Cultural Overview

Maya culture is very ancient and is indigenous to the peninsula. Thousands of ancient cities and settlements are still to be found, some transformed into tourist attractions, while most are overgrown collections of múulo'ob, or mounds. Much academic study of this ancient culture and its hieroglyphic writing, calendar system, and monumental architecture has resulted in rather famous imagery associated with "the Maya." However, a Spanish-imposed system of colonial enslavement has created, for most Mayas, a separation between their current lifestyle and that of their ancestors. Moreover, colonially forced cultural change since the early 1500s has removed much of the indigenous social structure. Mayas have adapted to this by refocusing their existence on their village-based food production, regulated by their ancient cosmology. Across the peninsula there is some variation from this rural traditional lifestyle, due to a localized increase in tourism and urbanization. Therefore it is significant to note that this lifestyle, which is most representative of that which is Maya and which dominates the peninsula, will be the focus of this description of gender in Maya culture.

The most conservative core of Maya culture is found in the "Maya zone" of the central part of the state of Quintana Roo, where a network of villages provides a strong regional system of both male and female indigenous leadership and responsibilities. Elements of local leadership are found throughout the peninsula, but the closer one gets to cities, especially Mérida and Cancún, the more the national political system dominates. So in a real sense, the conservation of Maya language and culture, the isolated nature of the peninsula from the rest of Mexico, the rocky consistency of the soil, making Maya digging-stick kool (milpa) agriculture the only kind suited to most of Yucatán, and the sheer size of the peninsula (53,000 square miles), allow Maya identity to continue, even though the world economy puts increasing pressure on young people to pursue lifestyles other than that of their agricultural ancestors.

There are Maya doctors, lawyers, politicians, school teachers, journalists, wage laborers, etc., who often still faithfully conform to Maya cultural norms, although this, of course, is not true for everyone. Those who still go back to fulfill family obligations in the countryside (k'aas), often have spiritual motivations. In particular, those who constitute the Cancún tourist industry labor force, as maids, waiters, construction workers, and prostitutes, often try to reduplicate some of their village solidarity in the slums surrounding Cancún, even bringing in traditional healers and midwives from their home villages.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

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