Who were the Maya?

29 Mar

Almost any book on their art or culture will provide a more detailed answer.

The Maya are but one of many Mesoamerican ethnic groups. Like most ethnicities, they share a common language family and certain physical characteristics. Depending how you count, there are from 22 to 30 Maya languages in use, many of them endangered or threatened: the well-known Lacandones, for example, number perhaps 600 souls, mostly living in two villages in their eponymous Lacandon Forest.

In Classic times, ca. 100 – 900 AD/CE, Maya never referred to themselves as a single people. Like the denizens of Greek city-states, their identities, their loyalties lay with their local polity rather than with the race as a whole; one was a citizen of Tikál, of Calakmul, or of Piedras Negras rather than a “Maya.”

After the Conquest, power shifted from local Maya rulers to distant Spanish overlords and their local officials, then to distant Mexican, Honduran, and Belizean overlords, and to local plantation owners. In many places, the hard life of the peasants changed little. They adjusted their religious practices as much as was necessary to placate their Catholic masters, and continued to do what they do best: endure.

by Mark Van Stone —

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Posted by on 03/29/2012 in Maya


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