The Yucatec Mayas of Belize

by Larry Waight

The heart of the ancient Maya civilization that persisted for thousands of years in Mesoamerica was in Belize. The Maya survived many centuries of wars, imperialism, colonialism and natural disasters and continued to thrive as the only native people in Belize. There are three main factions of Maya that currently reside in Belize, which are the Yucatec, Kekchi, and Mopan. The Yucatec Mayas mainly live in northern Belize where they migrated in the middle of the 19th century from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Most Mayas here are more Hispanicized versus Anglicized. They generally identify as Catholics and speak Yucatec Mayan and Spanish as their main languages but some of them do not speak the Mayan dialect.

Traditional Food and Living of Yucatec Maya

altun ha 2

Altun Ha Maya Site. Photo by Alisa Matthews on Unsplash

However, despite the distinct influence of European culture, the Yucatec Mayas continue to revere certain Maya gods. Harvest and planting time are the main areas for these gods to emerge. The Yucatec traditionally grows corn and sugar cane. The latter is more recent, however, having only started in the 1960s. Traditional food for the Yucatec Mayas has been the same for many centuries. The main staple is corn tortillas, which are supplemented with beans, chiles, chicken, and pork. The rural villages of the Yucatec Mayas have houses made with thatched roofs and plastered limestone exteriors. In modern times, concrete houses have replaced these traditional dwellings in some places due to natural disasters.

Another economy emerged for the Yucatec Maya in homemade handicrafts. These articles of carvings, embroidery, and sewing have become popular with tourists and now supplement income from farming. Other Yucatec Mayas have found further work in selling souvenirs and guiding tours.

Residing along with the Yucatec Maya in northern Belize are the Mestizos. This term refers to those who have a mixed heritage that includes Yucatec Maya and also Spanish. Like the Yucatec Maya, they also fled the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico during the Guerra de las Castas conflict in the middle of the 19th century. Even after the conflict ended, many of those who fled remained in Belize. Mestizo communities still stick with traditional practices and most still practice Catholicism. Like the Yucatec, they farm corn, peppers, sugar cane, and beans.

The cuisine of the Mestizos

black relleno

The traditional cuisine of the Mestizos includes both Maya and Spanish tastes. Corn is the centerpiece as with the Yucatecs, and then other ingredients like squash, plantains, black beans, and peppers accent the meals. In recent years, some of this group’s traditional foods like tamales, tacos, and relleno negro have exploded in popularity all over Belize.

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