El Último Hilo


SATB with divisi, Baritone soloist, string quartet, & marimba

Full Score: $35
Choral Score: $8.99
String Quartet & Marimba Parts Set: $75

Note: This is a digital score (PDF).

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The Story

Humberto Ak'abal (1952-2019)

Humberto Ak’abal was one of the most important poetic voices from Latin America. A member of the K’iche’ Mayan community in Guatemala, Ak’abal wrote with an honesty, an intensity, and a passion that has inspired millions around the world. Reading Humberto’s poetry is like living through the depths of history, like being gut-punched with core-shaking truths, like dancing with water, trees, and birds; a true Mayan Mystic. Ak’abal lived through the horrific civil war that plagued Guatemala from 1960 to 1996 during which around 200,000 people died or disappeared — mostly of the indigenous Mayan population. He considered his art an act of protest, of truth-telling, and a deeply-felt expression of the human condition.

In July 2021, I was honored to meet Humberto’s mother Estebana, his sister Estela, and his wife Mayulí during a trip to Guatemala. We spent time in his home and writing studio (covered wall-to-wall with books and art), shared stories under a pine tree he planted when his son was born, and visited his grave. Humberto believed that reading was one of the most important gifts we can give to ourselves — to learn about the world around us, to foster compassion, and to grow as people. A sign in his home reads “Quien lee no está haciendo algo, se está haciendo alguien” (When you read, you are not doing something, you are becoming someone).

For “El Último Hilo,” I collected several of Ak’abal’s poems in hopes of sharing his story as an artist, as an important voice for his community, and as a human grappling with the complexities of existence. The music draws upon repertoire from Guatemala’s national instrument, the marimba (with inspiration from the melody “Tristezas Quetzaltecas”), and seeks to amplify Ak’abal’s compelling poetic voice.

I am grateful to Joel Rinsema and Kantorei for conceiving of and supporting this project, to the singers of Vocalis in Guatemala for their generosity and eagerness to bring this music to life, to Humberto’s family for sharing their intimate stories and offering blessings for this project, and to Humberto Ak’abal — a man who lived in ways of generosity, selflessness, strength, integrity, and hope. Que esta música sea una bendición para su memoria.

Jake Runestad with Humberto Ak'abal's mother Esteban in Momostenango, Guatemala.

Composer Jake Runestad and conductor Joel Rinsema at the grave of Humberto Ak'abal in Momostenango, Guatemala.

Rehearsal for performances in Guatemala with Kantorei (Denver) and Vocalis (Guatemala).


Commissioned for Kantorei (Denver, USA) and Vocalis (Guatemala) by the Olson-Vander Heyden Foundation.

SATB with divisi, baritone soloist, string quartet, marimba (5-octave)


Pronunciation Guides


El Último Hilo
poems by Humberto Ak'abal

I. En Mi Lengua

En mi lengua
poesía se dice:




En fin,
no sé para qué sirve,
aun así

The Last Thread
poems by Humberto Ak'abal

I. In My Language

In my language
poetry is called:

(honey words).

(beautiful words).

(embroidered words).

After all,
I don’t know what it serves,
even so,
I persist.

II. Cuando La Tierra Cantaba

Si pudieramos regresar a aquellos tiempos
cuando la tierra cantaba con los hombres.

El cielo abre su boca y traga
el grito que ahoga la muerte.

¿Por qué ese odio, esa sed de sangre?
¿Por qué somos perseguidos los indios?
¿Qué te hemos hecho, Guatemala?

Pajaritos de los barrancos:
vengan a llorar conmigo.

II. When the Earth Sang

If only we could go back to those times
when the earth sang with men.

The sky opens its mouth and swallows
the cry which smothers death.

Why the hatred, the thirst for blood?
Why are we Indians persecuted?
What have we done to you, Guatemala?

Little birds of the mountainsides:
come and cry with me.

III. Cantos de Pájaros

Klis, klis, klis…
Ch’ok, ch’ok, ch’ok…

Tz’unum, tz’unum, tz’unum…
B’uqpurix, b’uqpurix, b’uqpurix…

Wiswil, wiswil, wiswil…
Tulul, tulul, tulul…

Ch'owix, ch'owix, ch'owix…
Xar, xar, xar…

III. Song of the Birds
(No translation)
IV. Resistiendo

Señor de los cielos,
Señor de la tierra:
¿En dónde estás cuando pasan estas cosas,
por qué consentís a los asesinos?

Resistiendo desde nuestra cultura.

¡Que estallen los volcanes!
¡Que arrojen fuego!
¡Que se raje la tierra y se trague
todo, todo, todo…!
Volvete humo, tizná el cielo,
quemá la tierra,
estamos de duelo.

Nos han robado
tierras, árboles, agua.

De lo que no han podido
adueñarse es del nawal.

Ni podrán.

IV. We Resist

Lord of the heavens,
Lord of the earth:
Where were you when these things happened,
why do you favor the murderers?

We resist from the depths of our culture.

Erupt, volcanoes!
Burn, fire!
Earth split open and swallow everything, everything, everything…!
Turn into smoke, smear the sky,
burn the earth,
we are in mourning.

They have stolen from us
lands, trees, water.

What they have not been able
to possess is the nawal.

They never will.

V. El Último Hilo

El último hilo
de la luz del día
se arquea
bajo el peso de la noche
y no se rompe,

se parece a la esperanza.

V. The Last Thread

The last thread
of the light of day
under the weight of the night
and does not break.

It’s like hope.

VI. Oración

Que se abra la puerta del sol,
que se abra la puerta de la luna.

Que haya claridad en el cielo
que haya claridad en la tierra,
que haya claridad en el alma;

que la luz no le dé paso
a la oscuridad,
para no perder la seña
de nuestro camino.

VI. Prayer

May the door of the sun be opened,
may the door of the moon be opened.

Let it be clear in the sky,
let it be clear on the earth,
let it be clear in the soul;

so that the light does not let
the darkness take over
and the markings of our road
will remain.

VII. Insisto

En fin,
no sé para qué sirve,
aun así

VII. I Persist

All in all
I don’t know what it serves,
even so,
I persist.



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