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A Journey Into Paradise

The Ancient Maya of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

24 November, 2013

Today,many of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most beautiful beachfront lots are situated in the heart of a region that is rich in ancient history and boasts a strong cultural heritage. The area was once home to the ancient Maya,which made up a classical Mesoamerican civilization that is thought to have originated in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula around 2,600 BCE. By the year 250 CE,the Maya had risen to power in the entire region and controlled much of what is today eastern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Mayan culture observed a strict class system that held the ruler at the top of the society’s social structure. Priests were also very important,as were kings and nobility,who were generally educated and served as architects,artists and scribes. The lower civilian classes were comprised mainly of farmers and laborers.

Religion dominated virtually all aspects of Mayan life,although the actual number of deities they worshipped remains unknown even today. We do know that there were many gods and goddesses who were believed to rule the forces of nature,including the sun,the moon and the weather,as well as to bring victory or defeat when confronting enemies in battle. Itzamna was the main Mayan deity and was thought to control many aspects of daily life,while his spouse Ixchel was believed to function as the goddess of childbirth,fertility and the weaving arts.

The ballgame known as Pok ta Pok served as the main source of entertainment for the ancient Maya,and its outcome was also believed to be ruled by the will of the gods. It was both an exciting and a dangerous sport that was closely intertwined with a number of complicated religious rituals. To play,two teams had to maneuver a crude rubber ball that was crafted from the sap of a rubber tree,using only their feet and hips to move it up and down an I-shaped playing field. The balls were either hollow or used a human skull as the center. In order to score,the ball had to make it through the opposing team’s hoop,which was situated on opposite ends of the field.

Interestingly,the Mayans also used the outcome of the Pok ta Pok game to make important decisions,including resolving disputes among important citizens and deciding legislative matters. There is even evidence that the game was used to decide whether or not to make war,and that it regularly affected the lives of almost everyone watching – or participating in – the game. Some evidence also suggests that the captain of the winning team was expected to offer his own head for sacrifice,which was considered to be a great honor,while other points to the idea that the losing team’s captain may have been sacrificed. Regardless,it is clear that the game was a direct representation of the harsh struggles of everyday life faced by the ancient Mayan people.

In fact,the Maya thought the sun,food and health of the people was dependant on their ability to sacrifice a healthy human being to the gods,and this was often a ball player. Today,remnants of this way of life can still be seen among the descendents of the ancient Mayans who still live on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and still follow some of the culture’s traditional religious practices. For example,many locals will travel to nearby cities just to visit with a Mayan shaman priest. These religious leaders are believed to have special powers to exorcise demons and increase the health and vitality of believers.

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