Among the greatest achievements of the Maya civilization in our region is the development of written and spoken language, some which continues to be practiced by communities in southern and northern Belize. At Maya temples, hieroglyphs tell stories of great rulers and major events in Maya civilization. In order to preserve the language and knowledge of the Maya, today a 3-day course on reading and writing the language of the Maya came to a close at the Corozal House of Culture. The course was led by tour guide Jorge de Leon, who is considered one of Belize’s foremost hieroglyph interpreters. De Leon, who is based in Western Belize, shared why the language concepts he teaches are so easy that even a five year old can learn it.
Jorge de Leon, Hieroglyph reading/writing instructor
“Its not something that is extremely difficult, I saw how hard it was for me and I don’t want people to go through the same problems as I did so I was able to break it down to the point that now that these kids are able to grasp the complexity of it right and it starts just y writing your name phonetically, that is where it starts, you know, and for kids is like code writing this is the sound and this is the symbol that goes with the sound and once they its easy for them to put it together and then is a matter of art and most of these kids are good at drawing and off they go so that is something that I’ve seen with kids so the potential is there and after an hour class I could have my students or whoever participates in this program write their own name in Mayan hieroglyphs so we apply the ancient writing system to modern language so we can do that within an hour and its so simple and so basic that a five year old, six, seven, nine and ten year old and I think twelve and couple adults joined us and was able to break it down to their level and make it easier for them to understand and we had a group that just came in this morning, so most of the group were here for the three days and we had a group that came in this morning and at the end they were able to identify some of the symbols and they were able actually to read the sentence and that was really cool and to see their ages and so I know if we practice and if we implement it the way we have it our kids would be able to learn a new writing system and so this could be brought back.”
The students showed interest, impressive skill and quick learning in the three-day course. While learning a new language may seem difficult to some, for the students we spoke to this wasn’t the case.
Kayla Roches, Maya hieroglyph learner
“I found it easy because I already new the alphabet of the Mayas and I already knew the words and I learnt it from Mrs. Adela and Mr. Adan that they gave classes in Xaibe, I think for one week they gave classes with Mayan words and that’s where I learned. Its easy to read because when you already know the words that they gave you and you already draw it you can read it then.”
Marcos Valdez, Maya hieroglyph learner
“You are seeing new languages and new life and how they survived and how did they make words and letters and numbers so this is kind of fun for me, it was kind of easy you just needed to learn how the ways and in the picture it shows it so when you see the picture and it has is number or letter at the top then you can see it is very easy.”
De Leon with the support of Mount Carmel High School administrators in Benque Viejo Del Carmen, organized a Hieroglyph Club for students that commenced four years ago. He believes a similar initiative can be started in northern Belize and is willing to engage any school – whether primary school, high school or tertiary level – that may be interested.