The Maya refer to the ancient people who built an ancient civilization across much of Central America which grew to its prime during the Classical Period, as well as a contemporary people who can be found scattered across the world. The Maya civilization was never cohesive but they were comprised of many sub-states governed by kings and centered in a city. At times, a stronger Maya state would conquer a weaker state to extract labor and have them pay homage. In 1200 AD, the Maya civilization went into a sudden decline (Richardson 44). As a result of the death of their civilization, the Mayans abandoned their great stone cities, for example, Uxmal and Chichen Itza (Richardson 44). This has led to the popular opinion that the Mayan civilization died off completely, but that is not the case. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate that the Mayans and their culture still exist in various parts of the world. They did not just disappear, rather they abandoned their cities and went into hiding in the jungles. Their descendants can be found today in the Yucatan peninsula in south-east Mexico (Richardson 44).
The Maya are an aboriginal people of Central America and Mexico. They have constantly inhabited the area where current Campeche, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Tabasco, and Chiapas in Mexico and to the south through Belize, EL-Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (Mark). The term ‘Maya’ originated from the prehistoric city Yucatan city of Mayapan (Mark). Mayapan was the only surviving capital of a Mayan Kingdom after the Post Classical Period. The Mayan people define themselves by ethnicity and language relationships such as Yucatec in the north and the Quiche in the south (Mark).
There is no other culture of the pre-Colombian Americas that left behind a richer heritage of indigenous history and worldview carved into rocks like the Maya (Fash 182). Maya was the name used by the natives of the Yucatan Peninsula to identify themselves to the 16th century Spanish explorers, journalists, and colonialists. The Mayans occupied an area of about 325,000 square kilometers southward of Mexico and north of Central America that covers the volcanic highlands to tropical lowlands (Fash 182). They created a cultural tradition that is overwhelmingly diverse and intoxicatingly creative.
All through the last centuries of the Preclassic Era (2000 BC-AD 250), all the way through the Classic Era (AD 250-900), and the start of the Postclassic era (AD 900-1500), thousands of buildings and monuments were inscribed with hieroglyphic writings in addition to numerous other texts and pictures carved and painted on more temporary media, for example, bark-paper books, cloth, and wood (Fash 182). Even though the Classic period was the prime of the Maya writing custom and its creative scripters, the Maya of past and successive periods were just as ingenious in their architectural creations and their use of sacred pieces with painted and curved embellishment (Fash 182). Furthermore, the transference of oral history, prophecies, and religious teachings and traditions both signified and outlasted the Classical era (Fash 182). The use of hieroglyphic texts and pictorial imagery, as well as oral tradition facilitated an extraordinary understanding of the Mayan perception of the world they lived in, themselves, and their interaction with it (Fash 182). Current attempts have indicated that systemized historical analysis of the writings and images from the Classical era stone monuments, Postclassic bark-paper books, and Spanish records during the colonial period can explain the behaviors and traditions among the existing Mayans for which traditional ethnographic methods cannot explain (Fash 182).
Uncertainty about the existence and legitimacy of the Maya as a group of people has been raised by some researchers studying the Maya of the Yucatan Peninsula (Sullivan 261). Their doubts are understandable from an empirical point of view because most of the Maya from the peninsula identify themselves as mestizos, refuse to acknowledge that they are Indians, and insist that the legitimate Mayans were the people who built the monuments, pyramids, and temples, and later died off or went into hiding underground during the Spanish conquest (Sullivan 261).
But millions of Mayans live in Central America and across the world. The Mayan people are not a single grouping of people, a single ethnicity, or a single community. They speak many languages such as Spanish and English, including Mayan languages such as Mopan, Yucatec, Quiche, and Kekchi. Nonetheless, the Maya are an aboriginal group bound to their distant past and to events of the last several centuries.
During the Spanish conquest, they did not just disappear, but they retreated into the jungles, and one can meet their descendants today all over the region including southeast Mexico and the Yucatan peninsula (Richardson). It is in these areas where Uxmal, Chichen Itza, and Tulum which is close to the main resort in Cancun where Mayan sites can be found (Richardson). More Mayan sites are believed to still exist but are hidden deep in the jungle (Richardson). Although these sites are the main centers of a Yucatan tour, there is more to see and opportunities to meet contemporary Mayans (Richardson). Most still live in traditional huts with earthen floors and sleep in hammocks like they did during ancient times (Richardson).
The Mayan city called Ek Balam which is approximately in the middle of Mierids and Cancim is quite an unknown prehistoric city that was discovered only recently in 1987 (Richardson). In Ek Balam, one can still climb the pyramids to appreciate the elaborate carvings (Richardson). The Mayans are still thriving, but one would have to go to places less traveled to study and discover more about them.
- Fash, William L. “Changing Perspectives on Maya Civilization.” Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 23, no. 1, Oct. 1994, pp. 181-208. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/
- Mark, Joshua. “Maya Civilization.” Ancient History Encyclopedia. 6 Jul 2012, http://www.ancient.eu/Maya_Civilization/. Accessed 6 Apr 2017.
- Richardson, Dave. “At Home with the Mayans.” Travel Trade Gazette UK & Ireland, no. 2895, 08 Jan. 2010, pp. 44-45. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com
- Sullivan, Paul. “Anthropology and Ethnohistory of the Maya.” Reviews in Anthropology, vol. 43, no. 4, Oct-Dec2014, pp. 260-281. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/00938157.2014.964061.