San Pablo: A Yucatec Maya Village in Northern Belize

Another ritual is U Janal Pixano’ob translated as “food for the souls” and also known as Finados or Día de los Muertos. On October 31st, villagers prepare altars that honour their family members and friends who have gone on to the spiritual world. November 1st honours the children and November 2nd honours the adults. It is believed that on these days the dead leave the spiritual world to visit the living. For those days, flowers, the favourite dishes of the deceased person(s) and photos are placed on an altar. Day 8 is known as the Biix when the spirits return to the spiritual world. In the old days, villagers placed candles in front of their houses and along the roads to guide their return. These days most take the candles to the cemetery and clean the tombs of their loved ones.

Folklore is also part of the rich culture of San Pablo.

The most popular stories are about the Alux and Nukuch Tat (Tata Duende or El Dueño del Monte). Other folklore stories of the village are of the Xtabai, La Llorona and Huay K’ek’een or a brujo/bruja (witch) who transforms into a huge pig. The Nukuch Tat (singular) Nukuch Taato’ob (plural) are Maya guardian spirits of the forest, animals, and humans. They are seen as immortal beings resembling old Maya men, with long white beards, wrinkled faces, wearing a hat of palm leaves, and dressed in traditional milpero attire. They are around 3 feet high and invisible.  The Alux (singular), Aluxo’ob (plural) are small guardian spirits of the forest. They are around 1 foot tall and dressed in the ancient Maya style.

There have been several community efforts to safeguard San Pablo’s Yucatec Maya heritage. In 2017, the San Pablo Village council started the annual San Pablo Day — an opportunity for expression and promotion of the culture of the village. There was also the formation of Lool haa dance group working to preserve the traditional dances. The To’one Masehualoon NGO also participates in San Pablo Day and assists with the Cha Chaac. On several occasions, they have taught the children of San Pablo Community School the Yucatec Maya language.

What started as milpas has grown into a proud Yucatec Maya community. The Yucatec Maya heritage brought during the Caste War has remained a part of the rich culture expressed in daily life at San Pablo Village. 

About the Contributors: Andy Chuc and Yadely Valladarez are both Yucatec Mayas of San Pablo Village.  They are members of the Belize Yucatec Maya and To’one Masehualoon NGO (We are Maya) and have been working in the preservation of the Yucatec Maya culture. Yadely promotes culture through clothing designs and assists at the U Chan Muul Yaax K’aax Museum teaching the basics of the Yucatec Maya language. Andy shares his culture through different musical projects, artistic illustrations, assisting community elders such as Maya spiritual leader Mr. Faustino Yam and by participating in the Cha Chaac ritual.  Both Yadely and Andy are currently researching the Yucatec Maya history, spirituality, and legends of San Pablo. To learn more about San Pablo Village and Yucatec Maya culture visit their page Belize Yucatec Maya .

Edited by: Phylicia Pelayo, Senior Research and Education Officer (Institute for Social and Cultural Research)

Photos: Courtesy Andy Chuc and Yadely Valladarez; the Mai and Mendez families of San Pablo; the Institute for Social and Cultural Research/NICH; and Teresita Perez-Martinez.

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