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There’s Life in the Marimba

One instrument in Guatemala that is not fading is the marimba, akin to a wooden xylophone. It is used in some traditional Mayan ceremonies and in Guatemalan popular music, with large marimba-led orchestras a common sight.

“At school, we were taught that the marimba was Guatemalan. It was our national instrument,” said Samuel Franco, director of the Casa K’ojom museum in Guatemala and curator of the “Music of the Maya” exhibit at the Fullerton Museum Center.

Although there is some disagreement, it is now generally acknowledged that the marimba is not native to Guatemala, but was rather an African introduction that arrived after the Spanish. The first written record of the marimba was 70 years after the conquest, Franco said.

The Mayas did have a “percussive tradition” that included the split-log drum, Franco said, so “it was very easy for them to adapt this new instrument that came over with the African slaves.”

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Two marimbas are on display in Fullerton, one with gourds of different sizes as resonators, and a more modern version with wooden resonators.


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