Maya People Today
The Maya all disappeared when the Spanish conquered them and other peoples of the Americas.
No! Around 8 million Maya are living today, in fact half of the population of Guatemala are Maya!
Maya children at Melody School, Guatemala
Maya People Today
Many of the ancient Maya suffered at the hands of the Spanish in the 16th century as they conquered their land, burnt their books and brought disease and death in their wake.
Fortunately, there are descendants of the ancient Maya living today, around 8 million of them. However, they are still very much discriminated against and have struggled to gain their rights.
One such Maya woman, Rigoberta Menchú, wrote about their troubles in her book ‘I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala’.
She won the Noble Peace Prize in 1992 for her work in bringing the plight of the Maya people to international attention.
Although the Maya today do not build pyramids like the ancient Maya did, they still wear similar dress, follow similar rituals and some even still use the ancient Maya calendar.
In the video above you see a class of Maya children from the Melody School, Guatemala. They are learning all about their culture and their language – Kaqchikel.
These children are so excited that you are learning about them in school and would love to see your work!
Why don’t you provide a wonderful opportunity to transform the lives of both children in your school and in Guatemala?
You can also support the school in its wonderful endeavours:
Maya women traditionally wear a blouse, called a huipil made of cotton with beautiful designs, that are distinct to the community they are from and which act as a form of identity. Huipiles were also worn by ancient Maya women.
Listen to how the word huipil is pronounced:
Women also wear a cotton skirt (corte) and often a coloured cotton ribbon in their hair (cinta). Spinning and weaving important parts of daily life for Maya women and each community has its own customs.
A Maya woman spinning cotton.
The Maya never had the wheel, so throughout the ages Maya people weaved and still weave their clothes using a backstrap loom, as you see in the above video.
Wonderful examples of huipiles that children have made. How about making your own huipil that reflects where you live?
Make your own Worry Doll
Worry dolls (Muñeca quitapena in Spanish) are small hand-made dolls from Guatemala that are given to children. Children will tell their doll about their griefs, fears or worries, then put the doll under their pillow for the night and sleep over it. It is said that the doll will take away all sorrows.
What you will need:
• A strip of stiff cardboard approximately 5 cms in length and 1 cm wide for the body
• A 4cm long piece of wire (you could use part of a paper clip) for the arms
• A small ball of cotton wool
• Felt tip pen
• Embroidery/sewing thread
• 3 colourful scraps of fabric
• Needle and thread (optional)
• A small piece of bandage or gauze from a first aid kit
1. To make the head, fill the piece of bandage with cotton wool until you have a ball/head shape about the size of a small grape
2. Push 1 cm of the card body into the head and glue the head so that the cotton wool is covered
3. Bend the wire into a “u” shape for the arms
4. Stick the “u” shape to the back of the card body
5. Wrap embroidery thread around the neck and arms several times to hold in place and then glue down.
6. With a felt tip, draw on eyes and a mouth, or stitch them on if you can sew.
7. Wrap a scrap of fabric around the top of the body and leave the arms exposed and glue down.
8. Wrap a scrap of fabric around the bottom half as a skirt and glue down.
9. Make a pointy tube of fabric around the head as a headscarf and stick in place.
10. Fold the headscarf down and stick in place.
11. Twist together 3 embroidery threads 4 cms long and wrap around the head scarf!
Well done; you have made a Maya Worry Doll!
The Maya believe that if they whisper a worry to a Worry Doll and then place it under their pillow before bed, by the morning, the worry will have disappeared!
Try it yourself!
Look at these wonderful examples from Year 5 & 6 at Lomeshaye Junior School, Lancashire.
A Guatemalan Kite for the Day of the Dead
A special part of celebrating the Day of the Dead in Guatemalan tradition is the kite festival held in Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango. Here Guatemalans come from all over displaying extremely large and brightly coloured kites. They can range up to 40m in diameter and are made of cloth and paper with bamboo frames. They fly these kites in honour of the dead, but also they can contain inspirational messages.
What you will need:
- Paper Plate – 15 cm, or 22cm for a larger kite
- Pencil, fibre tip pens or paints
- Pictures of jaguars, or other rainforest animals for your design
- Popsicle sticks
- PVA glue, small tray for glue
- Tissue paper
- Masking tape
- Choose your paper plate and if the inside is shiny, then use the back of the plate, otherwise, it will be hard to draw your design with the pens. Draw the face of a jaguar or other animal in the middle and Maya designs on the edges of the plate. Colour in with the fibre tip pens, or paints if you have them – use bright colours!
3. If you have some feathers or ribbons, turn the plate over and stick the ends on with some glue to the outer edge, so you can see them from the front. Secure with a piece of masking tape.
4. If you want to use tissue paper, cut some long strips and stick them on the back of the plate so they hang down when you turn the plate over to the front.
5. You now have a small version of the extremely large Guatemalan kites that are flown on the Day of the Dead!
Resources to Download
These resources were written by teachers on a CPD trip with Dr Diane to the Maya area. You can download these below.
Please note – you will need to use your personal, rather than your school’s email address to download these files, as most schools disable the ability to receive items from outside their domain.
You can access the complete scheme of work for a small fee, in the form of a donation to the charity Chok Education, which supports the education of Maya children.
Janet Swift, a teacher, kindly donated her lesson plan on weaving.
To understand the importance of weaving to the Maya and to learn how to weave.
Some lovely examples sent in by St Peter’s Primary, Bolton and St Teresa’s Primary, Wokingham.
The Maya Project
Concerns the Maya today and themes such as nutrition and health, women’s roles and living conditions:
Access “The Maya Project”
A fairtrade organisation working with about 150 Guatemalan women in eight communities.
These talented weavers, embroiderers and basketmakers produce high-quality items that can be bought online. Most of them live in conditions of extreme poverty.
Working with fair trade, the women can count on a modest and regular income to feed their families better, send their children to school and improve their homes. In doing so they are gaining control over their lives.
The site also includes videos where the women talk about their work and how fair trade has made a great difference to their lives:
Access “Maya Hands”
The Guatemalan Maya Centre
Unfortunately, due to financial constraints, the centre has closed its exhibition galleries and craft shop. However, they provide resources for teachers interested in preparing lessons on Guatemala and the Maya.
Examples include a Teachers’ Pack: Maya of Guatemala that provides information, activities and photo cards for school children (Key Stages 2 and 3) and the Maya of Guatemala: Hands on Schools’ Pack, which includes items of every day life such as a marimba, traditional costumes, backstrap loom, weaving materials, figurines and so on:
Access the Guatemalan Maya Centre