Maya or Mayan? An Explanation

After seeing a Maya hotel sign while visiting Palenque, and after hearing friends refer to their MAYA ancestors that we began to think…something does not sound right.

Maya vs. Mayan sign at Best Western Palenque Hotel

Was it a single versus plural thing?  One is Maya and 2+ are Mayans?  Or was the Creole dialect that chops off letters in words creeping into my speech patterns after living in Belize for several years?

As it turns out, Maya refers to everything Maya, except when referring to a Mayan language. For example, it’s Maya culture. Not Mayan culture.  It’s Maya archaeology, not Mayan archaeology.

Conversely, people speak Mayan, not Maya. So unless you are talking about a Mayan language, ALWAYS say Maya.


Foto Friday: Full Moon Pictures from the Jungle

Guests at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge in Belize are often surprised to see how vivid the light can be from a full moon here in the jungle. It is even more striking because the full moon always rises in the east over the library (on top of a Mayan temple), making for excellent views (and photos if you have the right filter). When the full moon is directly overhead, flashlights are almost unnecessary, due to the extreme brightness the sun’s reflection.

The full moon is the best time to turn into half woman half snake ;)

During the winter solstice of 2010, the moon was in total lunar eclipse for the first time in 372 years! We only assume the Maya knew this was going to happen when they built their settlement at Lower Dover, especially the temple where the library sits. Dust particles in the atmosphere gives the moon it’s reddish tint. The next total lunar eclipse can be seen in Belize on April 15, 2014 so if your calendar is longer than the Mayan’s mark the date!

2010 Winter Socstice Lunar Eclipse

Rubber Trees in Belize: Making the Mayan Ball Game possible since 1600 BC.

Rubber Tree at Lower Dover

In 1770, the Rubber tree was first observed in England by Joseph Priestley, he noticed that a piece of the material was extremely good for rubbing off pencil marks on paper, hence the name rubber.

Over 200 years later, nearly 20 million tons of rubber is produced worldwide, of which around 40% is natural. Because most rubber produced is synthetic (made from petroleum), the price of natural rubber varies based on the global price of crude oil.

Rubber Tree at Lower Dover

Asia is now the main source of natural rubber, accounting for over 90% of the yearly output. The three largest producing countries, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia account for nearly 3/4ths of the harvest. The Rubber tree has been introduced from native species in South America, and grows well in Asia due to a lack of predation. Only wild growing trees are harvested in Belize successfully. Rubber plantations have not prospered in Central and South America due to a fungus that shows up on Rubber leaves.

Rubber Tree Leaf at Lower Dover

The first recorded use of rubber was by the Olmecs, who centuries later passed on the knowledge of natural latex from the Hevea tree in 1600 BC to the ancient Maya. They boiled the harvested latex and combined the product with Morning Glory flower juice to make a ball for a sport.

Morning Glory Flower at Lower Dover Belize

In fact, the word “Olmec” also refers to the rubber balls used for their ancient ball game. Early modern explorers applied the name “Olmec” to the rediscovered ruins and art from this area before it was understood that these had been already abandoned more than a thousand years before the time of the people the Aztecs knew as the Olmec. Rubber ball games have great antiquity throughout the Americas, and the recent discovery of several rubber balls at the Olmec site of El Manati, near San Lorenzo, confirms that the game was played by the Olmec.

Maya Ball Court at Xunantunich in Belize

Today, many Mayan ball-courts can be viewed throughout Belize, including one at Lower Dover Field Station and Jungle Lodge.  The most notable Maya ball game structure can be seen at the Maya ruins of Chichen Itza in Mexico. The Maya ball game has been examined extensively due to its apparent significance in Mayan culture and society, as well as the ritual sacrifice that was believed to take place coinciding with important dates in the Maya calendar.  It is believed that the winners of the game were sacrificed!

Rubber Tree at Lower Dover

Rubber Tree Latex

The Rubber trees seen in this post can be viewed on the Medicinal Plant Trail at Lower Dover Jungle Lodge, where it will be possible to touch the natural latex rubber extract along with learning about many other Maya plants on the jungle hike.