News

    Maya Descendants at Risk of Disappearing

    Multimedia

    Audio

    The Lacandon are direct descendants of the Maya peoples who live in the jungles of the Mexican state of Chiapas. Until the mid-20th century, they had little contact with the outside world.  As a result, the indigenous group was almost extinct. Today their population is growing rapidly, but at a price:  Their cultural purity and way of life is being eroded through Westernization and intermarriage.  Many people predict the Lacandon will disappear as a unique class of Mayan descendants within the next 50 years.   

    Our helicopter lands in a clearing in the Lacandon jungle.  We are amazed at the sight of  three men, who seem to have emerged from another era.  They view the visitors with curiosity.  They have long black, tangled hair.  They wear knee-length white tunics.  They are barefoot. 

    Government officials, local authorities and traditional leaders arrive to show us the way of life of the Na Ha people, one of three remaining Lacandon tribes. 

    MAN: "Senor Don Antonio Martinez. He is one of the oldest people in the community.  He makes all the rituals.  He heals people and all the magic things." 

    The Na Ha spiritual leader, Senor Don Antonio Martinez is 83 years old.  Director of Natural Reserves and Wildlife in Chiapas, Maria Theresa Vasquez describes the ceremony Don Antonio is performing in the temple.

    "Healing," said Maria Theresa Vasquez. "To wish that people is ill gets better soon. Only two people here in Na Ha  and on the other side is Lacanja can practice…He is the last old man in this area that can do it.  The tradition is getting a little bit lost because of the new culture." 

    The Lacandon are one of the most isolated and culturally conservative of Mexico's native peoples. 

    "The Lacandonians were the only Indians in Mexico who were never conquered because the place where they were living-it was very, very big and they were the only tribes that remained from the Indians, from the pre-classic, from the Mayans living in that area," said Vasquez.

    Maria Luisa is president of the Board of Na Bolom, a scientific and cultural institute set up 60 years ago to protect the culture, traditions and environment of the Lacandon. 
    In the 1970's, she tells VOA, the Mexican government began paying the Lacandon for rights to log timber in their forests. 

    She says the government built roads, which helped expand farming and logging, but led to severe deforestation.  She says Indians from other communities were brought into the Lacandonian jungle and they introduced cows and agriculture, which added to the problems.

    "So, what we are trying is to teach them different ways of living in that area without affecting the jungle, which is at this moment very difficult because there are not many ways to do it," she said. "As a matter of fact, one of the projects we developed is the eco-tourism for people to come and to see this wonderful sight where the Quetzal still lived and everything." 

    The Quetzal is the royal bird of the Maya.   Relatively few tourists go to the Lacandon jungle because it is so remote and difficult to reach.  This is a problem because the indigenous people derive much of their income from selling handicrafts to tourists.  Luisa worries about their future.

    "At this moment, they are at big risk of disappearing because many of them are moving to another community, which will offer at this moment better opportunities of living," said Maria Luisa. "We cannot save the jungle if we do not save the people.  So, we have to save the people first and teach them and work with them for them to learn how to protect the jungle." 

    The Lacandonians as an ethnic group is diminishing.  There are only 1,100 people in the three communities.  They are losing their customs.  Many of the men are shedding their white tunics, cutting their hair and speaking Spanish instead of Mayan.

    Their society is one in which men have all the rights and women practically none.  Some girls get married as young as nine.  They have between two and five children.  The community has problems of domestic abuse, alcohol and drugs.

    Jenner Rodas Trejo is chief of the Department of Wildlife and the Environment.    He says there are genetic problems as well because of too much inbreeding, which causes mental retardation among other ills.

    Trejo says the Lacandon are aware of this and, increasingly, the men are marrying women from other ethnic groups.  He says that will ensure their survival as a people, but not as a culture.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnami
    X
    Elizabeth Lee
    May 22, 2016 6:04 AM
    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.
    Video

    Video Budding Young Inventors Tackle City's Problems with 3-D Printing

    Every city has problems, and local officials and politicians are often frustrated by their inability to solve them. But surprising solutions can come from unexpected places. Students in Baltimore. Maryland, took up the challenge to solve problems they identified in their city, and came up with projects and products to make a difference. VOA's June Soh has more on a digital fabrication competition primarily focused on 3-D design and printing. Carol Pearson narrates.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora