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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Electricity, tourists considered threats to civilization by Maya people


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Even today, people of the ancient Maya civilization do not use electricity for a single daily activity, including illuminating their houses. Albeit they reckon that the use of electricity makes lives easier, they also believe that this can pose a danger to their traditions and culture. They believe that electricity would attract tourists, which would be dangerous for their culture.

This is the reason behind them not using not only electricity but gas for cooking as well. Rather, food is cooked on the traditional stove. The Maya people have made sure that their day-to-day lifestyle doesn’t change for centuries now and they ensure the protection of their forests.

Their very existence revolves around the environment and nature and their daily routines are based on the seasons. The Maya people, who speak the Mopan language, belong in Guatemala and Belize, and their population is a mere 10 thousand, which is just 3% of the countries, and therefore, their culture has been protected.

In Belize, the Maya lifestyle is highly insulated from the outside world, and the people have to work hard to protect their homes and land. And while the world is evolving at a fast pace, this is getting tougher for them by the day.

The Maya people are deeply concerned about their existence and to safeguard their culture as they have faced, like many other communities across the globe, the wrongs of racism and intolerance. Even though the Maya civilization is now long-gone, it does not mean that the society has ceased to exist as well. The Mayas are still thriving amidst the harshness of the modern time, carrying along, their old beliefs and practices.

The fear of ‘outsiders’ like tourists among the Mayas is natural. It was during the 16th century that the Maya civilization was conquered by the Spaniards. They were then forced to leave their land and work on plantations. More than three centuries later, social movements rose in Guatemala insisting that Maya highlanders be given fair wages as well as land that originally belonged to them.  Just like the other oppressed people, these Mayas were responded to by the government with coldness, harshness, and cruelty. Thousands died and many more became refugees.

In the 1985 Guatemala Constitution, Article 66 recognized Maya peoples and were provided them with the right to speak their native languages, wear their traditional dresses, practice their customs and implement their social organizations.  In Article 70 of the same Constitution, a law was called for in establishing regulations concerning indigenous issues.

The necessary law was still not acted out even after 10 years. Moreover, in the electoral law, they were still not given the right of political organizations.  They continued to be belittled and ignored by the political elites of the nation until 1995. Despite this, Maya organizations still flourished to fight for the Maya people’s rights including land, education, cultural and civil rights.

These days, Maya people are making all sorts of efforts to survive and continue to exist in many aspects of life.

To forget about old traditions of the olden times is synonymous to abandoning and being ungrateful to their heritage. Thus, even if they were converted by the Spanish into Catholicism, Mayas still participate in rituals, just as they were done in ancient Maya world.  This, they did in conjunction with the Catholic Church’s rites.

For example, catholic Mayas still make food and chicken offerings in some churches. There are also some of them who practice worshiping of deities like their corn god, to bestow them good harvests.

On the other hand, in Guatemala’s southern district of Toledo, a master-plan is being worked upon from the scratch, aimed at increasing tourism in the area. But it is crucial to prioritize safety while working for an increase in tourism as tourists bring along diseases, which the local people are not immune towards, because of the isolation from the world. Another issue to look after will definitely be to safeguard the cultural identity of the Mayas, as they have always been considered an ‘under-class’, but this needs to change, while safely integrating the Mayas into the modern world.

Despite all the challenges, there is huge scope for the development of tourism in the Maya villages. It will be worth noting whether it will be easy to tap into this potential of tourism.


Sonakshi Datta
Sonakshi Datta
Journalist who wants to cover the truth which others look the other way from.

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