The culture of Mayan civilization continues to exist nowadays in many parts of South America. The people of Maya have lived for almost four thousand years, stemming from the Olmecs (Carmack et al., 2016). Carmack et al. (2016) write that “the Formative period (1800 B.C.–A.D. 200) saw the origin of Mesoamerica as a distinctive cultural entity” (p. 39). Throughout their history, these people were able to achieve numerous breakthroughs that greatly benefited their society and developed a sophisticated culture.
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The echoes of the Mayan sociocultural complexity continue to attract scholars across the globe, as they are not fully studied up to today. Regions have been known to contain multiple groups with different languages, deities, and views on the world, which created an amazingly intricate ethnic diversity (Carmack et al., 2016). This made cultural traditions of people who lived there highly based on their social interactions, which led to regular conflicts, as well as interesting religious and political confluxes.
As a result of these developments, modern Mayans have a unique, diverse culture that has a strong connection to its roots and stands out from the contemporary traditions. Alas, Mayan civilization was also a subject of heavy oppression and continues to face inequality in modern times (Anderson, 2020). Some Mayans were able to preserve their culture by escaping Spanish invaders and fleeing to the remote parts of the land, which made their contribution to the modern understanding of Mayan culture even more valuable (“Maya people of Belize,” 2020). The history that led this civilization to its current place in the world did not undermine their identity, however, Mayans are currently viewed as underrepresented in many sources (Carmack et al., 2016). This notion goes as far as some historians have claimed that Mayans no longer exist, although it is not so (Leventhal et al., 2012). This essay examines the modern presence of Mayan culture and its effects on the countries of Belize and Guatemala.
The Life of Mayan Descendants in Modern Society
Nowadays, an overwhelming majority of Mayan descendants populate Southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and, partially, El Salvador (Anderson, 2020). While they had to adapt to the modern cultural views of their respected nations, these people did manage to retain many beliefs of their ancestors (Anderson, 2020). Their culture had to go through multiple problems in the face of globalization, government oppression, and loss of cultural identity.
The culture of Mayans is preserved via various sources, including art forms. Mayans had developed writing systems and promoted literacy long before contact with Spanish colonists (Carmack et al., 2016). This fact is reflected in the modern Mayan literature, which shows excellent fluency of forms, can be considered highly expressive and is heavily based on oral language traditions (Carmack et al., 2016). Modern Mayan art provides an insight into the views of the existing population, as its primary focus remains on the natural wonders of the world (Anderson, 2020). Moreover, the theme of ancient aspects of the Mayan civilization is very common among modern Mayan artists (Anderson, 2020). Moreover, regarding oral tradition, Carmack et al. (2016) argue that “eloquence in the spoken word, in fact, often ranks as the single most important qualification for leadership and public service” (p. 489). Mayan languages are a reflection of the diverse community that uses them, and they serve as the continuation of the culture.
There are over 30 languages that originate from Proto-Mayan origin. Several of these languages are alive in modern times, for example, there are approximately 360,000-400,000 speakers of the Q’eqchi’ language across Guatemala and Belize (Wichmann & Hull, 2009). The reason behind this prevalence of Q’eqchi’ is the fact that this group of Mayans has been more successful than others in repelling Spanish military advances (Wichmann & Hull, 2009). Many languages took a hard impact after Spanish persecutions, and their speakers were mostly assimilated, yet Q’eqchi’ remains one of the Mayan languages that have the highest number of monolingual speakers (Wichmann & Hull, 2009). The fact that Mayan languages did not go extinct is essential for cultural vitality, as the multifaceted society of Mayan people was built upon these differences, making them an integral part of their identity (Letts, 2003). This preservation is vital for the culture to persist throughout the ages, and Mayans continue to put effort into defending their legacy.
The land of Mayans has been under dispute as well, which led to several conflicts before governments were able to realize the importance of the Maya Forest. The protection of lands that belong to Mayans from industrial developments is an integral part of cultural preservation. The history of Mayan civilization has a substantial impact on the safety of the Maya Forest, which is located in the territories of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico (Primack et al., 2013). Ecotourism became a popular alternative for financial exploitation of the forest, which has a significant positive influence on the preservation of local communities, as it discourages destructive activities such as logging or agricultural expansion (Primack et al., 2013). Mayan ruins continue to attract visitors, providing a boost for local villages and encouraging people who live there to educate themselves on the knowledge of ancient Mayan history and the English language to engage with tourists (Primack et al., 2013). Through this intricate way, the remnants of Mayan civilization continue to help their descendants.
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Despite the apparent erosion of Mayan culture that occurred after their defeat by Spain forces, Mayans have preserved many aspects of their culture, including religious beliefs, art forms, and social structure. Nowadays, the issue remains, as Mayans combat the homogenization of their culture and avoid being assimilated by Mexican traditions (Letts, 2003). Anderson (2020) writes that, in Guatemala, “most women of Maya heritage dress is a type of hand-woven clothing that’s traditional to their culture.” The efforts toward the preservation of the culture show prominent success, as the number of indigenous people who are not afraid to demonstrate their identity grows.
Recent Mayan Movements
The people of Maya have been struggling to keep their identity for a prolonged time. After the Spanish conquest, Mayans were largely oppressed across their lands. Native people were placed at the bottom of societal structure, as invaders took power for themselves and reigned for a prolonged time. In their efforts to unite people, Mesoamerican countries have attempted to create a common national culture, which led to several conflicts with indigenous populations, who were heavily persecuted (Carmack et al., 2016). However, the situation has changed during the past century in favor of indigenous people as liberal views promoted equality and justice instead of oppression (Carmack et al., 2016). Regarding the future of Mesoamericans in modern society, Carmack et al. (2016) argue that “widespread opposition to the injustices accompanying residual old-fashioned liberalism and the new developmental reforms led to “revolutions” throughout the region” (p. 296). In the past decade, Mayan society has achieved multiple recognitions of its rights and legacy (“Belize: Advocating Maya people’s rights to land,” 2017). Through confrontations with governments and the combined efforts of all of their communities, Mayan descendants were able to secure their cultural heritage.
One of the most global Mayan movements has occurred in Guatemala in the twentieth century. This movement has focused on the protection of Mayan culture against governmental repercussions, which was achieved by both peaceful protests and military actions against the state-wide genocide of indigenous people (Medina, 2008). In Belize, the situation was reflected by local Mayan communities, who similarly demanded to have cultural autonomy, linguistic recognition, and greater land claims (Medina, 2008). Through these actions, Mayans were able to protect their identity from outside influence.
In conclusion, the culture of Maya did not only survive throughout the ages, it was able to take its unique place among other modern cultures that are more dominant without losing much of its identity. Nowadays, Belize and Guatemala do contain not only a vast amount of Mayan ruins but also a significant portion of the Mayan population. The indigenous people of Mesoamerican countries continue to grow steadily, and, along with it, increase the interest in the understanding of Mayan history (Chase, D., & Chase, A., 2016). Currently, over 6 million Maya people are living in Belize, Guatemala, and other Mesoamerican countries, who have preserved their heritage throughout the ages (“Maya people of Belize,” 2020). These people are an integral part of these countries, and their culture allows people to gain insight into one of the most ancient civilizations on the planet.
The essential part of the preservation has been achieved in the past century, although not without bloodshed. The bonds within their communities show the results of their ancestors’ life experiences, as their common languages and beliefs unite these people to stand against the erosion of their heritage. Mayans have shown the world that they are not obsolete and that their culture still thrives across several countries of South America.
Modernization is a critical issue for this culture, as it revolves around the traditional way of living. Letts (2003), in his prognosis regarding the future of the culture, writes that Mayans “will continue to be successful in the midst of modernization while maintaining cultural vitality” (p. 17). It is essential for indigenous people to exercise their rights to preserve as much of their culture as possible while acknowledging the outside world. Mayans have followed their traditions throughout the ages, and attempts to force changes into their culture were resisted so far. This unique set of customs has been put to the test by many external factors, yet Mayan culture prevails.
This culture brings more than just diversity to these countries, as many tourists are interested in experiencing the Mayan way of life. Many aspects of the ancient culture live today in these parts of the world, which continue to attract visitors through their charming uniqueness and colorful magnificence of Mayan rituals and art (D.C. Team, 2016). Old stone structures are but a small part of the Mayan legacy, the primary cultural mediums are people and their traditions.
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