Languages Of Belize


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languages of belize Maya

The ancient Maya were a group of American Indian peoples who lived in southern Mexico, particularly the present-day states of Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche, Yucatan, and Quintana Roo, and in Belize, Guatemala, and adjacent Honduras. Their descendants, the modern Maya, live in the same regions today, in both highlands and lowlands, from cool highland plains ringed by volcanoes to deep tropical rain forests. Through the region runs a single major river system, the Apasion-Usumacinta and its many tributaries, and only a handful of lesser rivers, the Motagua, Hondo, and Belize among them. The ancestors of the Maya, like those of other New World peoples, crossed the Bearing Land Bridge from Asia more than 20,000 years ago, during the last ice age.
The Maya were the first people of the New World to keep historical records: their written history begins in 50 BC, when they began to inscribe texts on pots, jades, bones, stone monuments, and palace walls. Maya records trace the history of the great kings and queens who ruled from 50 BC until the Spanish conquest in the 16th century. All Maya "long count" calendar inscriptions fall between AD 292 and AD 909, roughly defining the period called Classic. Earlier Maya culture is called Formative or Preclassic (2000 BC-AD 300), and subsequent civilization is known as Postclassic (AD 900-conquest).
Protected by difficult terrain and heavy vegetation, the ruins of few ancient Maya cities were known before the 19th century, when explorers and archaeologists began to rediscover them. The age and proliferation of Maya writings have been recognized since about 1900, when the calendrical content of Maya hieroglyphic inscriptions was deciphered and the dates correlated with the Christian calendar. For most of the 20th century, only the extensive calendrical data of Maya inscriptions could be read, and as a result, Maya scholars hypothesized that the inscriptions were pure calendrical records. Because little evidence of warfare had been recognized archaeologically, the Classic Maya were thought of as peaceful timekeepers and skywatchers. Their cities, it was thought, were ceremonial centers for ascetic priests, and their artwork anonymous, without concern for specific individuals.
More recent scholarship changes the picture dramatically. In 1958 Heinrich Berlin demonstrated that certain Maya hieroglyphs, which he called emblem glyphs, contained main signs that varied according to location, indicating dynastic lines or place names. In 1960, Tatiana Proskouriakoff showed that the patterns of dates were markers of the important events in rulers' lives. The chronological record turned out to serve history and the perpetuation of the memory of great nobles. Subsequently, major archaeological discoveries, particularly at PALENQUE and TIKAL, confirmed much of what the writings said, and examination of Maya art has revealed not only historical portraiture but also a pantheon of gods, goddesses, and heroes--in other words, Maya religion and mythic history.
HISTORY OF THE ANCIENT MAYA
By 5000 BC, the Maya had settled along Caribbean and Pacific coasts, forming egalitarian fishing communities. Certainly by 2000 BC the Maya had also moved inland and adopted agriculture for their subsistence. Maize and beans formed the Maya diet then as today, although many other foodstuffs--squash, tomatoes, peppers, fruits, and game--were supplements. The word for maize--wa--is synonymous with food itself, and the maize god was honored from early times.
Preclassic Period
During the Early Preclassic (2000-900 BC), civilization began to take shape in parts of MESOAMERICA. By 1200 BC, the OLMEC of the Gulf Coast had risen to preeminence, dominating trade routes that extended from the modern Mexican state of Guerrero to Costa Rica, passing through Maya regions. At COPAN, Honduras, and Cuello, Belize, around 1000 BC, local Maya leaders began to imitate Olmec styles of pottery and jades and adopted orthodox Olmec religious symbols for their own use. Identification with the dominant cult in Mesoamerica helped support the emergence of social strata among the Maya, particularly where the Maya came into contact with the Olmec.
Archaeologists have recently shown that the Maya began to develop intensive agriculture and sophisticated water management during the Middle Preclassic (900-300 BC), which may have helped support the population explosion of the Late Preclassic (300 BC-AD 300). During this same period, writing was invented in Mesoamerica, probably by the ZAPOTECS of Oaxaca. Although writing was in use along the ... more

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IINTRODUCTION Belize, independent state, northeastern Central America, bounded on the north and northwest by Mexico, on the east by the Caribbean Sea, and on the south and west by Guatemala. Belize, until 1973 known as British Honduras, became independent in 1981 and is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The total area of Belize is 22,965 sq km (8867 sq mi).
IILAND AND RESOURCES The northern half of Belize consists of lowlands, large areas of which are swampy. The southern half is dominated by mountain ranges, notably the Maya Mountains, which rise to a maximum elevation of 1120 m (3675 ft) atop Victoria Peak. The Caribbean coastline is fringed by coral barrier reefs and numerous cays (islets). The principal streams are the Belize River; the Ro Azul, which forms much of the boundary with Mexico; and the Sarstn River, which forms the southwestern boundary with Guatemala. The climate of Belize is subtropical, moderated by sea breezes along the coast. The average annual temperature is about 26 C (about 79 F). The total annual rainfall increases from north to south and averages about 1800 mm (about 71 in). A rainy season extends from May to February.
Some 86 percent Belize is covered by forests. Deciduous trees are found in the north; tropical hardwood trees predominate in the south. Principal species include the commercially important mahogany, cedar, and rosewood, as well as pine, oak, and palms. Mangrove swamp vegetation is found along the coast. Wildlife includes jaguar, deer, tapir, and numerous species of birds and reptiles.
IIIPOPULATION AND EDUCATION The majority of the population of Belize is of mixed racial descent. The largest group is of black or partly black ancestry. Other groups include Native Americans, principally Carib and Mayan, located in the north and west; people of European descent, mainly English and Spanish; and people of mixed Native American-European descent.
The population of Belize is 224,663 (1997 estimate). The overall density of 10 persons per sq km (25 per sq mi) is the lowest in Central America. Population is concentrated in a few principal urban centers, of which Belize City (population, 1988 estimate, 49,671) is the largest; it is also the principal port. Belmopan (1988 estimate, 3694), a newly constructed city, supplanted Belize City as the official capital in 1972. English is the official language; other languages spoken include Carib, Mayan, Spanish, and a Creole dialect of English. More than half the people are Roman Catholic, and most of the remainder are Protestant.
Education is compulsory for children between the ages of 5 and 14. In the 1994-1995 school year 51,377 pupils were enrolled in primary schools, and 10,147 students were enrolled in secondary schools. Higher education is available at colleges in Belize City and Corozal. The literacy rate of 91 percent is one of the highest in Latin America.
IVGOVERNMENT Belize is governed under a constitution that became effective at independence in 1981. The British sovereign is head of state and is represented by a governor-general, who has little power. Executive power is mainly exercised by a cabinet of ministers, led by a prime minister. The bicameral National Assembly consists of a Senate of 8 appointed members and a House of Representatives of 28 members elected by universal suffrage to terms of up to five years. The prime minister must have the support of a majority of the members of the House. The leading political parties are the People's United Party (1950) and the United Democratic Party (1974).
VECONOMY The main economic resource is Belize's arable land, although only 3 percent of the total land area is under cultivation. Agricultural exports include sugar, citrus fruits, and bananas. Rice, beans, and corn are grown as subsistence crops. Lumbering, formerly the chief economic activity, has declined in importance. Major manufactures are processed food, wood products, and clothing. A road network of 2248 km (1397 mi) links the major urban centers, but some areas remain inaccessible. An international airport serves Belize City. The unit of currency is the Belize dollar (2 Belize dollars equal U.S.$1; 1996 fixed rate). In 1995 exports earned $139 million, and imports cost $258 million. The government's budget included $133 million in revenue and $180 million in expenditure in 1995.
VIHISTORY In pre-Columbian times Belize was part ... more

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