Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico – Mayans who still celebrate ancient traditions and beliefs often meet at a religious building with a thatched roof called the Cruz Parlante. Priest Alfonso Ek conducts a Mayan form of Mass where the “Speaking Cross” is venerated. Ek says lately he’s been questioned by non-Mayans about a belief that has nothing to do with his people: the end of the world via a Mayan Apocalypse.
Sounding like a mixture of Catholicism and ancient beliefs, the modern Mayans plan to mark the new calendar with prayer and traditional mass-like ceremonies. Priest Ek says many Maya have abandoned both their ancient beliefs and their language, warning this rejection of their culture might bring plagues, disease, and drought. Despite potential plagues, the priest is clear about one shared Mayan belief: “The world will not end.” And, obviously, it did not.
The Maya still exist today as a diverse number of indigenous peoples in portions of central America. Many modern-day Maya live in the Yucatan peninsula in impoverished villages where only a variant of the original Maya language is spoken. Their traditional way of living includes houses with thatched roofs, wearing white clothing, and offering tricycle taxi services. In the traditional settlements, the grandmas there won’t drink Coca-Cola and instead prefer their atole, a corn gruel based hot drink.
The Huffington Post spoke to aspiring Mayan artist Marco Poot Cahun, who incorporates doomsday talk into his Mayan language monologues:
“If I ask (an audience) if they believe the world will end, no one will raise their hand. People believe that they’re going to see a change, in humanity, in our thinking, that there should be a return to nature. This won’t be anything like the world ending, or a meteor crashing, or extraterrestrials arriving.”
Jose Manuel Ochoa, archaeologist and director of the Mayan Ruins at Coba, says the Mayans created the Long Count Calendar to last 5,125 years and that it began sometime in mid-August, 3714 B.C. The date 12-21-12 concludes the third cycle and also celebrates the sacred number of 13. Traditions hold that the Mayan gods marked each cycle of renewal by creating new men from various materials: mud, wood, and, most recently, corn. The modern Mayans do not recall what was supposed to come next, but Coba has a funny theory: “Maybe men of plastic?”
According to Xinhuanet, the Mayans hope to integrate into modern society. Mexican writer Juan Villoro said the Mayans “are revered as museum pieces.” In Mexico, one in 62 indigenous people is Mayan, and they suffer from a 20 percent unemployment rate. Fifty percent of the employed Mayans live on three to six U.S dollars per day. Villoros points to the poverty and high illiteracy as a major stumbling block for modern Maya:
“The Mayans of the Classical Period are history, but the Mayan of the current period has no history.”
July Hoil, a Mexican archaeologist working in the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in southeastern Mexico, said that life for the modern Mayans is difficult:
“Opportunities simply are not the same for Mayan. To go to college you have to leave town and compete in the entrance examinations with the people of the cities that have better education.”
Meanwhile, others consider the beginning of the new Mayan cycle an opportunity to gain energy for a better future:
“I did not think that was the end of the world, but if a cycle changes, I just want to use it for a renovation.”
What are doing to celebrate the beginning of a new cycle in the Mayan calendar?