Maya Day 2012: a Photo Essay from Belize

by douglas reeser on April 11, 2012

~ Signs of the Times in Toledo ~
Maya Day is an annual event that celebrates traditional Maya culture held at Tumul K'in Center for Learning
in Blue Creek Village in the Toledo District of southern Belize. I traveled to the festivities on the
morning of the event, passing through the village of Dump along the way. There I noticed a banner for
Maya Day hanging among election campaign banners from the regional and national elections held
just a few weeks before. The challenging PUP (blue sign) won in Toledo, but the UDP (red signs)
took the majority nation-wide, causing some concern that Toledo would be neglected
by the ruling party.
~ Welcome to Tumul K'in ~
Tumul K'in Center for Learning in Blue Creek Village is host to the Maya Day festivities. The school is
a unique blend of traditional and modern teaching that offers classes that include traditional
agriculture and traditional medicine, but also instructs youth in computer programing, radio
engineering, and modern animal husbandry. A small school that attracts youth from throughout
Belize and from multiple ethnic backgrounds, Tumil K'in boards students throughout the school year. 
~ Maya Health and Spirituality ~
The Maya Day festivities included small demonstration stands for such topics as traditional agriculture,
Maya history, Tumul K'in products, health, along with a number of local food vendors. Pictured
here is the "Traditional Health and Spirituality" booth, where Q'eqchi' Maya healers presented a number
of medicinal plants and discussed their uses with local community members and others there for the events.
~ Tuba Caldo ~
One of the main attractions at Maya Day is the food. My main meal of the day was Tuba Caldo,
a traditional soup made with a local river fish and corn tortillas. I also enjoyed craboo shaved ice
(a local cherry-sized fruit) and fresh local watermelon. There were a number of other foods available,
but I think the most popular may have been the chicken barbecue. I particularly enjoyed the
corn tortilla making demonstration, where they made some of the thickest, plumpest tortillas
I have ever had. 
~ The Deer Dance ~ 
The Maya Deer Dance is a traditional dance that mixes elements of pre-contact historical fables
with colonial era characters. The dance is a story that promotes respect for the environment and all
of earth's creatures through a depiction of the careless over-hunting of deer by the Spanish
conquistadors. The Deer Dance is held at significant Maya events throughout the present-day Maya
world, including Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras, and Belize.  
~ Maya Stilt Walking ~
One of the many performances at Maya Day was the stilt walking dance. Dancers recreated a scene
from the Popul Vuh,  often considered the Quiche Mayan book of creation, and originally written
in Maya glyphs. In the scene depicted by the dancers, the Hero Twins walk through a fiery
level of the underworld. 
~ The Greasy Pole Climb ~
Another event at Maya Day was the greasy pole climb. Much ritual and community effort
was involved in bringing the correct pole to the festivities. Before raising, the pole was
blessed with incense and prayer, and then pulled up and into place by the support ropes.
A prize awaits the first person to reach the top, and traditionally, contestants are aided by
the use of a large support stick. Nobody reached the top using this method in 2012. 
~ Traditional Maya Dancing ~
Another fun event was the traditional dance competition. Maya women performed the traditional
waltz-like dance to live marimba music. Only three women took part in 2012, and there did not
appear to be a winner. Instead, the rather austere dance was simply observed by a small part of the crowd. 
~ Reaching the Top of the Greasy Pole ~
As mentioned above, nobody was able to reach the top of the pole following the traditional method.
Instead, two contestants scaled the support ropes to the top. The guy closest to the top reached first,
but was unable to release the prize. The second guy, reached, climbed onto the very top of the pole
and grabbed the award - $250 Belize ($125 US), some handkerchiefs, and a bottle of rum. 

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  1. Anonymous7:54 PM

    These are great photos and descriptions. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Kristina9:47 PM

    You really capture the day with these! Thank you!

  3. Anonymous10:14 PM

    :) Belize is such an awesome place!!! Thanks!

  4. Amazing to see this! As an archaeologist working in the prehistoric southeastern US, we see evidence of lots of large scale post ritual. I would have LOVED to see the raising of that post. Thanks for posting that video too!

    1. Thanks Meg - I have some pictures of the pole being ritually blessed, and you can see the set up that was used to raise the pole. It's really interesting that there is something that might be similar going on up in the US as well. Maybe the greasy pole climb was a popular game in the pre-contact Americas!

  5. Is that the corn tortilla in the picture? Man that does look thick and good...

  6. yeah i was also captivated by the food :> looks so fine..
    the deer dance looks so colorful and meaningful too.. such a fun day!


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