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History of the Marimba “Suntan keys”

March 25, 2010

By: Ligia María

Translated from Spanish; original version below.

Guatemala is celebrating today the Day of the Marimba

Versión original en Español, abajo

Guatemala, February 20, 2010. Some people believe the origin of the Marimba was in Asia or Africa; the truth is that in Guatemala the marimbas was known for the Mayas, at least before the year 1000 our age.

The first documentation of the Guatemalan Marimba goes back to the classic period of the Mayan civilization.

On the translation of Adrián Inés Chávez of the book Popol Vuh on verse 336, appears an allusion to the “play the Marimba”. In the codex of Madrid “Codex Tro-Cortesianus” appear mystic figures evidencing that Mayas used the Marimba.


When the Marimba was evolving, the indigenous knew it with different names, like Marimba one of Tecomates, of arch, of stake or of table. The one named Tecomates: one of the more primitive ones did not have legs, two people were necessary to hold the instrument in both sides, and another playing the keyboard. It was based on rustic mud vessels, producing sweet and melancholic tones.

On parties, and indigenous ceremonials dances, hearing those sweet sounds was common. Those Marimbas were placed in Chichicastenango and Sololá.

The Century XIX

The Marimba experimented evolution. The dances with the sweet sounds of the tecomate (mud vessels), were replaced for resonance boxes, made with thin wood veneers, allowing the tuning  of the diatonic scale, making  possible   the composition of music.

The Marimba started to be accepted in all kinds of celebrations and parties. Appearing the biggest marimbers, like Sebastián and sons, Toribio Hurtado and sons, between others. On 1880 to the simple Marimba added another Marimba called “Requinto”.

Source: Thesis “The Marimba, ancestral instrument of Guatemalan”, of Juilo Guillermo Taracena Bethancourth.

Evolution: Since its origins, the national instrument has had meaning modifications, until get the chromatic Marimba or double.

Mayan Codex: The codex of Madrid Codex Tro-Corteciano shows mystic figures like one with a god who has the “arm Marimba”.

Tecomates Marimba: According with the Pop Vuh, knowing as Tsumk-Tecomate; Ojom-Marimba.

Simple or diatonic of Century XIX:  The tecomates are replaced for wood boxes. The diatonic scale is tuned.

Chromatic double Marimba or rubber:  In the National Marimba of José Porfirio Bethancourth, on 1923, appears the double Marimba.

The Marimba of our current days: Marimba little princess, in the show “afternoons Chapinas”, of Radio station Fabuestereo, 2008.


First Marimba made by Sebastian Hurtado on 1897.


Spanish Version. Versión en Español.


Guatemala celebra hoy el día de la marimba

Guatemala 20 de Febrero de 2010.Unos señalan su origen, en Asia o África; lo cierto es que en Guatemala la marimba era conocida por los mayas, al menos antes del año mil de nuestra era.

Puede encontrar esta noticia en español en el siguiente link:

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