The Family was a vital unit of the Mayan social structure. Mayan families usually lived together as nuclear families, so that members of the extended families clustered together in the same location. The families of the commoners usually had a piece of land each whereby the members of the extended family built their own homes, owned a private cemetery and a personal kitchen garden.
Children were taught to be productive members of a family from an early age and grew up to respect their parents. This cultural phenomenon was strengthened by the fact that ancestor worship was a part of the Mayan religion.
Mayan men served as the heads of families in the Mayan society. A Mayan man was charged with providing the livelihood for the home and to make sure that food was provided and to ensure other needs of his family were met. Most common men in the Mayan society met the food needs of their family through farming and hunting.
In many cases, the nobility hired them for labour in return for wages. Mayan Men also worked on the monumental architecture that was erected by the Mayan nobility. Within the family, Mayan men were also tasked with the early education of the male child once he reached the age of 6 or 7. This was done by taking the male children to outdoor jobs and teaching them different skills.
Women formed an important part of the Mayan family. They were primarily tasked with taking care of the household, looking after the upbringing of the children and also working on the private kitchen gardens that were located next to their homes. Since the gardens were used to grow vegetables for daily food, women looked after them on a regular basis.
In their spare time, Mayan women wove cloth for all the members of the family. The women were also charged with the education of the female children. This was done by engaging them at an early age in different household tasks.
A given Mayan household of a commoner family usually comprised of a sizable piece of land. The boundary of the plot was demarcated with a low wall. Inside the plot, a Mayan family had all the important structures such as homes, kitchen garden, cooking space, a cemetery, storage area and other units.
Within a single plot, all the male members of an extended family lived together. When a Mayan man got married, he passed a certain period at the home of his wife’s parents before returning to his father’s home and building a new home next to it within the family plot. Different homes of the same household shared things like the garden and storage area.
All the members of a given Mayan family lived in the same home. A typical home of the common Mayan family was a hut with a thatched roof and walls packed with mud. These homes didn’t have any internal partitions. All the members of the family slept in the same place and the cooking area was usually located outside the home. The homes of the nobility, in comparison, were significantly better. They were made from stone and had many rooms and other partitions.
Marriage was an important part of the Mayan family life and it involved adherence to specific customs. Upon getting married, a Mayan man was required to go to the house of his wife’s parents and live with them for a specific duration. During this duration, he had to work for them as a sort of payment for marrying their daughter.
The period usually expired when the wife gave birth to the first child. At this moment, the couple and the child returned to the family house of the man where he built his home next to his father’s home.
The ethos of Mayan family life were strongly anchored in the social life. So Mayan children were educated in the norms of the Mayan society as they grew up. They were taught to be productive members of the society, engaged in real tasks and jobs from a very early age. The male children were taken on outdoor jobs and taught specific skills before they reached the age of 10.
Female children were taught household tasks by their mothers. The children were usually deemed adults at the age of 15 in a ceremony overlooked by the priests.
Only the male heirs of a person inherited property and other belongings. The females didn’t have any inheritance rights in Mayan society. The male heirs inherited not just the material belongings of a man but also the titles and privileges he held. For instance, if a military chief died, his son inherited the position of being a military chief.
The same applied to the inheritance of the deceased man’s job. A stonemason’s son inherited the position of a stonemason in Mayan society. In this way, government jobs, titles and skilled labour were inheritable notions.
If two people couldn’t get along very well after marriage, they could divorce each other. Divorce usually took place when a couple couldn’t have children or had some serious disagreements. Upon divorce, both partners returned to their family homes and were free to re-marry later.
Mayan family life had many facets although members of a given family were required to live their lives according to definite patterns. Men in a family had to go out for hunting and farming, working throughout the year in return for wages or sufficient food.
Women stayed back at home, looking after the personal gardens next to the homes and were tasked with the care of the children. The children were taught to take an active role in daily chores and jobs early in their lives. Every member of the family was required to contribute to both the family and the society as a proactive individual.