Maya peoples

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Jeunes femmes mayas.jpg
Young Mayan women in traditional dress, Antigua, Sacatepéquez Department, Guatemala
The Maya area within Mesoamerica
Total population
c. 6 million (2002)
Pre-Columbian: 5–10 million [1] [2]
Regions with significant populations
Parts of modern-day countries of Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador
Mayan languages, English, Spanish and Kriol
Christianity and Maya religion

The Maya peoples ( /ˈmə/ ) are an ethnolinguistic group of indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica. They inhabit southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. "Maya" is a modern collective term for the peoples of the region, however, the term was not used by the indigenous populations themselves since there never was a common sense of identity or political unity among the distinct populations, societies and ethnic groups because they each had their own particular traditions, cultures and historical identity. [3]

An ethnolinguistic group is a group that is unified by both a common ethnicity and language. Most ethnic groups have their own language. Despite this, the term is often used to emphasise when language is a major basis for the ethnic group, especially with regards to its neighbours.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas Pre-Columbian inhabitants of North, Central and South America and their descendants

The indigenous peoples of the Americas are the pre-Columbian peoples of North, Central and South America and their descendants.

Mesoamerica Cultural area in the Americas

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.


It is estimated that six million Maya were living in this area at the start of the 21st century. [1] [2] Guatemala, Southern Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, El Salvador and Western Honduras have managed to maintain numerous remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the majority hispanicized mestizo cultures of the nations in which they reside, while others continue a more traditional, culturally distinct life, often speaking one of the Mayan languages as a primary language.

Guatemala Republic in Central America

Guatemala, officially the Republic of Guatemala, is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize and the Caribbean to the northeast, Honduras to the east, El Salvador to the southeast and the Pacific Ocean to the south. With an estimated population of around 17.2 million, it is the most populated country in Central America. Guatemala is a representative democracy; its capital and largest city is Nueva Guatemala de la Asunción, also known as Guatemala City.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fifth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Yucatán Peninsula peninsula in North America

The Yucatán Peninsula, in southeastern Mexico, separates the Caribbean Sea from the Gulf of Mexico, with the northern coastline on the Yucatán Channel. The peninsula lies east of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, a northwestern geographic partition separating the region of Central America from the rest of North America. It is approximately 181,000 km2 (70,000 sq mi) in area, and is almost entirely composed of limestone.

The largest populations of contemporary Maya inhabit Guatemala, Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador, as well as large segments of population within the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco and Chiapas.

Campeche State of Mexico

Campeche, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Campeche, is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. Located in southeast Mexico, it is bordered by the states of Tabasco to the southwest, Yucatán to the northeast, and Quintana Roo to the east; to the southeast by the Orange Walk district of Belize, and by the Petén department of Guatemala to the south. It has a coastline to the west with the Gulf of Mexico. The state capital, also called Campeche, was declared a World Heritage Site in 1997. The formation of the state began with the city, which was founded in 1540 as the Spanish began the conquest of the Yucatán Peninsula. During the colonial period, the city was a rich and important port, but declined after Mexico's independence. Campeche was part of the province of Yucatán but split off in the mid-19th century, mostly due to political friction with the city of Mérida. Much of the state's recent economic revival is due to the finding of petroleum offshore in the 1970s, which has made the coastal cities of Campeche and Ciudad del Carmen important economic centers. The state has important Mayan and colonial sites; however, these are not as well-known or visited as others in the Yucatán.

Quintana Roo State of Mexico

Quintana Roo, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Quintana Roo, is one of the 31 states which, with Mexico City, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided into 11 municipalities and its capital city is Chetumal.

Chiapas State of Mexico

Chiapas, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Chiapas, is one of the 31 states that, along with Mexico City, make up the 32 federal entities of Mexico. It is divided into 124 municipalities as of September 2017 and its capital city is Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Other important population centers in Chiapas include Ocosingo, Tapachula, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Comitán and Arriaga. It is the southernmost state in Mexico. It is located in Southeastern Mexico, and it borders the states of Oaxaca to the west, Veracruz to the northwest and Tabasco to the north, and by the Petén, Quiché, Huehuetenango and San Marcos departments of Guatemala to the east and southeast. Chiapas has a coastline along the Pacific Ocean to the south.

Yucatec Maya

Map of Maya linguistic distribution Mayanlanguageslocations.png
Map of Maya linguistic distribution

One of the largest groups of modern Maya can be found in Mexico's Yucatán State and the neighboring states of Campeche, Quintana Roo and in Belize. These peoples commonly identify themselves simply as "Maya" with no further ethnic subdivision (unlike in the Highlands of Western Guatemala). They speak the language which anthropologists term "Yucatec Maya", but is identified by speakers and Yucatecos simply as "Maya". Among Maya speakers, Spanish is commonly spoken as a second or first language.

Yucatec Maya, called mayaʼ tʼàan by its speakers, is a Mayan language spoken in the Yucatán Peninsula and northern Belize. To native speakers, the proper name is Maya and it is known only as Maya. The qualifier "Yucatec" is a tag linguists use to distinguish it from other Mayan languages. Thus the use of the term Yucatec Maya to refer to the language is scientific jargon or nomenclature.

There is a significant amount of confusion as to the correct terminology to use — Maya or Mayan — and the meaning of these words with reference to contemporary or pre-Columbian peoples, to Maya peoples in different parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and to languages or peoples.

oxlahun ahau u katunil u 13 he›cob cah mayapan: maya uinic u kabaob: uaxac ahau paxci u cabobi: ca uecchahi ti peten tulacal: uac katuni paxciob ca haui u maya-bulub ahau u kaba u katunil hauci u maya kabaob maya uinicob: christiano u kabaob

"Ahau was the katun when they founded the cah of Mayapan; they were [thus] called Maya men. In 8 Ahau their lands were destroyed and they were scattered through out the peninsula. Six katun after they were destroyed they ceased to be called Maya; 11 Ahau was

the name of the katun when the Maya men ceased to be called Maya [and] were called Christians."

Chilam Balam Chumayel [4]

Linguists refer to the Maya language as Yucatec or Yucatec Maya to distinguish it from other Mayan languages. This norm has often been misinterpreted to mean that the people are also called Yucatec Maya; that term refers only to the language, and the correct name for the people is simply Maya (not Mayans). Maya is one language in the Mayan language family. Thus, to refer to Maya as Mayans would be similar to referring to Spanish people as Romantics because they speak a language belonging to the Romance language family.[ clarification needed ] [5] Confusion of the term Maya/Mayan as an ethnic label occurs because Maya women who use traditional dress identify by the ethnic term mestiza and not Maya. [6]

Mayan languages language family spoken in Mesoamerica

The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million Maya peoples, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras. In 1996, Guatemala formally recognized 21 Mayan languages by name, and Mexico recognizes eight more within its territory.

Persons use a strategy of ethnic identification that Juan Castillo Cocom refers to as "ethnoexodus"—meaning that ethnic self-identification as Maya is quite variable, situational, and articulated not to processes of producing group identity, but of escaping from discriminatory processes of sociocultural marginalization. [7] [8]

The Yucatán's indigenous population was first exposed to Europeans after a party of Spanish shipwreck survivors came ashore in 1511. One of the sailors, Gonzalo Guerrero, is reported to have taken up with a local woman and started a family; he became a counselor among a local polity near present-day Chetumal. Later Spanish expeditions to the region were led by Córdoba in 1517, Grijalva in 1518, and Cortés in 1519. From 1528 to 1540, several attempts by Francisco Montejo to conquer the Yucatán failed. His son, Francisco de Montejo the Younger, fared almost as badly when he first took over: while desperately holding out at Chichen Itza, he lost 150 men in a single day. [9] European diseases, massive recruitment of native warriors from Campeche and Champoton, and internal hatred between the Xiu Maya and the lords of Cocom eventually turned the tide for Montejo the Younger. Chichen Itza was conquered by 1570. [9] In 1542, the western Yucatán Peninsula also surrendered to him.

Chichen Itza's El Castillo Chichen Itza 3.jpg
Chichen Itza's El Castillo

Historically, the population in the eastern half of the peninsula was less affected by and less integrated with Hispanic culture than the western half. In the 21st century in the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexican states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo), between 750,000 and 1,200,000 people speak Mayan. However, three times more than that are of Maya origins, hold ancient Maya surnames, and do not speak Mayan languages as their first language.

Matthew Restall, in his book The Maya Conquistador, [10] mentions a series of letters sent to the King of Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries. The noble Maya families at that time signed documents to the Spanish Royal Family; surnames mentioned in those letters are Pech, Camal, Xiu, Ucan, Canul, Cocom, and Tun, among others.

A large 19th-century revolt by the native Maya people of Yucatán (Mexico), known as the Caste War of Yucatán, was one of the most successful modern Native American revolts. [11] For a period the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz was recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire, particularly in terms of trading with British Honduras.

Dr. Francisco Luna Kan is a Maya having the very common surname "Kan" Dr Luna Kan (2010).jpg
Dr. Francisco Luna Kan is a Maya having the very common surname "Kan"

Francisco Luna-Kan was elected governor of the state of Yucatán from 1976 to 1982. Luna-Kan was born in Mérida, Yucatán, and he was a Doctor of medicine, then a Professor of Medicine before his political offices. He was first appointed as overseer of the state's rural medical system. He was the first Governor of the modern Yucatán Peninsula to be of full Maya ancestry. In the early 21st century, dozens of politicians, including Deputies, Majors and Senators, are of full or mixed Maya heritage from the Yucatán Peninsula.

Maya family from Yucatan Tunkan Maia Yucatan.jpg
Maya family from Yucatán

According to the National Institute of Geography and Informatics (Mexico's INEGI), in Yucatán State there were 1.2 million Mayan speakers in 2009, representing 59.5% of the inhabitants. [12] Due to this, the cultural section of the government of Yucatán began on-line classes for grammar and proper pronunciation of Maya. [13]

Maya people from Yucatán Peninsula living in the United States of America have been organizing Maya language lessons and Maya cooking classes since 2003 in California and other states: clubs of Yucatec Maya [14] are registered in Dallas and Irving, Texas; Salt Lake City in Utah; Las Vegas, Nevada; and California, with groups in San Francisco, San Rafael, Chino, Pasadena, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Inglewood, Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks, Oxnard, San Fernando Valley and Whittier. [14]


Maya populations in Chiapas. The area officially assigned to the Lacandon Community is the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, which partly overlaps with the Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Ch'ol areas Chiapas-Maya.gif
Maya populations in Chiapas. The area officially assigned to the Lacandon Community is the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, which partly overlaps with the Tzeltal, Tojolabal and Chʼol areas

Chiapas was for many years one of the regions of Mexico that was least touched by the reforms of the Mexican Revolution. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, launched a rebellion against the Mexican state, Chiapas in January 1994, declared itself to be an indigenous movement and drew its strongest and earliest support from Chiapan Maya. Today its number of supporters is relevant. (see also the EZLN and the Chiapas conflict)

Maya groups in Chiapas include the Tzotzil and Tzeltal, in the highlands of the state, the Tojolabalis concentrated in the lowlands around Las Margaritas, and the Chʼol in the jungle. (see map)

The most traditional of Maya groups are the Lacandon, a small population avoiding contact with outsiders until the late 20th century by living in small groups in the Lacandon Jungle. These Lacandon Maya came from the Campeche/Petén area (north-east of Chiapas) and moved into the Lacandon rain-forest at the end of the 18th century.

In the course of the 20th century, and increasingly in the 1950s and 1960s, other people (mainly the Maya and subsistence peasants from the highlands), also entered into the Lacandon region; initially encouraged by the government. This immigration led to land-related conflicts and an increasing pressure on the rainforest. To halt the migration, the government decided in 1971 to declare a large part of the forest (614,000 hectares, or 6140 km2) a protected area: the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. They appointed only one small population group (the 66 Lacandon families) as tenants (thus creating the Lacandon Community), thereby displacing 2000 Tzeltal and Chʼol families from 26 communities, and leaving non-Lacandon communities dependent on the government for granting their rights to land. In the decades that followed the government carried out numerous programs to keep the problems in the region under control, using land distribution as a political tool; as a way of ensuring loyalty from different campesino groups. This strategy of divide and rule led to great disaffection and tensions among population groups in the region.
(see also the Chiapas conflict and the Lacandon Jungle).


The Maya population in Belize is concentrated in the Corozal, Cayo, Toledo and Orange Walk districts, but they are scattered throughout the country. The Maya are thought to have been in Belize and the Yucatán region since the second millennium BC. Much of Belize's original Maya population died as a result of new infectious diseases and conflicts between tribes and with Europeans. They are divided into the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan. These three Maya groups now inhabit the country.

The Yucatec Maya (many of whom came from Yucatán, Mexico to escape the Caste War of the 1840s) there have been evidence of several Yucatec Maya groups living by the Yalbac area of Belize and in the Orange Walk district near the present day Lamanai at the time the British reach. The Mopan (indigenous to Belize but were forced out by the British; they returned from Guatemala to evade slavery in the 19th century), and Kekchi (also fled from slavery in Guatemala in the 19th century). The later groups are chiefly found in the Toledo District. [15]


The Mexican state of Tabasco is home to the Chontal Maya.


Ixil women in Nebaj, Guatemala. Nebaj.JPG
Ixil women in Nebaj, Guatemala.

In Guatemala, indigenous people of Maya descent comprise around 40% of the population. [16] The largest and most traditional Maya populations are in the western highlands in the departments of Baja Verapaz, Quiché, Totonicapán, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and San Marcos; their inhabitants are mostly Maya. [17]

The Maya people of the Guatemala highlands include the Achi, Akatek, Chuj, Ixil, Jakaltek, Kaqchikel, Kʼicheʼ, Mam, Poqomam, Poqomchiʼ, Qʼanjobʼal, Qʼeqchiʼ, Tzʼutujil and Uspantek.

The Qʼeqchiʼ live in lowland areas of Alta Vera Paz, Peten, and Western Belize. Over the course of the succeeding centuries a series of land displacements, re-settlements, persecutions and migrations resulted in a wider dispersal of Qʼeqchiʼ communities, into other regions of Guatemala (Izabal, Petén, El Quiché). They are the 2nd largest ethnic Maya group in Guatemala (after the Kʼicheʼ) and one of the largest and most widespread throughout Central America.

In Guatemala, the Spanish colonial pattern of keeping the native population legally separate and subservient continued well into the 20th century.[ citation needed ] This resulted in many traditional customs being retained, as the only other option than traditional Maya life open to most Maya was entering the Hispanic culture at the very bottom rung. Because of this many Guatemalan Maya, especially women, continue to wear traditional clothing, that varies according to their specific local identity.

The southeastern region of Guatemala (bordering with Honduras) includes groups such as the Chʼortiʼ. The northern lowland Petén region includes the Itza, whose language is near extinction but whose agro-forestry practices, including use of dietary and medicinal plants may still tell us much about pre-colonial management of the Maya lowlands. [18]

Genocide in Guatemala

The 36 year long Guatemalan Civil War left more than 200,000 people dead, half a million driven from their homes, and at least 100,000 women raped; most of the victims were Maya. [19] [20]

The genocide against Mayan people took place throughout the whole civil war because indigenous people were seen as supporting the leftist guerillas, but most acts against humanity occurred during Efraín Ríos Montt's presidency (1982-1983). Ríos Montt instituted a campaign of state terror intended to destroy the Mayas in the name of countering "communist subversion" and ridding the country of its indigenous culture. This was also known as Operation Sofia. Within Operation Sofia, the military followed through with "scorched earth policies" which allowed them to destroy whole villages, including killing livestock, destroying cultural symbols, destroying crops, and murdering civilians. [21] In some areas, government forces killed about 40% of the total population; the campaign destroyed at least 626 Mayan villages. [22]

On January 26, 2012 former president Ríos Montt was formally indicted in Guatemala for overseeing the massacre of 1,771 civilians of the Ixil Maya group and appeared in court for genocide and crimes against humanity [23] for which he was then sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10, 2013. [24] This ruling was overturned by the constitutional court on May 20, 2013 over alleged irregularities in the handling of the case. [25] [26] The ex-president appeared in court again on January 5, 2015 amongst protest from his lawyers regarding his health conditions [27] and on August 25, 2015 it was deliberated that a re-trial of the 2013 proceedings could find Ríos Montt guilty or not, but that the sentence would be suspended. [28] [29] Ríos Montt died on April 1, 2018 of a heart attack. [30]

Maya heritage

Guatemalan girls in their traditional clothing from the town of Santa Catarina Palopo on Lake Atitlan Chichicastenango-004.jpg
Guatemalan girls in their traditional clothing from the town of Santa Catarina Palopó on Lake Atitlán

The Maya people are known for their brightly colored, yarn-based, textiles that are woven into capes, shirts, blouses, huipiles and dresses. Each village has its own distinctive pattern, making it possible to distinguish a person's home town. Women's clothing consists of a shirt and a long skirt.

The Maya religion is Roman Catholicism combined with the indigenous Maya religion to form the unique syncretic religion which prevailed throughout the country and still does in the rural regions prior to 2010s of "orthodoxing" the western rural areas by Christian Orthodox missionaries. Beginning from negligible roots prior to 1960s, however, Protestant Pentecostalism has grown to become the predominant religion of Guatemala City and other urban centers, later to 2010s that almost of all Maya of several rural areas of West Guatemala, living rural areas were mostly mass converted from Catholicism or possibly Maya religion due of various reasons to either Eastern or Oriental Orthodoxy by late Fr. Andres Giron and some other Orthodox missionaries, and also smaller to mid-sized towns also slowly converted as well since 2013. [31] The unique religion is reflected in the local saint, Maximón, who is associated with the subterranean force of masculine fertility and prostitution. Always depicted in black, he wears a black hat and sits on a chair, often with a cigar placed in his mouth and a gun in his hand, with offerings of tobacco, alcohol, and Coca-Cola at his feet. The locals know him as San Simon of Guatemala.

Maximon, a Maya deity Maximon, in Santiago Atitlan.jpg
Maximón, a Maya deity

The Popol Vuh is the most significant work of Guatemalan literature in the Kʼicheʼ language, and one of the most important works of Pre-Columbian American literature. It is a compendium of Maya stories and legends, aimed to preserve Maya traditions. The first known version of this text dates from the 16th century and is written in Quiché transcribed in Latin characters. It was translated into Spanish by the Dominican priest Francisco Ximénez in the beginning of the 18th century. Due to its combination of historical, mythical, and religious elements, it has been called the Maya Bible. It is a vital document for understanding the culture of Pre-Columbian America. The Rabinal Achí is a dramatic work consisting of dance and text that is preserved as it was originally represented. It is thought to date from the 15th century and narrates the mythical and dynastic origins of the Toj Kʼicheʼ rulers of Rabinal, and their relationships with neighboring Kʼicheʼ of Qʼumarkaj. [32] The Rabinal Achí is performed during the Rabinal festival of January 25, the day of Saint Paul. It was declared a masterpiece of oral tradition of humanity by UNESCO in 2005. The 16th century saw the first native-born Guatemalan writers that wrote in Spanish.

First wave of migration

Due to the war in Guatemala, many Maya people were killed. The two parties in the war were both hurting the basic living circumstances of Maya people by destroying infrastructure, such as railroads, farmlands, and factories. The destruction of these basic tools created a very difficult environment for Maya people to make a living. Without a way to sustain themselves, many Maya people decided to move somewhere that they were able to live. Many people moved to Mexico and some moved to the United States, which was also their first encounter with the US. Many Mayans who moved to the US mainly moved to areas like Florida, Houston, and Los Angeles.

Second wave of migration

After the peace agreement among both parties in Guatemala after a 36-year war, the two parties built a new government. But the new government is also not protecting the benefit of people, especially the native people like Maya people. The new government was trying to unite all the culture together which in another word, is trying to assimilate all the culture within Maya people. In addition, the new government was not only trying to eliminate the culture but also was keeping the lands to itself rather than gave them back to the Maya people. Without a way to grow crops and food, Maya people were in extreme poverty. They have to find a way to make a living which they started the second migration movement to the United States.

Life in the U.S and survival strategy

Life for Mayan People during migration was an intricate and developmental one. As they crossed borderlands through Mexico on their journey to the United States they needed a strategy to increase their chances of successfully reaching the U.S. while maintaining their indigenousness. Hence, they developed what is now considered “Mexicanization.” “Mexicanization” was a term created by scholars to describe the innovative survival strategy Guatemalan Mayans practiced in order to maintain a low profile in other countries like Mexico and the United States. Mayan migrants incorporated such practice to not be detected by immigration officers in borderland countries. Further, it was increasingly difficult for Mayan migrants to adapt effectively due to their communication barrier. In just four countries—Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala—about 8.5 million people speak a Mayan language. Twenty-three distinct Mayan languages are spoken within Guatemala alone; hence, making it hard for many of them to communicate with themselves at times. Therefore, during their journey across Mexico they had to learn to quickly adapt to survive and not blow their cover as immigrants. Mayans learned Spanish which was an initial step to what scholars have considered the “Mexicanization” process. After picking up their language, Mayan migrants began picking up on everything from their slang, their clothing style, their politics and work life. Mayan woman had to leave their traditional “traje” (long colorful skirt) indoors and Mayan men had to wear the traditional boots, boot-cut jeans, and “sombrero” (hat). Although, they blended in well on the surface many of them had unhidable traits such as golden-teeth work. Golden-teeth work was predominate in Guatemalan Mayan culture in prehistoric times. Nonetheless, immigration officers learned of the tactics and began ‘quizzing’ many Guatemalan migrants on Mexican politics and culture. Despite the attempts to hinder Mayan adaptation, “Mexicanization” itself became systemized protection and is significant for the understanding of borderland culture via a diaspora.

Further, migration encompasses rites of passage for Mayan migrants who are in hope of moving up in the social hierarchy. During their journey in Mexico, Guatemalans found that life there was only preparing them for the changes in culture, lifestyle, and environment they were to face up north. Nearly 60% of 1,200,000 Guatemalans in the United States reside in California which is higher than any other Latino group other than Mexicans in the U.S.. Los Angeles, California is considered the second capital of Guatemala because it encompasses the largest amount of Guatemalans besides Guatemala City itself. Many Guatemalan Mayans also habit the San Francisco Bay area such as Oakland where good samaritans have helped them by allowing them to stay at their community home, “Casa Oakland.” Most Mayan migrants at “Casa Oakland” work in construction, landscaping, or domestic work as many picked up the trades via life in Mexico during their diaspora. Mayan migrants tend to habit communities of mixed race and ethnicities to assist in maintaining a low profile and to learn from other ethnic groups. Nonetheless, while in the U.S. they have found that the U.S restricts the definition of indigeneity to U.S. based constructions of race and ethnicity. So, during their diaspora Guatemalan Mayans developed a manner in which they welcome outside influences while covertly preserving features of their indigeneity.

Maya cultural heritage tourism

A boy playing Maya trumpet opposite of Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico.

There is an undeniable symbiotic relationship between cultural heritage, tourism, and a national identity. In the case of the Maya, the many national identities have been constructed because of the growing demands placed on them by cultural tourism. By focusing on lifeways through costumes, rituals, diet, handicrafts, language, housing, or other features, the identity of the economy shifts from the sale of labor to that of the sale of culture. [33]

Global tourism is now considered one of the largest scale movement of goods, services, and people in history and a significant catalyst for economic development and sociopolitical change. [34] Estimated that between 35 and 40 percent of tourism today is represented by cultural tourism or heritage tourism, this alternative to mass tourism offers opportunities for place-based engagement that frames context for interaction by the lived space and everyday life of other peoples, as well as sites and objects of global historical significance. [35] In this production of tourism the use of historic symbols, signs, and topics form a new side that characterizes a nation and can play an active role in nation building. [36]

With this type of tourism, people argue that ethno-commerce may open unprecedented opportunities for creating value of various kinds. Tourists travel with cultural expectations, which has created a touristic experience sometimes faced with the need to invent traditions of artificial and contrived attractions, often developed at the expense of local tradition and meanings. [37]

An example of this can be seen in "Mayanizing Tourism on Roatan Island, Honduras: Archaeological Perspectives on Heritage, Development, and Indignity." Alejandro j. Figueroa et al., combine archaeological data and ethnographic insights to explore a highly contested tourism economy in their discussion of how places on Roatan Island, Honduras, have become increasingly "Mayanized" over the past decade. As tour operators and developers continue to invent an idealized Maya past for the island, non-Maya archaeological remains and cultural patrimony are constantly being threatened and destroyed. While heritage tourism provides economic opportunities for some, it can devalue contributions made by less familiar groups. [38]

Notable Maya people


Films and television

See also

Related Research Articles

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Lacandon ethnic group

The Lacandon are one of the Maya peoples who live in the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the southern border with Guatemala. Their homeland, the Lacandon Jungle, lies along the Mexican side of the Usumacinta River and its tributaries. The Lacandon are one of the most isolated and culturally conservative of Mexico's native peoples. Almost extinct in 1943, today their population has grown significantly, yet remains small, at approximately 650 speakers of the Lacandon language.

Kʼicheʼ are indigenous peoples of the Americas and are one of the Maya peoples. The Kʼicheʼ language is a Mesoamerican language in the Mayan language family. The highland Kʼicheʼ states in the pre-Columbian era are associated with the ancient Maya civilization, and reached the peak of their power and influence during the Mayan Postclassic period. The meaning of the word Kʼicheʼ is "many trees". The Nahuatl translation, Cuauhtēmallān "Place of the Many Trees (People)", is the origin of the word Guatemala. Quiché Department is also named for them. Rigoberta Menchú, an activist for indigenous rights who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, is perhaps the best-known Kʼicheʼ.

Mesoamerican languages languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area; not genetically related; includes 6 major families (Mayan, Oto-Mangue, Mixe–Zoque, Totonacan, Uto-Aztecan, Chibchan) as well as various smaller families and isolates

Mesoamerican languages are the languages indigenous to the Mesoamerican cultural area, which covers southern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize and parts of Honduras and El Salvador and Nicaragua. The area is characterized by extensive linguistic diversity containing several hundred different languages and seven major language families. Mesoamerica is also an area of high linguistic diffusion in that long-term interaction among speakers of different languages through several millennia has resulted in the convergence of certain linguistic traits across disparate language families. The Mesoamerican sprachbund is commonly referred to as the Mesoamerican Linguistic Area.

The Chʼol are an indigenous people of Mexico, mainly located in the northern Chiapas highlands in the state of Chiapas. As one of the Maya peoples, their indigenous language is from the Mayan language family, known also as Chʼol. According to the 2000 Census, there were 140,806 speakers of Chʼol in Chiapas, including 40,000 who were monolingual.

Itza Central American ethnic group

The Itza are a Guatemalan people of Maya affiliation. They inhabit the Petén department of Guatemala in and around the city of Flores on Lake Petén Itzá.

Mayan Sign Language is a sign language used in Mexico and Guatemala by Mayan communities with unusually high numbers of deaf inhabitants. In some instances, both hearing and deaf members of a village may use the sign language. It is unrelated to the national sign languages of Mexico and Guatemala, as well as to the local spoken Mayan languages and Spanish.

Kukulkan mythological serpent

Kukulkan is the name of a Mesoamerican serpent deity. Prior to the Spanish Conquest of the Yucatán, Kukulkan was worshipped by the Yucatec Maya peoples of the Yucatán Peninsula, in what is now Mexico. The depiction of the Feathered Serpent is present in other cultures of Mesoamerica. Kukulkan is closely related to the deity Qʼuqʼumatz of the Kʼicheʼ people and to Quetzalcoatl of Aztec mythology. Little is known of the mythology of this Pre-Columbian era deity.

Lacandon Jungle area of rainforest

The Lacandon Jungle is an area of rainforest which stretches from Chiapas, Mexico, into Honduras and into the southern part of the Yucatán Peninsula. The heart of this rainforest is located in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in Chiapas near the border with Guatemala in the Montañas del Oriente region of the state. Although most of the jungle outside the reserve has been partially or completely destroyed and damage continues inside the Reserve, the Lacandon is still the largest montane rainforest in North America and one of the last ones left large enough to support jaguars. It contains 1,500 tree species, 33% of all Mexican bird species, 25% of all Mexican animal species, 56% of all Mexican diurnal butterflies and 16% of all Mexico's fish species.

Petén-Veracruz moist forests

The Petén-Veracruz moist forests ecoregion, of the Tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forest Biome, is found in Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico.

Kʼicheʼ kingdom of Qʼumarkaj capital city of the pre-Columbian Kiche Maya of highland Guatemala.

The Kʼicheʼ kingdom of Qʼumarkaj was a state in the highlands of modern-day Guatemala which was founded by the Kʼicheʼ (Quiché) Maya in the thirteenth century, and which expanded through the fifteenth century until it was conquered by Spanish and Nahua forces led by Pedro de Alvarado in 1524.

The Mopan people are an indigenous, sub-ethnic group of the Maya peoples. They are native to regions of Belize and Guatemala.

Spanish conquest of the Maya Conquest dating from 1511 to 1697

The Spanish conquest of the Maya was a protracted conflict during the Spanish colonisation of the Americas, in which the Spanish conquistadores and their allies gradually incorporated the territory of the Late Postclassic Maya states and polities into the colonial Viceroyalty of New Spain. The Maya occupied a territory that is now incorporated into the modern countries of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador; the conquest began in the early 16th century and is generally considered to have ended in 1697.

The Yucatecan languages are a branch of the Mayan family of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala.

Hispanic Belizean

Hispanic Belizeans or Belizean Mestizos are Belizeans of Hispanic and mestizo descent. Currently, they comprise around 52.9% of Belize's population.




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Further reading