The customs of Q’eqchi Mayan communities in Belize have been under threat from recent evangelical colonization that prohibits the practice of Indigenous cultural traditions.
In response, an intergenerational project was created to rekindle an interest among Mayan youth in their traditional music and weaving. Elders taught Mayan songs to primary school students, in addition to providing instruction in the weaving of Koxtal bags and baskets with regional designs. Traditionally, weaving is only performed by girls and women, but as soon as the classes began both boys and girls wanted to take part!
The participation of male students, with the blessing of their parents, makes the impact of this project even greater. In the words of the project leaders: “This project will ultimately result in gender parity in traditional arts! In a society that is very gender differentiated, this is a major cultural change that brings the ancient into the modern world.
While the program has been running for only two months, it has already been hugely successful. Students are so enthusiastic there are already plans to expand the project to include classes in the making of traditional instruments—usually a male-dominated activity—for both boys and girls using sustainably harvested rosewood logs from a nearby village.
One of the goals of the project was to incorporate these Mayan culture classes into the students’ regular school week in order to ‘balance’ out the state education and its emphasis on Belizean nationalism. The students have been delighted to learn about and celebrate their culture for the first time, and the participation of the Parent-Teacher Association in the development of the program has meant that the project has garnered full community support.
In 2018, one hundred children between the ages of 8 and 12 participated in the pilot project at Crique Sarco Village School, and there are now plans to replicate the project in other village schools. Crique Sarco is considered a leader among other communities, so this project will carry considerable influence among the Maya in southern Belize.