Mayan Tribe Facts

January 22, 2014 – 05:07 pm
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Early History
One of the most advanced indigenous cultures of the ancient Americas, the Mayans began as hunter gatherers and migrated into the Yucatán around 2500 B.C. During the pre-classic period (500 B.C.-250 A.D.) they appeared in Quintana Roo, where they established ceremonial centers at Coba, Dzibanche and Kohunlich. Quintana Roo was considered to be the gateway to the Mayan world. Between 300 and 900, the Mayans built several cities in the Yucatán region, two of the most spectacular being Chichén Itzá and Uxmal.

Did You Know?

According to legend, when Francisco Hernández de Córdova arrived on the coast of Yucatán, he asked the natives where he was. They replied in their native tongue that they didn't understand what he was saying. Because Córdova thought their answer sounded like the word Yucatán, he gave that name to the region.

In 987, the Toltec people—believing they were following their god Quetzalcóatl—arrived in the region. According to Toltec mythology, Quetzalcóatl demanded human hearts as sacrifice, and the Toltecs obeyed by conducting mass human sacrifices. The Toltec’s cultural influence on the Mayans in Yucatán was profound, and their architectural influences are evident at Chichén-Itzá. Although the Toltecs mixed with the Mayans and other groups, their culture eventually dominated the area.

During the 12th century, the Mayan city-state of Mayapán waged war against and defeated the citizens of Chichén Itzá. Mayapán expanded its influence over the region, and the Mayan Cocom dynasty ruled until the mid-13th century. When the post-classic Mayan period ended around 1250, most cities were abandoned. Those that remained continued to engage in inter-city military conflicts. The disappearance of these great Mayan civilizations remains a mystery; had the Spanish not destroyed the majority of Mayan codices and other writings, the Mayan’s fate might be known today.

Middle History
On his expedition to Florida in 1513, Juan Ponce de León sailed near Yucatán but never landed there. In 1517, while on an expedition to procure slaves, a Spanish conquistador named Francisco Hernández de Córdova arrived on the Peninsula and asked some of the indigenous people where he was. When they responded, “ Tetec dtan. Ma t natic a dtan” (“You speak very rapidly; we don’t understand your language”), he assumed they were answering his question. Having difficulty pronouncing their words, Córdova ultimately called the land Yucatán. In 1519, Hernán Cortés led an expedition that briefly stopped at Yucatán to rescue Jerónimo de Aguilar, a shipwrecked Franciscan priest, before continuing north to land in Veracruz.

In 1527, Francisco de Montejo set out to conquer Yucatán but was routed by the natives. Three years later, he returned with his son Francisco de Montejo y León but again failed to overpower the indigenous population. Finally, a third attempt in 1537 was successful, and de Montejo founded the cities of Campeche in 1540 and Mérida, the present capital, in 1542. Gaspar Pacheco, known for his cruel treatment of the Indians, completed Spain’s conquest of the area.

In an effort to convert the indigenous people to the Catholic faith, Franciscan priests built more than 30 convents in Yucatán and tried to replace Mayan culture with Christianity. In 1562, Franciscan monk Fray Diego De Landa ordered that all handmade Mayan books and statues be destroyed. Few of these rare and important cultural artifacts survived. In addition, Spanish oppression and diseases significantly reduced the native population from an estimated 5 million in 1500 to 3.5 million a century later.

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