MEXICO CITY — The protagonists of one of Mexico's newest soap operas go through love, betrayal and family problems, a typical story line for the popular genre, except they do it in an ancient language.
"Baktun" (bak-TOON) is the first telenovela entirely in the Mayan language to air in Mexico in an effort to save the language from extinction.
"There are a lot of Mayan speakers who won't speak the language," said Hilario Chi Canul, the male lead and script writer. "The language is not lost. We who speak it are the ones who are lost."
Director and producer Bruno Carcamo said the soap opera, which is shown with Spanish subtitles, gives Mayan-speaking Mexicans a show in which they can see and hear themselves. He hopes it will encourage people in Mayan communities to speak in their mother tongue.
The series follows the life of a young man who left his village in the Yucatan Peninsula to work as a cook in New York, where he became estranged from his family and began to forget how to speak Mayan. Upon his return, he learns the importance of his language and culture while fighting his brother for his childhood love.
"Baktun" and its cast of non-professionals actors went on the air in August on the state government channel in Quintana Roo, which is home to the resort city of Cancun and where the show was taped.
The Mayas measure time in Baktuns. One Baktun is 394 years.
Carcamo said he used real homes in Mayan-speaking towns during production to show the lives of modern-day Mayas. He also mixed real Mayan ceremonies along with the acted story line.
"We can't go into a ritual and not take part of the ritual," Chi Canul said. "It would be an offense to the community."
Carcamo said the telenovela has been well received and people are already asking if there will be an encore.
"We have something to show the world, too, and this is the first time I see something like that," said David Vzul, a Maya who lives in Chetumal and has been watching the soap opera religiously with his family.
The Yucatec Maya language is spoken by 800,000 Mexicans whose ancestors ruled an empire from about A.D. 250 until the Spanish conquest of the 1520s.
AP video: http://vimeo.com/73913547