The Modern Maya

Milperos and Maize - The Foundation of a Culture

Maize is the very essence of the Maya, the grain upon which the civilization was built. The Maya story of creation holds that the gods created man from corn dough. Maize is the Mayas' flesh and blood -- the staple of their diet, the basis for many of their religious practices -- and almost everything they do is related to corn and its production. Only recently has the variety of subsistence systems practiced by the present-day and ancient Maya been recognized, and they include a great diversity of agricultural and silvicultural techniques, including evidence that the Maya may have preserved and protected seed banks in artificial rain forests. The milpa technique, under conditions of isolation and low population density, is an excellent agroforestry system, and well adapted to the ecological and economic conditions of the tropics, as it conserves a biological diversity. Biologists are now pointing out that small-scale slash-and-burn should be seen as a starting point for future permanent agricultural and forest management, rather than as a destructive technology. The corn farming cycle begins when a milpero chooses a new milpa site. Each field is farmed for 2 or 3 years, then left fallow for 7 to allow regenerative forest growth. Six steps are followed: measure the field, cut the jungle, burn the brush, plant, weed, and harvest. Besides the physical labors, there are spiritual obligations and tasks to perform. The Maya farmer informs the gods of the jungle that he is a friend and is going to be making a milpa, and that he wants their help in working the bush. Some obligations involve the aid of a shaman. When the corn is harvested each farmer holds his own Thanksgiving ceremonies in his home. He passes out corn to all of his neighbors. It is a wonderful time of the year in the village.


Chichimila, 1971


Chicleros - A Season in the Jungle
The Changing Role of a Maya Woman
Henequen - The Decline of an Industry
Cowboys - Corn to Cattle
The Cruzob - The Rebel Maya

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