Collection Description

Culture Name

Maya (Yucatán Peninsula)

Culture Description

As in pre-Columbian times, the Maya still inhabit the Yucatán Peninsula, including the Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. They also live adjacent to other Maya groups such as the Kekchí; and Mopán in Belize, Guatemala, and the Mexican state of Tabasco. For most of the thousands of years of occupation of the peninsula, the Maya have relied upon slash-and-burn (milpa) agriculture. Maize, beans, and squash have long been planted together. The corn tortilla is a dietary staple. There is increasing pressure to participate in wage labor and sale to supplement subsistence. While there are Maya doctors, lawyers, school teachers and government officials, the vast majority of Maya men are limited to manual wage labor, and the women, mostly monolingual, produce embroidered hipil dresses, as well as home-raised animals and vegetables for sale.


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Middle America and the Caribbean --Maya Area



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in the eHRAF collection and are referenced by author, date of publication, and eHRAF document number.

There are 16 documents in the Maya (Yucatán Peninsula) file. They represent sixty years of fieldwork, some in the same community, which taken together provide an excellent in-depth look at changes and continuities in Mayan culture in the region. There are five ethnographies of the village of Chan Kom in the state of Yucatán (Redfield 1934, no. 2; 1962, no. 3; Goldkind 1965, no. 9; Elmendorf 1976, no. 17; Re Cruz 1996, no. 15.) Goldkind offers an interesting and famous critique of Redfield's original work; Elmendorf focuses her study on Mayan women; and Re Cruz examines the sociopolitical split that arose in Chan Kom when some villagers left to work in the tourist Mecca of Cancún in the 1970s. Redfield (1941, no. 16) and Strickon (1965, no. 8) also did comparative studies of the urban and rural communities of Merida, Dzitas, Chan Kom, and Tusik. The town of Ticul and nearby village of Pustunich in southern Yucatán State are represented in the works of Press (1975, no. 19) and Burns (1983, no. 18). Press's study of Pustunich is an excellent monograph of a Mayan village adjusting to change and Burn's is a superb study of Mayan oral culture. Cobá and the nearby village of Yacolbá in the state of Quintana Roo are represented in works by Kintz (1990, no. 14) and Sosa (1985, no. 12; 1989, no. 13), respectively. Kintz's work is another community study, which includes descriptions of Mayan culture since AD 600. Sosa's work focuses exclusively on religious ritual. Villa Rojas (1943, no. 4) studied the X-cacal group of communities in eastern Quintana Roo. Two of Burn's (1983, no. 18) informants are also from this region. Thompson (1930, no. 7) is a contemporary of Redfield and Villa Rojas and studied Mayan communities in the Honduras and Belize. Another contemporary is Shattuck (1933, no. 5) who offers a general survey of the region as well as an examination of Mayan medical knowledge and practices. Steggerda's (1943, no. 11) ethnobotanical study of plants includes information on their medicinal use. Detailed information on Mayan economy, religion, and medicine can be found in the above community studies. For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

This culture summary is written by John R. Sosa. Dr. Sosa also helped to select the documents included in this file. The synopsis was written by Ian Skoggard in 2000.

ALUX-dwarf trickster spirits-776

BALCHE-a tree and drink made from the tree's bark-273, 137, 314

BATAB-local chief-631

CÀAK-(see chachac)

CACIQUE-regional chief-631


CEIBA-tree of life-778, 824, 772

CENOTE-limestone sinkhole-312, 133

CHACHAC-rain ceremony-789

COMISARO-local official-631

CUCH-household thanksgiving ceremony-592, 782


DZUL-Spanish patronymic-551, 563

EJIDO-communal land grant-423

FAGINA-communal labor-476


GREMIOS-fiesta organizing committee-794

HAANEAB-bride service-583, 591


HETZMEC-traditional baptismal ceremony--851


IK--evil wind-821

JICARA-gourd cups-415

KATUN-Mayan period of 7200 days-805


KUUC-(see cuch)

MASA-cooked corn-262

MAZEHUAL-Mayan patronymic-551, 563

MILPA-cornfield-241, 243

NOCHOCH TATA-esteemed elder and village priest-554, 793

NOHUA-corn cakes-262

NOVENA-ritual recitation of Catholic prayer-782

PIB-earth oven-252

PÌI SĂN-soul-774, 775

PILA-cedar trough-415

SAASTRUM-crystal used for divining-787, 755

SACA-maize gruel-262

SANTOS-Mayan cross-778

SIP-plant spirit-776

SOLAR-household, garden and grounds-351, 592

TUN-rock spirits-776

UHANLICOL-protection ceremony for household-527, 592, 782, 243

VAQUEROS-young male dancers-535

YALCOBAIL-resident of Yacolba-794, 621

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