The Action of the Dance

This section presents a description of the action of the Dance of the Conquest as performed in San Cristóbal, Totonicapán, Guatemala.

The dance drama consists of three parts, each of which begins with a dance or march and then a monologue by a principal character. In San Cristóbal Totonicapán, the drama opens with a prologue.

The prologue and part 1 portray the reactions of the K’iche’ administration to the impending invasion of Spanish forces and their Mexican allies under the command of Pedro de Alvarado. The Rey K'iche' gives his heir Tekum the authority to lead the resistance against the Spanish, as captain-general of the K'iche' forces.

The second part centres around the delivery and refusal of the requerimiento, the demand that a people (in this case, the K'iche') submit to the Spanish crown and convert to Christianity or be enslaved or killed. Pedro de Alvarado sends to captains as emissaries to deliver the terms of the requerimiento to Tekum, which Tekum then refuses, preferring war to submission.

Part 3 features the war between K'iche' and the Spaniards in which Tekum is killed. Subsequently, the Rey K'iche' leads the submission to the Spanish crown and baptism in the Christian faith.

Part 2 Part 3

Part 1

1. To begin, the K’iche’ characters dance in three groups and take their appropriate positions. The court, headed by the Rey K’iche’ (K’iche’ king), takes its position on the stage representing the royal palace at the capital, Q’umarcaaj;  the caciques, who are community leaders, headed by Tekum the heir to the throne of the K’iche’, take their place on the platform representing the palace of Tekum in Xelaju Noj, the secondary capital of the K’iche kingdom; the diviners Ajitz and Little Ajitz take their place on the high platform representing the temple at Xelajuj.

Ajitz Divines the Fall of the K'iche'2. The  prologue takes place in Xelajuj.  In their temple, Ajitz and Chiquito perform a divination that predicts the fall of the K’iche’ kingdom and the death of Tekum.  Ajitz and Chiquito go to the palace of Tekum to warn him, but he rejects their warnings and insists that Ajitz investigate further. Ajitz and Chiquito return to their temple.

3. When the prologue is finished, the first part beings with the court and caciques dancing again, with Tekum briefly joining the Rey K’iche’ and at the end all take their appropriate positions.

Rey K'iche' sends the Princes to Bring Tekum4. The next scene takes place in the royal palace in Q’umarcaaj. It begins with a monologue by the Rey K’iche, who has received a letter from the Aztec emperor, advising him that Alvarado is heading an army and marching towards Guatemala with the aim of conquering the K’iche.  The Rey K’iche expresses his desperation and sadness at the immanent destruction of his kingdom. 

When the princes and princesses note his dark mood and demand to know what is troubling him so greatly he explains the situation to them.  The princesses try to calm him, but the princes suggest action: they will go to Xelajuj and bring Tekum to lead the defense of the kingdom.   

5. The princes go to Xelajuj and advise Tekum of the immanent danger.  Tekum, the other caciques, and the diviners, Ajitz and Chiquito,  return with the princes to Q’umarcaaj for an audience with the Rey K’iche’.

6. In the royal palace at Q’umarcaaj, the Rey K’iche’ gives Tekum the banner that bestows upon him the authority to lead the K’iche’ forces in the defense of the kingdom.

The Caciques Kneel as Rey K'iche' hands Tekum the flag

7.  Returning to Xelajuj with the caciques and the diviners, Tekum begins to organize a defense, directing a fortification wall to be built at all entrances to the valley.

Text of Tekum's Speech

Part 1 Part 3

Part 2 

1. As the second part begins, the Spanish march in, led by Pedro de Alvarado who then Alvarado addresses his troops in a monologue. Each of the Spanish captains now presents himself to Alvarado and swears loyalty Ajitz and Chiquito begin harassing the Spaniards and being harassed in return, an interchange that will continue throughout this part.

The Text of Pedro de Alvarado's first speech

2. The Spanish journey up from the coast toward the Valley of Los Altos, with each stage of the journey represeted by a dance to the son (tun) Balonia. Between these dances, Alvarado speaks to his captains about their mission of conquest.

Alvarado instructs Carrillo and Cardona on delivering the requerimiento to Tekum3. Alvarado calls Carrillo and Cardona for a private conference, instructing them to seek out Tekum and deliver the terms of the requerimiento: conversion and submission or war and defeat.


The Princes challenge the two ambassadors and order them to leave





4. The Spaniards first encounter the princes and princesses, but the original text does not clarify where this should occur. In performance, they are able to fulfill this encounter by first visiting the royal palace at Q’umarcaaj.  The princes demand that the Spaniards leave their lands.


The ambassadors encounter Ajitz divining outside Tekum's palace5. The Spanish ambassadors continue on their way. Reaching Xelajuj, they come upon Ajitz and Chiquito, who act as sentinels for Tekum’s palace at the same time that they perform a divination to help the K’iche’ resist the Spanish invasion.  The Spanish demand to see Tekum and Ajitz advises that he will have to seek permission for them to enter the palace. Ajitz takes the swords of the Spaniards for security.

6. Ajitz and Chiquito go inside the palace to speak to Tekum, who agrees to allow the Spanish to enter on the condition that they be blindfolded.


The Spanish Ambassadors desecrate Ajitz's divining table7. In Ajitz’s absence, the Spanish ambassadors desecrate the divination table with garbage and hide Ajitz’s idol and vara (the bag of divination equipment that contains his red beans and crystal).


8. When Ajitz and Chiquito return, Ajitz restores the table and divines the location where the Spaniards have hidden his idol and vara.  Then he blindfolds the two Spaniards and binds their hands as a further precaution. He begins to dance, dragging the Spaniards behind him, as Chiquito harasses them from the rear.

Ajitz drags the blindfolded ambassadors to an audience with Tekum

Tekum refuses the terms of the requerimiento: submission and conversion9. In their interview with Tekum, the ambassadors, Carrillo and Cardona, first demand a seat. Tekum is incensed: in Tekum practice a seat is a sign of highest authority, and he angrily reminds them that he is the highest authority present. The ambassadors then deliver the terms of the requerimiento, which Tekum refuses. He recognizes in these terms an assumption of Indigenous inferiority, which he vehemently disputes. As he dismisses the ambassadors, they warn him that war will follow. 

10. Ajitz then takes the ambassadors out of the palace, releases them, and returns their swords. They trade insults, with Ajitz telling the ambassadors to go to the devil, and the Ambassadors responding that  Ajitz is the devil and threatening to cut off his tail. 

11. The ambassadors then return to the Spanish camp and, in another private discussion, give their report to Alvarado concerning Tekum’s response to the requerimiento.

Part 1Part 2

Part III

Tzunun delivers Tekum's message to Rey K'iche'1.  The caciques dance to begin this part, followed by a monologue in which Tekum demonstrates his determination to resist Spanish aggression. He appoints Hutizitzil Tzunun to go to Q’umarcaaj to advise the Rey K’iche’ of his decision to fight rather than submit.  He also asks Ajitz to go but Ajitz professes fear and cowardice and refuses.  In the text, Ajitz does not go with Huitzitzil Tzunun, but in performance, where his character is changed from cowardly to courageous, he does go, along with Chiquito.

2. As Huitzitzil Tzunun explains Tekum’s decision, the Rey K’iche panics and relinquishes all authority to Tekum, his heir.  Huitzitzil Tzunun returns with Ajitz and Chiquito to Xelajuj

3. In Xelajuj, Tekum organizes his Caciques. Tekum then delivers a powerful monologue in which he reveals that he has foreseen his own death in the upcoming battle, Tekum is intent on going through with the battle, arguing that it is better to die in action than to withdraw in panic and cowardice.  

The Princes and Princesses travel to Xelajuj to see Tekum and his caciques off to war



4. The Rey K'iche' sends the princes and princesses to Xelajuj to provide motivation and a sendoff for Tekum. This event does not appear in the original text but it corresponds to K'iche' protocol.


The Princes and Princesses return to Q'umarcaaj asTekum and his caciques proceed to the battlefield of El Pinal. Tekum and the other caciques now carry lances (poles) instead of the bow and arrow.

Alvarado rallies his troops for war



5. In the Spanish camp, Alvarado addresses his captains and they also proceed to El Pinal to meet the K’iche’ forces. 




Tekum and Alvarado duel in a "cruzada"6. The war takes place in several battles in which all of the Spaniards and all of the Caciques, with the diviners, participate. However, in the central portion of the battle, Alvarado and Tekum fight a solo duel, choreographed in the form of “cruzadas” in which the two leaders run at each other along the diagonal of the dance field and jump into the air when they meet each other at the centre. 

7. The battles are also broken by short speeches from either leader. Tekum laments to Huitzitzil Tzunun that so many of his soldiers have been killed, and invokes supernatural forces to aid him.  After a later battle, Alvarado announces to Portocarrero that Tekum, who he refers to as an animal, has left him without a horse, and he asks Portocarrero to lend him a lance. (Lances are actually fairly useless unless one is mounted, but in the story of Tekum’s duel with Alvarado, the two weapons, horse and lance, are equated with each other.) 

8. The lance that Alvarado receives is the Spanish Flag, and at the same time Tekum takes up for his weapon the Guatemalan flag, which is the banner that the Rey K’iche’ had awarded him in the first part of the drama. Finally, Alvarado uses the “lance” to stab Tekum through the heart.

As the Spanish occupy his palace in Xelajuj, Tekum relinquishes his authority and dies9. Immediately the Spanish march to Xelajuj and occupy it Tekum’s palace, while Tekum, mortally wounded, is led by Caciques to the centre of the dance area where a mat has been placed for him. . Huitzitzil Tzunun is mystified, as he did not see Tekum being wounded. This refers to the K’iche’ version of the event, in which Tekum was stabbed in flight as his nawal, originally the eagle but more recently the quetzal. Tekum’s crown and cape are removed. Huitzitzil Tzunun takes the crown and the flag-sceptre and takes over Tekum’s authority as Tekum lays down on the mat, using Ajitz Chiquito as a pillow, and dies. Huitzitzil Tzunun announces that he will stop the war and submit to the Spanish religion and crown, and the other Caciques respond in agreement.

Rey K'iche' mourns Tekum10. Carrying the crown and flag, Huitzitzil Tzunun leads a procession to Q’umarcaaj and hands Tekum's crown and flag to the Rey K'iche. The Rey K'iche' and his court return with Huitzitzil Tzunun to the battlefield. Overcome with grief, the Rey K’iche asks that Tekum be buried immediately, as he can no longer bear the sight of his deceased heir.  Ajitz too is overcome with grief and, after verifying that Tekum has died, mourns audibly.

11. A coffin is brought and Tekum is placed in it.  The caciques carry the coffin to the royal palace, with Huitzitzil Tzunun leading the funerary procession and the Rey K’iche with his court following behind.

Tekum is carried in a coffin for burial

12. Once Tekum has been buried, the Rey K’iche regains his authority and determines to submit to Spanish authority and convert to the Spanish religion. He sends the princes as messengers to Alvarado to invite him to Q’umarcaaj for peace and baptism.

The Princes meet Crijol acting as sentry for the Spanish in Xelajuj13. The princes then depart for Spanish-occupied Xelajuj.  They first meet the Spanish gracejo or buffoon, don Quirijol, who then ushers them in to see Alvarado. Alvarado accepts the invitation and prepares to leave with the princes, but they ask to go first, to warn the Rey K’iche’ so he can arrange a proper welcome.  But in performance, the Princes and Spanish dance together to Q’umarcaaj. 

14. In the royal palace, Alvarado and Rey K’iche’ warmly greet each other.  The Rey K’iche’, now fully regal, tells Alvarado of a dream in which the Holy Ghost had advised him to convert to Christianity, and he announces that he is ready to accept baptism, as do all the K’iche’ characters.

15. In the closing dance, Spanish and K’iche’ dance together in peace and move towards the church for the baptism, ending with a dedication of the dance to the Virgin and the Patron Saint, San Cristóbal.

The closing dance of peace between K'iche' and Spanish


The opening dance features the Rey K'iche' and his court, the caciques, and the priest-diviners Ajitz and Ajitz Chiquito.
Ajitz Grande and Ajitz Chiquito dance to Tekum's palace.
The Princes travel to Xelajuj to warn Tekum of the danger of the Spanish invasion.
Tekum's heroic speech ends part 1.
The Spaniards enter with a march, followed by Pedro de Alvarado's first speech.
The Spanish dance called the Balonia.
Tzunun travels to Q'umarcaaj with Ajitz and Chiquito
The Princes and Princesses return to Q'umarcaaj as Tekum and the Caciques advance to the battlefield.
After a lengthy series of battles, Alvarado stabs Tekum. The Spanish immediately march to occupy Tekum's palace as the caciques rush to Tekum's aid..
Spanish and K'iche' together in the closing dance of peace
Before delivering the Rey K'iche's invitation to Alvarado, the Princes encounter Don Crijol acting as sentinel
Tekum's body is carried away for burial
The Rey K'iche' mourns over the lifeless body of Tekum, whose head rests on Chiquito
As the Spanish occupy his palace in Xelajuj, Tekum relinquishes his authority before dying
Tekum and Alvarado duel in the formation known as the "cruzada"
Alvarado addresses his officers before confronting the K'iche' in battle
The Princes and Princesses journey to Xelajuj to see Tekum and the caciques off to war
Huitzitzil Tzunun tells the Rey K'iche' that there will be war as Tekum has refused to submit
Tekum refuses either to submit to the Spanish or to convert to Christianity
Ajitz and Chiquito conduct the ambassadors into Tekum's palace
The Spanish ambassadors desecrate the divination table
The Spanish ambassadors encounter Ajitz divining outside of Tekum's palace in Xelajuj
The Princes challenge the Spanish ambassadors and order them to leave their lands
Alvarado instructs Carrillo and Cardona on the conditions of the requerimiento that must be presented to Tekum
As the Caciques kneel, the Rey K'iche' presents Tekum with the banner of authority
The Rey K'iche' sends the Princes to bring Tekum
Ajitz and Chiquito divine the fall of the K'iche' nation