Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations

Everyday Life of the Ancient Mayans

Category: Maya

No event held more significance for the average Maya than the birth of a child. Child birth was considered a sign of good fortune and a measure of wealth. Children were given a childhood name by a priest and a nick­name by the family. Masculine names always started with the prefix Ah, and female name always started with the prefix Ix. Mayan concepts of beauty made it highly desirous to be cross-eyed. Thus, a nodule of resin or a small bead was attached to the hair and hung between the eyes. This conditioned the eyes to look inward. Also, at about the same time, the infants head was tightly bound to wooden boards so that the forehead could be flattened. Older children had there nose, ears, and lips pierced. From these holes they wore a wide variety of ornaments. When a boy reached age five a white bead was woven into his hair. At the same age the girls received a red shell that they wore dangling from the waist. These were symbols of purity and could not be re­moved until they underwent an elaborate rite marking the beginning of adolescence. Usually, the boys were fourteen and the girls were twelve.

Girls lived with their parents until they were married. Their mothers taught them how to cook, spin yarn, weave, and clean house. Unmarried men painted their faces black and lived in communal houses where they learned about crafts, warfare, and played games. Marriages were usually arranged and did not take place until the men reached eighteen and the girls reached fifteen. Afterward the husband was required to live with his wife’s parents for a period of between three to six years, assisting the father-in-law. Only people of nobility had multiple wives. Divorce was very common, so only the first marriage was celebrated by a formal cer­emony. Adultery in some instances was punishable by death at the hands of the outraged husband.

Ancient Mayan homes were simple in construction. The walls were made of poles and plastered earth. The sharply pitched roof was made of thatched palm leaves supported by beans and saplings. Partitions divided the house into two sections. The rear half was a sleeping quarters and the front was used for everyday activities. Often the kitchens were kept separate. Floors were covered in leaves and were changed often. They also used fiber matting for floor coverings and bedding. Furniture was largely wooden stools and benches.

Food was cooked on stone heaths and in clay pots. The most important crops were corn, beans, sweet pota­toes, tomatoes, squash, avocados, papaya, and cacao. The main meal of the day was eaten in the late after­noon. Mostly they ate roasted meat, tamales, spicy stews, vegetables, black and red beans, chili, fruit, and chocolate. Maize constituted the highest percentage of the daily diet. Kernels of corn were first soaked in limewater to remove the hulls. Next, the were ground with metales into thick dough and served as the basis for many dishes. Mostly, corn was made into tortillas, which were eaten for almost every meal.

Every month brought an assortment of religious celebrations, festivals, and banquets. Many involved exces­sive drinking. Many holidays involved lavish costumes and dancing. The Mayans had more than a thousand dances. Largely, the men and women danced separately.

It was not uncommon for festivals to attract more than 15,000 spectators. Satirical plays and comedies were also very popular.

Pok-to-pok was very popular in the Mayan culture. This game was passionately played throughout Mesoamerica. The object of the game was to hit a rubber ball through a small stone ring that way placed midway along the wall of the court. The ball could not be thrown, but instead had to be bounced off of hips, shoulders, or forearms. Incredible amounts of money were bet on these games.

Illness and misfortune were viewed as resulting for evil spirits or disfavor of the gods. Sorcerers were called to examine the victim after an illness was diagnosed. The sorcerer or priest could apply a series of remedies including potions, rituals, and divinations. In addition, medicinal herbs, minerals, worms, blood, crocodile testicles, iguana ashes, and mineral substances may have been prescribed.

Death was greatly feared by the Maya. Evildoers, were condemned to the Mitnal which was the Mayan version of hell. Peasants were usually buried in the floor of their home. Sometimes people were buried in caves, and children were sometimes buried in pottery jars. Cremation was practiced on the Yucatan Pen­insula.

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