Maya Land Use in the Toledo and Stann Creek District of Southern Belize
Mayas live in a communal land system. Once a village exists, land management is carried out through the village leader with consultation of the villagers Traditionally, the people select their leader through a democratic process allowing villagers, during the communal cleaning of their village, to nominate three to four contestants to the post of village leader. The people vote for their choice. The person who gets the most votes is the head of the community. He becomes an alcalde (judge) to every daily happening in the village. If a family from one village wishes to live in another village, it is possible only through consultation with the leader of that community, then, if the family and the village agree, it becomes legal to access the village.
In times past the Maya chiefs served for life. Today it is limited by a recent amendment of the Belize Constitution to two years. The difference was that in the old days, Maya leaders lived in independent nations by themselves&emdash;free. Today, Mayas live in an oppressive situation where a non-Maya government dictates to them how to live.
To start a new plot of land to make a farm it is necessary to create a posting for the land. The farmer simply marks the spot by cutting a line to surround the plot. Most of the Maya land is within reservation established around the 1880's. Today, when the Mayas want additional land reserve, they have to petition the political governments through certain procedures.
The Maya land reservation is still basically run by the rules of the traditional Mayas although this is not recognized by the present Belizean government. The Maya do slash-and-burn subsistence farming. This form of agriculture has not created deforestation and erosion.
The land use rules here are: do not burn the area without a proper fire line to prevent the fire from escaping to burn the uncultivated areas. Do not enter in a next farmer's line that is marked earlier. By tradition this marking of an area of operation was done annually in late December or early January. The other rule worth mentioning is, if a farmer has farmed virgin land (forest), he will be expected to work on this land for seven or more years; after this is completed the farmer now may leave the area free to be cultivated by other farmers in the future.
Although the alcalde has a guide book to help him solve social and legal problems, when difficulties arise preparing land, he would have to consult the village. The Maya tradition is to have their son inherit almost anything they have and the daughters enjoy some along with their future husbands. If conflicts arise from the issuing of the wills to certain members of a family, then again the right person to solve this problem is the local Maya judge (alcalde).
Maya reserves used to be demarcated to differentiate them, one from the other. Today these reserve lines are nonexistent, but, somehow the Mayas are conscious as to how far they can go before crossing onto their brothers' land.
Aliens or refugees are often the only major problems facing our land reserves. Nationally the police and the BDF (Belize Defense Force) are responsible for this kind of security; our Maya leaders' duty is to inform them about these kinds of issues, but often the authorities do not listen to us. They accommodate people for political reasons and prosecute others for political gains.
In Laguna village, if the community needs more land, even land not in the reservations, the local leadership petitions the Ministry of Natural Resources. This problem only occurs when a community's resources become scarce as a result of increase in population.
We have caves, hills and rivers to be used as demarcation lines that separate one community reserve from another. If a problem arises, first we consult each leader of each community. We argue among ourselves about the demarcation lines formed by the **Moho River, Black Creek, the hills, Jacinte Creek and Canten** branches.
For every problem that affect all of us, we consult each community leader. A joint solution is found. Then we educate the villagers about the discussion. When non-Mayas have a problem with us over land we solve it differently. For example, a foreign citrus company is operating in the de facto reserve of San Felipe Village. Jacinto Village is our borderline. The citrus company began operating in the area of the village. The Lands Office was consulted concerning the matter and we were told that we do not have a reserve, but **crown lands.**
Single women and widows seek the help of the alcalde if they want to build their houses or want to clear a farm. The villagers volunteer for one day to help them. In certain cases, the widows are helped by their sons or by a religious group, but the villagers always help.
If a woman's deceased husband owns land, she can continue to use it. Most of the Maya communities have an unrecognized reserve, and therefore our women are free to cultivate anywhere surrounding their village.
The Maya have their local justice of the peace appointed by the political government. He can execute a will in writing. A retired farmer usually gives his inheritance to a son; if he has no son, his daughter. The Maya do not know about lease land. The above information is for today's children of the Mayas.
The Maya Year
February: Clearing of low wahmil [secondary fresh-scrub] begins for various kinds of crops, but mostly for corn at mid-February when the summer dry weather begins.
March: The Corn second corn crop begins to be harvested and also red kidney beans and other kinds of beans are reaped too. Burning of fields begins for the first corn crop.
April: Corn harvesting continues. Burning of field continues. Mid month, corn planting begins. The families thatch their homes, and new houses are constructed, and renovation is done on the old ones. April is the month for fasting and prayers. Sometimes cultural dances are performed during this month to honor the great spirit, the Divine. Many kinds of seeds are placed in plastic bags to be planted in June.
May: Corn harvest continues and the burning of fields continues. Corn planting continues. Rice fields are planted. Construction is done of temporary storage bush houses for corn.
June: Heavy rain season begins. Fish trapping, hook fishing, and fishing with nets and spear is done in the month of June. Weeding fields and planting ground food under the corn, cocoa and citrus are done in this month. Rice fields are cleared. The season for ***crale*** hunting begins. Floods occur.
July: Rice ground clearing continues. Most farmers
stay home during the rainy season. They sample the new, green corn. Flooding
September: Corn and rice are harvested in the month
of September and the clearing of ***Bega Bush begins aloue planted fields
and kudroo???***. Planted fields are cut down in preparation for second
crop of corn. A variety of bean is planted for the biggest crop in the
dry season of the year. Corn is planted again in early December. In December
cash crops are transported to market.
November: Farm activities continue in many farms. At this time, harvesting is done of corn, rice and red kidney beans, and land clearing is done to plant corn. Beans for off season will soon to be planted and the fields are cleared.
December: More land is cleared by hand this month for the planting of corn and vegetable fruits. These are planted on a rotational basis for a March and early April harvest the following year, so the cycle never ends. Thanksgiving festivals are conducted and social dance are performed.