A VILLAGE WITHIN THE PARK
Two hours from the International Airport, through forested hillsides and winding creeks of the Cayo District, is the village of San Ignacio. Beyond that is the smaller village of San Antonio. To us it is known as Tanah, which in our language translates to ‘our home’.
Tanah is surrounded by the rolling hills and jagged peoples of the blue Maya Mountains. We pray that all visitors may enjoy the peace and tranquility while being able to respectfully share our culture, history and beauty of our home.
Tanah was once inhabited by ancient Maya, whose presence can still be felt through pottery and other artefacts in the majestic Maya temple ruins and sacred caves that are replete in this area.
Due to war and discrimination in the Mexican Yucatan, waves of Maya entered what is now Belize in 1842, rooting into lands their ancient ancestors once occupied.
At first, settlements were only built in the north and there were only four families - Tzib, Mai, Chi and Pech. The reverberation of war was still palpable. Loggers were entering Belize via its rivers, and terrorising Maya communities. A deeper migration into the southwest occurred.
Arriving in Tanah, they found sanctuary. Tanah has no nearby rivers, which is one of the reasons for its uniqueness. Due to the lack of water, it is said that the first settlers lived way up in the Pine Ridge Mountains in a place Privacion. Legend has it that one day while hunting a warithey were led down to Tanah. They found a patch of wet soil. In that moment the wari miraculously disappeared. It is our belief that that the Maya God Yum Kax-Ku took the wari’s form to lead the men to this place and begin the settlement of Tanah.
They dug a well, which can still be seen in our village, and named it pu’soon, which continued to serve the community for generations.
Today our village has over three and a half thousand inhabitants, all Yucatec Maya.
Pumps and a pond water system complement the traditional method of obtaining potable water via springs, wells and rain. The ponds were built to raise animals such as cattle and pigs and irrigate traditional crops like corn, peanuts, plantains, yams, beans and other vegetables. In these ways we were able to sustain ourselves, and also become a major crop provider of fresh produce for the whole country.
About a decade ago, a gravity fed water system that makes its way through the Elijio Panti National Park was built for our village. This system also provides water to the village of El Progresso Seven Miles. Our communities have learned the importance of working together and also the necessity of projecting the jungle as its health impacts our most basic of needs.
We are the Masawal Maya people of Tanah. Although we wear modern clothing and participate in regional politics and economics, we are still devoted to the ancient customs and beliefs of our ancestors.
It is our belief that Itzamna created everything on Earth, and that Yum Kaax-Ku guides and protects our mountains and animals. Mother Ix Chel protects and heals her children here on Earth. These guardians benevolently permit humans to hunt and gather only as is necessary for our subsistence, with the necessary permission, respect and reverence offered. They gave us sacred corn, from whom we believe humans arose. They provide us with sacred medicinal plants for healing. These beings are our principal deities.
Our grandparents have preserved a number of legends for us through sitting late in the evening regaling our children with stories. Our people happily and generously share our history, talents and folklore with visitors. We know that when La Llorona is heard wailing in the mountains, she brings a very specific message. We know to check our horses’ manes every morning for a perfect trim, evidence that dwarfs from the mountains rode them the night before.
We are united in appreciated the importance of our Maya language Ta’an, also known as Yucatec Maya. This is our mother tongue, handed down from our ancient ancestors. It is spoken mainly by adults, while the children in the village are often heard in Spanish, Creole and English. We understand the importance of languages other than our own. They allow us to share our culture with visitors.
When you visit Tanah, common phrases you may hear include:
'Bish-a-bel' - How are you?
'Bish-a-Kaba' - what's your name?
'Tuush-ca-bin' - where are you going?
Our Music and Rituals
We still practice our music of our ancient ancestors, as well the haunting melodies of the Latin American Marimba which accompanies our traditional Maya dances.
Various fiestas and rituals are held throughout the year, including everyone’s favorite Hog Head Dance in celebration of Saints Day and the memory of Saint Anthony of Padua on June 13th. Festivities begin nine days prior when a pig’s head is baked in a pibil - an underground cooking pit covered with plantain leaves. Each villager takes part in decorating the head with sweet bread and colorful paper flags. The result is paraded on the shoulders of a man in traditional dress who is being led on a rope and tempted by the shaking of corn in a wooden maraca.
Many of our ancient Maya rituals take place in our sacred caves, temples, at riverbeds, mountainsides or places of special significance such as Pacbitun, which translates to Stones Set in the Earth.
Corn is the cornerstone of our diet. Xit, also known as Tomalitos, is corn boiled in its own green leaves, whereas plantain leaves are used for Bollos. We have special tortillas, porridge and desserts all made from corn.
Our tables are graced by a mix of Maya and Creole cuisine. Rice and beans is thus a popular dish, often served with a spicy chicken stew. Our chickens run and breed freely in the village, and in Tanah we have a special method for hatching chicks. We utilise indigenous knowledge of anti-parasitic plants to line their nests, creating a much healthier environment for all.
Local tea is brewed from corn, lemongrass, ginger. pimiento leaves and more. Our strong homemade wines are infused with purple corn, cacao, brown sugar, or honey.
As Masewal we rely on plants and animals from the jungle for our daily existence. It is therefore incumbent upon us to protect this land.
Because our National Park is home to such diversity - jaguars, howler monkeys, coatimundi, agouti, paca, puma, wild turkeys, toucan, macaw, spider monkeys and a countless number of other animal and plant species - we have had to undertake specific reforestation and conservation projects within the Park.
For example, we noticed extensive over-harvesting of Bay for thatching and timber. This facilitates greater protection for this particular species.
It is fundamental for us that the outside world become intimate with our sacred lands, as the financial support of visitors is what allows us to continue to exist in this way. From the deepest place of gratitude, we welcome those who come in support to experience Tanah and the Elijio Panti National Park.
anah now enjoys regular bus service from Belize City via San Ignacio. Taxis and rental cars are both also viable options.
We recommend two options.
The first is a Bed and Breakfast run by a women’s group in the community of Tanah. Here you are welcome to participate in beautiful daily elements of Maya life including patting out the corn tortillas.
The second is the Crystal Paradise Resort in the Cristo Rey village is ideally positioned on the top of a hill overlooking Tanah. Here you will enjoy a breathtaking panoramic view of the blue Maya Mountains and lush farmlands surrounding the area.
Both these places extend a warm welcome.
For more information call: 1 (501) 671 1753 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Weather in the Tanah mountains is a welcome reprieve from the heat of the Belizean coast. April and May constitute the dry season, however be prepared for intense sun at any time of the year. Significant rainfall can be expected in the wet season between June and December.
Visiting the park
Visitors are welcome to visit the Park with prior permission from the Itzamna Society.
In case of emergencies, call to 911.
Our Code of Ethics
There are a number of ways in which visitors can protect our village, our culture and the Park:
Please do not record or document information shared by the villagers in any form. Prior permission from the Itzamna Society is required. Small charges will be made for this privilege and these contributions go towards management of the Park and the local communities.
Please do not bathe nude in the rivers. Please wear shirts over your bathing suit when in or near the villages.
Please drive with extreme care to protect our children.
Please ask permission before taking photos of locals. Not doing so can be experienced as humiliating and an invasion of privacy.
Listen, observe, broaden horizons by being with people who have a different concept of time and way of thinking.
Experience the ancient ways of being through the way in which they are kept alive today.
Our Maya Eco-Culture
Tanah is a place where children are handed down the traditions and knowledge of their ancestors.
It is a place where communion with nature is understood and honored.
It is a place where our Yucatec Maya language is spoken daily.
It is a place where children follow their parents into the rainforest in search of healing herbs and the past is brought to life via the words of elders.
We open the door to the past as well as to the future.
We also open the door to true self-sufficiency through plant and harvesting that is sacred, done with prayer and thanksgiving.
This allows our lives to be rich and whole.
This is a Maya way - our moments today come to life within the mysteries of the past and future.