The Modern Maya
The Modern Maya
Much has been made of the downfall of the ancient Mayan. What caused one of the New World's largest pre-Columbian civilizations to collapse so suddenly and completely may never be fully understand, but what became of the Maya as a people is no mystery.
They live – indeed thrive in southern Mexico and Guatemala. No indigenous culture in North America is near as large; none have maintained their way of life and none have kept their languages alive as have the Maya – and the essence, arguably the very existence, of a culture is preserved in its language.
Yucatec speaking girl making a hammock in Yucatan, Mexico.
There are an estimated six million native Mayans speaking one form of Mayan or another. In Guatemala there 21 unique Mayan Languages and another 8 in Mexico.
Ixcil woman from Chajul, Guatemala.
Men sow and harvest Mayan corn by hand in small plots as they have for millennium. Women continue to wear their colorful Mayan clothing in a style distinct to her village.
Some are spoken by very few people in isolated corners of the area. In Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala and villages at the bases of the three volcanos that make up Lake Atitlan's southern shore some 90,000 people speak Tz'utujil. 99% of the Tz'utujil Mayans speak it as a first language – many speak nothing but.
Tz'utujil woman from Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala.
As English speakers, living in an age of instant, world wide communication (most of which is in English); it is difficult to imagine just how profoundly different their world is from ours!
Most Mayans continue to live lives much as they have since long before the arrival of the Spanish. Only now are they beginning to incorporate the modern accoutrements – both the good and the bad – into their daily lives that most of us take for granted. Twenty years ago it was next to impossible for anyone to get a phone. Now with $20 you can pick up a cell phone at the corner store. That said, some tactful eavesdropping will soon show most calls are made in Mayan.