's garbage!
TACHI: Maqua, you must know that is not so. You have yourself
eaten too much of the root of fanaticism that must feed the lonely life
of a fighter in these mountains. I have spent time in the
city, that is true. That is why I have an understanding of
their power, and see that to live again in Rabinal now is at least to
live. As your brother by blood you must understand me, at
MAQUA: I do. Beneath this sky, above this earth, I know you
for a city dog! Assent from the OTHER GUERRILLAS.
TACHI: Maqua! I swear, no! You bastards.
You shall not have me as their victim or yours. You have too
long dug with your knives the starchy root of fanatic
believing. Why do you not release me? Balam, as
chieftain, be wise!
BALAM: deftly: And do you say that? Brave fighter, man of our
people, do you call us bastards? Call us fanaticism eaters
and not recall what you had not to eat while a man in
Rabinal? Are you not to fall here? Are we to fall
here? You do not look well at our rifles and cartridges, our
machine guns, our mortars, our manfalls, our courage and numbers,
confidence and our audacity. As senior of this fighting unit
I shall proceed as our people find wise. And we shall
discover whether you are to fall here. There is much to which
you must answer, Tachi. As you are now our captive, may you
prove of our limitless sky, of our vast valleys.
A WOMAN GUERRILLA: We shall not believe you; we shall not disbelieve
you. To see what you are now and whether you must fall here,
we shall see what you have been.
The stage darkens, with the exception of a strong light on the skull
platform. The jungle sounds cease. TACHI steps onto
the platform. He cradles a small bundle in his
arms. Sits. MAQUA with TWO OTHER GUERRILLAS steps
onto the platform without weapons. TACHI moaning. A
WOMAN GUERRILLA without weapons steps onto the platform. She
has bright rouge on her lips.
WOMAN GUERRILLA to Maqua: As I told you, brother. The only
boy child of Tachi has now died. Dead our sister-in-law and
the daughters of Tachi and our father, long ago.
MAQUA gently: I am so sad for you, Tachi. It is the life in
the city. You, Tachi, said you could not bear the hard life
of our valleys and rocks. It has come to this.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: But he had to come to the city.
MAQUA: You told us then: It could not possibly be as hard in the
city. It will be better in their city, the machines and wages
are there. You took your leave of us. We had not
then taken up arms.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: You found what? What has the city borne you?
TACHI groans. Bending down, MAQUA takes the small bundle from
Tachi, after a moment passing it to another GUERRILLA.
MAQUA: So you left the valley of Rabinal; you took a day job, first
here, then there, every day a different day job.
WOMAN GUERRILLA softly: You were ambitious, and took a wife.
MAQUA: There were no bonds upon you here, you said; you could make your
way with your good wife's help. Your wife bore daughters, a
son. She was captive to your dream in this small room, and
what became of her?
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Of your daughters?
MAQUA indicating bundle: And now...
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Little to eat, and no doctor for the pestilence this
city spreads; and now... Dead, all but you dead.
MAQUA: All but you. And your brother and sister.
MAQUA: What have you left of your dream?
WOMAN GUERRILLA: It was wrong of that good woman to marry
you. Your silly hopes poisoned her breath and killed
her. I am a bad woman, as you tell me. I have not
married. I came to the city, setting you an
example. I have not suffered as you. I have not
married, how could I, into what? But I know very well the men
who pay your small wages, yes, I know them far better than you!
TACHI: What do you want? I would not do as you have done; you
have fouled our mother's name. Ah, ah, our high mountains,
the vast valleys of Rabinal! This could not have happened
there! My son, my namesake!
A GUERRILLA: You have been proud,
townsman—stubborn. And our movement has grown up on
the soil which the landlord thought his own. We are making
those valleys ours. While you struggle here...to put yourself
at their service for wages.
TACHI: What would you have me do? What should I have
done? Our land or theirs, the breath is choked out of one in
our valleys; the way we must scratch at the soil without
machines. Should I have not come to the city?
MAQUA: What has the city borne you?
WOMAN GUERRILLA softly: I know well, Tachi, the men who grind you here
are the men who grind the people of our valleys and mountains, they
have the same helpers, same tax collectors, the same banks, the same
names. This I have learned in my work.
MAQUA: Tachi, you should not have come. You should come back
with us, today.
TACHI after a pause: Your movement is growing?
A GUERRILLA: We were once few, and now we are many. And it is
the same, everywhere in the land of the Quiche*.
*One group of the Maya
TACHI: I hear each day on the loudspeakers of your defeats.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: You are foolish, Tachi. I hear the truth
from the brandy caressed throats of those who turn the loudspeakers
upon you, as they argue before completing deals. Among
themselves, they do not lie.
A GUERRILLA: We grow.
TACHI gets to his feet: So you told me, Maqua. I put my faith
in their loudspeakers. I now hear only your voices.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: They took me, no virgin, into their temple.
Believe me, the gods of the people of the eagle are oil and dollars,
tin and rubber, and there is no soul in these gods, nothing for men and
Those on the skull platform hold their positions, as the GUERRILLAS
around it perform the "Song of the Eagle and Jaguar" to the
accompaniment of a small flute and improvised percussion.
SONG OF THE EAGLE AND JAGUAR
Ours the jaguar god
the jaguar is at home
within his jungle
The jaguar slips easily
through the mountains and valleys
The jaguar survives.
Theirs the eagle god
the eagle may fly anywhere
but to feed it must come down
It sets its design on us
on our lands
And now the jaguar pounces.
A GUERRILLA ON THE PLATFORM: You cannot eat the mud outside this
door. You cannot wrap yourself in the scrap eagle metal of
this wretched hut. Come wrap yourself in the jungle of the
mountains and valleys near Rabinal.
TACHI: I hear you.
MAQUA: Where we hold power—and that is in much of our
mountains and our valleys—under the guidance of Balam, our
lands are returned to us. To those who work them.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Go with them, brother. This city offers you
A GUERRILLA: Join with us. Beneath the sky and above the
earth! We are growing, grow with us.
TACHI: I leave this empty hut; I come with you.
of 1st Interlude
Full scene. The jungle sounds, and now in the distance the
dull thud of artillery. TACHI stands in the center of the
ceremonial space in a semi-circle of the guerrillas.
TACHI: You recall what I was. You must know what I am
now. One of you; a man of Rabinal, its mountains and
valleys. Could anyone have been more miserable than I in
their city? Or more happy now with my people?
BALAM: Nothing is yet proven except the plague fallen upon our country,
the curse of going among the yaqui*. We saw your
misery. We want to know still whether you have acted
miserably. We do not believe or disbelieve. We
The stage darkens, with the exception of a strong light on the skull
platform. The jungle and artillery sounds cease.
TACHI steps onto the platform, in the company of MAQUA and the TWO
GUERRILLA: We are taking you to our senior, Balam, who has won the
confidence of the Quiche in the conduct of their struggle.
BALAM mounts the platform: Welcome, brothers. Maqua, is this
the brother in blood who has come to us newly, and who has fought for
us well, in the jungle and the city?
MAQUA: It is. Tachi.
BALAM: What has Tachi done?
GUERRILLA: In the city he has spread the truth to the people.
About their conditions and about those who keep the people in them.
BALAM: This is so, Tachi? Have you been reliable?
TACHI: More than anyone else! While I ate the mud of
illusions in the suburb streets; while I begot a family, and watched
with glazed eyes while it perished, no one of your people ever came to
me with truths in a ragged pocket. But I have gone about
tirelessly, in every street of the wretched slum about that
city—puncturing vain hopes with truths, often under police
eyes. And the suburb of slums begins, serpentlike, to
contract about the throat of the vicious city. None has done
more than I to have this happen.
BALAM: You have done well. Others have told this to
me. But not only you have done well, the movement has
grown. As you have. And our propaganda slips now
through every crevice in the slums. The Quiche awake from
their painful slumber.
GUERRILLA: Tachi has also done well in the warfare of the jungle.
BALAM: Is this so?
TACHI: Certainly it is! You have a first-class guerrilla in
me. In the city I learned how to keep up their machines,
their roads. Now I use my skills to destroy their machines,
their roads where they destroy us. In the city I learned to
talk and to listen to their givers of orders. Here I go among
them as you see now (mimics stupidity), as a harmless man of the land;
talk with respect, listen with eagerness, to plans which I bring
back. None has done this better than I.
BALAM: You do well. Yet all this is nothing without the
concerted action of our people, their patience and creativity; remember
that, Tachi. Those who form the vanguard lose their way when
they do not pay attention as much to the rear as to the fore.
TACHI: I am sure you are right.
BALAM to Maqua: Do you believe Tachi is known to the city authorities
as one of us?
MAQUA: I am quite sure he is not.
BALAM with deliberation: Tachi, a special and delicate mission awaits
you. Your cleverness is equal to it. You are not
known to the city authorities as one of us. They know you
still as a trusty Quiche. You are to go to their authority
for a village militia, get arms, and bring them to us. Have
you the courage to do it?
TACHI: Trust me.
TACHI and BALAM embrace.
of 2nd Interlude
Full scene. The sound of distant planes is now added to the
thudding of artillery, TACHI in the semi-circle of guerrillas.
TACHI: I asked you then to trust me—and trust me, I ask of
you now. I have worked without pause since the death of my
son for my people. Only for my people.
GUERRILLA FROM THE 2ND INTERLUDE: We trusted you, but saw also your
pride. Your great belief in yourself.
MAQUA: I had to agree with my brothers: you were more useful
to your people far from the Quiche, in the city; using your city
cleverness, thinking little of your people's cleverness. In
the people's cause.
GUERRILLA FROM THE WATCH entering: Those planes are distant, but
circling and looking closely over the ground. I do not like
their motions. The eyes of those pilots grow sharper.
BALAM: Return to your watch, brother.
THE GUERRILLA exits. The OTHER GUERRILLAS watchful.
BALAM: We must see them first. If they draw nearer we shall
go under the trees. For now we continue. Tachi, you
fool, do you not see you as we see you? Or has your life made
you too clever to look upon your person with the eyes of your
people? Truly, are you one of us? Are you not
rather in your heart one of them? A traitor with head in the
clouds and not beneath this sky, upon this earth? You have
carried pistol and rifle—are they really turned on
us? These questions must be asked. Let you be
brave. Tell us in what way you have served your people, for
we shall know.
TACHI: Ah, my sky and earth, you speak absurdly and yet you called me
brave? You said that I am of this people, of these valleys,
BALAM: Do you say that these rocks and mountains of Rabinal are
yours? Then, Tachi, the test shall go on. Until
your death or your acquittal.
A GUERRILLA: How can you speak of acquital?
TACHI: Can you threaten my death? I, who carry the Quiche in
my heart? I, who have dealt cleverly for our cause?
Who have sacrificed comfort, become an outlaw, obtained arms, worked
great things for his people? Speak more wisely, senior of the
guerrilla forces, Balam.
YOUNG GUERRILLA: I have seen much casual death, Balam, while in their
army with others who still understood nothing. To have a full
stomach was cause enough for some of us to kill poor farmers.
I hate the casual death, Balam. Only that is why I came to
join you. I do not want to see blood spill from this fellow's
chest unless absolutely, it is just and necessary.
BALAM: I understand your cause for joining us. For that cause
we are here. Tachi, you mis-spoke. We are not
outlaws, we are but finding the power to satisfy the needs of our
people; and in such times, justice for our people may be forced to
speak through the mouth of a rifle and with the tongue of a
knife. Blood shall not spill from the chest of Tachi unless
it is proven, absolutely proven, that he has lent his eyes to the
eagle. We are not the outlaws—justice is where we
are—and for that we are careful of every life.
YOUNG GUERRILLA: I have seen that; and wish to understand the story of
MAQUA: It is true that Tachi grew up one of us, and was brother to our
suffering. I cannot believe he has forgotten it.
That he betrayed our common blood seems beyond the possible.
I think that the suffering that brought us together we must bring
before our eyes; in the interests of justice.
TACHI: Yes; I shall recall how I have served my people and you shall
approve it. But let us call to mind the misery of those days
in Rabinal, the misery that drove me first to the city, then to the
movement. A misery I never forget, which nothing could ever
erase, which moves me in all that I do. —And you
shall know I am honest!
WOMAN GUERRILLA: I was with you and your sister, Tachi. The
day your sister, even before you, went from Rabinal on the city
road. Do you remember? She was seduced from
Rabinal, to become a paid woman. But before that could be
done to her she had to be made less than herself. In a
village less than fit for humans. Let us all remember how our
village was, since the memory of one may be a traitor. Tachi,
—do you remember that day as we sought, little more than
children, on the threshing platform for some grain we might have
missed, to fill our howling stomachs?
MAQUA: Let us recall Rabinal from which you have been long away.
The stage darkens, with the exception of a strong light on the skull
platform. The jungle, plane and artillery sounds
cease. TACHI and the two WOMEN GUERRILLAS mount the
platform. They assume an oddly constrained adolescent
demeanor. Sitting or squatting they sift handfuls of chaff,
looking for missed grain.
TACHI: Do you find any, sister? Any missed kernels to plant
in the valleys of our stomachs?
TACHI'S SISTER: I find some but not many. We were foolish, we
worked carefully when we first threshed the grain. We left
little for ourselves now—and the rest is at the landlord's,
now. (To the Neighbor Girl.) It is good of you to
help us. I know your hut is as empty as ours and your mother
as eager as mine to thicken the water in the cooking pot.
NEIGHBOR GIRL: We brought in the grain together. We all are
hungry together, and together we can do this. With a song the
work is lighter, our stomachs less empty.
SHE begins the song. The OTHERS join as they sift the chaff
with rhythmic movements.
SONG OF THE GRAIN
We gather in the grain
we must go with the grain
we must live from the grain
of our Rabinal village
we perish of the nothingness.
Now we hunt for each grain
for each grain of the grain
for there's none in the sack
and there's none in the pot
the harvest time is weeks away.
The grain the landlord took
is in the landlord's storehouse
he drove it down the mountain
and he drives its price up
we perish of the nothingness.
The sound of a truck is heard. A pause. Two of the
guerrillas appear as the LANDLORD and his FOREMAN on the back of the
FOREMAN: Here are some lively young ones.
LANDLORD: Do you think so? I cannot tell; they look so
filthy, so scrawny.
FOREMAN: I can tell. I see them often enough; they'll
do. THE THREE remain quiet.
LANDLORD: You youngsters! Well? I heard you singing a moment
ago, don't deny it. Are you happy here then? Well?
Are you unhappy? It seems you must be unhappy. You,
FOREMAN: His name is Tachi.
LANDLORD: Tachi. What do you think of the natural hardships
of life in this
forsaken village? Hm? In your place—I
wouldn't think it natural to put up with it! (To the Neighbor
Girl.) Come over here. (HE
waits. SHE slowly comes.) You're pretty.
Do you still live at home? (Runs his hand over her cheek,
then over her breast.) What's your name? How old
are you? (SHE doesn't answer.) What, you can't
speak? Shy. You're too thin. You know,
I'm your landlord; you should be nice to me. How would you
like to come help out in your landlord's house? It's big, and
a room just for you. You'll eat well. You know I
haven't much time.
NEIGHBOR GIRL: I'd rather move into your storehouse. Bring
the whole village with me.
THE FOREMAN slaps her. SHE runs off.
LANDLORD: That is a stupid girl. Nothing much can come of
her. How can she want to live in such conditions?
You youngsters want something better, I can tell. Come
closer. Girl, you would be a beauty in a real
dress. I can get you clean fine dresses if you serve in my
home. (HE touches her; SHE restrains
herself.) Good. You have poise.
And—Tachi. You'll starve if you stay
here. You must see that. There isn't enough grain
left in the village after taxes, to feed the old people and the
young. You need good food. A nice
uniform. A chance to see something more of your
country. And we need soldiers. Badly; that's why we
are here, with the truck. That's why so much of the grain
must go out of the village in taxes. You can follow the
grain. Do you know that most of the young men of Rabinal have
signed up already? You won't want to be left
behind. The truck is loading now. Both of you.
TACHI'S SISTER: We would have to ask our mother.
LANDLORD: Your mother has already been—asked.
FOREMAN: That's so. Your brother has already climbed
in. He's smoking his first cigarette already. He
was issued a whole carton.
TACHI'S SISTER: Mama! Do you want me, do you want Tachi to go along
with the landlord in his truck? He says we can eat, and after
a time come back. U Chuch! Mama?
VOICE OF THE MOTHER: Children, it must be as it must be.
TACHI: What about the grain, Mama?
VOICE OF THE MOTHER: I will see to that now. Were I of any
use to them I would have to go myself. Leave the grain you
have found in the bag. I will see you next when I see you
back. I will live, children; go...
FOREMAN: There you are! What keeps you?
TACHI pours the grain he has collected into his sister's
sack. THE FOREMAN roughly takes it from her.
FOREMAN: Here, I'll bring that along.
ALL leave the platform. Sound of truck starting up.
"The Song of the Grain" heard distantly as sound of truck
recedes. THE NEIGHBOR GIRL cautiously reappears, looks about
platform then in truck's direction.
of 3rd Interlude
Full scene. The jungle, plane and artillery sounds.
TACHI in the semi-circle of guerrillas.
TACHI: Yes, it was like that!—and because of that, although
the city might at last have offered many comforts, I have been honest
always to my people and my people will acquit me.
MAQUA: Were your city comforts that great?
GUERRILLA with humor: Was it someone else, then, who walked
on jaguar claws with us by day, and by night skulked—a
coyote—to our enemies?
GUERRILLA slyly: Some one of us fattens on the carcasses
their eagles leave.. .isn't it you?
BALAM: Well, Tachi—was not that your audacity?
Treason must be paid. To whom are you the outlaw?
To them, or us? Shall you fall upon this earth?
TACHI hurt: Shall I fall, because for my people I have sharpened my
wits, and run every sort of risk? Am I a traitor for having
left these blighted valleys and rocks—crossed and recrossed
by the eagle people striking death? For having gone to the
city, and come back striking death to the eagle in my turn?
Or am I traitor for having run into this clearing to bring the warning
of patrols of the army higher up? Do not you be a bastard,
BALAM savoring the moment: Of our people or theirs? Quiche or
yaqui? In the battle that now grows there is no breed
between. The eagles sweep overhead; a coyote runs among the
jaguars. The eagle flies, but must rest and feed.
The eagle shall not walk this ground again. The coyote shall
have no carcass to feed on; he shall be known.
WOMAN GUERRILLA with a leap: Well Tachi—coyote?
TACHI as all laugh: No—no!
BALAM: Let us then see how Tachi served his people, when he went to
flatter arms from authorities of the tame militia.
The stage darkens, with the exception of a strong light on the skull
platform. The jungle, plane and artillery sounds
cease. TACHI, followed by an ARMY CAPTAIN, mounts the
platform. TACHI transforms to a humble appearance.
THE CAPTAIN is in full uniform with medals, brown-skinned but like
Tachi lacks the facial configuration of the guerrillas.
TACHI: Please sir, most honored officer.
CAPTAIN: Yes. Oh, you must be the fellow my adjutant was
telling me about. You are, am I right, from the village of
Rabinal? In the mid Quiche mountains?
TACHI: I am the man of Rabinal, that is so, yes, sir. Tachi.
CAPTAIN shrewdly: And you want—what?
TACHI: To fight the communists! With all my heart I hate the
CAPTAIN: Of course. We all do. All men of integrity
and goodwill do. There are not many of them left in your
mountains. We send the big birds to them daily, drop tons and
tons of dirt remover on 'em. Everyone hates
communists. They'll soon all be gone, fellow. Just
have some patience. Anything else?
TACHI: I want to do what I can to kill the communists. They
make it so my village is no longer a place where I can live.
They make it so your eagle bombers must come over, spend much money to
blow up the village, to keep them away. Must this be?
CAPTAIN: Of course this must be, fellow. How can we kill the
communists if they don't get bombed in your village, when they skulk
there in their cowardly way? It must be! You are on
the right side, fellow. You will live long.
TACHI: But must it be like that?
CAPTAIN bellowing: Of course it must be, like that! What are
TACHI: Captain, sir, most honored officer, you do not understand
me. I want to say—my words are so poor, I
know—I wish to say that you would not need to bomb my
village, my Rabinal—if the communists did not come there, in
their cowardly way.
CAPTAIN: Well of course!
TACHI: Well, sir, I will keep them out of Rabinal!
CAPTAIN laughs: You, fellow? Just how?
TACHI: Well, by organizing my people in Rabinal. By making,
what I think you call, a militia. Then by killing the
communists if they dare come, which I do not think they will.
They are cowards and terrors of the people.
CAPTAIN: Do you think that is possible, in Rabinal village?
TACHI: What, to kill communists? Of course! I will
kill them all if I have the chance!
CAPTAIN: slyly: Isn't that dangerous?
TACHI: Of course. But there is nothing else to do with the
communists, who make it that our village is bombed and must live in
CAPTAIN: I mean that you might be killed. Do you really know
how dangerous it is, to be a communist-killer among your Quiche?
TACHI: I believe in my people to be able to kill all the communists.
CAPTAIN: For myself, I do not have any confidence in your people at
all. They are most of them communists, that is the
truth. You talk stupidly. And yet I do not think
you are so stupid, somehow. I have looked at your police
record, the adjutant brought it to me. Your record in the
city has been extraordinary, you have worked honestly and faithfully
for numerous anti-communist employers. But then you
vanished. We have no record of work for you for the last
several months. Where were you?
TACHI: I went home. To Rabinal. To work my father's
land and to help in the fight against communists. I was much
upset. My father's land, which he had rented from the
landlord of Rabinal, was no longer as it was, I couldn't find the
boundaries, the communists had come and made everything one piece of
land for everyone! Where did the landlord of Rabinal
go? I had no idea. Where were the
communists? Everywhere! But I saw that there were
good people still in Rabinal, older men, women and even some young who
respect their landlord even in his absence and would fight the
communists, given a chance. And help. I came back
to the city, to you, to do whatever I could. Rabinal wants
CAPTAIN: You want?
TACHI: Arms. (Pause.) Rifles, pistols, machine
guns, grenades, flares, ammunitions, whatever will make us a regular
CAPTAIN: As I said, this is most dangerous. Few of our
militia programs in the villages are continuing, many have
been overrun. You know that' (TACHI
nods.) Yet you will take the risk? If we call off
our bombers, you think you can do it? (TACHI nods.)
But perhaps you are indeed stupid. What's your
price? (TACHI looks blank.) For the sake of heaven,
what's in it for you?
TACHI: I ask nothing, Captain, sir. Only to kill
communists. And that the landlord of Rabinal, when he
returns, make me in charge of keeping Rabinal peaceful. No
one can tell me the landlord will not return. Why, my
grandfather's father knew his grandfather when just a baby boy, and
brought him duck's eggs!
CAPTAIN: Aha. A plausible motive. Fine,
Tachi. That is your name? We have something to talk
about now. Yes, I think I can promise you that when the
landlord returns to Rabinal, you shall be his favorite. And,
until he does, you will so to speak be watchman in his stead,
yes? They have been bothering me about the militia program,
the higher-ups I mean, and so I am glad we can agree on helping you in
THE CAPTAIN extends a band and TACHI shakes it in both of his.
TACHI: When can I begin? When can you send the weapons to
CAPTAIN: In a day or so. We are agreed in principle then,
Commandant Tachi. You shall very soon have the chance to
TACHI: Ah, I hate communists!
of 4th Interlude
Full scene. Artillery and planes, with jungle
sounds. The figure of the Captain has vanished; once more
TACHI is surrounded by his interrogators.
TACHI pleased with himself: Did I or did I not get the weapons?
Before anyone can speak, the sound of a plane comes up fast on the
clearing. There is a warning cry from above as GUERRILLAS and
TACHI run and leap for cover behind stele, or in a trench beneath brush
at the back of the clearing. Two or three bombs drop very
near, shaking the ceremonial ground, startling and briefly silencing
the jungle voices. Pause. THE GUERRILLAS and TACHI
re-emerge. Someone exhales a long breath.
GUERRILLA: Who is hurt? Is anyone hurt?
GUERRILLA: Kill him now. Let's get it over
with. Cut the bastard's heart out.
GUERRILLA: Did Tachi give our position to the eagles?
WOMAN GUERRILLA: With your help they almost have their claws in us.
GUERRILLA: Those who go to the yaqui have no claim on mercy.
Some GUERRILLAS move to assault Tachi.
MAQUA: Brothers, wait. I ask you, Balam, to hear this
out. Not because he bears the blood of my mother U
Chuch—but, because we are revolutionaries. What
becomes of Tachi must not merely be undertaken; it must be understood,
by us, and by Tachi. And if he is to...die, this must be
accepted by all and by Tachi, too, since we have time. This
is a proper code for revolutionaries. Do you not agree,
BALAM: It is proper. We have not yet finished the review of
the career of Tachi. We cannot yet agree, or disagree.
TACHI: Brothers, you will yet agree with me, you have seen so far how I
gained, by my wit, weapons from the foe. You cannot deny that
I did and you must soon agree with me, as I am bound to accept your
view of my service to the Quiche people. When all has been
BALAM: To that must we all, because of our revolutionary honor, agree.
SOME GUERRILLAS show that they dissent.
MAQUA: Forgive me, Tachi. But my revolutionary duty now
compels me to take up the tale.
TACHI surprised: Yes. Of course.
MAQUA: I do so with grief because of what I now must reveal about a son
of my mother U Chuch, and of a daughter of U Chuch, our sister who, in
the city, has kept body and soul intact through sale of her
body. In spirit she is entirely at home among the Quiche.
TACHI: I grieve each day for our sister, forced to
prostitution. And how is the health of our sister?
MAQUA: It is better now. She brought us news; good, for the
movement—terrible for you. Our sister relates that
in her work of giving the people of the eagle and yaqui to play upon
her body's fields, its valleys and mountains, in submitting to their
mechanical plows, she meets other women so employed, in their bars and
lounges. And a woman she thus met, Caron Susa by name, knew
TACHI: I do not know this woman.
MAQUA heatedly: You know her. Her valleys and
mountains. You have plowed her. She described to
our sisters the intimate marks of your body. You know Caron
Susa very well...for you went to her, and other women, in company of
the army captain, and were much with the army captain. For
Caron Susa heard your conversations—and as they grew ever
more friendly, your jests, your accounts of the Quiche movement, and of
how you were supposed to be fooling the captain. This our
sister told me. You have become the friend of the captain,
and a harrow to our valleys and mountains.
GUERRILLA: Well, Tachi. Do you agree?
TACHI: I do not! I saw the captain, but you know well
why. And each sign of accord with him—as I told
you—signalled the advancement of our struggle.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Can you say that? And what of Caron Susa?
BALAM: Yes, what of the word of Caron Susa?
TACHI: I do not know Caron Susa.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: You did not plow her plains, ravage her mountains for
TACHI: It is true that I spent some evenings with the
captain! But only for our cause, only to put his great
suspicions to sleep. The weapons you hold are what you call
GUERRILLA: You were not with that woman?
TACHI: I was with some women. What would you have
done? It is the morals of their world. To put the
captain's suspicions to sleep, I had to sleep with their women.
THE GUERRILLAS, angered, now circle Tachi and advance on him.
HE falls back and around the ceremonial ground. The agitated
confrontation assumes the aspect of slow dance, TACHI circling, BALAM
and the GUERRILLAS advancing, circling. THE GUERRILLAS utter
words of dissent, interrogation, menace. A Guerrilla perhaps
begins softly to play on a flute or native whistle, and one or two
others begin a rhythm with butts of weapons on logs or the
earth. Drone of planes and thud of artillery continue.
MAQUA: But you see, they are not their women! Not all of
them, not in their hearts. Is our sister their woman?
WOMAN GUERRILLA: In body she sells herself: she is not ready for the
hardships of our movement. But her spirit is in revolt, and
her tongue speaks to us, you see!
TACHI: Yes, of course, it will be the jaguar's claws that finally speak
for our sister's tongue, for her spirit that struggles beneath the
claws of the eagle!
BALAM: You say that?
TACHI: I was with some women, only to be with the captain—
...only to bring us weapons!
BALAM: Then tell us, little Tachi, why haveyou run into our tiny
TACHI: As I said: to bring a warning of army patrols above.
BALAM: But your own combat unit is supposed to be above. Are
you saying it was destroyed? We can check that.
TACHI: No, it was not destroyed. Our brothers' unit is
above—and beneath the sky, and above the earth.
But, I was out gathering greens for our meal when I found myself cut
off from my unit by a force of the army, and could not warn my unit so
thought to warn you. Forgive me!
BALAM: Is it not so that you ran in our way, not knowing we would be
TACHI: I guessed you might be here.
BALAM: Did you not rather guess that a patrol of the army was
here? Was it not to the patrol of the army that you ran?
TACHI: It was not!
BALAM: Our position was known to no one. But we knew the
position of that army force; and, last night, we fell upon that force,
and the blood of those ladinos, those yaqui, ran into the ground last
night. You did not know that. Nor that we were
here. That is obvious.
TACHI: I can but repeat: I guessed you were here, I was cut off from my
BALAM: You do not know also that because of the great suspicion about
you, I had given orders that you were for no reason—no reason
whatever—to be allowed from the sight of your
fellows. These were strict orders and our discipline as
revolutionaries, and of the revolutionaries watching you, is absolute.
TACHI: I admit! I admit I left my patrol without orders, and
for the best of reasons. Our mother, Maqua! U Chuch
our mother is dying and...
MAQUA: Lies! Ah, Tachi. Your tongue rattles in your
mouth. Your cleverness falters like a spent bird of
prey. Our mother lives. Our sister was here, not
two days ago, to say our mother, though well, has been taken by the
army to a camp of concentration far away, and you knew nothing of
this! Your deceit is over, Tachi lost brother.
TACHI: I did not say I had word she was dying—our
mother. But, I felt a terrible thing had happened to her, and
now you confirm it. And I acted on my terrified
feeling. Can you condemn it?
BALAM: It is condemned by yourself. Your single-file column
of lies that trip over themselves. Condemned also by the
words of your sister, who spoke further of how she had to listen to
gleeful tales from Caron Susa about your treachery toward the Quiche.
The tempo of movement in confrontation has intensified. The
demise of Tachi appears to be approaching.
TACHI: I admit! Yes, all you have said, Balam, Maqua, is
true... Yet—in my heart it rings false.
Though I did as you have told, in my heart it was all for the Quiche,
for Rabinal, for our people! True!
BALAM: You can say that?
TACHI: I saw the world differently than you.
MAQUA: Your skies would not be these skies. Their eagles
would float through them. Their extorters of rent and tax
walk our earth without fear. You and they scorch our
valleys—blister our rocks, dry our streams, —and
what would become of the people of the jaguar? Look on the grand spaces
where the clouds march over the boulders, the fields and valleys, this
is our fortress, vast. And you are not at home here as the
squirrel, the small bird.
TACHI: Ah, my sky and earth! You say truly that my hopes have won
nothing among these beautiful mountains, these beautiful
valleys. Was it in vain, useless—that I fled in
despair to the city, that I came back with my hopes for this sky, this
earth? Has my audacity won nothing? I would serve
my people, truly this is what my heart says. But if you think
to punish me, hear my voice: if all I have done has been wrong, then
let me join you anew. Let my sandals trod only this earth,
always this earth. On the trails of the jaguar. Let
me never go again to the city or away from this people. By
day or by night. I embrace you as my senior, Balam, with my
brothers, my sisters. I embrace these mountains,
these valleys. And I will now explain to you what and how my
heart prompted, what you condemn.
The stage darkens, with the exception of a strong light on the skull
platform. The jungle, plane, artillery and music sounds
cease. TACHI appears on the platform with the CAPTAIN of the
previous interlude and TWO OR THREE OTHER OFFICERS OF THE ARMY played
by guerrillas who slip on military caps but are otherwise
unchanged. Also a WHITE-SKINNED MILITARY ADVISOR played by a
guerrilla who slips on a sky-blue air force hat and jacket with
ribbons, and daubs his face and hands rapidly with white
pigment. The Captain and his friends are amiable; someone
hands Tachi a drink (a canteen stands in for the glass), and they
smoke. The white-skinned Advisor looks on with approbation
and is unobtrusive.
1st OFFICER: Here, fellow. Have a good manhattan.
You won't get many as good as this! But there's more of this
sort of thing in store for good anti-communists like you!
2nd OFFICER: It's Tachi, right? Tachi, welcome to the winning
side. We shall make out well together. You have a
good head on your shoulders.
TACHI: You are kind, Colonel.
CAPTAIN: I wanted you to meet Tachi, a fine son of the
Quiche. Clever, and ready to work for his people out there in
Rabinal. And not only there.
TACHI shakes hands with OFFICERS and ADVISOR.
1st OFFICER: Your people will someday thank you. You will be
known as a hero, when what you are now about to do in the mountains can
be made known. You will be in all the history books of the
TACHI: You have shown me that your way is best for the
people. That is all I ask: to be able to do what is best for
my Quiche. If I thought still that the guerrillas were right,
I would be blowing up your bridges and airfields. Believe
me. I am not going to the mountains to do espionage for the
sake of the city loafers. I do not love the landlord of
Rabinal. I do love my people.
CAPTAIN: I am of your people, Tachi, as you know. Though I
have been long away from the mountains and am by birth of rather
different station. You know I am no loafer; that we are no
loafers; we have initiative. Help me; help us, with what you
TACHI: I want our land to be tranquil. Where no people die in
fighting or from disease or hunger, Captain.
ADVISOR offering cigarette: That is what we shall bring about, Tachi,
CAPTAIN: People, like you and me, the best of the Quiche, with superior
talents, shall bring peace to Rabinal and all the land, a free
nation. Where all men of talent can make their way.
TACHI: I do believe in my heart that the aluminum eagles—and
(bowing slightly to the Advisor) the advanced people who lend us these
wings and claws—will bring a modern way of life to the Quiche.
2nd OFFICER: By all means: refrigerators, bars, electricity
everywhere, hospitals, automobiles, nylon stockings.
Prosperity for everyone who has the wit to apply himself!
1st OFFICER: You have well seen what the eagle people can do.
TACHI: Yes. Technology—getting ahead! Of
course, we see mostly their military technology just now, but that is
CAPTAIN: To keep our country free.
ADVISOR: From your misguided townsmen in the hills.
1st OFFICER: But all the communists shall be killed, chased to the top
of their mountains and off.
CAPTAIN: When this trouble is over, the other fine things of technology
will come too. Then people with ambition will live like gods.
TACHI: Freedom—for us.
possible insert at this point.]
The circle of GUERRILLAS around the platform is so tight that one can
see them with their weapons in the illumination, observing
closely. The sound of exploding shells is also
heard—not the heavy artillery as before, but light sharp
explosions as of mortars.
TACHI: Indeed I believe in my people and in freedom. We need
quiet and peace in which people may do things for themselves.
With the help of the marvelous machines brought here by your people (to
Advisor). I am doing as you have outlined for my
people. For our sky above, its earth below.
of 5th Interlude
A CRY in the blackout: You would have our mountains and valleys be
Full scene. The planes, artillery and jungle
noises. During the following dialog TACHI, in center of
clearing, is stripped of his peasant shirt and trousers down to his
store-bought underpants. THE GUERRILLA who played the Advisor
removes the white pigment from his face and hands and smears this on
Tachi's face, hands, legs, while Tachi trembles. The
Guerrilla then fits the air force jacket and hat on Tachi.
BALAM: Do you see that you must die?
TACHI: I do not see it. I see only the forests, the clouds,
the people I love.
BALAM: You scorch the mountains and valleys and invite the eagle to
walk upon them. What would have become of the jaguar's
people, had the coyote not blindly run onto this ancient
ground? Do you not see that you cannot be let free?
That you would betray us finally—our places, your own sister
TACHI: I do not believe that. Let my sandals always walk only
here since my heart has misled me. I love the Quiche, our
places, my sister.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Where we would make the agrarian reform, you have led
BALAM: Do you think your Captain would agree to your silence about
us? Do you know how many of his people he has already killed
for refusing to help him?
TACHI: I know how many he has killed. I thought I knew
why. I do not think he would agree to my silence.
BALAM: And do you imagine we can agree to take you back? To
take back the traitor to our rocks, our forests, our people of the
fields and jungles? Traitor to our future? To the
machines that will be ours?
TACHI: I know you cannot trust me; I could not do it, were I
you. I am sorry about that. I had my people in my
heart...that you can trust. But something else droned into my
ears, beat in through my eyes, laid its hand on my chest. And
that too reached my heart. It is still there even with the
words you say, I cannot say why.
BALAM: You, Tachi, sought to live just for yourself—taking
your choices, just for yourself. You thought to be free by
freeing yourself of the choices of your people. For this you
must die, and your blood run out, and it run into the soil of your
people beneath this sky. Here, you shall be cut
down. The coyote dies captive. You have said
farewell to valleys and fields. Really, it shall be so.
TACHI: Shall it be so? I have done badly. "They provoke us to
these measures, they are rebellious" —said the
Captain. "I am in command of the legal forces" —he
said— "for my power is from the powerful of the
city. In the city there is order, and no order in the
country, together we bring order everywhere." Said the
Captain. I believed when he said: "This way we bring an end
to misery. All must join under me to bring an end to
misery." He said that. Now I must pay for the
desires of my heart. But may I not have two weeks to go and
say farewell to our mother and see that she has to eat and to sleep,
and to say farewell to my home mountains and valleys of Rabinal?
No guerrilla speaks. SOME go and pick up the foliage
handpieces. They form around him.
TACHI: Balam, I speak to your heart. As a revolutionary you
must be kind, for cruelty in the struggle now can twist the heart of
what our brothers later do. I would be among our brothers
when they walk into the cities as free men of all the Quiche
lands. Oh, let me still walk in my sandals along the jaguar
trails, not leaving you by night or by day. Do not trust me,
but let me serve my people.
BALAM: You were our brother. You left, and came back lifted
by the claws of the eagle. We will ask the brothers and
sisters whose lives, whose hopes and future you put in danger, whether
you shall live.
TACHI: If they say, be at one with our valleys and fields, I shall live
forever among them; if they say no, let my blood run out beneath this
sky and into the earth.
BALAM: Brothers and sisters, your choice!
GUERRILLA: Several of our people were caught last week. An
army force knew just where to look. Several of our brothers
and sisters died.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: The coyote cannot live with the jaguar.
GUERRILLA: He is not one of us. For each rifle he brought us,
ten more were turned upon us.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: Were it not for your sister, your brother Maqua would
not draw his breath tomorrow.
GUERRILLA: I know him no more.
GUERRILLA: I know him no more.
GUERRILLA: Our purpose has been the land for all. His, each
GUERRILLA: Here you must fall. You have said farewell to our
fields and valleys, and to the agrarian reform that our children will
WOMAN GUERRILLA: I educate the children of Rabinal by night; by day the
troops of your Captain and landlord still walk in and through
Rabinal. I could not tell those children that the revolution
tolerated their betrayer.
BALAM after a pause: Let the claws of the jaguar be shown; he has
brought us danger too great for rifles.
THE GUERRILLAS move upon TACHI, who backs away, again comprising a kind
of dance confrontation, perhaps to the flute.
TACHI stripping off the air force jacket and hat: Oh eagles oh
jaguars—"I sought to live just for myself you have
said! My choice was wrong and by my path my life is
lost. Through the valleys, under the sky I went and went
wrongly; must I really die? Must I fall here, amid my sky and
earth? Ah my hopes. May they go to the people of my
valleys and may you send my pistol, broken to the eagle
captain. Because it was he gave it to me, saying "You shall
help your people better than they know!"
BALAM: Your pistol, Tachi, stays with us. Thus the captain
and you help us. We shall shortly send the captain after
you. Already our people are thick in the suburbs where you
took the truth in your torn pocket. But where you were one
and betrayed yourself—we now are many and shall take the city.
TACHI: And what shall become of me? My blood shall run
out—among these valleys, under this mountain. Oh
eagles oh jaguars—come and finish your mission, do what you
must! Let your claws your teeth tear me in a
moment. For I am a man lost from my mountains, my
valleys. The sky, the earth are for all,... Oh
eagles oh jaguars!
THE GUERRILLAS have backed their prisoner against the stele of the
jaguar god, and now they press in on him, and a knife glistens, the
flute rises in excitement, and the scene is blacked out.
Scenario for an Insert, which might be played following Tachi's line,
"Freedom—for us," near the conclusion of the 5th Interlude.
CAPTAIN: I want you to know, really know, Tachi, what you, and of
course your people of Rabinal, stand to gain. We can make a
short visit. Let us make a visit.
THE CAPTAIN takes TACHI by the arm and guides him off the skull
platform, down from the stage and into the audience. The
auditorium lights are turned half on. They go a short way up
the aisle. All of THE GUERRILLAS, including those playing the
Army Officers and the Advisor, move to the front of the stage, on and
around the skull platform, and clearly observe Tachi's confrontation
with the audience.
CAPTAIN: I want you to make yourself acquainted. Don't be
shy. Ask any questions you want. Find out about the
life that is possible, where they have technology. Just see
what the advanced people who lend us wings and claws have to offer
you. I don't want you to think I've been making up stories.
BALAM mounting skull platform: We shall shortly occupy all our cities,
and bend them like plows to the use of our people.
CAPTAIN: Go ahead, Tachi. I won't do it for you.
Ask any question. Anything you want to know at all.
They're kind people; they'll give you a straight answer, and they won't
feel uncomfortable about it.
TACHI: Well...I'd like to know...Is it really true that...that in your
country are schools for everyone, even farmers, and free?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Yes.)
CAPTAIN prompting: Ask to what age they can go to school free.
TACHI: To what age can you go to school, free?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Answers.)
GUERRILLA: I have been in the city before.
GUERRILLA: I too.
GUERRILLA: I too. I drove the truck from Rabinal to the city,
for the landlord, at one time.
WOMAN GUERRILLA: In their cities they go to school long, and learn
almost nothing of how to live. They learn how to serve and to
know the allotted pleasures of a servant. Or, how to rule and
allow little pleasure. Neither schooling, neither life is for
men and women!
CAPTAIN: Tachi, ask another question.
TACHI: Is it true that you have—skyscrapers? In
your country? Do you?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Answers.)
GUERRILLA: In their cities little grows, the smoke settles, the poor
man slaves at his life's risk to raise gigantic cliff dwellings that
shut the sun and stars out. He goes home to a family that
lives in filth. His spirit is broken.
GUERRILLA: I was a student in a very large city. My parents
are there. But I was not a slave or a master by
nature. I went to help my people become themselves, that is
why I am in these valleys and mountains.
GUERRILLA: Yes, cities are wonders, they are in our future, but not
every city is shaped for men to inhabit.
TACHI: Would you tell me, please. I really want to
know. Is it true that among you, you may vote for the ruler
of the city and of the country?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Answers.)
GUERRILLA agitated: Did you hear that? And yet I know that
although they do vote, not all are allowed to vote. Even
fewer than half who are allowed even make the small effort, for in
their minds they know: the true rulers are the millionaires and their
servants, and these are not responsive to the people's deep needs.
GUERRILLA: It is so without meaning for them, they do not trouble to
vote, while we vote with our lives.
(NOTE: In the foregoing, TACHI and HIS GUIDE are mild and encouraging,
grateful for any answer. They must be prepared to
improvise. Although Tachi could, of course, address "plants"
in the audience, the effect will be heightened if obviously unprepared
members of the audience are called upon to "perform."
The audience becomes aware of itself as individuals in a situation
defined by Tachi. The ultra-familiar is rendered "strange"
and scrutable, on a basis of new familiarity with the inscrutable
values of the Guerrillas. The audience is to be confronted
with its own civilization.
As the episode develops, silent films and slides of an affluent society
may be sporadically and unassertively projected on a side wall, the
ceiling, etc. The scenes might include surfing, poverty
scenes, luxury scenes, auto wrecks, racial brutality, TV commercials,
foreign interventions, orating politicians, etc.
Additional questions from Tachi to audience members, with appropriate
comments by Guerrillas, may be added.
Should an audience member offer a more acute reply than is to be found
in the high school civics books, the Captain might respond:
"You see, Tachi, there are some malcontents, and you see, they are
allowed to run around free. They are in any event of no
consequence: they don't even seek power with which to change the way
things are. That's another advantage of affluence.
They talk, but what's talk? Ask someone else
something. You'll see the faith most of them have in their
Should hostile remarks be injected by an audience member, a Guerrilla
may admonish him: "Why not just give a straight answer—look,
your girlfriend is embarrassed. Just say what you
know. What is true for you. We're interested."
A really difficult person may be invited to the stage, "If you want to
make a statement." Should he come, he may be taken in custody by the
Guerrillas and hustled out of sight: "It is enough that you
should speak in favor of how you are willing to live. Why
intervene in what we are trying to show you? We have had
enough interventions from your people. Yes, this is
revolutionary justice. Not pure tolerance, revolutionary
CAPTAIN: Well, Tachi. Are you satisfied with what this
advanced and favored people have to offer? Have you more
questions? I'm sure they stand at your disposal.
TACHI: No. I'm satisfied. It is
wonderful. I hope we can bring it all to our country as
rapidly as possible! How Rabinal will be changed.
And I'll have much to do with it.
CAPTAIN: Yes, you'll have a very good position in it.
TACHI: I desire that.
MAQUA: The little fool.
BALAM: When we occupy the cities, we shall bend them like plows to the
use of our people.
TACHI and THE CAPTAIN have returned to the stage and again mount the
skull platform, as BALAM and the OTHER GUERRILLAS who are not enacting
Army Officers or the Advisor quit it. Auditorium lights
out. At this point the prepared script resumes, with the
stage direction prior to Tachi's final speech of the Interlude.
About the Play
Claws of the
Eagle, Claws of the Jaguar
derives in numerous particulars from Rabinal
And what is the latter? The one Maya dance-drama to have been
written down, before the rich theatrical tradition of indigenous
Central America was obliterated.
From Rabinal Achi...
Most of the indigenous dramatic pieces
did not survive the early Conquest. But with occasional
performance and oral transmission,
was preserved in the mountains of what is today Northern Guatemala
through three hundred years of Spanish conquest and colonial
administration. Its performance was discontinued when Spain
gave up the rule of Mexico. Almost thirty years later the
last Maya to remember the work wrote it down. He added:
"The 28th of October, 1850, I have
transcribed the original of this drum dance, property of our town of
San Pablo de Rabinal, to leave a record for my descendants, which will
endure forever with them. May it be so.
A parish priest of Rabinal named
Brasseur came upon Zis' text and in 1856 had it performed.
For the musical accompaniment the villagers employed a large drum and
two trumpets. Brasseur published the work in Maya Quiche and
in French, with his observations, in 1862.
In writing Claws
I worked with the text in Teatro
Prehispanico (Rabinal Achi),
Ediciones de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma, Mexico, 1955.
An English translation by Richard E. Leinaweaver has since
appeared and may be consulted in
Latin American Theatre
Review for Spring 1968.
the Present Struggle
The preserved text of Rabinal Achi—like
the present performance piece—tells of the capture, the
questioning, and the sentence of death passed upon an individual whose
deeds were a threat to the communal welfare of a people.
The nations of the Maya tilled common
fields. And they called intruder-pillagers such as the
villain of Rabinal
Achi by the name of Yaqui, a
term retained here.
In the Maya Quiche play not a trace of
European influence can be found. Rabinal Achi nonetheless
presents a sophisticated language and action which evoke, intricately
and powerfully, the Maya sense of their environs and their social
The present performance piece reaches
back to the former work above all for its language resources, for its
agrarian semiotical system. And the truly noteworthy fact
about the semiotical resources of Rabinal
is that these are not arbitrary or idiosyncratic. On the
contrary. The expressive motifs used in the new text have a
long and a widespread, indeed as it were a universal
tradition. For instance, the Jaguar recurs in the mythic
consciousness of many indigenous South American peoples.
Appearing as the friend, and even the brother-in-law of humankind,
—as Claude Levi-Strauss has pointed out in The Raw and the Cooked—it
is likewise Jaguar who intervenes on humanity's behalf in the
supernatural realm. Jaguar thus acts as the counterpart of
Prometheus in the Greek mythos. He is the bringer
of fire to humankind.
North America does not lack counterpart
examples. Ethan Allen's Vermont militia and vigilante force
fought off presumptive landlords from New York State and later, in the
Revolutionary War, captured Fort Ticonderoga from the
British. These Green Mountain Boys took the equivalent
Catamount as their symbol. Outside a favorite Bennington
tavern a stuffed Catamount stood astride a tall gallows to grin a snarl
towards New York State: fair warning to those who threatened the Green
Mountain integrity of interest whether from without or
within. After this play was completed, a new political
organization, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, appeared in the
United States, to confirm once more the power of the imagery of Rabinal Achi.
Among the views stated by the founder, Huey P. Newton, was the
conviction that "the spirit of the people is greater than the Man's
technology." And consider the very ancient Vietnamese prophecy:
When the hawk comes,
the lion will rise.
Then peace will come to the world.
What about the Eagle? From the
Vietnamese quotation, we observe likewise that birds of prey are in
widespread ill repute. And it will be noted already that
nearly all empires have embossed a bird of prey upon their escutcheons,
usually an eagle. In the Greek iconography the comparable
creatures are, of course, the terrible vultures which tear at the
breast of the bound Prometheus.
The semiotical texture of Claws
is redolent with the topography of jungled, mountainous existence and
this too stems from Rabinal Achi. Yet again it is not
idiosyncratic to the Mayan work, but rather is common to the life
expression of a social outlook in these rural environs. An
entirely similar passage occurs in the Testament
of Ho Chi Minh, for instance. I quote from the official
English translation by the [North] Vietnamese News Agency:
"We must be resolved to fight against the U.S. aggressors till total
victory. Our rivers, our mountains, our men will always
remain. The Yanks defeated, we will build our country 10
times more beautiful." Only remoteness of a reader from
experience of such circumstances could cause him or her to presume that
such words would be poor in sensual and emotional evocation.
The actor's passion can overcome this possible danger.
One asks why this work survived and was
transmitted by the Maya under Spanish rule to the exclusion of the
other dance-dramas in their considerable heritage. Could it
be that the Maya identified their conquerors with the Yaqui?
And that the performance of the piece aided them in retaining a degree
of dignity and a defiance of the Spanish? An early visitor to the
Yucatan, Fray Diego de Landa, relates that the Maya often performed
entertainments based on the Conquest. "The Indians have very
clever and principally farcical recreations, which they present with
much flair; so much so, that the Spanish lend themselves to them for no
better purpose than to see the jests the Spanish pass with their
servants, spouses and themselves...represented with as much artifice as
are the curiosas of Spain itself." High praise for the Maya
theatre, and deservedly mixed with apprehension.
The newspaper Impartial
of Guatemala City for June 27, 1968 carried a report by M. Behar, the
Chief of the Institute of Nutrition of Central America and
Panama. The report included this observation: "The
pre-Columbian Maya ate better than the people today." Rabinal
is located in the Baja Verapaz sector of Guatemala. A
guerrilla movement has in recent years been active
there. Might descendants of the transcriber of
Rabinal Achi, Bartolo Zis, be among its cadres?
If taxes eat their grain,
And the faults of starving people
Are the fault of their rulers.
That is why people rebel.
Men who have to fight for their living
And are not afraid to die for it
Are higher men than those who, stationed high,
Are too fat to dare to die.
From the Tao
Teh Ching, 5th Century B.C.
1. English translation by Nathaniel Tarn. Shaking the Pumpkin:
Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas.
New York: Alfred van der Marck Editions, revised ed. 1986.
2. Lee Baxandall. Claws
of the Eagle, Claws
of the Jaguar.
Oshkosh: N Editions, 1994. Reprinted here with permission
from Phineas Baxandall.