Childhood in Maya society

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The role of the children in ancient Maya society was first and foremost to help their elders. Once children turned five or six they were expected to contribute to the family. They were treated as young adults and received more responsibilities as they grew older.

Adolescents[edit]

Young girls were expected to perform household duties, while young boys were to help their fathers in farming.

Mostly women raised the children, but "When a boy was about four or five… his father began the training of his son."[1]

Mayan children

When adolescents turned 15, they were expected to be independent. Today, this tradition of work ethic still applies to adolescents.

Rituals and children[edit]

The Maya desired some unnatural physical characteristics for their children. For instance, at a very young age boards were pressed on babies' foreheads to create a flattened surface. This process was widespread among the upper class.

Another practice was to cross babies' eyes. To do this, objects were dangled in front of a newborn’s eyes, until the newborn’s eyes were completely and permanently crossed. In addition, there were a few unique customs regarding children. For example, most Maya children were named according to the day they were born. Every day of the year had a specific name for both boys and girls and parents were expected to follow that practice.

A "puberty ceremony" was held when boys and girls reached a certain age, and at the conclusion of the procession the child was available for marriage. This ritual was an important occurrence, and afterward a big feast was held for everyone who attended.

Death[edit]

Most burial sites for children were not as elaborate as adult burial sites. "Infants/toddlers generally lacked offerings… for [children] who died before reaching the age of five, the only elaboration or special treatment consisted of inclusion within a probable family group…"[2] However, some burial sites for children did contain more gifts than other youngsters. This suggests that the family had a great deal of remorse, and/or the child had high standings.

Values in children[edit]

Several values were stressed to Maya children. Not only was a strong work ethics desirable, but working for the betterment of the community was necessary.

Families were extremely important to the Maya culture, and respecting the leaders in one’s family was imperative. "A sense of responsibility is another important quality which children have to learn. This includes independence, self-confidence and the ability to make decisions."[3] It is believed that the most important quality for children to have was common sense, and they received this by shadowing their parents.

Among Yucatec Maya parents, the ceremony called hetsmekʻ is still practiced even among professionals living in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán.

Maya children today[edit]

Maya populations are present today in many areas of Central and South America, such as Guatemala. There is limited research on the lives of Maya children, mostly because developmental research has primarily involved European-American children.[4] However, it is evident that the goals for Maya children's socialization and daily activities differ from those of other cultures, especially those that are most studied.[5]

Learning[edit]

Research suggests that children in many Maya communities often engage in different socialization patterns than those commonly found in European-American communities.[5] Specifically, Maya cultures commonly emphasize the primacy of adult activities, the importance of parental beliefs, and the independence of children's motivation in their socialization.[6][7] The daily activities that Maya children partake in have important effects on their development. Children in Maya communities develop within the context of work and other family activities.[5] They commonly learn through observing and engaging in the work of others.[6]

Children in modern-day Maya communities observe and participate in work with people of all ages.[8] Young children in Maya communities such as San Pedro La Laguna have been observed listening in on the work of older children, adults, and elders.[8] These children are expected to observe the activities going on around them in order for their learning to take place.[4] The mix of interaction between age groups in Maya communities is important to their learning. Age segregation does not play an active role in the learning patterns of Maya children, as they interact with both adults and children of all ages.[9] Maya siblings also play an active role in directing each other’s learning.[10]

Children in Maya communities also observe and participate in adult work in order to become active members in their community.[11] Though children in European American communities do not engage in as much productive or goal-driven work, Maya children see this work as embodying their sense of self-worth.[12] Maya children engage in less imaginary play than children from many middle-class Western communities.[9] When European-American adults play with children, the play is seen as an educational exercise, but play that Maya children partake in is often an emulation of mature work happening around them[4] For example, a child will pretend to "weave" on a make-believe loom, or "wash clothes" by pouring water on a cloth.[13] In this way, Maya children are learning through play.

Partaking in play that emulates work, and providing actual contributions to work, are characteristic of a style of learning referred to as Intent Community Participation.[14] Intent community participation involves the learner’s observation and listening, directed by their own initiative and concentration. This individual drive to learn is coupled with the learner’s expected participation in shared endeavors. In other words, Maya children learn through Intent Community Participation because they are self-motivated to learn, and are included and given responsibilities. Maya children are respected as capable contributors to their community from as young as age 3 or 4.[14] This style of learning can be contrasted with other learning styles, such as assembly-line instruction.[14] Assembly-line instruction is the approach taken by most Westernized schooling. Assembly-line instruction is based on the transmission of knowledge from experts to subordinates, in a way that does not facilitate purposeful activity. Maya Children do not participate primarily in this style of learning, because they learn through inclusion and hands-on experience. Because of this form of learning, Mayan children are much more observant in their environment as compared to European-American children. Learning through observation and participation develops skills such as dual attentiveness which supports their way of life and learning. Through methods such as ICP, Maya children work as a community to build their skills for both survival and inclusion in their community.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sharer, 482
  2. ^ Ardren, 67
  3. ^ Heckt, 325
  4. ^ a b c Morelli, G., Rogoff, B., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Cultural variation in young children's access to work or involvement in specialized child-focused activities. International Journal of Behavioural Development, 27, 264-274.
  5. ^ a b c Gaskins, S. (2006) The Cultural Organization of Yucatec Mayan Childrenís Social Interactions. Peer relationships in cultural context, 283.
  6. ^ a b Gaskins, S. (1999). Children's Daily Lives in a Mayan village: A Case Study of Culturally Constructed Roles and Activities. In A. Göncü (Ed.), Children's Engagement in the World: Sociocultural Perspectives (pp. 25-61). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ Gaskins, S. (2000). Children's Daily Activities in a Mayan Village: A Culturally Grounded Description. Cross-Cultural Research, 34, 375-389.
  8. ^ a b Rogoff, B., Morelli, G. A., & Chavajay, P. (2010). Childrenís Integration in Communities and Segregation From People of Differing Ages. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 5(4), 431-440.
  9. ^ a b Göncü, A., Mistry, J., & Mosier, C. (2000). Cultural variations in the play of toddlers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 24(3), 321-329.
  10. ^ Maynard, A. E. (2002). Cultural teaching: The development of teaching skills in Maya sibling interactions. Child development, 73(3), 969-982.
  11. ^ Nimmo, J. (2008). Young children's access to real life: An examination of the growing boundaries between children in child care and adults in the community. Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 9, 3-13.
  12. ^ Woodhead, M. (1998). Children's perspectives on their working lives: A participatory study in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. Stockholm: Save the Children Sweden.
  13. ^ Rogoff, Barbara (2011). Developing Destinies: A Mayan Midwife and Town. Cambridge: Oxford University Press
  14. ^ a b c Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Arauz, R. M., Correa-Chavez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Firsthand learning through intent participation. Annual review of psychology, 54(1), 175-203

References[edit]

  • Ardren, Traci and Scott R. Hutson, (2006). The Social Experience of Childhood in Ancient Mesoamerica. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado
  • Sharer, Robert; (1994) The Ancient Maya, Stanford.
  • Heckt, Meike; (1999) Mayan Education In Guatemala: A Pedagogical Model and Its Political Context in International Review of Education Volume 45, Number 3-4, pp. 321ñ337.
  • Cervera, M. D. (2007). El hetsmek' como expresion simbolica de la construccion de los ninos mayas yucatecos como personas. Pueblos y Fronteras Digital "La nocion de persona en Mexico y Centroamerica".
 Disponible en http://www.pueblosyfronteras.unam.mx/a07n4/art_09.html
  • Cervera, M. D., & Mendez, R. M. (2006). Temperament and ecological context among Yucatec Mayan children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 30, 326-337. Resumen disponible en
 http://jbd.sagepub.com/content/30/4/326.abstract
  • de Leon, L. (2001). ¿Como construir un nino zinacanteco?: Conceptos espaciales y lengua materna en la adquisición del tzotzil". In C. Rojas, & L. De León (Eds.), La adquisicion de la lengua materna:
 espanol, lenguas mayas, euskera (pp. 99-124). Mexico, DF: Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico y Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropologia Social.
  • Euan, R. G., & Cervera, M. D. (2009). Amarras lo que aprendes en la escuela y en la casa: Etnoteorias parentales y rezago educativo. In J. C. Mijangos (Ed.), La lucha contra el rezago educativo. El caso
 de los mayas de Yucatan (pp. 167 a 186). Merida, Yucatan.
  • Gaskins, S. (1996). How Mayan parental theories come into play. In C. M. Super & S. Harkness (Eds.), Parents' cultural belief systems: Their origins, expressions, and consequences
 pp. 345 a 363). New York: Guilford.
  • Redfield, R., & Villa Rojas, A. (1990). Chan Kom: A Maya village. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.
  • Göncü, A., Mistry, J., & Mosier, C. (2000). Cultural variations in the play of toddlers. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 24(3), 321-329.
  • Maynard, A. E. (2002). Cultural teaching: The development of teaching skills in Maya sibling interactions. Child Development, 73(3), 969-982.
  • Rogoff, B., Paradise, R., Arauz, R. M., Correa-Chavez, M., & Angelillo, C. (2003). Firsthand learning through intent participation. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 175-203.
  • Rogoff, Barbara (2011). Developing Destinies: A Mayan Midwife and Town. Cambridge: Oxford University Press