Ancient Mayan leaders

Minority Rights Group
August 24, 2017 – 11:01 am
Meat Free Monday – Mexican

The majority of indigenous peoples in Guatemala are of Mayan descent. The Maya are essentially a regional group. In all an estimated 5 million Mayans live in the different Central American countries,

The Mayans of Guatemala are the only indigenous culture that constitutes a majority of the population in a Central American republic. There are 21 different Maya groups in Guatemala making up an estimated 51 per cent of the national population.

Maya are dispersed throughout Guatemala especially in the western highlands. The largest populations are in rural departments north and west of Guatemala City, most notably, Alta Verapaz, Sololá, Totonicapán and Quiché. Maya are also located on farms in Guatemala's southern area known as Boca Costa.

Increasing numbers of Mayans of varying social classes live in all of Guatemala's cities, as well as in Belize, Honduras and especially Mexico.

Mayan groups are distinguished by language. The most common of the approximately 26 indigenous Mayan languages that are still spoken are Q'eqchi, Cakchiquel, Mam (Maya), Tzutujil, Achi and Pokoman.

Historical context


Mayan history shows strong evidence of connections to the more ancient Olmec (Xhi) civilization of southern Veracruz in Mexico.

The physical ‘boundaries' of the ancient Mayan empire spanned the countries of modern-day Guatemala, Belize, the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador, and the five Mexican states of Yucatán, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Campeche and Chiapas.

One group of Mayans called the Huaxtecs separated in ancient times and established itself outside of this geographical area. There were 28 other ethnic groups whose names correspond to their languages. These are the Mam, Yucatec, Chorti Itza, Lacandon, Mopan, Chontal, Chol, Cholti, Tzotzil, Tzeltal, Coxoh, Tojolabal, Chuj, Jacaltec, Kanhobal, Mocho, Tuzantec, Aguacateca, Ixil, Quiche, Tzutuhil, Cakchiquel, Uspantec, Achi, Pocomchi, Kekchi and Pocomam.

The ancient Maya developed an agriculture-based society (maize, beans and root crops) supplemented with wild game and fish caught in rivers, lakes and oceans. Ancient Maya cities were densely populated. They established far-reaching production and trade networks as well as temples and religious centres, and developed writing, mathematics and astronomy, which allowed them to monitor other planets and predict eclipses.

Contemporary era

While the Mayan civilization was already in a prolonged hiatus when the Spanish arrived in the sixteenth century, the invasion prompted a very rapid decline. This occurred through the dispossession of lands and the use of Mayans for forced labour on cocoa and indigo plantations.

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drought or no rain for long time

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