The History and Tradition of Cobán’s Rabin Ajau in Guatemala
The Mayan festival of Rabin Ajau (also known as Rab’in Ajaw) is one of the most unique beauty pageants in the world.
Rab’in Ajaw means hija del rey in Spanish, which translates to “daughter of the king” in English. People celebrate it in the city of Coban, in the department of Alta Verapaz in Guatemala.
Rabin Ajau is a traditional festival that helps promote a safe environment for young Mayan women to express their ideas and opinions on relevant socio-cultural topics.
Let’s learn today about one of the most interesting Mayan traditions in Guatemala, its history, and its social and historical impact on Guatemalan society.
History of Rabin Ajau
The Coban fair has been celebrated since the 1930s with its own beauty pageant. However, in 1969, Professor Marco Aurelio Alonzo proposed the Rab’in Ajaw festival to commemorate the founding of the city of Coban. Since then, it has occurred annually—typically on the last Saturday of July.
As one of the largest and most important Cobanero (the name for people and things from Coban) festivals, the locals celebrate it with enthusiastic processions, traditional dances, and fireworks.
Introduction to Rabin Ajau
Rabin Ajau takes place in July, and the Mayan groups that participate in the pageant begin the process of choosing their princess months before with fairs, pageants, and festivals.
While the participants’ physical beauty is important, the festival centers on more intellectual aspects, such as:
- the languages they speak
- their knowledge of tradition and culture
- their leadership skills
- their thoughts on important social topics
Every year, more and more Mayan communities from all around the country join Rabin Ajau. Over 100 contestants competed in recent competitions.
All pageant contestants dress in their traditional ceremonial clothes. Throughout the competition, they have to display grace and charm, and demonstrate their knowledge of Mayan culture, spirituality, tradition, and history.
Each participant prepares a short speech on one of seven topics. They have to give their speech in Spanish and their native Mayan language. Their identities are kept secret, so judges can choose them solely on how compelling their arguments are. After hearing all the speeches, the judges choose 13 contestants to be part of the Rabin Ajau.
Each of the 13 candidates have to answer additional questions about several topics. After this part of the competition, the judges deliberate and select the winner of Rabin Ajau.
The outgoing queen crowns the new queen. The crown is made of silver and adorned with three long green quetzal feathers, which is the national bird of Guatemala and an important icon for all Guatemalans.
Rabin Ajau is a celebration. Alongside the pageant, dances, competitions, and colorful traditions take place, and there is an air of respect and unity.
Requirements to Participate in Rabin Ajau
The Rab’in Ajaw competition is a widely known tradition in Guatemala that empowers and gives women a voice. Certain requirements must be met to be able to participate.
All daughters of Mayan parents of Guatemalan origin are welcome to participate. There is no age limit, but it is preferable if the contestants are between 18 and 24. They also have to be single during the competition (and one year after it, in the case of the winner), and they must know how to read and write.
None of the participants can have a kinship with the organizers, committee members, or judges. They can’t participate if they were part of the competition in a previous year.
Hand-picked for you: Guatemala’s Biggest, Most Colorful Market: Chichicastenango
Women’s Voices at Rabin Ajau
As a nation, Guatemala has a great deal of work to do in matters of gender equality, domestic violence, and racism. That’s why Rabin Ajaw is a tradition that must be preserved and supported.
Rabin Ajau is not only a beauty or cultural pageant, but also a social event where Mayan women have a voice that represents them in socio-cultural topics. What’s more, this occurs in spaces that are typically “masculine” and ladino—which is the name given to Guatemalans who aren’t Mayan.
The voice of Rabin Ajau is respected in the Mayan communities. Her input on important topics is taken into consideration. It’s neither surprising nor unwelcome that every year the topics of the speeches are increasingly political.
A recent winner of Rabin Ajau talked about sexual violence in her speech, as it was one of the seven topics she could choose. She became the voice of thousands of Mayan women who have been victims of violence and insisted on the need to protect all Guatemalan women and children.
Rabin Ajau in 2020 and 2021
Although the Rab’in Ajaw Festival in Guatemala is an important event, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been canceled for two consecutive years.
In 2020, the pageant was canceled, and the 2019–2020 Rabin Ajau, Dilcia Fabiola Xol Tux, kept the crown and the title for an extra year. While there were plans for the competition to take place on July 24, 2021, the organizers announced that the competition was suspended until further notice.
It’s Time to Practice!
The Rabin Ajau Festival in Guatemala is so popular that one of the most famous hotels in Coban is Hotel Rabin Ajau! If witnessing this amazing competition is on your bucket list, it’s time to prepare and plan for it. Mayan communities appreciate it when people respect their culture and voice. A great way to show respect, and something that many Guatemalans appreciate, is when our visitors learn Spanish! It removes the language barrier, and makes exchanges more natural and friendly.
Plus, learning Spanish helps your cognition and decision-making abilities, so while you practice Spanish and gain fluency, you’ll be able to plan your next trip making the best decisions for you and your wallet! Sign up for a free trial class at Homeschool Spanish Academy to prepare for your trip to Guatemala so you can enjoy Rabin Ajau like a local!
Want to learn more about Latin American culture? Check out our latest posts!
- Guatemala’s Biggest, Most Colorful Market: Chichicastenango
- The History and Tradition of Las Cabañuelas
- 10 Festive Ways to Spend Christmas in Argentina
- 12 Coolest Hispanic Holidays You Never Heard Of
- A Brief, Intriguing History of the Spanish Royal Family
- The ‘Vulgar’ History and Origin of the Spanish Language
- The Tantalizing Guide to Spanish (and Latin American) Cheeses
- What’s the Difference Between Hispanic and Latino?
- Guatemala’s Biggest, Most Colorful Market: Chichicastenango - December 28, 2022
- 8 Sad Spanish Songs for When Your Heart Is Broken - December 6, 2022
- The Glamorous Guide to Beauty Salon Vocabulary in Spanish - November 27, 2022