The Mayans were highly advanced for their time, excelling in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and many other sciences which were primarily overlooked by their priests. Mayans believed in an underworld and they thought that blood sacrifices helped them communicate with the gods. The Mayan social life comprised of numerous interesting practices and customs.
The Mayans had a number of interesting and extraordinary customs. Among these was the artificial flattening of the young children’s forehead and crossing of their eyes. Both of these features were considered beautiful by the Mayans. It was a custom for both men and women to grow their hair long, while beard was customarily discouraged among the men. It was also a custom among the Mayans to bury their dead under their houses or, in the cases of rich families, in well-built tombs.
Mayan society generally had two kinds to homes. The homes of the peasant class were baked-mud huts with thatched roofs while those of the rich were generally built out of stone. What is very interesting about the homes of the rich was that they had attached rooms for steam baths. In these rooms, large stones were allowed to go up to very high temperatures under a direct sunlight and then water was poured on them to produce steam. The rich then took steam baths in these rooms.
Mayans believed that after death they would go to the underworld, and many of their rituals were attempts to assuage the gods and other supernatural powers to allow peaceful passage to this underworld. Mayan considered their Kings as intermediaries between them and their gods. Human sacrifice was considered a vital part of communication with gods and elaborate rituals were undertaken to offer up human sacrifices to the gods.
The staple diet of Mayans was corn and they grew a wide variety of it. However, they also used different kinds of beans, vegetables and fruits in their diet. An interesting part of the Mayan food culture was the extensive use of chilies. Mayans also grew cocoa which was used by the rich and spicy drinks made from it were often consumed. Among the most important grain consumed by the Mayans was maize.
Mayans made use of hallucinogenic materials in their daily life to alleviate pain. The same hallucinogenic substances were also consumed during religious rituals. The Mayan farmers went about farming as their daily routine where they didn’t use any beast of burden and had to rely on stone tools. Mayan peasants often had their gardens right next to their homes where they grew vegetables for daily consumption. Education of every child was mandatory, so every child was sent to school at or around the age of 10.
The Mayan peasant often had the job of farming where they used stone axes. Some peasant also rose to become engineers, architects, artisans and merchants. Mayan nobility often occupied the key jobs in civil service as well as the military. The nobles were chosen as military chiefs while members of the nobility also served as warriors. Mayan women, especially of the peasant class, were mostly tasked with looking after the household and weaving. Noble women, on the other hand, were sometimes allowed to occupy higher positions.
Mayan music was closely associated with religious rituals where music was played and dance was performed. Mayans had hundreds of unique dance styles which suggests the variety of the music the Mayans had, although no music from the era of Mayan civilisation existed over the course of history. Among the instruments used by Mayans for music were flutes, rattles, trumpets and drums. Groups of musicians often played music together for a grander effect and Mayans also used music during their warfare.
Since Mayan civilisation spanned across a large period of time and comprised of various city-states located at different positions in different eras, the Mayan art itself is highly diverse. Yet it contains many common features. For instance, one of the consistent architectural features among most Mayan cities is the construction of structures with large horizontal stucco floors and pyramids with often steep stairs. Ballcourts are also a fairly common feature of the Mayan civilisation. Mayans also practised wood and stone sculpting along mural painting which was very common. Painted ceramics, masks and tattoos were also a regular part of the Mayan art tradition.
Mayan education was critical to the Mayan society since the society needed people skilled in various arts and fields. This led to a necessity that every child had to be educated, and education as well as sciences was mostly overlooked by Mayan priests. Children from the nobility were often educated in warfare, politics and military matters. Those of peasants were given a lower quality of education but often rose to the ranks of merchants, artisans, craftsmen. The education stressed on the values of the society, on the necessity of the individual to work for the community and of respect towards elders at all times.
Mayan indulged in different sports and dances for the sake of entertainment. Often, entertainment also had religious undertones since religion pervaded every aspect of the Mayan society. According to historians, Mayans had hundreds, and some claim thousands, of different forms of dances. These were often performed at religious rituals as well as at the time of festivals where they were accompanied by music. Sports like ballcourts were fairly popular and a regular feature of the social life.
A typical Mayan family had a very nuclear structure with all the members of the family well bonded and working closely together. The children looked up to their parents and received their early education from them. At or around 10, children were required to attend school and received a formal education. Children of Mayans were married off, through an arrange marriage, by their late teens. The members of a family, even after marriage, lived close to their parents, so the nuclear structure of the family was also obvious and their houses were also situated close to each other.
Mayan children were primarily tasked with helping out their elders. The boys helped out their fathers in farming and hunting while the girls stayed back at home to help out their mothers. The children had to undergo certain rituals such as the pressing of boards on the foreheads of young babies to give them a definite shape. This was done to enhance their beauty.