Mayan people of day preserve much of the richness of their heritage, while other cultures have forgotten their own legacies.
By Peter M. Tase
The zenith of Mayan culture was during the classical period (250-900 A.D.) until the post classic period that marked the decline of their influence, lasting for three centuries before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the region. The thousand year old culture of the Mayas achieved many accomplishments not only in crafting the most precise calendar of the time, but also in the areas of linguistics, ethnographic culture and culinary arts, the traces of which are found in to this day.
According to Guatemalan Anthropologist Alvaro Pop “ the Mayan Calendar is not only a way to keep track of hours and days, but a model studying the movement of stars and how that cycle influences human life. While looking at the stars, Mayan communities developed the idea that “there is nothing that is not influenced by the stars, including ocean tides and child birth,” a concept that depicts the impressive astronomical knowledge that the Mayas have left behind.
For Costa Rican anthropologist Ana Cecilia Arias, “Since the early times before Christ, the Mayas have achieved considerable cultural development which enabled them to conduct certain mathematical calculations that allowed them to determine the orbit of Venus,”
Astronomy guided the Mayans in a way that enabled them to understand the stars’ influence in botany and agriculture as a result they swiftly improved agricultural production and farming knowledge. Additionally, the Mayans have made tremendous contributions to architecture, mathematics, graphic land surveys, textile art, cuisine; all these are still have been inherited through the centuries in the central American culture and society, from Mexico and Guatemala to El Salvador and Honduras.
Mayan communities have been using maize for three thousand years ago, which continues to be an important component of culinary culture in the region. They were the first to cultivate cocoa and other exotic plants. The use of exotic colors and designs of traditional dress in Guatemala are also an important aspect inherited from the Mayan life thousands of years ago. Among the dyes they used was cochineal: a dye made from insects that fed on cacti and then roasted and crushed into a vermillion powder. The same substance is used today as a natural food coloring. For Alvaro Pop, “the color used in traditional clothing fabrics is the expression of life more explosive and beautiful that nowhere to be found on the continent and the world.”
Ana Cecilia Arias notes that, “great architectural monuments of the region, such as colonial churches, archeological sites in Chichen Itza, Tikal, Copan and Tazumal, are imbued with the same knowledge of physics and engineering and important destinations to archeological tourism. Above all, there is a large population that, in addition to preserving their ancestors’ genetic heritage, they still keep alive much of the cultural tradition even though they are surrounded by societies that don’t appreciate their own past.”