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Historic and Modern Maya. Tulum. Traditional Maya religion combined shamanistic beliefs with ancestor veneration and the worship of gods, including lords of the underworld and gods associated with celestial bodies such as the sun and Venus.

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Traditional Maya religion combined shamanistic beliefs with ancestor veneration and the worship of gods, including lords of the underworld and gods associated with celestial bodies such as the sun and Venus.


Ball courts were conceived as places where one could communicate with the underworld. Ball court imagery makes it clear that human sacrifices were conducted there. Ritual homicide.


The cross was an important religious symbol to the Maya before the Spanish arrived. It symbolized the Waka Chan, or World Tree.

colonial yucatan

Francisco de Montejo the younger only succeeds in conquering Yucatán in 1547 after two failed attempts by his father.

The Spanish capital is established at T’ho, which is renamed Mérida.

Yucatán is only thinly settled by Spaniards as the landscape holds no precious metals, and was not suitable for Spanish farming methods.

Colonial Yucatan
the caste system of yucat n

At the top were Peninsulares, or officials of aristocratic rank from Spain. They were the gentedescente“descent people.”

  • The second rank were those of pure Spanish descent residing in Yucatán, called Criollos.
  • The third caste were Mestizos, those of mixed Spanish and Maya ancestry. These tended to identify more with the Maya.
  • The Hidalgos were Maya aristocrats who collaborated with the Spanish.
  • At the lowest level were theIndios, or Maya.
The Caste System of YucatÁn

Spain had tried to install the encomienda system in Yucatan, but this had largely failed.

Haciendas were also largely unsuccessful until henequen cultivation was introduced in the 19th century.

The Spanish tried to induce labor from Maya with a church tax, which they could not pay and which hacendados paid for them to place them into debt peonage.

mexican independence

Yucatán declared its independence from Spain in 1821.

  • Yucatán later declared its independence from Mexico in 1839 and an invasion of Yucatan by the Mexican government failed.
  • Different factions of the ruling criolloscentered in Campeche and Mérida fought each other, and armed Mayas to gain an advantage.
Mexican Independence

The execution of a Maya leader and a massacre prompted the Maya to revolt in 1847.

The Maya rebels were led by mestizos. The Mayas killed and mutilated most non-Maya that they came across.

The Maya fought with machetes and guns purchased from the British with money from logging.


Republican forces broke the siege in 1848. Yucatán petitioned to join Mexico after being turned down by the US.

The Maya consolidated into a state in the South and Southeast.


The Maya created a state focused upon a wooden cross located next to a well. This cross spoke, and its statements were interpreted by an oracle.

  • The Maya created a state with a center at Chan Santa Cruz “Little Holy Cross.” They housed the cross in a building called the X Balam Na, the “Place of the Jaguar.” They were called the Cruzob “Those of the Cross.

Maya Revitalization Movement


Revitalization movement s appear in cultures under severe stress.

  • They are usually the product of a prophet who had a vision.
  • Usually the followers are told that they must revive aspects of their traditional religion, but with some new element added.
  • The followers will be rewarded by supernatural forces, which will eliminate those that are negatively affecting them.
the search for the balam na

Chan Santa Cruz was entered by the Mexican army in 1901, and the last military action was taken against the Cruzob in 1933. Estimates of the deaths during the caste war range from 50,000-200,000.

  • Chan Santa Cruz is now Felipe Carrillo Puerto.

Travelling through Yucatan I wanted to see what remained of the Balam Na. I arrived in Felipe Carrillo at dusk, and followed the church bells.

The Search for the Balamna

Millions of Maya still speak their languages and live in their traditional houses. They practice slash and burn farming as they have for centuries.


They would be termed “independent peasants” as they live in their own communities. Many of these are termed “closed communities” as they run their own affairs and do not welcome outsiders.

Many practice a syncretic religion which blends elements of the indigenous religion with Catholicism. This religion revolves around folk saints which embody many aspects of their former gods.