Culture Field Trips Mexico Museums Sera Park Temple Summer

Challenging Stereotypes: Unveiling the Living Mayan Culture

Stepping into the Mayan World Museum of Mérida, I embarked on a remarkable journey that bridged the gap between the contemporary Mayan culture and the ancient Mayan civilization. The museum, located in the heart of Mérida, Mexico, is a treasure trove of knowledge, providing a captivating insight into the world of the Mayans. This was the first museum I was visiting in Merida, and I was very excited to see what story it had to tell. Join me as I recount this unique adventure, where we connected with the present-day Mayan world before traveling back to unravel their ancient heritage and way of life.  

One of the first things I saw when I entered the museum explaining the Mayab, land of the Mayans, and how the Mayan didn’t “disappear’” as often it is said but that they live among us today. 

One of the most remarkable aspects of my visit to the Mayan World Museum of Mérida was the opportunity to challenge preconceived notions about the Mayan culture. Often perceived as an exotic and distant civilization of the past, the museum showcased the contemporary Mayan community, shedding light on their vibrant presence and dispelling the notion that they are a mere relic of history. The Mayan World Museum presented a refreshing approach by commencing the journey focusing on the present.  

The museum was divided by different sections, and the first section of the museum was called “Today’s Mayas,” explaining the Mayan culture current day.  

This connection to the living Mayan culture served as a bridge between the past and the present, offering us a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Mayan people and culture today. The museum encourages visitors to shift their perspectives and understand that the Mayan culture is not solely confined to the pages of history. The active participation and contributions of contemporary Mayans in shaping their communities and preserving their traditions are vividly showcased. The museum challenges the notion that Mayans are solely a representation of the past, instead highlighting their presence as a living group of people with an evolving culture.  

Art showing what kind of jobs that the Mayans today are working. 

The presence of the tour guide added another dimension to the experience. The guide of Mayan heritage served as an ambassador of the present-day Mayan culture. His firsthand accounts, personal stories, and insights challenged the notion of Mayans as an exotic or distant civilization. For instance, the guide recounted his own experiences growing up in a Mayan community, emphasizing the importance of language preservation. He shared how, despite the challenges faced by Mayan communities in the modern world, there is a concerted effort to revive and maintain the Mayan language. He provided me with a real connection to the Mayan community, breaking down barriers and allowing for a more authentic and nuanced understanding of their culture.  

This is a painted stone from the Classical Mayan period (600-900 AD) that was used to cap the vault of rooms, and this specific one was used for the room that held the funeral chamber of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok, who is represented here with the attire of the maize god. 

Having established a connection to the present-day Mayan culture, we were ready to delve into the rich history of the ancient Mayan civilization. The Mayan World Museum serves as a gateway to the rich heritage and legacy of the Mayan civilization. From its impressive architecture to its comprehensive collection of artifacts, the museum showcases this ancient civilization’s incredible achievements and cultural depth. The museum’s exhibits, accompanied by great descriptions (in Spanish, Yucatecan Mayan, and English), are thoughtfully curated, as the displays incorporate a combination of archaeological artifacts, multimedia presentations, and interactive elements, making the journey through history engaging and enlightening. Walking through the exhibits, I marveled at the intricate pottery, beautifully carved stone sculptures, and ancient glyphs that depict the Mayan life, including their achievements, religious practices, social structures, and artistic expressions. It was an awe-inspiring experience to witness the ingenuity and sophistication of the Mayan civilization firsthand.  

This is the Mayan calendar system explained. 
This panel shows how Mayans recorded important ceremonies, citing date and name of who performed it. 

Each section of the museum unraveled a different aspect of Mayan culture, from their advanced knowledge of astronomy and mathematics to their complex social structure and religious beliefs. I was particularly fascinated by the ancient Mayan calendar system and its insights it offered into their perception of time and celestial events.  

The professors and the students listening to the guide as he explains about Mayan temples. 

Also, the museum’s emphasis on the living Mayan culture and its connection to the past resonated deeply with the themes we discussed in our Intellectual Heritage class. The class challenged me to question and reinterpret historical narratives. Similarly, the Mayan World Museum encourages visitors to critically engage with the past and reimagine their understanding of the Mayan civilization. By presenting the contemporary Mayan culture as an integral part of the museum’s narrative, the exhibits challenge the perception of Mayans as a relic of history. This reinterpretation invites visitors to reflect on the impact of our preconceived notions and encourages a more holistic understanding of the Mayan heritage.  

This is a 18th century series showing the various works that the Mayans have undertaken.

My first museum trip to the Mayan World Museum of Mérida was an awe-inspiring experience that left me with a profound admiration for the Mayan civilization and the celebration of the present-day Mayan community. The Mayan World Museum of Mérida serves as a powerful platform for dispelling stereotypes and unveiling the living Mayan culture that thrives in the present. The museum promotes a more nuanced and authentic understanding of their heritage by challenging the idea of Mayans as exotic beings confined to the past. It celebrates the Mayan people’s continuity, resilience, and contributions, inspiring visitors to appreciate and support their living culture. The museum offers a transformative experience that not only educates but also encourages us to question our assumptions and embrace the richness of contemporary Mayan life.  

My favorite piece of work that I saw last in the museum: a jade mask. Masks were funerary trappings of Mayan rulers and were portrait blending individual’s features with divine attributes. Jade highlighted the high authority of the wearer.  

As I walked away, I carried with me a newfound appreciation for the local community integral to the place where I would live for a month. For anyone seeking to unravel the history of the Mayans and immerse themselves in their captivating world, a visit to the Mayan World Museum in Merida is a must. 

Read about Jam’s experience preparing to go to Merida, Mexico!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: