Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article will mostly concern itself with the Maya civilization after the conquest by Spain. Their pre-Columbian culture is dealt with in the Maya civilization article.
- "We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism." -- Rigoberta Menchú
There are an estimated 6 million Maya people living in this area at the start of the 21st century. Some are quite integrated into the modern culture of the nations in which they reside, others continue a more traditional culturally distinct life, often speaking a Maya language.
The largest populations of Maya people are in the Mexican states of Yucatán, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, and Chiapas, and in the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.
The largest group of modern Maya is in the Yucatán region of Mexico. They commonly identifiy themselves simply as "Maya" with no tribe (unlike in the Highlands of Western Guatemala), and speak the language which anthropologists term "Yucatec Maya", but is identified by speakers and Yucatecos simply as "Maya", although the Spanish language is commonly spoken as well. Especially in the western areas, even those of mostly or all Maya decent who speak Maya at home often identify themselves as "Mestizo", showing a degree of asimilation and identification with the Mexican mainstream culture.
Historically, the population in the eastern half of the peninsula was less affected by and less integrated with Hispanic culture than those of the western half.
A large 19th century revolt by the Yucatec Maya, known as the Caste War of Yucatán, was one of the most successful modern Native American revolts; results included the temporary existence of the Maya state of Chan Santa Cruz, recognized as an independent nation by the British Empire.
The development of the Caribbean Sea tourism resorts in Quintana Roo such as Cancun and the encouragement of many people from other parts of Mexico to move to that region has been seen by some critics as motivated in part by the desire of the Mexican government to lessen the Maya identity of that region and to make it more generically "Mexican".
In Guatemala, the largest and most traditional Maya populations are in the western highlands.
In Guatemala the Spanish colonial pattern of keeping the native population legally separate and subservient continued well into the 20th century. This resulted in many traditional customs being retained, as the only other option than traditional Maya life open to most Maya was entering the Hispanic culture at the very bottom rung.
Considerable identification with tribes, often corresponding to pre-Columbian nation states, continues, and many people wear traditional clothing that displays their specific local identity. Clothing of women tends to be more traditional than that of the men, as the men have more interaction with the Hispanic commerce and culture.
Other Maya groups
The most traditional of Maya groups are the Lacandon, a small population avoiding contact with outsiders until the late 20th century by living in small groups in the rain forests.
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