• Laura Bachmann

Guatemala's Ancient Civilization



The Mayan Civilization excelled far beyond other societies of its time with its manufacturing of rubber, cultivated crops of cacao, papaya, and avocado, and the creation of their complex number system and calendar; its no wonder the population is still a thriving civilization. The Mayans also developed a hieroglyphic system of writing and sophisticated astronomical system. The Maya made paper from the inner bark of fig trees and wrote books on this paper with their hieroglyphs. Historical records show that the Mayan empire originated in the highland region of Central America and dispersed throughout different areas forming various tribes. The several communities of Maya followed many similar traditions worshiping the same gods, and practicing an unchanged agricultural system, yet the various tribes each had their own rituals and cultural styles. These numerous communities would interact, through trade, for the use of different resources, using the cacao bean as currency.

Modern day Mayans still live within the boundaries of their old empire in Central America. Currently, the Mayans are the largest indigenous group north of Peru. The countries of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, and areas in Mexico make up their region. Considered to be the birthplace of the Mayan civilization is Guatemala, which still has a very large Mayan population. In the northern part of the country near the Mexican boarder is Tikal, which is often considered the greatest Mayan city to have ever existed.

There are approximately six million Mayas surviving today, with most of them living in Guatemala. Although there is a significant European presence in Guatemala, many of the native Mayan tradition have endured with its people. Five hundred years ago Spaniards came to Guatemala, because many of the Mayans lived in mountainous areas these indigenous people were isolated from the many Catholic missionaries and were able to keep many of their cultural traditions. Despite the inevitable domination suffered by the Spanish invasion, the Mayans’ method to keeping their Native culture thriving is their adaptability. Though the culture could not help but be influenced by the Spanish, the Maya succeeded in keeping their traditional cultural foundation.

Although the official language of Guatemala is Spanish, of the eleven million living in Guatemala 40% speak an indigenous language as their first language. More than half of the Guatemalan people are of Mayan descent. There are 23 indigenous Mayan dialects. Because of trade and tourism many of the Maya natives speak Spanish as a second language.


With sixty percent of Guatemala having Mayan ancestors, there is still a large practice of cultural tradition within the Maya communities. Maya have struggled to keep much of their own tradition, blending it with Spanish Catholicism. Mayans have their own type of Christianity, which includes features of old tribal religions and Catholic beliefs. For example, there are sometimes animal sacrifices and food offerings in churches. Some Mayans still worship past deities as well. In addition to religion, another tradition, which remains within the Mayan people, is their work in agriculture. A large percentage of the Mayan people still grow crops of beans and corn using the same technique of cutting and burning of the fields as it was done in ancient times. Along with religion and agriculture their traditional dress of woven clothing with distinctive patterns and colors for the different Maya communities is another custom that has not vanished. Ten percent of Guatemalans practice an entire Mayan lifestyle.


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