While mainstream Mexican customs are dominant in Sian Ka’an Mexico and its immediate surroundings, much of the area’s population consider themselves descendents of traditional Mayan culture.
Ancient deities such as Chac, the rain god, are still honored in religious ceremonies that have been carried on for decades. Also, the sacred Ceiba trees, like the giant one on display in the Museo de la Cultura Maya, are still revered in parts of the state of Quintana Roo. This museum, located in the capital of Chetumal, also houses exhibits illustrating all things Mayan, from architecture to medicinal plant use.
The sacredness of the cross in Quintana Roo’s culture goes further back than the introduction of Roman Catholicism. The much older equilateral cross actually came from the roots of the symbolic Ceiba tree, and the knowledge of the icon’s power is still passed on to new generations living in Sian Ka’an, Quintana Roo and the greater Yucatan. In local communities there remain many different crosses believed to have different abilities, such as the state’s Talking Crosses, which are said speak the word of God.
Sian Ka’an also celebrates all of the same Catholic and national holidays as the rest of the country, such as Día de Los Santos Reyes, Carnaval, Cinco de Mayo and Independence Day. Some of these holidays are observed with a local Mayan twist, which include the “jarana”, “rubber tapper” and “pig head” folk dances. On Dia de Los Muertos in Chetumal, you’ll see locals carrying skull and skeleton toys in celebration the of Mayan religion.
However, the splendor of this ancient civilization is most evident in the numerous archaeological sites in this area – specifically the Muyil ruins. It is through the pyramids, sculpted stone pillars, plazas and temples that some of the mysteries still surrounding one of the America’s most important cultures have been partially deciphered.
While old customs and culture lives on among the contemporary Mayan people, Sian Ka’an and its surroundings have witnessed the fusion of global culture. Since the 1970s, places like Cancun and Cozumel have seen large numbers of tourists. With the advent of mass tourism and the onset of popular Sian Ka’an tours came shopping malls, movie theaters, giant luxury resorts and fast food. Some believe that the speed and force with which Western influence and modernity has hit Quintana Roo’s shores threatens to wipe out the region’s unique culture. But, at least for the time being, they continue to prosper.