|Poptime:||7 million |
|Popplace:||Parts of modern-day countries of El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras|
|Rels:||Christianity (predominantly Roman Catholic), Maya religion|
|Langs:||Mayan languages, Spanish, Kriol and English|
The Maya peoples constitute a diverse range of the Native American peoples of southern Mexico and northern Central America. The overarching term "Maya" is a convenient collective designation to include the peoples of the region who share some degree of cultural and linguistic heritage; however, the term embraces many distinct populations, societies, and ethnic groups, who each have their own particular traditions, cultures, and historical identity.
There are an estimated 7 million Maya living in this area at the start of the 21st century . Ethnic Maya of southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and western Honduras have managed to maintain substantial remnants of their ancient cultural heritage. Some are quite integrated into the modern 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.
The largest populations of contemporary Maya are in the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas, and in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.
The largest group of modern Maya can be found on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. They commonly identify themselves simply as "Maya" with no further ethnic subdivision (unlike in the Highlands of Western Guatemala), and 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.
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 started a family and taken up a position of counsel among a local polity near present-day Chetumal. Later Spanish expeditions to the region (Córdoba in 1517, Grijalva in 1518 and Cortés in 1519) resulted in numerous conflicts and open warfare. Vulnerability to European diseases and conflicts with the Spanish eventually reduced the Yucatec Maya population to less than 10,000 by 1850. Those in the jungles of Quintana Roo to the east were more cut off from the Spanish, enabling them to survive more easily. Historically, the population in the eastern half of the peninsula was less affected by and less integrated with Hispanic culture than those of the western half. Today in the Yucatán Peninsula (Mexican States of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo) between 750,000 - 1,200,000 people speak Mayan. However three times more than that are from Maya origins but they do not speak their native language, but they hold ancient Maya last names such as: Ak, Can, Chan, Be, Cantun, Canche, Chi, Chuc, Coyoc, Dzib, Dzul, Ehuan, Hoil, Hau, May, Tamay, Ucan, Pool, Zapo, etc.
Dr Matthew Restall, in his book The Maya Conquistador , 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 ; results included the temporary existence of the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz, recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire.
Chiapas was for many years one of the regions of Mexico that were least touched by the reforms of the Mexican Revolution. The Zapatista Army of National Liberation, which launched a rebellion against the Mexican state in Chiapas in January 1994, declared itself to be an indigenous movement and drew its strongest and earliest support from Chiapan Maya, a number of whom still support it today. (see also the EZLN and the Chiapas conflict)
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 rainforest at the end of the 18th century, 1000 years after the ancient (Pre-Columbian) Maya civilization had disappeared (around 850 A.D).
In the course of the 20th century, and increasingly in the 1950-ies & 60-ies, also other people (mainly Mayan indians and subsistence peasants from the highlands), 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) as a protected area: the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve. They appointed only one small population group (the 66 Lacandon indian families) as tenants (thus creating the Lacandon Community), thereby displacing 2000 Tzeltal and Ch'ol 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 dissafection 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 Cayo, Toledo districts and Orange Walk district, but they are scattered throughout the country. They are divided into the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan.
In Guatemala, the largest and most traditional Maya populations are in the western highlands. The departments of Baja Verapaz, Quiché, Totonicapan, Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango, and San Marcos are majority Maya.
In Guatemala the Spanish colonial pattern of keeping the native population legally separate and subservient continued well into the 20th century. 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.
Considerable identification with local and linguistic affinities, often corresponding to pre-Columbian nation states, continues, and many people wear traditional clothing that displays their specific local identity. Clothing of women tends to be more traditional than that of the men, as the men have more interaction with the Hispanic commerce and culture.
. 2002. Toward a Maya Theology of Liberation: The Reformulation of a "Traditional" Religion in the Global Context. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 41. 1. pp.47–67. 0021-8294. 10.1111/1468-5906.00099.
Book: Nikolai Grube
. . Nikolai Grube. 2006. Maya Today - From Indios Deprived of Rights to the Maya Movement. 417–425. Nikolai Grube (Ed.). Eva Eggebrecht and Matthias Seidel (assistant Eds.). Maya: Divine Kings of the Rain Forest. Cologne. Könemann Press. 3-8331-1957-8. 71165439.
Web site: . 1992. Interview with Rigoberta Menchu Tum. Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America (CODEHUCA). 2006-07-03.
Book: Kay B. Warren