A civilization that dates back to 2,000 B. C., located in present-day Central America is that of the Mayans (Mayas). They were known for building great temples, pyramids and huge cities. The Mayans developed a complex social and political order. They had advancements in use of a calendar, writing, art and agriculture. Yet, the civilization collapsed by the 16th century. There are descendants who have carried on many aspects of the Mayan culture through the years.
The Maya artwork of sophisticated carvings, ceramics and the relief work on walls was magnificent. The massive architectural buildings were dramatic in size and construction. Most were built with human power and use of limestone.
The great concentration of Maya descendants are in the present-day country of Guatemala, located in Central America. Weaving is one of the outstanding Maya crafts, an ancient art that has survived uninterrupted for centuries and is now becoming famous all over the world. The Maya also make baskets, pottery and wood carved of animals, saints and brightly-painted toys and chests. They are known for their traditionally brightly colored clothing. While Spanish and Indian cultures integrated into the country’s “mestizaje”, the purest of the Maya influences can be found in both the performing and design arts. The handicraft of textiles, in particular, is purely Mayan and a wonderfully colorful, part of the everyday dress.
The Guatemalan Mayas have mixed their Maya customs with Western European traditions and religions. The modern Maya practice their own brand of Christianity, which is a blend of Catholic traditions and ancient rituals, an interesting note in Mayan genealogy. Maya religion is a colorful hybrid of Catholicism and ancient Maya beliefs and rituals. Their ancient gods have been replaced with statues of santos (and secret Maximóns) but the stories of these saints only remotely resemble those of their European counterparts.
Today there are about 7 million indigenous Mayas in the countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Mexico and El Salvador. Most speak a combination of the Maya language and Spanish. However, there are some 21 plus different versions of the Maya language.
Since the Maya civilization originally was composed of numerous tribes or groups, the present-day Mayas identify with their own ethnic group, rather that the overall collected name of Maya, a significant aspect in Mayan genealogy. A few of the distinctive groups are Yucatec, Wastek, Achi, Kekchi, and K’iche. Over the decades several have held their original Maya names of: Ak, Can, Chan, Be, Cantun, Canche, Chi, Chuc, Coyoc, Dzib, Dzul, Ehuan, Hoil, Hau, May, Tamay, Ucan, Pool and Zapo.
Each Maya group has its own language, its special folklore, yet they share a common ancestral heritage as expressed in religion, music, dance, foods and even social organization.
Mayans have long been farmers and traders, and this is still true today. Most farming is subsistence agriculture and the main crops are beans and corn. The fields are cleared by slashing and burning, the same as it was done by the early Mayans two thousand years ago.
It was the Yucatec group, in the Yucatan peninsula, who first met the Spanish Europeans in 1511. Over the years, the other Maya groups had contact with the Europeans, many dying of diseases. In examining Mayan genealogy those survivors have prevailed over the years to keep a portion of the ancient Maya civilization preserved.