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Tony Rath's

 
CULTURE > MAYAN

Persisting over thousands of years of wars, natural disasters, colonialism, imperialism, and inner conflicts, the Mayans continue to thrive in Belize as the only indigenous people in the country. Of the three main Mayan factions (Yucatec, Mopanero, and Kekchi) that inhabit Belize, the Yucatec Maya reside mainly in the northern districts.

Mayan Boat Crossing the Rio Hondo at Santa Clara
Mayan Boat Crossing the Rio Hondo at Santa Clara

The Yucatec Maya migrated to Northern Belize in the mid 19th century as a result of the Guerra de las Castas in the Yucatan. With ancestral ties to the Yucatan Peninsula and living in close proximity to Mexico, most Mayans have become hispanicized rather than anglicized, and practice Catholicism and speak Spanish. Few of the Yucatec Maya groups actually speak a Mayan dialect.

Mayan Caretaker Inside an Old Church at San Roman
Mayan Caretaker Inside an Old Church at San Roman
100 Year Old Spanish Church at San Roman
100 Year Old Spanish Church at San Roman

Despite the European influence, the Yucatec Maya still worship certain traditional Mayan gods, particularly at planting and harvest time, and practice time-honored subsistence agricultural practices. While corn is the staple crop, both mestizo and Mayan have cultivated sugar cane in the region since the early sixties.

Young Mayan Girl
Young Mayan Girl
Young Mayan Woman
Young Mayan Woman

The Mayan diet has not wavered over the centuries either and consists mainly of corn tortillas cooked on a griddle with beans and chiles and supplemented with chicken and pork. These rural people mostly live in distinctive huts of plastered limestone with steep thatched roofs, although in some areas modern concrete houses have replaced the traditional structures as major weather events have devastated communities in the past.

Cane is Still King in the Northern Mayan Villages
Cane is Still King in the Northern Mayan Villages

Mayan handicrafts such as sewing, embroidery, and slate carvings have gained popularity with tourists and have supplemented subsistence farming practices. Souvenir sales and tour guiding have begun a new era for many Mayans. Speckled with ancient Mayan archaeological sites, the northern Belizean countryside reflects former Mayan dominance within the region. Standing tall above the plains and forests, these architectural wonders highlight the cultural diversity and rich heritage within the area. Guests marvel at both the massive structures and their guides-direct descendents of the sites they have come to see.

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