When you think of the Maya people, you probably imagine the ones who built the pyramids that we admire so much. We want you to know that the Maya are still a community with a living culture. You can find men and women living in towns and communities in all the municipalities, including Mérida, Yucatán state’s capital.

Many have maintained the ancient traditions, the Maya language, and the clothing, mainly the hipiles worn by the women. Go to any of the markets in downtown Mérida to find proud “mestizas” wearing an hipil embroidered with colorful flowers: truly beautiful.

The traditional Mayas, mainly those who live in places outside of Mérida, still practice some of the ceremonies related with the most important moments of life: birth, marriage, and planting crops, among others. To receive a new family member, they turn to midwives, Maya women who accompany the pregnant women during labor; they are certified by the Health Minister of México to perform their services.

Also, the “hetzmek” ceremony is frequently done so that the newborn will acquire abilities through the presentation of tools related with different jobs, such as a hammer, a hoe, a book, a needle, etc. And traditional Maya weddings are carried out with a shaman, in a ritual of union with nature.

To honor the gods related with the sacred natural elements (fire, water, earth, and air), rituals are done before and after the harvest season. Also, loyal to the ancient heritage of the knowledge of herbalism, they treat themselves with natural teas for a practical way to heal almost all diseases, with a “huesero” (chiropractor) in case of a fall, and if the symptoms require special treatment, a shaman can guide them with a more spiritual and symbolic perspective.

Some are still dedicated to agricultural activities on their own land, mainly in the planting of papaya and citrus fruits, and apiculture. Keeping with artisan traditions, they also make wood handcrafts and create typical embroidered clothing. Meanwhile, there are some that work as tourist guides and they speak Maya, Spanish and even English.

There are Maya men and women who have adopted some recent customs, especially in the cities of Yucatán. They no longer wear traditional clothes and have incorporated technology and all the modern comforts into their homes. But the family is still the central focus in their lives, maintaining the bonds and closeness at the moment of choosing a home or building it. Don’t be surprised if you find an entire family living on the same street: grandparents, parents, siblings and even cousins.

Many have studied university careers, including outstanding doctors, engineers, writers, and teachers, to mention a few.

As you can see, the Maya of today have found both preservation and evolution of their culture, maintaining their ancient wisdom while adding new practices to keep up with changing times.

By Violeta H. Cantarell