The Mopan and Q’eqchi Maya

Unlike the northern Maya who were Yukatec (Lowland Maya) and spoke one language and shared culture characteristics; two groups migrated from Guatemala: the Mopan and the Q’eqchi. The Mopan are a branch of the Yukatec as evidenced by their language and culture traits such as cross-stitched embroidery which has the same name: Xocbil Chury. How the Mopan came to be in Peten, Guatemala is unclear but the most likely reason is that they were part of the Itza group that migrated from Yucantan during the civil war between the Xiu and Cocom families during the Terminal Classic period (790A.D to 1500A.D.)which settled at Lake Tayasal. After the Itzaj capital on the island Noj Peten was subjugated by the Spanish in 1697, Mayas were forced to live in missionary towns also known as entradas. The Mopan, the Itza and San Jose are from the same branch of Maya family.

The Q’eqchi, on the other hand, are highland Mayas who came from the Alta Verapaz region and migrated when coffee production took off in the 19th century. They belong to a different linguistic group. The two groups met in San Luis, Peten and intermarried. There are still some villages in Toledo, Santa Elena and Santa Cruz that have villagers of mixed ancestry (Mopan and Qeqchi). Some Q’eqchi arrived in Belize as part of a workforce for Cramer estates. Bernard Cramer, a German, bought lan in northern Belize as well as land from the Young, Toledo and Company near the Sarstoon River in Toledo. After Cramer’s agricultural (coffee and cacao farms) attempt failed in 1914, the Q’eqchi either settled and created villages such as Dolores, Otoxha and Criqu Sarco or moved elsewhere.

The Qeqchi are the most populous Maya in Belize. Even in Guatemala, they number just over half a million. In Toledo District, they make up the majority of the population and make up just over 5 percent of Belize’s population according to the 2000 census.