The most important of the cultured aborigines of North America, belonging to Mexico, Yucatan, and Guatemala.
They number about 2,000,000 and have preserved the Maya language.
According to their legends they came from the West.
They were not conquered by Spain until 1542.
The first missionaries were Franciscans, among them the provincial, de Landa, who attempted with great cruelty to suppress the ancient rites.
The Maya have had many revolts against, the Mexican Government, the most serious of which was in 1860.
They are short, dark, muscular, reliable and industrious.
They wear the ordinary dress of Mexican peasants.
Nominally Catholics, they retain many ancient rites.
In 1894 the population of the independent iribes was about 10,000.
The ancient Maya government was an hereditary monarchy with a council of lords and priests.
They had a clan system with descent in the male line.
Marriage was strictly regulated and polygamy unknown.
Their code of laws was not severe.
Corn, cocoa, cotton, and other crops were cultivated.
There was an elaborate ritual but human sacrifices were rare.
They were skilled in many arts especially architecture and sculpture although their only tools were of stone.
They wrote in hieroglyphs on parchment.
Much attention has been given to the Maya language.
There are ruins of splendid temples at Palenque, Uxmal, and Mayapan.
New Catholic Dictionary