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Jan 20, 2023

How is Frank Tzib preserving his culture?

This week, we take you to San Antonio, Cayo District, where Sabreena met Frank Tzib. Frank is on a mission to preserve his native language and inscription through the ancient Maya writing of hieroglyphics. Sabreena found out just how he plans to do that in this week’s look on the bright side.


Frank Tzib

Frank Tzib, Hieroglyphs Scribe
“The hieroglyph is what I would say is the specific Maya writing system; It’s the ancient way that the Maya would write. How we have A, B, C, D, the Maya would have their writing the same way, but it’s also a little different. When it comes to the Maya writing, we like to say it is logo-syllabic. The Maya writing would include logograms and syllables. For example: here, we have U, which is a syllable, but U can also be a logogram which is a shark. So, we see here, it’s a logogram but depending on the context as well, it can also be used as a syllable so that’s the beauty in the writing system.”


A logogram is a picture word that was used in ancient Maya language to represent a word or phrase. These, along with syllables, were used for inscription in the ancient Maya culture. The writing is called hieroglyphics and twenty-one year old Frank Tzib, a resident of San Antonio village, is on a mission to preserve it.

Frank Tzib
“What I believe is a big asset for me is that I grew up in a Maya community. I grew up learning a lot about our culture and seeing a lot of the elderly people practice the traditions. And I just grew up with a passion, looking at the older people and I see them practicing everything, I said I want to learn this. But then it was when I was twelve years old, my brother came with some crazy inscriptions, some papers which were these, the same syllabary. I thought this was interesting and I remember asking my brother what it meant. He started explaining; he taught me how to write my name and thought this is cool. I started to do my own research, I started to read books and from there I started to write names.”


Tzib is a native of one of the three Maya cultures still alive in Belize today. A fascination with the Yucatec language led Tzib to take a course in 2020 that would teach him the inscription of his mother tongue. There, he would acquire a deeper understanding of the ancient Maya language through their systems and calendar.

Frank Tzib
“For example, here, we cannot start with ‘Xook’. Xook is the word for shark in Maya. So, we cannot start with Xook, so, we start with U. Also, reading the other glyphs, we can know it is not shark, but U. For example, if we say “Xook tibinajal”, it doesn’t make any sense. So, we have to go back to U and say, “U Zt’ibnajal” and that means The Decoration of the Surface.”


Now, his recent endeavor involves what he considers the modernization of hieroglyphics.
Frank Tzib
“I still try to include a lot of the phrases ancient Maya would use. For example, this is an ancient phrase very common in pottery, ‘U Zt’ibnajal. That is an ancient phrase that I still use because it’s common, but I also try to give it a modern twist. So if someone would say I want this vase to be written in hieroglyphs, I would translate the phrase to the contemporary Maya that we speak now which is the Yucatec Maya, then transcribe it to hieroglyphs.”

Sylvia Batty

Sylvia Batty, Archaeologist
“It shows that continuity. It shows that our youth are interested in revitalizing their heritage but it also shows that the Maya culture is alive, it is vibrant and it is in its own way engaging in an act of resistance.”

Tzib is surrounded by a household that embraces their culture. During our time with him, Tzib’s parents presented us with various Maya dishes.  We also heard the household interact in their native tongue which is often only spoken by the older Maya people.

Salomon Tzib

Salomon Tzib, Father
“I taught them to speak Maya but now Frank is doing something different and more over. He’s learning more, he’s teaching more people and that’s what I love.”

Frank Tzib

“So, I want to share this phrase. So it says “Iut”, again, I used the ancient words for “and then it happened”. So, Iut, and then we have the introductory glyph. When we see this, it represents a date will follow. Iut, the introductory glyph, which is “tziik”, it is narrated the ‘The year’ glyph. Then we have December 10, 2010, the Tzib family came to live here.”


One of the upsides to embracing culture is that visitors want to learn. The Tzib family has even profited by welcoming tourists or persons interested in immersing themselves in the practices of an authentic Maya family. There they engage in the preparing their own meals or discover the uniqueness of the language. But for Frank Tzib, the passionate scribe, his work is a step in the right direction, preserving his people’s heritage.

Frank Tzib

“My goal is to bring it back to life within our Maya people. During the 16th century that is when this writing completely died with our people. We were forced to stop our writing system and use the Gregorian style. So that is why I want to bring his back to life. I want to bring this back so that it would be a very common thing in our Maya people. So if someone asks for us to write something, we can do it. It’s our heritage; it’s something that our culture developed so it would be nice to bring it back.”


Looking on the Bright Side, I’m Sabreena Daly

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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