Today's Mayas

The Mayas in Guatemala

How do the Mayas live today?




Are there any Mayas left?

Women in the Maya Chortí village of La Pintada
As you have already learned, the Mayas are still very much alive! More than six million Maya people live in Central America, mostly in Guatemala and México, but also in Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The Mayas never disappeared. A lot of ancient Maya cities were abandoned, but that doesn't mean the Mayas ceased to exist. They simply moved to other places.
The Spanish conquerors tried to erase Maya culture, but never succeeded. Many Mayas fled away from the conquerors while others changed their habits in a way they could live in relative harmony with them.
The Mayas today are divided in many different tribes. Each tribe has its own customs and traditions and sometimes even its own language. In Guatemala more than twenty Maya languages are spoken. Although Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, some of the indigenous people only speak their Maya language!
A lot of the Mayas still wear their traditional dress and maintain their ancient religious traditions or use natural medicines the way they have for hundreds of years. Other Mayas dress in modern cloths and live in apartment buildings in the cities. But that doesn't make them less Maya!
Maya Chortí woman

Why the differences between the Maya peoples?

Typical house
Each different group of Maya people has its own customs, traditions, clothes and language. But if there are so many differences, how come they are all Mayas?
Thousands of years ago there was a small group of people called Mayas. They all believed in the same gods, lived in the same way, ate the same foods and grew their crops in exactly the same way. Of course, they also spoke the same language. .
Map of the Maya World
When this group of people became bigger, some of the people left to live in other places where they started new communities. Initially they maintained the same way of living, but little by little things started to change, not in the least because they had to adapt to their new surroundings. They found new plants and animals for which they had no names yet. So they made up names and that's how gradually their language began to change. They also started to build their houses slightly different from before, better equipped for the new surroundings. That's how each Maya village became a little different from the other. These differences became bigger over time, but what never changed is that the people still consider themselves Mayas. Often two Mayas from different groups are not able to communicate because they speak different languages, but they are still both Maya!

The Mayas in Guatemala

Kids from Guatemala
There is no other country so full of colours as Guatemala. There are about thirty different groups of Mayas, many of them still wearing their typical dress every day. And not just the women, men too!
In no other country you'll find so many indigenous people and so many different peoples. Many of them have conserved their traditions carefully. They still speak their language and keep up with their traditional ceremonies. The women shine in their beautifully woven huipils, embroidered with flowers, birds or butterflies. If you ever visit a marketplace in Guatemala, you'll see it's a feast of colours!
Map of Guatemala

Kids from  Guatemala
The Mayas in the highlands and the ones who live around Lake Atitlán are the most famous, but there many more Maya people, among them the Chortí who live near the border with Hondurass.

The Mayas in Mexico

Map of Mexico
Girl from Chiapas, Mexico
In Mexico you'll find Mayas in the south of the country. The majority lives in Chiapas and Yucatan. The language most widely spoken is Yucatek. The women wear huipils and sandals. The houses in Yucatan are made of mud with a thatched roof, like the ones in Copán, but the big difference is that they are oval shaped. Inside the house there's a bundle of vines all around that supports the roof. An oval shape is very strong and those simple Maya houses can even withstand hurricanes where many cinder block buildings can't!

The Mayas in Belize

Belize is a small country with only about three hundred thousand inhabitants. Imagine, in Honduras live twenty times as many people! But despite being so small, Belize is a very interesting country. It's the only country in Central America where the official language is not Spanish but English. The population is an interesting mix of different people: there are white descendents of conquerors from Spain and England; the Garifuna and Creoles who are descendents of the black slaves brought from Africa and a lot of people who are a bit of everything. There are immigrants from Asia and of course there are Mayas. They form about 10% of the population and live mostly in the south and east of Belize.
Ceremonial outtfit ftom belize
Girl from Belize
Map of Belize
Maya women in Belize wear colourful dresses trimmed with lace. The live in wooden houses with palm leaf roofs and dirt floors. And just as Maya people from other places, they eat tortillas with every meal!

The Mayas in Honduras

The Mayas in Honduras are called the Chortí. About thirty five thousand Chortí live in the departments of Copán and Ocotepeque. The Mayas in Honduras do not live as traditionally as many others in Mexico and Guatemala. They don't speak Chortí anymore and do not have a traditional dress code. In other words, the Chortí have lost a lot of their culture. That s a shame, but fortunately there's a lot of interest in recovering some of it. Children in Chortí communities these days learn the Chortí language at school and many want to know more about the history of their ancestors. The Chortí people in Guatemala are helping the ones in Honduras to learn more about their own culture.

A typical house

The Maya Chortí are indigenous people of Honduras. That means that they lived here before Honduras was discovered by the Spanish. The Chortí are not the only indigenous people in Honduras: there are Garifunas, Lenca, Pech and Misquito peoples.
Typical foodcomida típica

How do the Mayas live today?

Today's farmer
Imagine you're walking around the main square of your home town and all of a sudden you see a guy dressed in a loincloth decorated with feathers. What will you think? That he's a clown or maybe an actor in a play about ancient Maya culture? It must be, because these days'’ people don't dress like that anymore! Maya culture has changed a lot in the last thousand years, just like any other culture has changed. It is often hard to say who is Maya and who isn't, because a lot of Maya people live much the same way as people do who are not Maya. But some Mayas maintain a very traditional way of living. They still conduct religious ceremonies to honour the Maya god of rain, Chaak, and when somebody in the community gets sick, they'll get the local traditional healer. You already know that many Mayas in Mexico and Guatemala still wear their traditional dress and they don't do this for special occasion or for tourists! This is their typical day-to-day dress!
Many of today's Mayas watch TV, travel on busses and have cell phones. They have adapted to modern life without completely losing their own culture. It is possible to live a modern live and conserve ancient traditions at the same time!
Farmer from ancient times

Did you know that...

Blue Morpho
Christopher Columbus discovered America by accident. He set out to find a shorter route to India not realizing that there was a whole continent blocking his way! When he first set foot he didn't realize his mistake yet, but believed he had arrived in India. That's why he called the native habitants "Indians".
These days the term “"Indian" is often considered offensive and that's why it's better to talk about indigenous people when you speak of the native people of a country.
During cultural festivals in Belize people play tradition Maya music on flutes, conch shells, drums and marimba. The marimba is an instrument that was probably introduced by black slaves and adapted by the Mayas.
Huipil from Guatemala
Traditionally, when a Maya girl is only three years old, she starts learning how to weave. In Guatemala and Mexico are still a lot of village where the women weave fabulous fabrics. The legend goes that Ixchel, the moon goddess taught the women the beautiful and sacred designs that the women use in their weavings. The women still embroider designs that come directly from their natural surroundings or Maya mythology.