Luis Enrique Sam Colop, 1955-2011
It is my very sad task to report the passing of a former fellow and accomplished indigenous scholar, activist, poet, and journalist, Luis Enrique Sam Colop. Dr. Sam Colop died at his home in Guatemala City on July 15, apparently of cardiac arrest. Sam Colop was born in 1955 in K’antel, Quatemala. This K’iche’ Maya town near Quetzaltenango was well known for refusing to let the army establish a base there during the civil war in Guatemala in 1980s. Having received a law degree in 1983, Dr. Sam Colop served on a commission to investigate the crimes carried out against the civilian population during the conflict.
Beyond his legal activism, Sam Colop was a passionate champion of indigenous cultures as well. After completing an M.A. in linguistics at the University of Iowa, Sam Colop went on to complete a doctoral dissertation, titled “Maya Poetics” at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1994. There he worked with the renowned ethnopoetics scholar Dennis Tedlock. Dr. Sam Colop also published two volumes of his own poetry in his native K’iche’ and Spanish; Versos sin refugio: quiché y español (1978) and La copa y la raíz (1979); both published in Guatemala.
One of Dr. Sam Colop’s most enduring accomplishments is his 1999 critical edition of the K’iche’ Mayan epic, Popol Wuj: Versión poética k’iche’ (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj); this was the first version of the text to be published by a native speaker and writer of the K’iche’ language. He followed this in 2008 with Popol Wuj: Traducción al español y notas (Guatemala City: Cholsamaj). His attention to the poetic forms of the K’iche’ language is a landmark in ethnopoetics.
I first met Dr. Sam Colop at a reading at SUNY Buffalo and later came to know him at the Newberry, an institution that he knew well and where he was most recently a Fulbright Fellow in 2009. He remained committed to the indigenous peoples of his homeland and continued to write his column, titled Ucha’xik, in both Spanish and K’iche’ up until the final day of his life. Luis Enrique Sam Colop will be much mourned in his home community and by those of us fortunate enough to have known him.
Scott Manning Stevens, PhD
Director, McNickle Center
60 W Walton St
Chicago IL 60610