A traditional Mayan wedding inspires cultural tourism in the north
The Santa Rita Monument stands proudly at the northern entrance of Corozal Town. Once a thriving trading center for the Mayas, it has now been transformed and restored into a cultural center to revive Mayan history into an enriching experience. The Corozal B.T.I.A. believes that the Maya Wedding Garden Project will create economic opportunities in the north. This past weekend, an impressive re-enactment of a traditional wedding took place…complete with elaborate costumes, music and dance. Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
On Saturday night, the Santa Rita Maya Monument —one of the two monuments up north in the Corozal District—came to life as residents gathered to attend one of the first cultural events to be held on site. Archaeologists believe that Santa Rita is the ancient city of Chactemal (Chetumal) and was occupied from 2000 BC to 1530 AD. It was an important center for the trade of honey, vanilla and cacao. These large communities were run by “Caciques,” or Mayan chiefs and Saturday’s event was just that; fit for kings.
Roy Rodriguez, Teacher
“We are making history today. It is not a coincidence that the beginning of the twenty-first century almost runs parallel to the Maya Bak’tun Thirteen which dawned on us on December the twenty-first 2012. And indeed we made history that day when we gathered here at this very sacred temple to celebrate the new Maya sun and the almost five thousand years of continued human occupation of Chactemal, Corozal. Today, we met history again and I ask you to think with reverence that similarly, hundreds if not thousands of our ancestors were congregating here on this very sacred grounds in the past.”
The Mayas are Belize’s first inhabitants; a culture rich in art, science, mathematics, astronomy and untold knowledge; their history still remains mysterious. The strong Maya culture in the jewel is linked to rituals, tradition and family. And almost like a ‘fiesta,’ traditional music and dance resonate in their celebrations…And it was no different with the traditional wedding of the Maya. Elaborate costumes, headdress and even cultural attires were worn by the dancers, musicians and actors in the event. The presentation was done by students of the Corozal Junior College and Ballet Folklorico de Quintana Roo under the directorship of Professor Romero.
A sense of pride of the cultural heritage of the Mayan people and the history of a people was exactly what eighteen year old Ismael Sorto explained. He played Gonzalo Guerrero, the groom in the performance who married Princess Tzasil. Sorto says that it took several months to prepare for the event.
Ismael Sorto, Participant
“It was a very new experience; it was terrific working with schools, classmates and thing. It took a lot of practice though. We did practice every Thursdays and closer to the day, we practicing on Saturdays. Only today we had one practice here at the site. So we assembled it today, this evening. But it was hard work. I learned that we as youths can contribute. Me, as Mestizo, I enforce my culture so I am here contributing with my talent and I guess I learned that; that youths can contribute in their communities.”
While the intricacies of the mayan culture continue to wow locals and tourists alike, like many of the other cultures in Belize, history is being lost…. But the B.T.I.A. Corozal launched a project on December twentieth, 2012 to reclaim that history and heritage.
Rosita May, B.T.I.A. Corozal
“It is a project intended to develop cultural tourism in the north; taking advantage of our immense blessing and inheritance left to us by our Maya ancestors. For this project or this concept to go anywhere, it took us a few years trying to convince the National Institute of Culture and History and the Institute of Archeology of our concept. And so tonight, we are most grateful that at the end in 2012, the Institute of Archeology gave us our letter of approval to develop the site. From January to May 2013, NICH through the Institute of Archeology was able to undertake restoration work at the site. Thanks to the generous support of the American Embassy with the kind donation of a hundred thousand Belize dollars. To our great surprise, they uncovered these two ancient stages; exactly where we needed them in the architectural plan of the project. Another tomb was discovered in front of the platform intact with its relics. We are awaiting the report of the Archeology Department to know more about this find.”
The re-enactment was a display and part of a wider project by the Corozal Chapter of the B.T.I.A. chaired by Rosita May. Dubbed the Maya Wedding Garden Project, the plan will include the unearthing of other parts of the monument as well as the undertaking of some infrastructural developments on site to provide a more holistic experience for traditional events.
“The east side of the temple will be unearthed, restored, the pavilion will be built and the restrooms will be built. So those major infrastructural developments will be taken care of by them. Now we are looking into the minor things like the walkways, the PA system and the regalia. We believe that by developing this site, first it will do where we are lacking; recognition of our history—who we are, what all has happened and what is there in this site for us…it really represents our history. And secondly, in the economic side, development of Santa Rita into a Maya Wedding Garden…will create all the opportunities. It has the chances for all the opportunities to create the economic changes in our area.”
Also present at the ceremonies was Belize City Mayor, Darrell Bradley, who addressed the gathering.
Darrell Bradley, Belize City Mayor
“I was very warmed and pleased to listen to history retold; to hear of the importance of this site to not only our Belizean history but the history of the Maya throughout this region. To know that the birth of a new ethnic group took place right on these grounds and to know that that group, the Mestizo played such an integral part in the life, culture, governance and growth of our country. This was a place of resistance. This was a place where Mayan stood for freedom; that Mayas defended against colonialism. This was a haven for those who sought peace and tranquility. This was a place where people stood firm and fought in defense of their freedom. How powerful a story that is; how powerful it is for us to share the spirit of the Maya with our young.”
The grounds will be available for various events including weddings, the renewal of vows and other ceremonies. While a price has not been determined, the project is expected to bolster cultural tourism in the north. Duane Moody for News Five.