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The Maya believed in many gods. Mayas believed each day was a god that carried the weight of the day on its back. The priests had to figure out how all the gods were linked to a particular time.


The Mayan religion centered about the worship of a large number of nature gods. Chaac, a god of rain, was especially important in popular ritual. An important Mayan trait was their complete trust in the gods' control of certain units of time and of all peoples' activities during those periods.


The following are the main Maya gods:

In Mayan mythology, there were four gods that were thought to be brothers, who, with upraised arms, hold up the sky from their assigned positions at the four points of the compass, North, South, East and West. These four directions of the compass and their corresponding colors were: east was red, north was white, west was black, and south was yellow. These four colors corresponding with the four directions played an extremely important part in the Mayan religious and calendar systems.

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Instead of there being a big empire with a central leader or king, each of the Maya cities, had it's own leader and government. However each of these small governments where pretty much conformed in the same manner.

The principal leader was called HALACH WINIK, which means "Great Man". This position was hereditary and was passed from the father to his oldest male son. If there weren't any, then it would be passed to his oldest brother. Besides his government duties, the Halach Winik presided many religious ceremonies. He was advised in many matters by a group of priests and noble men that where called "AH CUCHCAB".

The BATAB, where the minor rulers. They had social, religious, and military duties inside their own entity or small town. They where usually related to the Halach Winik who appointed them. They normally acted as supreme leaders of their own district but in times of wars their ruling was replaced by the "NACON" or military leaders. Another of the Batab's main responsibilities was to make sure his people paid the tributes demanded by the Halach Winik on time.

The AH KULELOOB, where a group of men that accompanied the Batab, they acted as some sort of delegates, and where in charge of making sure that the Batab's orders where executed.

The Maya clergy also had a very important role in the government. All the rulers including the Halach Winik came to them for advice and predictions, and almost never dared to defy them.



The Maya built many cities in Central America. The main cities were Tikal, Chichen Itza, and Uxmal. Cities were important centers for government, religion and trade. These large cities ruled the surrounding farming area and smaller communities.

Chichen Itza

This great capital was one of the largest and most important cities of the Maya era. Its name means "the wells of Itzá" referring to the two large wells at the site. These wells allowed the city to grow and prosper since they where a very important source of water during the dry seasons. There's also sufficient archaeological evidence to suggest that Chichén Itzá was also a vital northern trade center.

One of the most important buildings of the site, called the "Castillo", is located on the northern part of Chichén. It's a flat temple, placed on a very high large platform with four stairways. It also has four doorways, but the northern doorway is wider than the others. The Castillo has a total of 365 steps, symbolizing the 365-day journey of the Earth around the Sun.

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Northwest of the Castillo is the Great Ball Court, the largest in Mesoamerica, measuring 545 by 225 feet, with a playing alley 440 by 110 feet. Two parallel walls define the playing alley, each with a single stone ring. The purpose of the game was to get a rubber ball to pass trough one of the rings using only the hip, elbows, shoulders, and feet. When an important game took place it was customary to sacrifice the captain of the loosing team.

Another very intriguing building at the site is the one called "Caracol". This round building constructed over two large platforms, has a round stairway leading two a small room with square-shaped holes in the sealing. This means that the building was most probably an observatory the Mayas used to aid them in their advanced astronomical calculations.

The two large springs were essential to Chichén's power and prosperity. The city drew its drinking water from the centrally located Xtoloc Well. The other one was sacred, and was used to give offering to the gods. Many remains have been retrieved from the well, like gold plates, masks collar, jade ornaments and also some human bones and skulls that support the theory that many sacrifices were done in this well.

Mayan cities were typically very well-planned and designed. Streets were built in a grid pattern (like New York City), with most roads leading to important public buildings.

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The primary Maya crop was maize (corn). Maize was used in many different forms of Maya cuisine. Using irrigation canals, Mayas also grew avocados, melons, beans, and chili peppers.


Most Mayans were village farmers who gave two-thirds of their produce and much of their labor to the upper classes. Farmers had their own plots of land as well as gardens as next to heir houses. Each village also had a plot of communal land which everyone would help to tend. Farmers drained swampy areas, and inclosed with earth banks to keep the water out and the farmers would plant crops there. Then they built irrigation canals, which brought water from the swamps to the crops growing in the fields. Mayans made use of several kinds of trees. Cocoa beans from cocao trees were considered valuable and sometimes used as money. People chewed the leaves of the sapodilla tree, and the resin from copal trees was used in religious ceremonies.



The Mayans traded throughout Mexico and Central America. Trade routes led from the coast of the Yucatan (where salt was produced) and smaller farming communities to the big cities of Tikal, Chichen Itza, etc. Salt and obsidian (a dark black stone) were especially valuable in the Maya’s world. The Maya were (and are) superb weavers. Cotton thread is dyed with vegetable dyes, and woven into striking, colorful designs.

















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The god of war, Sun Jaguar, was a powerful Maya god. Before every battle warriors would ask for his help in the battle. The spiritual part of battle was just as important as the physical part of battle. When the conqueror of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado fought the Quiche Maya in 1523 they charged him disguised as eagles and lightning only to be brought down by the superior Spanish forces.

One favorite Maya weapon was the Atlatl (spear thrower). This was a device used for throwing the spear. The spear was placed in a groove on the Atlatl then the atlatl was strapped to the arm. After throwing the spear the tip of the spear (a dart) was projected out of the spear into the enemy. After the battle was over the spear part (not the dart) could be retrived. Maya also used the Maquahuitl (club). This was somewhat like a log used to crush the enemy, not stab them. The club was widely used.






The Maya society was separated into classes. It was very difficult to move from one class to another.

At the top of society were the ALMEHEN (nobles), who owned lands and held the more important political offices, as well as filling the roles of high-ranking warriors, wealthy farmers and merchants, and priests. They nobles where divided into two groups. The AHKINOOB was the group formed by the priests. They where of the highest ranking, and where also called "Men of the Sun". The other group was the ALMEHENOB. They were the important warriors and wealthy farmers, who owned huge amounts of farmland.

The merchants where also sometimes identified as noblemen, but they were mostly a middle class, between the common people and the nobles. The level of their class was mostly determined by their wealth.

The commoners, or UINICOOB, sometimes owned small stretches of land on which they could farm. Sometimes they might work on the land of a nobleman, but they were not considered slaves. They could also become artisans.

At the bottom of society were the slaves or PPENTACOOB, most of whom were prisoners of war. Criminals who where caught where also condemned to slavery. Slavery was also hereditary.

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Everyday Life

The daily lives for most Mayans were difficult and filled with work. Big families lived in the same house, with grandparents,cousins, and grandchildren sharing the work. Men and boys planted crop land gathered food from the surrounding jungle.

Maya women rose and started the fires before 4:00 AM. Women made breakfast toasting leftover cornmeal pancakes. By 5 AM men had finished eating and left for the fields with their sons. There they harvested their maize. At midafternoon men and boys would return from the fields and sometimes hunt or check their traps along the way. They would kill birds with blowpipes and clay pellets. Sometimes they also hunted with spears. When the men got home they had hot baths waiting for them. (Some cities had community baths). After bathing men had dinner but the woman didn't eat with the men. The women served the men and then ate their dinner later. Dinner could include cornmeal, black beans, meat, maize, rabbit and turkey. After dinner men usually worked at making wooden and jade things which were sometimes used in trade. Women would spin cotton and weave. A law stated that Mayan men had to get married by the time that they were twenty.

The houses of most Mayan people were built with poles. These poles were tied together instead of nailed, and then palm leaves were used to create walls and roofs. Of course some people lived in the great cities. Some cities grew to populations of 100,000 people. This would be a very large city for so long ago. People in the cities bought and sold food, pottery, and jewelry



Men wore an ex which is a loincloth. Women wore loose sack like dresses. The clothes of the priests and nobles were made with finer materials and had many shells and beads on them. For ceremonies they wore wonderful head-dresses.


To measure passages of time, priests studied the sun, the moon, and Venus. Mayas had a calendar with 18 months with 20 days, plus 5 unlucky days which made up the days in a year. The Mayas also had a religious calendar which had 260 days in it. Each day was give a name and a number. The 365 day Mayan year contained five straight days of bad luck. It was considered unlucky to do anything during this time.


The Mayans had a sense of beauty that would be seen as hideous in our present society. They practiced skull deformation by tying boards to the forehead of newborn children. Mayans had tattooing and body piercing. They would put bodypaint on themselves for special occasions. They filed their teeth to make them pointy and then they put jade in the holes.


The Mayas wore many different forms of jewelry. The most common was jade. Jade was worn in beads, earrings, and ear spools. Jade was also one of the materials that the Mayas traded. The Mayas also wore gold.


It is known that the Mayas enjoyed chocolate. They had it in many forms from a frothy drink to a pulpy mush.The Mayas referred to chocolate as "The Drink of the Gods." They had other food such as cornmeal, maize, black beans, roasted meat, rabbit stew, turkey and meat. During droughts, Mayans would eat pet dogs to survive.

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Music And Dance

The Mayas loved music and dance. They had over 5,000 dances. Dancing was a huge part of religious ceremonies. Musicians played wooden flutes and trumpets made from wood, seashells, or clay, and drums made from turtle shells.


The Maya had a ball game called Pok-A-Tok (see Cities section). It was played on an odd shaped field. The object of the game was to move a hard rubber ball without the use of hands or feet. The losing team was usually sacrificed.



Maya words were in hieroglyphs, each picture with its own meaning. Unlike other ancient central American civilizations, the Maya could write in full sentences and even stories. A story could be made by drawing several pictures together. The Maya covered their cities and buildings with hieroglyphs carved into the stone. Most Mayas could read some hieroglyphs although priests and nobles were probably the only people who knew the whole language. Maya also wrote in books made out of the soft inner bark of a type of fig tree. They would take one strip of bark and fold it over and over to make pages. The Maya would write with quills made from turkey feathers. The Maya were the first people in the New World to keep historical records.


Vowel Pronunciation



"a" is "ah" "x" is "sh"

Bix a belex?

Hi, how are you?

"e" is "eh" "i" is "ee"


I'm fine,OK.

"o" is "oh" "oo" is a longer "oh"

Yum Botic

Thank you.

"u" is "oo" "c" is "k"


You're welcome.


Tu'x ka binex?

Where are you going?


Mathematics & Science

The Maya were very advanced mathematicians and astronomers. They developed a system of counting which included the idea that there is a "zero". They had symbols for numbers that all Maya recognized. This made trade and communication much easier.

Maya astronomers made very accurate observations of the sun, moon and stars. This enabled them to create their calendar, which was the first to have a 365-day year.


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Maya Art

The Mayan art ranged from small handcrafts such as pottery, ceramics, textiles, books and doll-making to large scale projects such as stone sculptures and painted murals.

Some pieces of art depicted scenes from everyday life, but most Mayan art was a strong reflection of their religious beliefs and a record of important dates such as war victories by the kings.

Stone structures called stele (stell-ee) and lintels were used to publicly record time and show gods. The stele were massive stone columns with intricate designs and inscriptions. The Mayan sculptors were very skilled at carving detailed pictures into the stone. They were also capable of transferring feather designs onto the stone. In addition to gods, the stele also depicted portraits of monsters. At times, the stele were placed in a scattered manner throughout the cities. However, in many instances, they were also placed in a courtyard near a temple.
1995 Grolier Encyclopedia








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