Traditional Mayan Culture Kept Alive in the North
The ancient Maya culture thrived primarily in parts of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Originally considered primitive, the Mayas are now known to have had knowledge of science, art, architecture, language and mathematics that flourished in their culture. Their architectural skills are evident in the monuments dotting various parts of country. Recent discoveries have led many archeologists and cultural anthropologists to believe that Belize was the center of Mayan civilization. In fact, Belize boasts a large number of Mayan temples, towns and cities – only a few have been uncovered. Up north, the traditions and greatness of the Mayas are being kept alive through the re-enactment of ceremonies. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.
Duane Moody, Reporting
The Santa Rita Mayan Monument in Corozal Town is believed to be the center of the great Mayan City of Chactemal, which extended into Chetumal, Mexico and was known primarily for the trade of corn, cacao, vanilla and honey. It’s a history that many are unaware of.
Roy Rodriguez, Historian
“When the other temples like our own Caracol, Xunantunich and the great Tikal temples…when they had experienced what has been called a collapse, the Maya in Chactemal did not experience that, instead they did not only survive that collapse but thrived in the post classic period and that is what I mentioned a few minutes ago. What you saw there today is the post classic splendor of the this Maya temple. So there greatness actually happened in the post classic period.”
In 2014, a group of women in the tourism sector, with the nod from the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), embarked on revitalizing the Santa Rita Monument in an effort to build on the aspect of cultural tourism in the north. Dubbed the Maya Wedding Garden Project, a re-enactment of the marriage between Spanish Conquistador Gonzalo Guerrero and ZazilHá, the daughter of the Chief of Chactemal, was displayed at the site. Residents and tourists would offered the opportunity to tie the knot at the sacred temple.
Rosita May, Founder, Maya Wedding Garden Project
“We remember the history of Santa Rita and we know, always knew that this can make it for us, this can be one development that can put Corozal in the best place of Belize, a wedding destination. In December with our first Belizean marriage we saw this temple with over one hundred and fifty people for the ceremony and over three hundred people at the reception, now if you put value to those people then you could imagine what is the impact, the economic impact in Corozal.”
Elaborate costumes, head dresses and even cultural attires worn by dancers, musicians and actors brought the traditional and significant moment in history alive. The presentation was carried out by students of Centro Escolar Mexico Junior College who took on roles as the Cacique and other key parts in the re-enactment ritual.
Mirilda Cal, Participant
“I did, my families is also into this, the culture, so I did grow into it, I do know a lot about it but it comes to my classmates and it comes to other people, they don’t really appreciate it, so I think when we were told we were going to do this, everyone was excited and then they want to learn more and they want to know more now. So I think it is a good experience for them.”
Elmer Marin, Participant
“When I was in school they taught us all of this and the re-act it out there it was really awesome. It was a very good experience.”
The intangible cultural heritage is being lost with the new generation. And for the organizers, this event fosters that knowledge that has been lost among worldly influences.
“We Need to develop Corozal but it has to be developed for the Corozaleños, and who are the Corozaleños, young people like yourself, you know the students who are coming out of school. What is awaiting them? We need to develop this district but the development has to be in the hands of the Corozaleños. Especially the young people; so that is why we seek the educational institutions. If you notice we were working with the C.J.C. now the Centro Escolar Mexico Junior College.”
“We want to use this as an opportunity for especially young people but all of us to be inspired by that big prosperity that the Mayas had. How they achieved that, how today we can learn from that legacy of prosperity.”
“It is amazing, you should be proud of it, your culture makes you who you are so how can you be ashamed of it? You should embrace that and just make it better.”