The Maya have marked the land, the history, the culture and the people of Guatemala. One can easily see their influence that still very present today.
The Mayan Empire, a powerful civilization...
Like the Aztecs and the Incas, Mayans are the subject of many legends and are mostly known for their knowledge in writing, architecture, mathematics and astronomy. Their origins are still uncertain, as well as the exact causes of their disappearance, but we know they once inhabited the land today corresponding to southern Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Their history is lost in the mists of time and only a few indigenous manuscripts now enable us to study their lifestyle. In particular this is the case of the famous Chilam Balam and of the Popol Vuh, the sacred book of the Quiches Indians of Guatemala.
The Mayan civilization, unquestionably one of the largest in Mesoamerica during the pre-Columbian times, has known its peak between the sixth and ninth century AD. Colossal city-states were then constructed throughout the country, always respecting precise alignment with the stars. Among the most famous and best preserved sites there are Copán in Honduras, Palenque in Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala.
Impressive ruins, memories of a Fallen Empire...
Built in an important jungle environment, the Mayan imperial cities are mostly destroyed and invaded by vegetation. The hot and humid climate of the region in addition to an abundant biodiversity have not ease the preservation of this cultural heritage, making disappear many historical elements. Then came in addition to this 30-year of Marxist guerrillas and contemporary Mayan demands, which limited the excavation of archaeological sites in Guatemala. However, a new craze was born for this ancestral culture and its vestiges with the opening of the local economy to the tourism sector and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Rigoberta Menchu Tum, spokeswoman of indigenous peoples in 1992.
Guatemala has now implemented numerous rehabilitation initiatives of its pre-Columbian heritage, multiplying programs with UNESCO and the opening of museums, but they still have a long way to go. Indeed, this amazing little country with a diversified population and a dark past is undoubtedly the territory of Central America retaining which have the more evidence of the pre-Hispanic world. Covering a wide area of the territory, the Mayan ruins are also amazing wildlife refuges protecting a splendid nature.
A heritage still alive in Guatemalan culture...
Beyond its archaeological sites, witnesses of another time, Guatemala has an incomparable cachet because of its ethnic and linguistic plurality. From the Quiche Indians to Cakchikel through the Mam and Kekchi populations, more than twenty ethnic groups still live in the main part of the territory. Those inhabitants with a particular everyday life - descendants of the Mayas - perpetuate their ancestral traditions, adopting a unique syncretism between Catholicism and worldview. Churches and biblical figures are next to Mayan ceremonial altars, as well as various parties or religions worship are paying tribute to the nature and are here to chase the evil spirits.
The indigenous culture is also present with the use of the Mayan calendar for crops, with its diversity of languages or the wearing of the huipil - a traditional dress with weavings that looks like the symbols of the cosmogony. By far the most visible and striking testimony of Mayan heritage in Guatemala are the colorful costumes of each region which once determined the belonging to a feudal lord under Spanish rule. But they are now more an identity element used particularly around the Lake Atitlán and in the highlands.
If the native heart of the country especially beats in rural areas, urban areas are marked by a North American influence even more important. Under the effect of migrations, globalization and more present media, Guatemala must face significant contrasts. With two faces, the territory is divided by a racist disregard of the white elite and of the Ladino elite (mixed) against the indigenous people, yet with a broad demographic majority.
Although the pre-Columbian Mayan heritage is a great pride, with its majestic temples and ceremonial sites, it is actually the priceless current cultural capital of Guatemala that is absolutely to (re)discover ! Struggling against the loss of cultural identity, its population is probably the most precious thing the country has for its future…
Article by : Mayan Zone