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Guatemala and Belize

Guatemala has the largest percentage of Maya of any modern nation in Mesoamerica: a majority sixty percent of its fourteen million people. Speakers of over twenty distinct Mayan languages inhabit the mostly mountainous country, which is slightly smaller than the state of Tennessee. In the central and western highlands of the nation, corn farming and artisanal activity have traditionally dominated, as well as a vibrant market culture.

The Maya experienced devastating disease and violence with the Spanish invasion, led by Pedro de Alvarado. In 1548, the Audiencia was established in Guatemala—a tribunal that came to control all land from Chiapas to Costa Rica. The Spanish encomienda system had also been put in place. Maya became forced agricultural laborers on their own land, which was distributed to colonists and clergy. The system continued until Central American independence from Spain in 1821.

The nation of Belize was home to several Maya city centers in the Classic period. It is slightly smaller than the state of Massachusetts, and its coastal area was a haven for British pirates and smugglers. In the eighteenth century, the English settled there to cut logwood, eventually importing African slaves to do their work. An important transit area in the nineteenth century, it became a British colony in 1854 and was a source of arms for the Maya rebels in the Caste War.

Continuing border disputes between Guatemala and the United Kingdom delayed Belize's independence until 1981. Today, Maya are a minority ethnic group in the nation, struggling—successfully, in the case of "13 Bak'tun" symposium speaker Cristina Coc—for their rights to ancestral lands.

The two maps in this section of the exhibition reflect differing purposes and viewpoints of production: European ethnography and Maya self-definition.